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Entries from December 2008

empreinte de pied

The closest thing to a sleigh that I could find in my photo album. Photo taken in the Piedmont.

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empreinte de pas (soundfile follows...) noun, feminine

    : footprint

Audio File: Listen to my daughter, Jackie, pronounce the French word for footprint: Download Une empreinte de pas . Download Une empreinte de pas

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Good morning, good day, hello and happy holidays! If I am up and chirping (in English...), it is because the sun is shining and the extended French family is arriving and I am about to fire up a new household appliance, one that my husband and children presented me with, just this morning: une yaourtière!

Our family goes through a lot of yogurt (it's a French thing, not a hippy-granola thing—and even if it were a baba cool thing: qu'est-ce que ça vous fait? What's it to you?). It finally occurred to me that we are throwing out over a 1000 plastic yogurt containers each year. With a yogurt maker (which comes with 8 reusable glass jars) we won't have to do that anymore. (Though, one day, we will have to dump the machine itself).

Strange things have been happening this past week and now, this side of forty-one-years-old, I am trying to make up for lost time. I find myself sewing odd garments (using "holey items" from the give-away clothes pile), making home-made notebooks from my children's old cahiers (a chichi store-bought notebook will never again have the same charm!), and trying to erase... erase... erase! the years of "hard living". Only, this time around, not with age-defying creams...

I am trying, finally, to erase my environmental footprint. On second thought, it may be too late to erase it—but it is never too late to lighten it.

Just as I begin to question my sanity (having ripped apart yet another old t-shirt and refashioned it into a new "alternative garment") I stop for a reality check.
"Jackie," I say to my daughter, having had a light and friendly mother-daughter chat about what the age of twelve has in store for her (...), a chat in which I explained all of the options, environmental and not, available to her... "Jackie," I say, "tu dois croire que je suis complètement cinglée!" I look down, at all of the scraps I've stitched together, and realize that I cannot tell my daughter what to do, but I can be an example—however poorly-stitched!

"Of course, you don't have to wear these things. It's just an experiment... perhaps even a foucade. I don't know!"

My daughter picks up one of the items. "This one is well sewn," she says of the odd-shaped "experiment". Her encouragement continues.

"Maman, ce que tu fais--c'est bon. Ce n'est pas "crazy"! Même la femme la plus riche au monde aimerait bien faire ça."

And there, amidst piles of rags, I feel like the richest woman in the world.

*    *    *

This week, it's back to the bercail for us. We'll be taking time away from email and paperwork (apart from the notebook-making kind) to spend time with family and friends.

Thank you for reading this French word journal, whether via email or online. "See you" in 2009. Until then, may we dance forward into the future together... leaving feather-light footprints in our wake.

If you would like to respond to today's story, or share a story of your own, please send your words via the comments box. Thank you!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
une yaourtière
(f) = yogurt maker; un baba cool = hippie; le cahier (m) = notebook; chichi = fussy, formal; tu dois croire que je suis complètement cinglé = you must think I'm completely nuts; une foucade (f) = a passing fancy, whim; Maman, ce que tu fais--c'est bon. Ce n'est pas 'crazy'! Même la femme la plus riche au monde aimerait bien faire ça = Mom, what you're doing is good. It isn't crazy. Even the richest woman in the world would like to do that; le bercail (m) = fold (sheep), home

Harry Potter Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (French Edition) (Audio CD)

Check out the Salton YM9 1-Quart Yogurt Maker

Learn French in a Hurry: Grasp the Basics of Français Tout De Suite

In Music: Edith Piaf: 30th Anniversaire

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language

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Our friend, témoin, avocat, son's parrain, and more, in today's story. (The cute guy is Matthieu, my husband's godson).

avocat (avo-kah) noun
    1.  avocado
    2.  lawyer, barrister, counsel

The feminine of avocat is "avocate"

Do you have a funny, language-learning (or other) story about an avocado/avocat or lawyer/légume? Wait a minute; an avocado is a fruit... Never mind, share your fruity, law-abiding story with us today--or share any terms and expressions missing from today's edition... in the comments box.

Meantime, here are some related words and expressions:
  avocat du diable = devil's advocate
  avocasserie (f) = pettifoggery (in French "mauvaise chicane d'avocat")
  un avocassier (une avocassière) = un mauvais avocat / a bad lawyer
  un avocaillon (m) = pettifogger, small-town lawyer
  un avocatier = an avocado pear tree

... and this verb, from my grandfather's 1928 Petit Larousse: avocasser: to obscurely exercise the lawyer profession.
AUDIO FILE: listen to the French word "avocat" and hear the expressions, above:Download AvocatDownload Avocat

Jean-Marc and I rolled into town last night, after 2 a.m., having spent "une soirée gastro"* with an old friend and his old potes.* When I say old, I'm referring to the age of a friendship and, bien sûr,* to the number of years that one friend recently tacked on to his birth date: quarante!* Of course forty isn't old, but we won't tell that to the birthday "boy".

Today, meet our friend Fred Chollet and, in the process, "meet" a slew of French vocabulary.


