petite amie

A paramour and his puffy petite amie in the town of Grignan (where Madame de Sevigné, famous for the witty and entertaining letters that she wrote to her daughter, lived).

~~~~~~~~~~~~News & Next Meet-Up~~~~~~~~~~~

Cheers & Tchin-tchin!: Our Domaine Rouge-Bleu wines are now available in the San Francisco area at http://www.paulmarcuswines.com

...and a reminder to UK readers: if you can manage to trek on over to the Barbican Centre in London, then we would love to meet you! Click here for more information about this event.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~PETITE AMIE~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
la petite amie (lah peuh tee tah me) noun, feminine

    : girlfriend

Listen to today's word and hear it in context via four French headlines, at the end of this letter...


Get ready for your heart to leap out with affection for one feisty French femme in today's story, sent in by word-a-day reader James Wilson.*

James writes:

I know that you are busy right now with the enviable task of wine making... yum!... so there is certainly no need to respond to this, even when you start getting caught back up.

I just thought I would share a quick tale with you.  When I was studying for my Master's Degree in France, I interviewed a fair number of elder Normand women out at Courseulles-sur-Mer and Banville.  One of my "subjects" was a woman who was roughly 35 years old when D-Day happened in 1944.  Since I was there 50 years after the fact to talk with her, she was only about 64 years my senior! Marie, as she was called, took a great liking to me and invited me with regularity that year.  We got to be great chums, really, and she insisted that I use the "tu" form of the verb with her.  One day, her five daughters got caught up in the stories she had been telling me, and that I was judiciously leaking out to them--many she had never shared with any of them.  So they organized a big diner for the family and many of the town's people so that I could get Marie talking with everyone there.

Marie with friend Andree When I started talking with Marie in the "tu" form, one of her eldest daughters protested, rather publicly, hoping to embarrass me into conforming to the rules of talking with women in their 80s.  Marie, stood up and said, "Well, my American boyfriend and I can just continue to do these interviews in private if you like!  I told him to use the "tu" form with me because it makes me feel good--young again--and because he reminds me of all the young men that stayed at this farm as they passed through 50 years ago. If you weren't so rude, you'd be using the tu form with him also!"

The daughters shut up for sure with that.  We had a little more wine, calmed down and I went back to asking my questions.  4 of the daughters continued after that day to "tutoyie" me, where that fifth one who had put back in her place obstinately refused.

I love dealing with elderly people on a personal level.  Now that Marie is gone to her final resting place, I miss my "French girlfriend".


Read about James, Marie's soi-disant "American boyfriend" in the following bio,* and check out the wonderful caption that goes with the photo that he shares with us. And if you enjoyed his story, please be sure to respond to it via the comments box. If you prefer to contact James directly, here's his email address: jamesrwilson [AT] charter.net

*James Wilson, professor of French and Spanish, studied under the auspices of Middlebury College and the Language Schools.  When James isn't teaching, he enjoys gardening at his lakeside home, and his other current task, writing a history for his hometown in Maine.

[Photo caption]
Marie Chirot, my friend, is on the the left sporting her blue cardigan over a house dress, a cane and pantoufles.  My Courseullaise friend Andree Harivel and I had walked from Courseulles-sur-Mer along the beach to Gray-sur-Mer, where there is a lovely monument to the D-Day landings, and an old 'char' (WWII tank) named 'One Charlie', and then headed inland to Banville where Marie lived.  We caught up with Marie at her home on Rue du Molot and were quickly recruited to go and fetch some 'herbes' to feed her hungry 'lapins' who resided in a cage in the courtyard of her farm.  I loved helping her feed those rabbits because their cage was right in front of an area of the 'cour' where young soldiers had etched their dog tag id numbers on the wall, permanent reminders written in the 'vielles pierres' of friends and saviors who had once visited Marie's farm.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Extra Credit~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
=> Look for French words in the above column (beginning at the column title "Le Courrier / Letters") and post your translations in the comments box.

Larousse Gastronomique: first published in 1938, still first rate
Whole Black Winter Truffles -- imported from France
Ticket to Ride Europe -- Award winning train game
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Homework ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Petite Amie" in the French News: help translate these headlines. Post your answers in the comments box: You may also listen to the word of the day and all four headlines here: Download petite_amie.wav. Download petite_amie.mp3

"Lewis Hamilton félicité en images par sa petite amie"

  --Kelbogos.com, Belgium

"Paul McCartney emménage avec sa petite amie"
  --News de stars, France

"Simon Cowell s'est fait largué par sa petite-amie par téléphone !"
