False friends - faux amis in French


I don't have a photo for you of les gradins, or bleachers, in Nimes. I hope this "seat" will be a good stand-in. More about Gallic gradins in the story column, below. (Update: we now have photos of the gradins (see story column and mille mercis to Michaelpatrick Callahan for his photos of the Nimes arena).

les gradins (lah grah-dahn) noun, masculine, plural

    : bleachers.

Audio File: Download MP3 file

Les gradins à Nimes ont tremblé pendant le concert.
The bleachers in Nimes trembled during the concert.


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

Les gradins... we call them bleachers, back where I come from. And back where I come from the "gradins" are placed in a field -- and not within a two-thousand-years old stone arène.*

Arene (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan
photo (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan

Just when I think I am the only one impressed by this fact, the man seated next to me (my husband) exclaims: c'est impressionnant: deux mille ans!*

Another impressive thing, according to our friend Bernard is that for 5000 seats the concert organizers have calculated only 10 porta-potties!

Waiting patiently in line with the men, I notice a remarkable contrast: the modern porta-potties are lined up within an ancient stone alcove. They look as out of place as horse-drawn carriages on an autobahn.

"That's just on this side of the arena," I argue, figuring there must be more toilets on the other side.
"Then make that 20 for 5000," Bernard replies, adjusting his calculations, and I think about how it's both fun and funny to listen to a Frenchman point out the peculiarities of his own country.

*   *   *

Will it be "The Virgins" or "The Ting Tings," I wonder, when the second band walks onto the stage. I have never heard of either one. For that matter, I haven't heard of Franz Ferdinand, for whom to see we travelled to Nimes.  I guess that makes me officially middle-aged if I can't keep up with the music scene. On second thought, that's an unfair statement: just because I can't keep up with the music, doesn't mean my contemporaries aren't on top of things. Looking around, there are a fair number of people my age, and beyond.

Speaking of age... my eyes focus on the child seated in front of me. He couldn't be more than 8 years old. What's he doing at a rock concert, I wonder? He is seated beside his middle-aged mother. The tendresse and the fragility of the two is so palpable it hurts. What is she doing at a rock concert? Once again I am judging things... when the reality is: nothing is as it seems.

A young woman lights a cigarette and the boy, seated beside her, seems bothered. He discreetly lifts the hood on his gilet* and covers his face. Finally, his mother switches seats, so that she might breathe in the smoke, in place of her son.

Another young couple is seated side by side, but existing in two different worlds (neither here nor there):  They are texting friends on Facebook. I begin to feel smug about just how present I, myself, am, in time to enjoy the here and now in this amazing Roman arena on a mild, midsummer night. Only, my sage self-image is shot when Jean-Marc points to his iPhone screen, which is showing the Google search results. "It's The Ting Tings" he replies, after I have asked him to identify the band that we are currently watching. I guess I am just as plugged-in to technology as the others. I am dependent on Google search.

Next, the speakers blast. The sound is so startling, so mind-numbing, that I begin to think about mes oreilles.* If my eardrums are vibrating... just think about that little boy's eardrums. At least he has his hood on. I notice that some people have thought to plug their ears with les boules Quies.* Smart.

Gradins (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan
photo (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan

When the band finishes, the audience begins to stomp their feet making the bleachers tremble... and creak. It occurs to me that things can and do collapse and that we are more fragile than we like to think. As I once told a friend, as he raced to reach the French Alps in time (in time for what? in time to arrive faster?): On n'est pas immortel!* (I was pregnant at the time, the time which corresponds to just when my incessant worrying began.)

I realize that I am worrying needlessly. Worrying is a sign of age. I'm afraid I'm getting old. No, I am not old. I still have friends twice my age. Now that's saying something, not that I can hear what the something that's being said is... what with all the noise!

I look at the fragile little boy in front of me and wonder, once again, what is he doing here? He looks so out of place. I turn around and notice the row of young women seated behind me. I imagine they are thinking the same of me: she looks so out of place!

If I had the guts to talk to the girls, I might assure them that more than out of place, I feel out of time. Those millenia-old stone walls, they're whispering my name... while 21st Century speakers scream "baby."