Fred is... Jean-Marc's cher ami d'enfance*
and the parrain* of my son, Max (quelle chance!).*

Fred Birthday 069 He is époux* to Corinne Chollet
a lovely woman who makes a mean chocolate cake.

Fred has traits that most of us have to pay for: curls and long lashes.

Fred is a part-time père Noël* and full time avocat.*

He is témoin* to my marriage with Jean-Marc
(a marriage not done on a lark... but, partly, in a park
after Fred got us a special lawyer deal with those illegal alien "sharks"...)

Fred is a proud père* to Clémence and Matthieu a.k.a. "Pioupiou".*

Fred's favorite birthday gift was a giant jar of Nutella, a gift from his girl and from his little boy.

Fred is fiston* to Michel and has a very funny frèrot* named Antoine.

Fred is beau-frère* to Gwen, that funny guy's wife, and oncle* to Alice and Julien.

Fred's mom, Marianne, is also an avocat--and if her eyes were any greener they'd be avocado vert.*

Fred's got an aunt named Michelle (who rivals Tina Turner for legs si belle!).

Fred is a faithful ami* to a former illegal alien (nommé* Kristi).

Fred has law-abiding and not-so-law-abiding friends: like Pinpin and Astrid (law-abiding) and Guillaume & Isilde (not-so-law-abiding mountain folk). He also has formerly not-so-law-abiding friends, who we mentioned earlier.

Fred is the patron* and friend of Ouahida.* You must read about her grandfather sometime.

Serre Chevalier 18-22 August 025 Voilà! Just a few things about our friend Fred. Here's one more addition:
Joyeux Anniversaire,* Fredo!

photo: Fred with Max, in 2005

une soirée
(f) gastro = a gastronomic evening; un pote (m) = friend, pal; bien sûr = of course; quarante = forty; un ami (une amie) d'enfance = childhood friend; le parrain (m) = godfather; quelle chance! = what luck!; un époux (une épouse) = spouse; le père Noël = Santa Claus, Father Christmas; un avocat (une avocate) = lawyer; le témoin (m) = witness (best man); le père (m) = father; le pioupiou (sounds like "pyou-pyou") = little soldier; le fiston (m) = son, young man; le frèrot (m) = little brother; le beau-frère (m) = brother-in-law; un oncle (m) = uncle; vert (verte) = green; un ami (une amie) = friend; nommé = named; le patron (m) = boss; Ouahida = read a story about Ouahida ; joyeux anniversaire = happy birthday

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Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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I don't know why I want "straight" to always be the rule when, in fact, I often admire what is off-center. Read on, in today's story column.

règle (regl) noun, feminine
    : rule, ruler; rule (of conduct, grammar); (règles = menstruation)

Audio File: listen to today's word and hear Jean-Marc read a passage (that is: (a list of rules) from today's story  Download WAV or MP3

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

Somewhere in Provence, on a little crooked farm, beyond a few crooked walls... and a crooked Christmas tree... four off-kiltered kin sit 'round a table.

"We need to STRAIGHTEN UP around here!" one of the crooked ones says.

She pounds her fist on a crooked surface. The table is nicked, scratched, and sullied from enough errant knives and fourchettes that the surface looks, on second glance, like a wall of faded hieroglyphics. The only thing not carved into the wood are the amorous initials of the man and woman who call this place home.

"Home!" the woman points out. " a cozy respite from a crooked "outside". In here, there is order—or should be!" she announces, pulling an errant sock out of her bathrobe's pocket. "And just whose is this? And where does it belong?"

Three other members at the tilted table look into their bowls, trying to conceal crooked smiles, but the speaker can see their reflections on the steamy surface of their soup.

Out comes The Book. The title, written in long hand, reads:

"The Little Book of Simple Rules"

With a crooked, self-satisfied smile of her own, the woman straightens up in her chair and reads the subtitle (which is, simply, a reflection of the words above it):

"Le Petit Livre des Règles Fastoches"

"Can I read?!" the kids at the table ask and their excitement has the speaker thinking up a new rule or two (see rule numbers "Six" and "Seven," below...).

The older child begins to read the rules which are written down simply, if a bit crookedly—like chicken scratch (or like the scratches beneath their soup bowls, on the surface of the table). They state, in no uncertain terms, that WE SHALL:

Take off our shoes at the front door.

(Enlever nos chaussures à la porte d'entrée.)

Put on our slippers.

(Mettre nos pantoufles.)

Change the empty toilet paper roll.

(Changer le rouleau de papier toilette quand il est vide.)

Not lean back in our chair.

(Ne pas se balancer sur notre chaise.)

Not throw clothes on the floor.

(Ne pas jeter les habits par terre.)

Take turns.

(Chacun son tour.)

Not interrupt (the speaker).

(Ne pas couper la parole.)

Return borrowed objects.

(Rendre les objets empruntés.)

Not drink more than three cups of coffee per day.

(Ne pas boire plus de trois cafés par jour.)