  --eparsa Magazine, France

...and another lovelorn lad "largué":

"Marilyn Manson se fait largué par sa petite-amie !"

  --eparsa Magazine, France

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Cynthia Sheridan

Dear Kristen,

Thank you so much for sharing James' story. It brought back similar memories of my year in Paris studying for my Master's Degree at Middlebury College's School in France. My college advisor had requested that on my arrival in Paris that I look up her best friend, who was at the time 84 years old, Madame de Linares. She invited my to Sunday lunch every week and we became fast friends. I learned so much from her as she was an incredibly intelligent woman and she had 150 neices, nephews, and great-neices and nephews; many of whom she introduced me to. I taught English to one of her neices and became life long friends with her family and children, who are my age. We recently had their grandson come and stay at our home for a month and on a recent trip to Paris spent many wonderful times with their family. These are friends who are so dear to me, I have so many great memories and I owe them all to Madame de Linares, my 84 year old friend!

I love you website!



Jules Greer


Phyllis Bratton

Hi, Kristen --

I am wondering if I have stumbled into an American culture clash. I was raised in Virginia, took French continuously from the age of 10 through 20, and used it a great deal after that in graduate school and my first job. Then came a lapse of about 30 years. Now that I have taken it up again, I find that everyone "tutoyers", where before it would have been quite improper to do so. I am not sure if I have missed a cultural shift in French itself, or if this is simply a reflection of growing up in a fairly formal Southern atmosphere and now living in the North. Any comments?


Merci James!
Votre histoire amene une larme!

Odette Bragg

This such a sweet story! I work for AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons. Our volunteers (for the most part all over 50) are a wonderful source of amazing stories. But you have to ask them to share!


I love James's story. Apparently no one had taught the daughter who "corrected" James that deliberately embarrassing or trying to embarrass someone in public is one of the rudest things to do!

I think that familiar or formal address is one of the most difficult things for English speakers to feel comfortable with in foreign languages where there is the distinction. I notice that in Italy now, people are more likely to "dare del tu" than used to be the case -- and, it seems to me, more likely than the French would be to "tutoyer" in a similar situation. I find it safest to stick with "Lei" and "vous" until the other person uses "tu" to me. I'd probably be more comfortable about the whole thing if I lived in Italy or France and encountered it every day.


I have the opportunity of working around a lot of geriatric patients. They seem to appreciate being asked about where they grew up and what their occupations were. One shy and unassuming lady worked on the Enigma code breaking! The French ladies seem to get a kick out of it when I speak a few words of French to them-and correct me as needed.


James' story reminds me of some of my favorite times pastoring a small congregation on the southern coast of the Brittany peninsula in the 1980's. I would make my monthly "rounds" of the "veuves fideles" who couldn't make it to Sunday meetings anymore. They would pamper me with tea or coffee (my preference), their favorite "gateaux" and stories of the brave American, Canadian, and British soldier boys who infected their young hearts with a thirst for life and liberty. I'm sure I must have inspired their precious recollections simply by my accent and youth; I was happy to be the medium of such inspiration.


What a great story! I'm sad that I never spoke of the war with my in-laws who both lived through it. Living in Alsace, where many couples were French and German, it just wasn't acceptable to bring up the details of such conflict. I always especially wish I had heard my father-in-law's story told by him (as opposed to my ex-husband). He grew up in Paris and felt so strongly about the war that he ran away and joined the army at the age of 14. When the war was all over, he could never find the slightest trace of what had happened to his family. In the after war period, he was stationed in Germany where he met, fell in love with, and married my mother-in-law. It took several years for her to be allowed to live in France. They settled in Alsace so he could live in France yet she could be close to her family (Black Forest).


"Deux pigeons s'aimaient d'amour tendre"
-La Fontaine's fable "Les deux pigeons"- Lovely illustration, Kristin!

James Wilson's story is moving and cheerful at the same time. What a marvellous "petite amie"! Thanks for the photo too.

