Bagatelle (c) Kristin Espinasse
(Note: photo taken last month, at our local fleuriste "Jardin et Bagatelles".)

Reminder:  If you happen to be in Paris on October 7th then we would love to meet you at the American Library!

bagatelle (bag-a-tel) noun, feminine

    : petite chose (small thing), bauble, trinket; knickknack

Example Sentence and Audio File: Download Wav or Download MP3

Sa passion pour la culture est évidente: sa maison est remplie des bagatelles et de souvenirs de voyage. Her passion for culture is obvious: her house is full of knickknacks and travel souvenirs.

A Day in a French Life...

by Kristin Espinasse

It is a little early to write about the harvest (phase two, that is) and a little late to talk about our trip to Austria (we drove there from Croatia...)... although I do have several anecdotes to share. Ce sera pour une autre fois*....

I'd like to stick to the moment. It is 7:53 a.m. and if all goes well, I will post this missive by eleven, in time to finish "finding my words," at which point I can match them to the "word of the day," which, si tout se passe bien,* will reflect the theme of this essay. (I have a hunch, at this point, that the word will be "pile". Though I am not quite certain of "pile's" exact meaning, I am hoping it means "exact" as in "exact moment" -- for this is what I wish to write about: the here and now).

Behind me is a made-up bed, covered lightly according to the season (with my grandmother Audrey's green crocheted afghan, which matches nothing in the room except this bucolic heart). Missing is a bed post and a box spring skirt (so that, depending on your vantage point, you might see so many plastic storage boxes beneath, full of sheets, pillowcases or recycled paper and ribbon. The bed doubles as a gift-wrap department -- but don't let the word "department" throw you off; organization stops there (I never get the gifts out on time).

Beside me, the length of a queen -size bed away, the porte-fenêtres* are grandes ouvertes* and a cool breeze wakes the room from its slumber. Outside, I hear the drone of a tractor (not our own). The sun is shining on the vine rows beyond, causing their heads to turn granny-apple green.

Jean-Marc is shaving in the next room. He must have an appointment. I hear the water running and the swishing and the scraping of Hurry (could he be brushing his teeth while shaving? He must be in a hurry).

Silence now fills the room and I realize that my husband has shut the porte-fenêtre before disappearing downstairs. I panic, realizing that I forgot to ask him to record the French sound file (and verify my slapped-together example sentence...) for this edition. Too late now, he and the other native French speakers in this household are on their way out the door...

Now, at huit heures vingt* (for I have been lost in thought the last few moments, trying to identify the pounding sound coming from a neighboring farm, un bruit* that was born several days ago and I still haven't figured out its connection to wine-making... unless les voisins* are making wine the old-fashioned feet flattening the fruit way.)

As I said, now, at huit heures vingt (make that 8:22, for it took two minutes to write that last sentence) it is time to search my computer for a photo to illustrate this edition....

Bagatelle (c) Kristin Espinasse

Bon. Tant pis. Ça ne fait rien:* I guess we're going to have to make this photo fit this edition. Firstly, we'll pretend that is I, the editor, and that that is my office (the bed's covers have changed...) How to you like the old-fashioned fan (in place of that "cool breeze entering through the porte-fenêtre"?).

As you can see, I am gazing, with my bloodshot eyes, in the direction of the bathroom, wondering where all that pounding noise is coming from (I know my husband is multi-tasking, what with the tooth-brushing and the shaving... but I didn't know his feet could reach out the window... to the grapes in the cellar below -- in time to press them the old-fashioned way).

Well presse-moi if I'm not impressed!


Post note: looks as though the French word "pile" didn't make the cut. Not that "bagatelle" illustrates today's rambling any better... unless one thinks of so many bagatelles / knickknacks as souvenirs, each representing a moment in time. I hope you have enjoyed this moment in time, or behind-the-scenes look at the making of this newsletter. In the time that it has taken to write it, I have had the luxury of emptying and refilling the dishwasher, filling the clothes-washing machine, clearing off the breakfast table, feeding "Maman" (aka Braise-The-Dog)... this, in my best attempt to copy my talented multi-tasking husband.

In the time that remains, I will put together the vocab section, place the sponsors (thank you, thank you sponsors!), come up with an example sentence, decide whether or not to take the risk of recording the sound file and, eventually, try to woo you with a few items in the shopping section at the end of this letter... before picking up the kids from their half-day at school. Bon, time to get a move on! Wishing you all a merry, multi-tasking moment as well!

Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are always appreciated and enjoyed. Merci beaucoup!

Optional discussion: Is today's word "bagatelle" a new favorite? Otherwise, share your favorite French word!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~
si tout se passe bien
= if all goes well; la porte-fenêtre (f) = window door (French door); grand(e) ouvert(e) = wide open; huit heures vingt = eight twenty; un bruit (m) = a sound, noise; les voisins = neighbors; Bon. Tant pis. Ça ne fait rien = well, never mind, it doesn't matter

En route to Vaison la Romaine (c) Kristin Espinasse


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You continue to amaze me, Kristin, with each post. I feel like I'm reading my Horoscope, you are so "on the mark" every time. And Bravo to Jean-Marc, as he is a very special man indeed : multi-tasking? An especially rare talent for any man (at least the ones I've ever met)! Happy day to you all as well:)



Delightful article, but I don't think I've
ever seen an afghan with a green crotch.