With this last rule, the reader interrupts himself.
"Mom... how many cups of coffee have you had today?"
"No one follows these rules!" the woman complains, and the caffeine puts that much more "edge" into her response. With that, she sniffs, narrows her eyes and pulls from her other bathrobe pocket a cardboard cylinder. "Nobody ever changes the roll of toilet paper!" she laments.

The woman gets up from the table, walks across a room of crooked tiles, and pitches the empty roll of papier toilette into the fire. The cardboard goes up in flames, sending out a wave of warmth: a cozy respite from rigidity. She looks back at her family, listens as they laugh and share the events of the day. The "Book of Simple Rules" has been tossed aside, a safe distance from the soup splotches that now color the table with life lived.

"However crooked, we all seem to line up here each night, the woman decides, "around a square table. Maybe it's time to "join 'em," quit trying to control everything—except for the knife: this, in time to carve our amorous initials, encircled within a crooked heart, into the table's wobbling wooden surface.

*     *     *
Comments welcome. Thanks in advance!

French Vocabulary: la fourchette (f) = fork

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la règle d'or = the golden rule
les règles de route = rules of the road
les règles du jeu = rules of the game
mettre quelque chose en règle = to put something in order
se mettre en règle avec Dieu = to make things right with God
la règle de la maison = the rule of the house (establishment)
en règle générale... = as a general rule...
avoir ses règles = to have one's period (menstruation)

Need a stocking stuffer? Thank you for thinking of my "Words".

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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That's my daughter, freshly-picked flowers hidden behind her back, trailing behind on a school field trip back in 2005. The goal of the "sortie" was to learn how to use a compass. Looks like our girl will need that information these days, in order to navigate the range of information, sometimes conflicting... that she receives from her trusty parents. Read on, in today's story column.

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Today's Word: EPARGNER

(If this word looks familiar, that's because we featured it last June... New are the verb's conjugations and idioms section... as well as the story!)

épargner (ay-par-nyay) verb

    : to save (up) ; to spare, to be sparing with

[from Frankish "sparanjan", from Germanic "sparōn" (spare, frugal)]