Post note: more and more, my motto is: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And so I spent the rest of the concert "banging" my head against the invisible wall before me, in beat, in rhythm, and rockin' with the best of them. The concert was amazing! Many thanks to friends Cari & Pierre Casanova for getting us tickets!

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are welcome and appreciated in the comments box.

See a 5 minute video from the concert. (If you are viewing this edition via email, you will need to click over to the blog to view the clip.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~
les arènes (de Nîmes)
= the amphitheater, coliseum; deux mille ans (m) = two thousand years; le gilet (m) = sweatshirt; une oreille (f) = ear; les boules Quies (fpl) = ear plugs; on n'est pas immortels! = we are not immortal!


At the superette in our village, I saw this charming advertisement for a bed-and-breakfast.

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I love the bicycle too!~

Style Spy

If you're too old, I must be ancient!!! And yet -- I saw the Ting Tings live last year (great, aren't they?) and I have the Franz Ferdinand CD & would love to see them. Sounds like a great concert, wish I'd been there!


Style Spy: I've just put up a 5 minute video from the concert. Enjoy!


Whee!! Franz Ferdninand -- we have two of their CDs! I love their music, but then again I also LOVE my new Benabar CD (and, much to my children's mortification, I also have three Alizee CDs). I might also recommend GREAT bossa nova from Yashmin. Give me a mood and I'll give you some of my music :-)


Okay, let's talk "old"! Never heard of your three groups, Kristin, but looked them up (I too am addicted to Google Search!) - not my favorite music. But then two weeks ago I was in a crowd of over 700,000 (some say a million) people at the Champs de Mars in Paris for the Bastille Concert with Johnny Hallyday and Christophe Mae - neither of which I had heard about two years ago. Since living in Paris, I asked around and discoverd these two artists, so I was thrilled to see (not really see, unless seeing on the big screens set up mean see) them in person. Now I must confess, I do believe I was among the oldest concert goers, even though Johnny Hallyday is older than I am, the more sensible of his fans watched from home on there TVs. One of the better things about this concert was the tame and polite crowd of 3/4 of a million folks. That just isn't found in the US - my compliments to the French rock fans!

Marianne Rankin

Perhaps the little boy was at the concert because his mother couldn't get a babysitter.

I watched part of the clip. I remember Beatlemania; this is worse, even noisier.

I can't help but think that the more electronic society becomes, the more people, and especially younger ones, live in worlds, if not exactly artificial, then ones far removed from the "real" one. I've thought more than once that your children are fortunate to be in an environment where they are exposed to nature, apparently don't spend all their time on TV, video games, etc.

I hope that sometime, there might be a sound and light show (Son et Lumiere) at the Arenes, where the past is evoked.

And remember, age is to a considerable degree a state of mind.


Bravo - what a great location for a concert.
As for being too old - never! You are only as old as you feel, true some days I feel truly ancien - other days I could dance til dawn. ne laissez pas la peur ou le sens commun des nuages de votre jugement - not quite sure of the translation ;-D


What I thought was fun was the way the wine bottle was being passed around backstage and everyone had nice glasses.
A friend recently went to a pro baseball game She said that she, along with many others, paid little attention to the game. They were texting and/or talking to friends on line.


Oh, I forgot to add, for those quieter, more contemplative moments that one might need, say, for one's first cup of coffee in the morning, I would recommend the lute music of John Dowland, the late 16th century "rocker" contemporary of Shakespeare. (Don't you just love music?)


I just placed a photo of les gradins in the arene de Vaison-le-Romaine at http://www.bolderstats.com/gradins.jpg

Having been to events in several of the Roman arenas in Provence, I've always been impressed at how HARD those stone gradins can be!

Fred Caswell

Kristi, I am proud that you have friends "twice my age", moi inclusie!