Angela and Rob,
Thanks... and for the correction, too (yikes!). I've fixed it. I can just hear my Grandmother Audrey laughing from the Heavens above (where she's playing bridge and drinking shots from her dainty teacup). She'd get a real kick out of seeing me here, hidden under chair, refusing to come out in time to write the next post.

Bill in St. Paul

Great sound file - I just wish all French would speak at that pace and that clearly. One of my favorite words in French (besides the phrase "à point" which I've mentioned before) is papillon - I always get this vision of a large beautiful butterfly, whereas with "butterfly" I just get a vision of a small Monarch butterfly among the flowers.

As for multi-tasking, I was going to rebut Angela's assertion that men can't multi-task (we can), but I think women do it better. When I come down to breakfast and my wife has cookies in the oven, bread rising, a cake in process, the lawn being watered, the dishwasher is already emptied, and shrimp in a marinade (her mother's coming for dinner), I realize I'm an amateur multi-tasker.


Screech, si funny, Rob! Kristen, obviously today's missive is going to bring forth some "good stuff" from the readers. Multi-tasking, egads I try not to, but...

I have brushed my teeth while: loading laundry into the machine, scrubbing the toilet, meandering all over the house; I've also packed a suitcase, made the bed (often), and on and on. I try to use this activity (well, sometimes) to practice concentrating on the present moment, actually paying attention. Maybe I'd be more successful by closing my eyes (can't see anything else to do!) and holding onto the towel hook so I don't wander off! Add to that lifting one leg to stand in Tree pose to keep me planted to the spot! The goal of course is to practice that elusive "activity" of focusing...tres difficile pour moi. I'm not often successful as teeth-brushing seems to lend itself SO well to other activities!

Un autre good laugh from the image of J-M brushing teeth, shaving and stomping grapes all at the same time--and able to fermez la porte-fenetre, to boot!

Enjoyed sharing your moment in time...anytime!

Jim Herlan

Kristin, I offer this suggestion not as a correction but as a second meaning. I believe that une porte-fenêtre is often called a "French door" in English, even though that term is never used by the French. Sort of like "French toast" in that sense! Cordialement, Jim


Hi Kristin,
got me all enthusiastic with this new word bagatela that I haven't heard or used since my childhood. I wrote it in Croatian or Bosnian way since this is where I come from and this is how we write it. I am sure the origine of the word is the same, the meaning is different; we call something bagatela when it is very inexpensive.
Dovidenja, Mira


A study of bagatelles would not be complete without reference to Herr Ludwig's multi-tasking whilst creating his own "petit chose" -- les six "Bagatelles, Opus 126" : In Beethoven's usage, each was considerd to be a single character piece, perfect for your blog, Kristin, where "characters" are most certainly welcome! Enjoy:

Jules Greer

Hi Honey,

I felt like I was in your bedroom this morning - I can see the stress of the harvest is getting to you - you were all over the place this morning, now I'm going to have to go back and reread your post to see how serious your apparent approaching breakdown is this season. You must calm down. I did find enchantment in your morning routine as I lie here in my cozy bed waiting for my darling husband to bring me my coffee. Your day will come...Of course Grandma is laughing her head off.

Don't worry about my birthday - and I promise not to ask you for any favors for the next two weeks of harvest.

I must confess I wondered who that beautiful voice belonged to, what a surprise when your own mother doesn't recognize your voice - I then went back and listened 5 more times. You should always do the voice, you are the best, very clear and easy to understand.

Be cool Honey - this is going to be a great harvest- please post lots of photo's of you and JM.




Hi, Mom. No worries. I'm not stressed (impossible when listening to Beethoven's Bagatelles, Opus 126 (thanks, Diane!) and reading all these lovely comments :-)

Mira: thanks for "bagatela" and its definition.

Jim : I'll add "French door" to the definitions -- glad to have it.

Bill in St. Paul: She's a keeper!

Pat: I love your stories. Keep them coming!


Bill in St. Paul: No rebut necessary, I only meant the men I've personally come across haven't reached quite those capabilities to any extent!! No offense intended as so obviously you magical multi-tasking men (on ANY level) do apparently and thankfully exist.


I learned yesterday that I had been pronouncing the French word for cat -chat-incorrectly for many years. In school I was told it was pronounced shawt with the t pronounced. Friends who spoke a bit of French said it the same way. Coworker who took University level French said no, shah is correct-internet confirmed. Doh!!!
Love the description of your room and the activities around your home. Give Braise a hug!


I love this post...I was holding my breath thinking what was to happen next..and the picture is hilarious! Ha ha, Kristin, blood shot eyes, the breeze? Too cute!