Terms & Expressions: (Don't miss the French idioms section that follows the
sponsors' message, below)

~~~~~~~~~~Audio File and Verb Conjugation~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Listen to Jean-Marc conjugate today's French verb: Download Epargner2 . Download Epargner2
J'épargne, tu épargnes, il/elle épargne, nous épargnons, vous épargnez, ils/elles épargnent => past participle: épargné

When my Francophone daughter asked for help with her French homework, I put aside self-doubt and told myself to give it a try. Usually, it is my husband who helps with le français* (and I, with l'anglais*...), but this time Jean-Marc was occupied with a telephone call. After offering a quick (and distracted...) answer to her question, he sent our daughter on her way.

That's how Jackie ended up in my home office.
"Maman," my eleven-year-old asked, "what does "épargner" mean?"

After an initial hesitation (épargner can mean anything from "to save" to "to spare"), it occurred to me to ask about context.

"Can you give me an example sentence?"
My daughter looked at her workbook and read the assigned question.
"Pourquoi est-ce que Dieu a décidé d'épargner Noé?"

(Whoa!) Once again, I put aside meekness and went to work, translating first the sentence "Why did God decide to spare Noah?" (I'd worry about the answer later). Next, I wondered how best to explain the verb "to spare," an English verb that my kids have probably never heard before. After all, I've never asked them, "Baby, can you spare a dime?" Likewise, they've never heard me ask about a "spare tire", and I don't ever talk about "spare time," for, even here in the countryside (and no matter what outsiders imagine about "the slow and sweet life in France") "spare time" is a luxury that only a Frisbee-chewing French dog can afford. Finally, as I don't like to be sarcastic in speech (i.e.: "Oh, spare me!"), you might say my children have been spared of the verb "épargner".

And so it was now up to me to define a new word, both in English--and in French--for my daughter.

"To spare..." I began, thoughtfully. "You know, to spare... TO... SPARE..." At a loss for a translation, I remembered that Jackie had received some sort of answer from her dad, who had been busy on the phone when he offered it.

"Well, what did your dad say?"
"He said 'épargner' means 'to put money aside'."

Oh, I chuckled, inserting Jean-Marc's distracted answer into the equation: "Why did God 'put money aside' for Noah?"

I imagined God, up there in splendid Heaven, beyond those pricey golden gates, nervously tucking aside his money--savings for a rainy day; speak of rain! What with the predicament that he put Noah in, what good was it to lend the sea-swept survivor cash? What good was currency, to Noah, when the earth, and all that money could buy, was being submerged? Just WHO was Noah going to pay now? The giraffes?

"Pourquoi tu rigoles? Why are you giggling?" my daughter wanted to know, still waiting patiently for the correct definition of épargner.

"Jackie," I said, more to myself that to my daughter, "God doesn't need to put money aside for anybody!" I was going to add (in the spirit that "God is everything" i.e.: grass, the water, a rainbow, forgiveness, hope...): "He IS money!" but that seemed sacrilegious.

All that said, I still couldn't answer my daughter's question and so we set about reading the chapter on Noah's Ark. I admit, it seemed strange to be reading a section of the Bible from a French school textbook--since my daughter attends a public, or laïque* school... and especially since her previous school (also laïque) had sent her home with a swift warning after she wore a cross necklace to class. If ever she returned to school, the principal had warned, wearing that crucifix, the necklace would be confiscated! (See "French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools."*) After my initial shock and confusion, I could begin to understand the unfairness of one child being able to wear a crucifix while another might be prohibited from wearing a religious headscarf.

But back, now, to the biblical flood... I was happy to re-read the story of Noah's Ark in my daughter's (secular?) school book. And, I must say, the text certainly confirmed my beliefs: nowhere in Genesis does God say "Baby, can you spare a dime?"

le français
(m) = French (language); l'anglais (m) = English (language); laïque = secular (non-religious) state school, secular (education); French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools

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French Idioms:
  épargner ses forces = to save one's energy
  épargner sur la nourriture = to save on one's food spending
  épargner pour ses vieux jours = to save up for one's old age
  je vous épargne les détails = I'll spare you the details
  épargner quelque chose à quelqu'un = to spare someone something

Do you know of any épargner expressions or examples that you might like to share with fellow readers? Do you have a story about "saving" or "sparing" that you'd like to tell us? Thanks for adding your savoir-faire to the comments section, for all to see.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~In Gifts~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(Book) Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country by Robert Camuto

(Beauty) Cinema, a perfume by Yves Saint Laurent:

(Music) The Chorus -- an outstanding soundtrack

(Bonbons) Normandy Salted Butter Caramels

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
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de guingois

The scene was so classic that I wondered, as I snuck up to snap the photo, if it wasn't staged! Notice the underwear: one per "hook"... Photo taken in Nyons (just next to a chichi restaurant. Well, that oughta show 'em!).

de guingois (deuh-gehn-gwah) adverbial and adjectival phrase
    : askew, lop-sided

marcher de guingois = to walk lop-sidedly
tout va de guingois = everything's going haywire

Audio File & Example Sentence: listen to the French word "de guingois" and to this expression: "marcher de guingois":Download Wav or MP3

"The Marais, says Jacob Berger, a film director who lives and works in the neighborhood, is de guingois--that is to say, slightly askew."

--from the National Geographic article:
"Bohemian rhapsody: on the right bank of Paris history and hip embrace..."

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

Another odd Christmas tree this year. I should have taken Mom's advice: get an artificial one! Apart from being good for the environment, those faux firs come in perfect shapes: full bodied and symmetrical; especially, they're kilter—and not helter-skelter!

If I weren't such a procrastinator, I'd have gotten the tree I wanted: Super Sapin! (Not a bird, not a plane.... ) Though our tree may not fly or save lives (it certainly won't save the earth), it does look as if it is set for take off, what with its long and HORIZONTAL arc... like a Boeing 747.

"It's lopsided!" I point out to Jean-Marc, after he has placed the tree. "Wait a minute..." I remark, suspiciously. "Didn't it come with a stand?"
"No. It didn't."