Recently Nancy and I helped celebrate a friend's birthday by treating her to dinner -- her choice of place. At her chosen waterside hotel, we were ushered dockside. Beth selected a table with the best view of the luxurious boats secured nearby and some of the bay beyond. Already in a bit of a funk, the uncomfortable metal seats were the first of disappointments for this old cogger. Next came the menu that excited our guest but left me further frustrated. A promising surprise was the unexpected threesome band's appearance -- pleasing until they began their performance. They were so loud my discomfort was pushing me to becoming a most uncooperative host to our "birthday girl"

By this time Nancy (wife) had retrieved two cushions to pad the seats as Beth's physique required none.

In full view of the band's leader and vocalist, first holding a hand over each ear, then stuffing pieces of mouchois papier dans les oreilles, the annoyed vocalist announced that if the music is too loud I could move to the table furthest away. Now fully in a funk, my reply was that I couldn't as our quest likes this table and it was her a birthday.

At that point it dawend on me what an ass I was being so, comme toi, I decided to join in the spirit of the occasion. As Beth and Nancy got sillier and more jovial, I moved with the band's beat and actually had a good time. Yes, the band sang "Happy Birthday" to Beth and displayed great talent

After gifts were given we moved to explore the docks. Perhaps acknowledging my improved behavior, a mellow song was rendered and I danced alone on the walkway leading to the docks!.


Kristin, I chuckled and laughed WITH you all the way through your story. Didn't the Romans build (invent?) arenas to focus the population's attention on something other than the state, and hence keep the populous 'in line,' in a way? Googling during a concert? Talk about 'stoking the starmaker machinery behind the popular song.'

'Free Man in Paris,' Joni Mitchell



The Archduke Franz Ferdinand's name given to the band is also out of “time” in the Nîmes Arena! Well....
In the video, I liked the few flashing lights giving a one second's view of “la foule” - nothing 'foul'... no, just the French word for 'the crowd' (as you can see Kristin, I still have some “faux-amis” sets of words trotting along in my head because-of-your- last-Newsletter!)
so... in the video, I enjoyed the flashing lights on “les spectateurs assis sur les gradins” but would have liked to see the singers the other way round, although I believe it may not have improved the sound...

Bleachers? My dictionary told me that the US word “bleachers” (a new word for me) means the same as “ terraces” (GB) and so, is the translation for the French “gradins” (rows of seats sloping upwards). I would like to know how “les gradins” of a stadium or an amphitheatre became “bleachers” in the US. Do the spectators get... bleached by the sun? Surely nothing to do with 'bleach' (= eau de Javel”) ?
I googled the word, and read what Wikipedia had to say about 'bleachers'.

In the world of pop music, I don't feel a slave of my generation (Hmmm, should I say of my "youth"?). Later on in life, I used to follow what was going on, because my children used to keep that world very much alive at home. However, I remember me telling them the music from the mid sixties to end of 70s was fun and inspirational...

Nowadays, I love watching & listening to some open air music festivals (like the Gladstonbury festival, the Isle of wight Festival)... in the comfort of my home! In the variety of performances, I often find something I like very much, so, I seem to re-connect from time to time and make my own choices, without any strong commitment, as fashion and interests keep changing anyway but one seems to keep a strong attraction for the music that we first discovered and loved.
There are times I simply turn back to the Beatles or to Floyds, just as much as to 16th century ballads, or to a selection of a few popular classical songs from Andrea Bocelli, or to some dancing tunes. Do I have to admit that quite recently I was listening over and over again to songs from Leonard Cohen?
Wonderful to have such a vast choice, to navigate through centuries and through the eternal moods suiting our heart and soul.

PS If only the stones of The Colosseum in Rome, of the ancient amphitheatres in Nîmes, in Arles and other Greek and Roman places could express some opinion..., what would they say?


Dear Kristin,

What a cute story, and I too would be thinking all the same thoughts. I would be really stressed about the bathroom situation so I have to say that you are super gutsy, : )

Happy Monday!

Arthur Boothroyd

I am thinking of that little boy. The ringing that he heard in his ears after the concert was the death scream of the sensitive cells in his inner ear. They are were)responsible for his miraculous sense of hearing. And now that they are dead, his body has no way to replace them. When older people become deaf it is, in part, the result of a lifetime of accumulated damage from excessive noise. In spite of the efforts of the audiological community (of which I am a member)there is still a popularly held belief that deafening music is better than comfortably loud music. Ear defenders? Put them alongside seat belts and skateboard helmets. None of the bits and pieces that make up our bodies are immortal.