Talking about boyfriends and girlfriends:
Larguer -plaquer- ---> = to get rid of

In 2 of the sentences: "se faire larguer" (infinitive after "se faire" ... but I suppose magazines may forget grammar rules)

Now, having a go at translating:
---> "Lewis Hamilton félicité en images par sa petite amie"
- Lewis Hamilton's girlfriend congratulated him with video pictures.
- Lewis Hamilton congratulated by girlfriend with video pictures.

---> "Paul McCartney emménage avec sa petite amie"
- Paul McCartney's girlfriend moves in

---> "Simon Cowell s'est fait largué par sa petite-amie par téléphone !"
- A phone call from Simon Cowell's girlfriend finished (ended) their relationship!

---> "Marilyn Manson se fait largué par sa petite-amie !"
Marilyn Manson's girlfriend chucked him out!


Great story!


I think the best translation of this sense of "larguer" into colloquial English would be "to dump." Thus,

---> "Simon Cowell s'est fait largué par sa petite-amie par téléphone !"
---Simon Cowell is dumped by his girlfriend over the telephone!

---> "Marilyn Manson se fait largué par sa petite-amie !"
--Marilyn Manson is dumped by his girlfriend!


Ah, the mysteries and perils of tutoiement! It is interesting that the usual proposal to pass to the familiar form is made in the neutral third person: "Si on se tutoyait ?"

I remember reading somewhere that this invitation has two possible responses:

(Warmly) J'allais justement te le proposer !


(Coldly) Si vous voulez.


Oops! Two posts above, make that, "Simon Cowell was dumped by his girlfriend over the telephone."


Tu and vous is very tricky...Bring me a funny word in mind..Un Matuvu...This stands for "M'as tu vu?" means a "Show off"...Exemple...René a encore acheté une nouvelle voiture...Lui, c'est vraiment un Matuvu.
Plus facile a lire qu'a comprendre phonetiquement:
-Tes laitues naissent t'elles?
-Oui mes laitues naissent
-Si tes laitues naissent mes laitues naitront.

Berry Schendstok - Houston, TX

Ta petite-amie, elle est bien choette!
Tu - elle a dit que l'on faut se tutoyer entre amis et amies - as eu de la chance de la renconrer!


The story by James is so lovely. What satisfying fun it must have been to be at that dinner for the family and the town!

Isn't it a privilege to have had an "older" girlfriend, James? I think you must have been as good for her soul as she was for yours.

I like learning that language trends are not just here in the United States. "Uh, like you know, like that's like way sick!"

And last but certainly not least, I feel like part of your family Kristi, when your mom writes to you on-line. It just gives me the warm fuzzies!


My dad was on Omaha Beach in June 44 and in France until the end of the Battle of the Bulge. He absolutely loved the French but never made it back during peacetime as he died at the age of 60. I became a French teacher, which was (is?) a fun career for me and after retiring am still co-coordinating an exchange with 2 American schools and a lycee in France. We're in our 19th year of the exchange. The French kids come here and stay in homes for two weeks in Feb, then we go there for two weeks in April. The generosity of families on both sides of the Atlantic is what makes it work, that and the hard work of the teachers, of course. We have made some wonderful friendships over the years. I have stayed with the same wonderful lady for many years and she even hosted me while she was having chemo for breast cancer in 2004. She said hosting cheered her up. I admit I did my best. This year will be the five year cancer free mark for her. Time to celebrate! Her latest e-mail included election comments (very positive) and the phrase "God Bless America!"


Oh the memories! I remember being "plaquee" and to further an expression: il m'a plaque en me posant un lapin. Although I would have rather spent an evening with a cuddly bunny than to be left by myself wondering where he was...sigh.

I also get literally tongue tied with "tu" and "vous". The more I feel comfortable around someone, the more likely I am to use "tu" which can get me into trouble in business. I will always use "vous" until the other person either suggests we use "tu" or just plain tutoies me.

Marion Wilson

It was fun remembering Marie, your "French gal". We had such a fun time at her house that night when we were first there to meet them. Do you remember how we were with Andree and her family at the British cemetery nearby and Marie heard you talking to us in English and to Andree and her family in French? Poor woman could not understand how such a nice Frenchified young man had American parents who couldn't speak a word of French! She sure was grateful though to have someone to talk to the British guests she had at her house to find out if they needed anything or not, since she spoke none of their language and they less of hers. Who knew that night that you would become such close friends? She really did remind me of Grammy Rowe. Outspoken and might I add, always right(?).