"You mean the nursery didn't have stands for sale?"
"They did, but the stands weren't any good."

They never are! He was just trying to get out of buying a stand! Next, I discover his solution: our umbrella stand. He's swiped our umbrella stand to use for a tree brace. Pas vrai!

If it weren't so amusing, to see that tree stuffed, de guingois, into the umbrella stand like a wet parapluie, I'd scream! But I am learning to laugh at these peculiarities. Take, for example, our bathroom light fixture, the one just above the mirror. When the screw fell out, we might have replaced it. Instead, a box of aspirin was set between the light and the mirror (now, when the box of asprin pops out, all we have to do is pick it up off the floor (easier to see than a small screw) and stick it back in its place). Ta-da!

Chez nous, it's always a balancing act... a regular circus we are! From time to time, I find myself lamenting, "Why... why can't we just be normal?" Why do I have to lean to the side in order to see our tree as it "should" be? Why can't we have a tree stand like other normal French families? Why do we have to treat our pine as a parasol? Still grumbling about my husband's eccentricities, I gather the fresh laundry which I have strewn around the house on every free hook, chair back, or table (any freestanding structure will do). Other housewives may have hung out their clothes on the line to dry today, but I don't trust the northern wind: sacré Mistral!

Collecting some dry underwear from the fire stoker rack beside the cheminée,* and reaching for some chaussettes sèches*—slung over the candelabra, I notice the look on my husband's face... but I am quick to put him back in his place; after all, HE is the oddball!

However different, there we stand, united in silence, our heads leaning to the same side as we study our Christmas tree.
"It's lop-sided, you know."
"Yes dear," my husband replies. "Il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral!"

French Vocabulary
le sapin (m) = fir (tree); pas vrai = it can't be true!; de guingois = lop-sided; le parapluie (m) = umbrella; sacré Mistral = blasted Mistral (wind); la cheminée (f) = fireplace; chaussettes (f) sèches = dry socks; il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral = it was hit by a mighty gust of wind

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Gifts and more~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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"La France" Magnetic Puzzle -- learning tool includes the French regions and French departments with their specialties

In French Music: Pop à Paris - More Rock n' Roll and Mini Skirts

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


What does a mom do when her kids use the M-word (see today's story)? Does she look to an old French billboard for the answer? (This one, an ad for "La Roue" savon--see the old red wheel in the background?--seems to suggest a good old-fashioned washing-out-of-the-mouth with soap! 

SAPERLIPOPETTE (saah-pair-lee-poh-pet) exclamation
    : gadzooks! goodness me!

Update: my friend Alicia just wrote in, adding this: The correct translation of saperlipopette if you believe Tintin translations anyway... is "blistering barnacles"... Thanks to Captain Haddock!

J'ai retrouvé le plaisir de la BD grâce à ce personnage libre de dire merde et non pas saperlipopette. I rediscovered the enjoyment of the comic book, thanks to the character who was free to say "sh--" and not "gadzooks". --from Le Monde, from the article ZEP, PÈRE COMBLÉ DE TITEUF

AUDIO FILE: listen to my son, Max, pronounce the French word "saperlipopette" and hear the example sentence:  Download Saperlipopette . Download Saperlipopette

In books: Merde!: The Real French You Were Never Taught at School

... and the memoir Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

On the way to the dishwasher, my son drops a dirty spoon.
"Merde!" says he.

I zip my lip, for a moment, and think about how the French use the M-word freely, starting from a tender age. I'll never forget hearing it shouted at the beach, in Marseilles... by one stuttering sand-castle engineer, a little tyke of four years old. "Merde!" he exclaimed, when the water rushed up, demolishing his digs.

"Merde? He said 'merde'!" I remember my astonishment at how the French parents continued to chat, comme si de rien n'était.* Once again, I began to question and compare cultures, thinking back to my experiences in the States. In my mind's ear, I could not hear the same four-letter complaint on a beach, whose shores were closer to my native land. Surely, back home, a four-year-old wouldn't shout the S-word? No, I decided at the time, American toddlers don't cuss like that.

And then I had kids of my own. I think I've been on them about their cussing ever since they turned two (the age of mimic--and they weren't mimicking me!).

"Max!" I complain to my now thirteen-year-old. "Fais attention à ce que tu dis! Careful what you say!"
"Qu'est-ce que tu veux que je dise? Well, what do you want me to say?"
What's wrong with the perfectly retro "rats!"? I wonder. Now there's a keen expletive!

"Zut!" his father offers, picking up the dirty spoon and putting it in the machine, along with the breakfast bowls.

"Que ton langage soit... soit..." I search for a French word to illustrate my point and, taking a clue from my son, who is already halfway up the stairs, on his way to his room, I find it. "See to it that your language is ELEVE!"* Yes, elevated--raised to a HIGHER level!

Max, putting on an aristocratic air, and leaning dramatically over the guard rail offers this:


I smile, satisfied, but my satisfaction is short-lived when, with a snicker, my son comes up with another possibility.

"Oh, Max! That's LOW!"
"Crotte!" he snickers.
"Low. So LOW!"
"Go on, scat, get out of here!"

Remembering that little tyke on the beach in Marseilles, and his side-swiped tower, I think about "language building" and all those vain attempts to bring our kids' speech to "a higher level," against the waves of influence. (Not an easy undertaking when I don't understand French as they do--and now that there is a third language to contend with: French "texto" or text messaging.) With all the lofty, linguistic intentions, I wonder if I am, in a way, building my own chateau de sable*--only on a seemingly "higher" level; you know, a sand castle in the ciel.*

French Vocabulary
Comme si de rien n'était
= as if nothing happened
élevé = high, elevated
une crotte = dropping (dog mess), i.e. "sh--"
le château (m) de sable = sand castle; le ciel = sky

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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Those lime-green leaves are just itching to tickle that lemon of a Citroën.

Guili-Guili! Gallic Gazettes for you today!

Ticklish? Vous craignez les chatouilles (fear the tickles...)? Then you'd better go and hide under the bed, with the dust bunnies, lest our furled Francophile fingers find you (!) and unleash a string of snorts from your inner laughing court. Guili-guili!* Gitchy, gitchy!--we're tickling today:

CHATOUILLER (shaah-tooy-ay) verb