Holly S


I have the opposite problem of feeling old. I just turned 50 today, but I keep wondering when I'm going to grow up?! I feel a perennial 5 years old. I find myself poking fun at all the "serious" folks around me. Maybe it will happen this year ('bout time!). I suspect Jules can relate (Jules, if you're reading, weigh in on this please?). It seems unfair that we're all unstuck in time like this!

As those venerable bards, the Beatles, said, we all need to "get back where we belong!".


I am just like you, I look around at people and wonder the same sort of things you do!

I can relate to feeling old(er). Myself, I wouldn't even go to a concert nowadays!


"more fragile then we like to think" --THAN (fais attention !:-)

"On n'est pas immortels" --IMMORTEL,(c'est contestable, non ?)(mais, grammaticalement c'est singulier)


Gary: your note about how hard the stone gradins are reminds me that I forgot an important point: we were seated on bleachers that were placed *over* the ancient stone slabs (or over a section of the arene..). So that when the audience stomped... one could feel it up to one's jiggling earlobes.

Holly: Happy Birthday!

Kay: thanks for the corrections. I'll update the blog soon.

Many thanks to everyone for your words and stories!


Newforest: Have you seen this documentary about Leonard Cohen? Many of Canada's finest films are now freely available for online viewing:


Arthur: I wear earplugs (ear defenders) even when mowing the lawn.

Lee Isbell

Kristin, you are younger than my daughter --giving a clue to my age -- but along with Holly, I still wonder when I'm going to grow up. Not too many years ago, my sister-in-law and I went to a big Eagles concert at the arène in Sacramento. People of all ages attended, so we didn't feel out of place. Seated nearby was a well-dressed woman (not the usual rock concert look), accompanying a teenage girl. As the evening went on we noticed the woman was dancing, clapping, singing along, while the girl sat texting and seemed otherwise bored. We concluded that the woman was the one who really wanted to attend and had just brought the girl along so in case she (the woman) felt out of place, she could just shrug, as if her presence was necessary to chaperone the child. We still smile over that.


Hi Kristin...so glad you enjoyed your concert and it is good to get out of your comfort zone now and then as it is suprising what you miss out on otherwise...whole different worlds! Fantastic venue for a concert...so lucky!

Bruce T. Paddock

Newforest -

I don't know what "terraces" are, unless they are in back yards — sorry, gardens — or hillside farms. But bleachers are wooden or metal benches that, as you said, slope upward away from the stage, field (pitch?), or court. They are found in, among other places, high school gyms across the US, but they must have originally been only in outdoor venues, because it does appear that the word (which goes back to at least the late 1880s) derives from being bleached by the sun. It seemed unlikely to me at first blush, but two different sources I trust gave that etymology. (Speaking of "blush," a day in the bleachers is much more likely to turn me red than bleach me, but what the hey.)

Christine Dashper

Hi Kristin,

I like this story. It reminds me of a conversation I was having with my friend today who has just turned 70 and become an Australian citizen, all in the one month. She believes and so do I, age really is a state of mind. This lovely lady has 20 years on me and there are times when I feel I am struggling to keep pace with her, she is very inspiring.

The rock concert sounded great, I really like the Ting Tings, Franzferdinand hmmm, ok, but have to admit I haven't heard of the Virgins. Then again nor had my 22 year old daughter, so I don't feel too bad. As for Rock Concerts, love 'em. The louder the better.

Thanks as always for sharing.

all the best


Oh, Kristin. How fitting that you should post this story. Last Friday evening, I took my daughter and her girlfriend to see the Dave Matthew's Band who was performing in an open air arena - also with bleacher seats - in Hershey Park (the chocolate-themed amusement park) in Pennsylvania.