Fred Caswell

Two and a half years ago. at the very start of five weeks of in-home French lessons, my younger professeur (une mignon femme) me corrige immediatement quand je utilise le mot "vous" avec ces mots -- "Fred, we are going to be together for five weeks, we MUST be friends!" She is still une amie de moi.

Initially emotionally shocked, her explanation quickly brought this guy (then a 79 year old) back to practical French realism.

Kristi, tu souvent fais plaisir a moi.


I recently spent two weeks in France with a French-born friend. We visited a lady in her eighties who is very special to my friend. She spoke no English; I spoke minimal French. She was the most gracious hostess, and on the last morning of our visit, I received her permission to address her by her first name. This was the number one highlight of my trip.


I truly loved the story. We moved to our village 10 years ago and we are slowly losing our older neighbors whom I have treasured. Yes, they have told me wonderful stories of the occupation - since we are practically on the line of demarcation. I understand losing a very special person and experience...

Also, my McAfee told me that there are possible problems with charter.net!

Bob Haine

All this discussion about "tu" and "vous" reminds me of Jacques Prévert's beautiful poem, "Barbara" that I share with my 3rd year students every year, where the narrator uses the "tu" form with a total stranger, but apologizes and justifies himself for doing so:
"Et ne m'en veux pas si je te tutoie
Je dis tu à tous ceux que j'aime
Même si je ne les ai vus qu'une seule fois
Je dis tu à tous ceux qui s'aiment
Même si je ne les connais pas..."
In other words, if you love someone, even if you don't know them, even if you've only seen them once, you must say "tu"!

Christine Dashper

Thank you Kristin for sharing Jame's truly lovely story

all the best

Remi Enobakhare

Hi, all.
I remember a little luncheon my class planned for one of my favorite French professors at a cafe near campus. I had arranged for the waiter to bring a cake out to the patio, but the surprise was going to be ruined as the instructor kept getting up to go inside for something. I instinctively kept urging, "Assieds-toi! Assieds-toi!"-- the phrase I was used to hearing my whole life-- because that's what teachers say to US all the time; also, I happened to be teaching French as a practicum to a little first-grade class. I didn't figure out until the next day, after I had re-thought the whole scenario, why our normally relaxed and friendly professor kept glaring at me in such an irritated manner. No student had likely ever 'tutoyer'd' her before-- especially in such a patronizing manner! :)

Sue Johnpeter

I'm a bit off topic here with a French question.
I want to write "Fabric of Provence" on a matted photograph a friend took (which I would be happy to send to you.)
Is it --
Tissus de Provence
Tissu provencal
Tissu je ne sais quoi
Thanks for your help. Love your column, your stories, tout! (Tous? Yikes!)

Diane Stanley

Dear Kristin,

I was on a train to Courseulles-sur-Mer with my husband perhaps fifteen years ago. We met a lovely older man from Normandy who had been a child during the invasion of Normany. He had spent many hungry days and nights in the forest near his house due to the American bombings that were taking place. In fact his own house had been bombed and completely destroyed.

I said to him that perhaps he might have ill feelings towards the American pilots because his house had been destroyed by them. "Oh no," he told us, "we believed that it was God's mercy that brought the Americans to free our family from the oppression we were experiencing." He, my husband and I all had tears in our eyes from this story.

Diane from Oak Ridge, N.J.

catharine ewart-touzot

what an interesting site. I never have had any formal FRENCH but I have lived in Montreal, Paris, Algeria and Geneva and in doing so I have picked up an interesting understanding of the Language. I finally married a Frenchman and now I am back in the US with a hope and plan to live part of the time in France when my husband retires in a couple of years...so I am hoping to finally "learn French"...the stories above make me think of some of the incredibly wonderful people I have met in various parts of France and in the "french world"


Dear James.

Thank you for the touching story and the wonderful recipe. It always amazes me how time collapses when one only remembers the essentials. Lovely girlfriend you have!

Mona from Pasadena, CA

Spank Krakow

i'm gonna make my own post about it

Generic Viagra

Oh God, the beautiful Grignan. I remember this place with so much love. Here's the place where my wife and I spent our honey moon. Beautiful post!

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