    : to tickle

Hear today's word and phrase ("Vous craignez les chatouilles"?): Download Chatouiller . Download Chatouiller

(OK, to be truthful, I had no French word to match today's topic, so witness, now, one wordsmith's attempt to MAKE today's term FIT into today's theme, the theme being Other People's Blogs on France):

As I was about to say... to wake somebody up, you might tickle their toes with a feather or, if you're really evil, you might poke your finger into their armpit. (We hate that!) Have no fear, we're sticking to those feathery "wake up" tickles today, the kind that awaken awareness and cause curiosity -- and the one thing we are all curious about here, is FRANCE... and the FRENCH!

So today, we're tickling each other into awareness about other sites and blogs
dedicated to France, the French, and the French language.

Here's how to participate (or "tickle" back):

=> Share with us a blog or site about France or French life via this link.

It can be your own blog (please don't be shy!), it might be your daughter's, cousin's, or grandmother's blog... Maybe it is a friend's blog... or the website of your "pire ennemi" (or "foe")? In that case, it's time to give up the green (the little green monster) and tell us about that great Gallic gazette
(or blog, or site, or newsletter...) that you secretly enjoy. Spill the beans, get it out, scour the net, leave no stone unturned. Guili-guili-guili, gitchy, gitchy, goo, we want to discover more of France, we're just itching too!

(Side note: Have you been itching to start your own blog on "something French" so as to share your experience, savoir faire, or souvenirs with us Francophiles? Here's the best advice I've ever heard: "If you build it, they will come." So here we are, fingers curled just waiting to tickle back... What are you waiting for? Start that blog! ... and be sure to enter it into the recommended blog links (via the comments box) here.

Let's start those recommendations now, I'll begin:
For a delightful peek into French life in the Ardèche region, check out Rachel Pommier's blog. She's an American writer married to a fetching, faith-filled, Frenchman (Raphael!). Along with three darling demoiselles, they make their home (and their wine) in the beautiful Ardèche region. More, here.

More French / France related sites here:

For the French Blog Directory submit your site, or another's, here.

NOTE! In order for the suggested site links to be clickable, make sure to prepend the site address with http://  (add http:// before the "www").
* Today's vocabulary: guili-guili = tickle-tickle!

Book: "Chasing Matisse" by James Morgan:

Painless French: grammar, pronunciation, idioms, idiocies (culture) and more!

Songs in French for Children - Chantons, Let's sing along in French!

Lego Make & Create Café Corner

"Petit Papa Noël" by Tino Rossi

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
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Oh, those French love their art. They tuck it into every nook and cranny. Photo of Madonna and Child in a corner niche in the village of Villedieu (Vaucluse).

CONTRETEMPS (con-truh-tahn) noun, masculine
    : mishap, mischance
    : hitch; delay, inconvenience
    : syncopation (music) ... and see story, below, about "a shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats...." (

Expressions & Examples:
  arriver à contretemps = to arrive at the wrong moment
  jouer à contretemps = to play out of time

AUDIO FILE: hear Jean-Marc pronounce the word "contretemps" and the related expressions (please check back later... having computer mishaps, or "contretemps," this morning!)

Today's Topic: Art
Share your thoughts about art. Read the story column below, watch the videos, and respond, via the comments box, any which way you like.

Would anyone like to translate the following quote, about art, into French? Thanks for using the comments box. Do you agree with the quote?:

Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. To perform this difficult office it is sometimes necessary for him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for the ordinary human being. --Carl G. Jung

The French word "contretemps" means, among other things, "a note played against the beat". I wonder whether that is why art means more and more to some of us lately, enough to dare us to put meaningless obligations aside in order to pursue creative activity (or "creativity"), and so make a swift turn, marching to another drum beat: our own.

Break apart the word "contretemps" and you get "against time" which explains why artists find it difficult to dabble in their division (you know, the art department). Who's got "temps" to sit quietly, waiting for the muse? And so we must make it (time and art): we shove a few things aside, allow the dust to build up, let the cat eat dog food, don't care about our hair... wear holes in our socks and dive into design when and where we can. If the muse is present, great!, if not, then ainsi soit-il!* Nothing's stopping us now.

Contretemps: Part Deux...
As commitments creep in, and you feel like your plate is too full, duty dripping over at the sides, you might be tempted to invent a contretemps* in order to excuse yourself from the whirlwind. Who wants to be in a crowded, cacophonic room, when one's own soul-centering salon beckons? A reading lamp with a warm golden hue dancing beneath the dusty lampshade, a pile of favorite books, a jam jar full of colorful felt markers and a sketchbook by one's side... music musing in the background. When's the last time you were there, in that cozy chair?

Contretemps: Intermezzo
(We'll now take a break in the midst of this dilemma, its theme having to do, we think, with "art 'against time' or 'time against art'"--whether that be the art of writing, of painting, of singing... or simply the art of living...)

Contretemps: Conclusion
My mom* sent me a video the other day. "For Jackie and Max," her note said. I clicked open the link and found myself carried away by a quirky Canadian creator: a filmmaker, in all due respect. And I *do* respect the dues and bad days that an artist pays to get to such freedom. For isn't that the end result
of art
: when the viewer (reader, or listener) is liberated, from time and space? Off we fly, if not contre le vent,* then, somehow, "contre temps" and time's constraints.

I hope you'll enjoy these videos by Andrea Dorfman,* my current muse. The thoughtful lyrics, by Tanya Davis,* which accompany the first video, will have you clicking the replay button again, and again.

Please forward this post to your favorite artist.

And this, another by Andrea Dorfman, is a short film about bicycling and love:

Love these lyrics from the above video:   There's no such thing as Happy, like some people like to think, it's a trick to make you buy stuff to go with your kitchen sink.

Did you like these videos? Leave a message in the comments box.

ainsi soit-il
= so be it; un contretemps (m) = an unexpected circumstance (preventing one from making it to an appointment, etc...); my mom = Jules, aka MamaJules; contre le vent = against the wind; Andrea Dorfman = ; Tanya Davis =