Anyway, given the combination of wall to wall crowds of beer-spilling youth (Who am I kidding? Plenty of them were my age.), uncomfortable bleacher seats, long lines to the bathrooms and the fact that my daughter preferred to be with her friends on the infield ("Go - have fun - I am fine", I said.) - I decided to go for a walk. My walk ended up projecting me right back to the front entrance - which I took as a sign - so I texted my daughter and I left the arena - telling myself I just needed a little retreat.

Once outside, I noticed people my age sitting in small quiet groups, complete with fold-up chairs and picnic baskets, listening to the music as it spilled over the walls of the arena. What a fantastic idea and much more fitting to my mood for the night! I went back to my car, grabbed a blanket, purchased a mocha latte from the chocolate shop nearby and headed back to find a spot where I could rest my head and enjoy the music. At last I felt more like a contented participator and less like a critical observer. Now, the only thought left to concern myself with was the reality that these inebriated concert goers were going to be sharing the highway with me later that night. ("Calm yourself - focus on the music.", I told myself).

Driving home, I attempted to explain my evasive actions to my daughter, who still could not understand how I could prefer to be outside of the "fun" looking in (or "listening in"). Obviously, my carefree days of rock and roll had slipped into a blissful retirement without my even realizing it.

[I love the colorful bike photo!!]


To Fred, who
'danced alone on the walkway leading to the docks',

here are these lines for you:

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love ...
('Dance me to the end of love' - Song by Leonard Cohen)

John Dowland's 16th century lute music.
Hi Diane,
What you recommanded for 'quieter and contemplative moments' sounds delightful. (music played by Julian Bream?)

Thank you Douglas for the link. A 1965 film documentary about Leonard Cohen sounds fascinating! I first discovered his music in the 80s. Weathered by time and experience (he will be 75 in September) he carries on his musical journey across the world. What was he like in the mid 60s? I'll soon find out. Mille mercis.


A big smile and a round of applause for "les incroyables sacoches publicitaires".


Sorry Bruce!
I completely missed your post and your good explanation regarding 'bleachers'.
Thank you for all your trouble. I won't forget that (US) word now.

In a British stadium, the 'terraces' = the unroofed tiers around the football pitch (should I say the 'soccer' pitch) for the spectators.

In Great Britain you can have a detached house, a semi-detached house or a terraced house (US “row house'?)
A British “terraced house” is part of a “terrace” --- a “terrace” being a row of identical houses with common dividing walls. The street onto which the houses face can also be called “terrace”.

In my house, behind the conservatory and before stepping into the garden, I have 'a terrace' (paved area) that some people like to call 'a patio'.

Hmmm from gradins, to bleachers, to terraces, that's it!
et merci encore pour "the bleachers".

matthew michael

Moi, j'adore les Ting Tings!


P.S. "Bleachers" typically signifies a sporting event, or a school gym. They certainly are made out of metal nowadays. What you describe sounds more like what we'd call an "amphitheater."

Pat Cargill

K, enjoyed this story and the video. Fred, I am with you on finding loud music at restaurants offensive. It is ridiculous.

I have lost a lot of hearing, mostly from using leaf-blowers sans ear protection, which I now do use.

Leonard Cohen is The Man. The best of the troubadors; I adore his music, listen to him quite a lot. The documentary was great, esp the collaboration at the end with Bono - jeez if I am getting that right.

I am an Oldie but Goldie music fan...hey, get ready for this. In December it was a Neil Diamond concert then a couple months later attended the Billy Joel/Elton John one, screaming meanie that i was. I walked in as a 60-something and left as an 25-something...so fine.

Holly S


Thanks so much for the birthday wishes! I love your column! Such a terrific Birthday treat! It was the highlight of a tough day.

Keep 'em comin!!


Great story - never heard of Les Ting Tings,it's my age, great name for a band though.

I felt like I was on those 'bleachers' with you, the way you described your surroundings and the people, it is exactly what I do.... definitely a mother thing and then I get home and think, 'Yeah, that was real groovy!!!"

Ken Boyd

Think of it.............
earplugs at a music concert ................
lunacy ............ or is it me ?
give me Mozart or give me silence !


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