You know I am always multitasking and spend the part of my day that I am not multitasking thinking how not to multitask, and the other part thinking how come others do it so much better that I do...oh

As to making out noises and what they could mean...if I told you, you would know that I live in the weirdest complex is all of Pasadena...ha ha. I hope you don't have another reader from the same complex, maybe my neighbor who makes the weird noises.


must go!

Marianne Rankin

Multitasking can often disperse our attention rather than focusing it. It depends what you are doing. I can do any number of things while watching TV, although reading is not one of them.

What may seem like multitasking is often "overlapping." While food cooks in the microwave for 3 minutes, you can empty the dishwasher, for example.

A man told me once that women were more suited to domestic tasks because they were so good at juggling them. The point is, anyone can get good at anything, including juggling/multitasking, if he or she practices enough.

Kristin, you have mentioned your accent several times over the years, implying that it is really bad. I gather the audio file was a recording of you today. It sounded good to me. If one listened carefully, one could say it probably wasn't a native speaker, but it certainly sounded French, not American. I think you underrate your pronunciation.

We all appreciate the effort that goes into your posts, and have learned both vocabulary and culture from them. It's also nice to get to know you and your family.


"Bagatelle"...a charm, a moment hanging like droplet shared from a thread of time!
Yes..a new favourite word!

Here is mine back for you ( although maybe not quite so eloquent)...

7.27 am... the early sun and bird song is coming through the glass doors opening onto a little stone courtyard where my study looks over. The house is waking up. My son is rustling in his bedroom getting ready to go to school for his final trial exam this morning. My husband has already left to catch an early plane to the Gold Coast for work today. My 8 month puppy is running madly through the house throwing a plastic bottle around and chasing it again...the whistling kettle on the stove is demanding attention...time to go now and start the day ... :-)


For me, the word "bagatelle" refers to a sort of wooden pinball game we had when I was a child . . .

Christine Cormack

I once mistakenly asked the boulanger for a 'bagatelle' when I meant a 'baguette'. I can still feel the blush and hear the good-humoured laughter of the baker! Kristin you need a bagatelle de fée (magic wand) to help you do all the things you achieve in a day! Well done!

Christine, Australia

JacquelineBrisbane (Oz)

Martina, shawt as you pronounced cat IS correct! It would be spelled 'chatte' and is a female.


According to the French/English dictionary it is supposed to be pronounced shah. Is it shah for a tom and shawt for female? Je suis tres confused!

Lee Isbell

My dictionary (Larousse) shows "chat, chatte, nm, f cat." and shows the "t" sound for the feminine. So all would seem to be correct, depending.


Marianne: re the sound file: I should have included the first three attempts at pronouncing that sentence... :-) I admit that my husband's teasing words came back to me: "Rrrrrrr! Is that rrrrrr, cherie?" In the first few audio files, you could really hear my American "r" (in "pour"). I also had difficulty pronouncing "souvenirs". In my third attempt, I figured out a way around it: cut the word into two syllables (by pronouncing it "soo vneer" -- instead of "soo veuh neer").

Part of why I think my accent is (seems?) so bad is due to the fact that my family is now constantly correcting me (so it seems I am always making mistakes). I did find, however, that by making the sound file, then listening to the result, I could better "repèrer" or find the weak points. So I'll add "recording one's voice" to a list of tips on how to speak better French :-)

Mille mercis for your feedback!

Bruce T. Paddock

Kristin -

If that's you on the sound file, I don't want to ever hear (or rather, read) you complaining about your accent again. Wow! I was sure it was a native speaker.

It seems to me you sound a lot like the actress Gabrielle Anwar, although I've never heard her speak French, so I can't be sure.

Anyway, my favorite French word has always been "taquiner." When I was in the 7th grade we had a Swiss exchange student stay with us for several weeks. Everyone in my silly, sarcastic, absurdist family had to learn how to tell him we were only teasing: "Je taquine!"

P.S. He learned very quickly to taquiner us right back.


I loved your post today. Made it connect to my own stay-at-home, but very busy working, mom life in Idaho. Made me remember that moms in France and in the U.S. really are very similar. I also continue to love that you and your mom write each other on the comments section. So nice to see you two "together" in your family, even so far apart.

By the way, an anatomy professor (a woman and mom) gave a lecture for a class I took that pregnancy actually changes a woman's brain so that she is more able to multi-task than she was before pregnancy. Of course moms who adopt are also great multi-taskers, so it's not purely chemical, but I thought that was interesting!

Michael Armstrong

Kristen, pas de souci! Your pronunciation was terrific. Recording and playing back one's voice is the time-honored way of improving one's accent.

For Martina, the generic pronunciation and spelling is the masculine form in which the T is not pronounced. If you are referring to a female cat, however, c'est une chatte, and one DOES pronounce the T, but softly with little expulsion of air. Hope this helps.


Thank you for the chat, chatte clarification. It really had me wondering.


The dictionaire doesn't exactly sign up for your definition!? I would have thought that bibelot was more like it....

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