~~~~~~~~~~~~Gifts & More~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love & Language

In French music: ZEN by Zazie!   

French for Kids: Learn French (DVD)  

French film: La Vie en Rose

In books: Christmas in the Trenches: In 1914, British and German troops were dug into trenches in France, facing one another across the barbed wire and barren ground called No Man's Land. On
Christmas Eve, the British soldiers heard the Germans singing Stille Nacht and joined in. --From School Library Journal

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

se tromper

A bakery in Villedieu (Vaucluse). Don't you love it when the name ("Fournier") ressembles the trade ("boulangerie")?  Proof that destiny ne se trompe pas. Do you have any examples of names that match the métier? Thanks for leaving your examples in the comments box.

SE TROMPER (suh-trom-pay) reflexive verb

    : to be mistaken, to be wrong

Examples & Sound file (click the links below):
tout le monde peut se tromper = anyone can make a mistake
se tromper dans ses calculs = to mess up in one's calculations
se tromper de numéro
= to dial the wrong number
Download Se tromper . Download Se tromper

*     *     *

Do you know of any more examples of "se tromper". What is a (funny, remarkable...) mistake that you have made... in language or in life? Please use the comments box to share your thoughts with other readers.

COURRIER in a French Life...
I received the following letter from Larry Krakauer, after posting James's story a few weeks back. Larry writes:

I very much enjoyed the story by James Wilson in today's edition.  His discussion of the use of tu vs. vous, and the relative formality of some of the older French, reminded me of a true story of my own...
Larry's story begins:

 "Monsieur L'Oiseau"

In the summer of 1960, when I was 18, I made my first trip to France.  It was a language study trip with an organization called "Classrooms Abroad". I spent the summer in the city of Pau, in the south of France.  We lived with French families, and spent our mornings studying French at the Université de Bordeau à Pau.  During the afternoon, we were free to do whatever we wanted.  It was this trip that awakened in me a lifetime love of France and the French language.

Before starting our first class, we were greeted by the dean of the university, a certain Monsieur L'Oiseau.  It's easy for me to remember his name nearly 50 years later, because he had a thin pointed nose that very much resembled the beak of a bird.  His welcoming speech was peppered with examples of the imparfait du subjonctif, making it fairly incomprehensible to the members of our group, fresh out of high school French.  Once our classes started, we didn't see the dean any more.

Fast-forward to the end of the summer, when our group threw a goodbye dinner party for the faculty, and the dean once again put in an appearance.  The dinner was excellent, and the wine flowed freely.  Monsieur L'Oiseau, at the head of the table, became involved in a discussion about the relative
formality of the French professors compared with American teachers.  The university faculty all referred to each other using their titles, and the dean was always referred to as Monsieur le Doyen.  The Americans at the table noted that back in the States, teachers were very informal, and
interacted with each other on a first-name basis.

Having had quite a few glasses of wine, Monsieur le Doyen apparently decided to try this out.  Looking across the table at a professor named Monsieur Gautier, Monsieur L'Oiseau called out, in a rather loud voice, "Pierre!" Monsieur Gautier did not immediately react to this, so the dean persisted, calling out again "Pierre!"  This time, he spoke loudly enough to get everyone's attention, and a hush fell over the table.

Monsieur Gautier looked back at the dean with an expression of confusion on his face, and stammered, "Vous . vous  parlez à moi, Monsieur?"  The dean replied, "Eh bien, oui, Pierre!"  Monsieur Gautier then said, "Mais... mais..  Je m'appelle Maurice!"

Perhaps the dean could be forgiven for getting Monsieur Gautier's first name wrong, since he had never before had occasion to use it.  They had only been working together for thirty years.

Larry Krakauer, a retired engineer (, organizes a free conversation group every other Wednesday evening, in the vicinity of Wayland, Massachusetts (USA). He vacations in France with his wife Margie, who studies French with a private tutor.

If you missed James Wilson's story about his dear friend, Marie, you can view it here. PLUS! James is sharing his helpful tips on language learning. Do not miss them: Download "Tips For Foreign Language Learning" by James Wilson !

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Paris Events~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 In association with the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore, Robert Camuto will be signing his new book
"Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country". The book launch with take place on Thursday Dec. 4; 6-8 pm at Juveniles Bistrot à vins: 47, rue de richelieu, 75001 Paris Tel: 01 42 97 46 49

~~~~~~~~~~~Gifts & More~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
French film: My Father's Glory

French cuisine: Fleur De Sel De Camargue French Sea Salt

French games: Mille Bornes: First published in 1962, Mille Bornes (pronounced "meel born," French for "milestones") is an auto racing card game whose object, for each team of two players, is to be the first to complete a series of 1,000-mile trips.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


"Ignorance is Bliss" in the olive capital of Nyons.

TO BE HONEST, I don't know how to spell today's French "word," or gesture, rather. You'll just have to press your lips together tightly, then force a gust of breath through them. If a "pppp" sound didn't come out, then you've been too prude (and ended up with a "ffff"). Try again.

The resulting sound actually has meaning! It translates, specifically, to these French words: "Je ne sais pas." That's right:

Pppp! = Je ne sais pas
. (I don't know.)

Go figure. In my own (American) culture, we don't have to worry about making funny (easily mistaken for somethin' else...) noises. To give in to inquiry, we simply raise our shoulders!

I remember being caught off guard, the first hundred times I heard the French "pppp!" (Especially when a woman ppppd.) All that's changed now, and I welcome the tickle that my lips feel after uttering a sound that once lacked appeal.

"How many calories are in those cookies?" a French friend asks.
"Pppp! (I don't know!)"

"Is it an American specialty?"
"Pppp! (Beats me!)"

Go ahead. Dare someone to ask you a baffling question today. (But don't be surprised if, on hearing your reply... they run the other way.)

I am sitting at the edge of the bed, looking out the window at November's end. Once the pomp and parade of fall colors fade, what is left are the ashes of autumn. The earth turns in on itself and so do those who trod upon it. In the darkness, questions come to light, nagging issues such as, What is important in this life?

I look over to my teenage son, who is busy with the task of grooming. He's got my tattered trousse de toilette* beside him, having fished out the clippers from inside.

"Max," I say. "If you were given the chance to share an important thought with the entire world, what would that message be?"

Next, I brace myself for that flicker of genius to appear... the kind that graces children--and chance be ours when we're focused enough to hear!

I wait patiently for "the message" to be mysteriously channeled through my 13-year-old son with the overgrown toenails. I'm one to believe in the pureness of pint-sized knowledge and hope to be tuned in when Sagesse* speaks, "out of the mouth of babes".

Leaning forward, I put my ear close to the chapped lips of the would-be child savant, and this is what I hear:

"I don't know, Mom."

With that, the messenger resumes his toenail clipping. That'll do, I decide, letting the answer linger a bit.

Doubt creeps in and I double check with the mini messiah. "'I don't know.' Is that it? Is that what you have to share with the world?"

"Mmmhmmm," Max replies, and I watch a few more nail clippings rocket through the air. Some messages come with fireworks, I decide, never mind these aren't sizzling.

Well, I can work with that. And so I do. I think about Max's "I don't know" answer to a meaningful life. The "I don't know" concept is, after all, brillant! For, with knowledge comes power and how many of us make the mistake of tacking pride on to that? Pride then squashes humility and things tend to go
downhill (Pride goeth before the fall...) from there.

And knowledge, or too much of it, sometimes leads to fear. I listen to friends talk about the effect that all those info-packed newspaper headlines had on the economy. Panic sent people zipping up their pocket books. Companies shut down. People lost jobs.

I don't mean to give the big K, "Knowledge," a bad name... no, I'd never argue with my faith-filled mom when she tells me to fill up on The Word! Only, I sometimes wonder about how much I should strive to know when a lot of what I take in only serves to distract. Bits and pieces of this and that and, before I know it, I've gotten off track! There I am, left spinning in the super flu. Dad once said "You think too much!" and, you know, I now think he's right: so busy are we sifting through a magnitude of facts, that the basic ideas get hidden beneath all those "informative" stacks.

Most times I'm guilty of assumption: when I think I know something and, in fact, I've got it all wrong. Such "insights" paint my perceptions and, busy with a wealth of tidbits, I'm circling through a Never Never Land of ideas again.

I once had a Mensa-ish friend, one of those brilliant types, but what amazed me was her humility. I'll never forget her response when asked about her know-it-ness. She abruptly raised both hands... and began hitting her head! "I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!" she screamed, in all sincerity (none of that false
modesty). Her startling, head tapping show, wonderfully illustrates the concept of "I Don't Know!"

Knowledge isn't all bad, especially when it connects us to another:
Having known pain, one sympathizes with the sufferer,
having known poverty, one understands need,
having known injustice, one argues for the accused,
having known loss, one's heart goes out to the grief-stricken,
having known fear, one comforts the frightened.

                            *    *     *
I'm beginning to think that what is important in life is not how much we know, but what little we can focus on. In my case, the teenage toenail clipper sitting beside me. While I'll never understand the physics behind those "flying toenails," how they self-launch following each clip of the cutters, I can know the fondness I feel for a boy whose "message," in the end, is ever so coy.

Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome, here (in the comments box).

References: la trousse (f) de toilette = make-up (shaving) bag; la Sagesse (f) = Wisdom

Audio File:
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's gesture (if pronouncing a gesture is possible...), in response to my question "Cheri, ou est-ce que tu as mis les clés? (Honey, where've you put the keys?) Download Pppp . Download Pppp

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Gifts & More~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student, French Demystified is your shortcut to mastering this engaging language.

Chansons Pour Noel: French Songs for the holidays.

Quiet Corners of Paris is a beautifully illustrated peek into eighty-one often overlooked, always beautiful, locales: hidden villas, winding lanes, little-known 19th-century passages, serene gardens, and cobblestone courtyards.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.