French heart shutter (c) Kristin Espinasse
My husband tells me that today's word is a little too argot... and not something he uses very often. But Jean-Marc is from Marseilles... and I'm betting people in Paris would pucker up in pleasure at pronouncing today's term, which is a synonym for "tribe" or "clan" or "posse" or even "bercail". It is especially in theme with today's story about my kindly kin.

smala (smah-lah) noun, feminine

    : big family (famille nombreuse); entourage

from the Arabic, zmalah: tribe

Audio File & Example Sentence: Download WAV or Download MP3

Pour la réunion de famille, ma belle-mère était la première arrivée, suivie de toute la smala. For the family reunion, my mother-in-law was the first to arrive, followed by the rest of the tribe.

A Day in a French Life... Kristin Espinasse

How To Eat Chocolate Mousse for Breakfast on Monday

1. Invite your in-laws over for an annual pique-nique de Pâques. Overlook tardiness when the belle-famille arrives on Mother's day, two months later. Sympathize (they are French)

2. Offer to be in charge of the BBQ and apéros (easy-pois-peasy, especially when you've delegated this task to your husband). Suggest that each in-law-invité bring along un truc or une bricole; sit back and rest on your lauriers as they negotiate among themselves to come up with the rest of the repas.

  French BBQ (c) Kristin Espinasse

3. Watch as cousins, tantes, uncles, brother-in-law, and belle-mère arrive from as far away as Verona and Fuveau, marching happily to the maison like ants returning from a newly-planted radish patch, each holding a caloric unit: there will be fresh-picked pois chiches, olive-oil pressed from hand picked olives, home-made tabouleh with apricots, hand-rolled chocolate truffles à la noix de coco.. gâteau de canard fumé avec figues, buttery biscuit cake...

4. Before dessert—and already filled to the French gills—ease back in your chaise and listen to Provençale traditions, like bird-calling. Feel your ears tremble to the timbre of merles, alouettes, rossignols, grives... close your eyes and marvel that you cannot tell the difference between man and animal, birdsong or the wistful whistling of a wine farmer.

           Uncle Jean-Claude, left, whistling wine maker (André), right

Ask Winefarmer where he got that treasure of a golden locket that he wears around his neck (the cylindrical piece of gold, fashioned into un appeaux, that he lifts to his lips before letting loose a lulaby of birds in flight. When he looks over, lovingly, to his sweet bride of 40+ years, wish on the next shooting star that you will find as thoughtful a present for your own winemaker husband.

5. Follow your family outside (now that the rain has stopped), over to the tree-lined driveway...

  How to prune an olive tree (c) Kristin Espinasse
  Wine-maker-bird-caller André, thoughtful gift-giving wife Annie, Jean-Marc

Carry a pair of secateurs and a spindle of string... hoping they'll need assistance in this olive-pruning undertaking. Watch as the pros shape the olive trees that once made up an untidy row.  Agree wholeheartedly when they stand back and declare, indeed an hirondelle could now fly through the tree, now that some branches were spared.

  Family (c) Kristin Espinasse

6. Return to the house and look at the crowded kitchen counters, casseroles climbing high to the French sky. Go and get jam jars, plastic ice cream tubs, and tin foil... tell the ladies load up on leftovers. Insist when they resist!

Divide and conquer the casseroles, calling out: est-ce que tout le monde a eu des pois chiches? Et le taboulé? Prenez-en! 

Eight hours after sitting down for lunch, kiss everyone goodbye three times. Steal a few more bisous. Remain planted on the front patio, waving goodbye, never mind that the aunts have told you to get back inside...

You'd rather catch cold than miss the chance to see them off... to the end of the olive-lined road.
Broken branches flanking their path.
When will they be back?

7. The morning after, sit there feeling devilish as you dine on dessert for breakfast. Notice the calm. It isn't the quiet house or the mood altering Mousse Charlotte. It is kinship and kindness.

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::
Corrections, feedback, and stories of your own are welcome and appreciated. Click here to comment

French Vocabulary

l'argot (m) = slang
le bércail = fold ("sheep back to the fold")
la belle-famille = in-laws
le pique-nique = picnic
Pâques (f) = Easter (click here for more on the French word for Easter: Pâques
le pois = pea

invité(e) m/f = guest
le truc (as in un petit truc) = (a little) something, thing
la bricole (as in "un petit bricole)  = (a little) something, thing
le laurier = laurel
le repas = meal
la tante = aunt
le pois chiche = chickpea 
à la noix de coco = with coconut
le gâteau = cake
le canard fumé = smoked duck
la figue = fig
la chaise = chair
le merle = blackbird
une alouette = lark
le rossignol = nightingale
la grive = thrush (faute de grives on mange des merles = beggars can't be choosers)
une hirondelle = swallow
un appeux = bird calling apparatus (see photos)
est-ce que tout le monde a eu des pois chiches? Et le taboulé? Prenez-en!  =
Would anyone like some chickpeas? How about some tabouleh? Go on - take some!

le bisous = kiss
la mousse charlotte (see similar chocolate charlotte recipe here)




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Bill in St. Paul

Great story of what must have been a great time. Do they all know that they might end up in your blog, Kristen? (Do they know you have a blog about French life?)

Geneviève radel

Coucou Kristin,

La smala en français dans le sens de famille ou groupe de personnes est un mot péjoratif. Je dirais "un groupe important et envahissant".
See you soon!


I am intrigued by the gateau de canard fume avec figues ...... please tell us more.


Great post today Kristin, and even a chocolate charlotte recipe! What a great way to start a Monday morning!


Hi Kristin,
Sweet, sweet story. I was smiling while reading. It is so great to have family around. I am going to try the recipe! I love the word "smala"


Hi Bill & friends. Good question about "do they know?" I think they suspect it... :-)

Genviève: thanks for a second opinion. Next time I'll believe my husband when he warns about a word!

Alex, re smoked duck and figs. I have a hunch one could easily add these ingredients to the olive cake recipe... in place of ham and olives!

That olive cake recipe:

Julie and Eileen -- hope you enjoy the charlotte recipe. I didn't get my cousin Muriel's recette... but I do have one for the biscuit cake..... :-) Will try to post it sometime.



Your day sounds so much like (and so different) from the Holiday dinners my family had in Connecticut when I was a young girl.

The details are totally different but the whole is exactly the same.

I know your day.

Sandy Maberly

I'm now trying to drop the three pounds that I gained while in France during the month of April. I know exactly how those friendly French meals can go on....and on....but the culinary rewards are unbelievable and well worth the extra calories! Thanks for sharing, Kristi.


I love your blog--I used to be multi-lingual; now I'm simply bi-lingual. Your blog is helping me retrieve the third language from the inner workings of my mind. Perhaps the next journey is to find an Italian blog. Thanks so much--I do love your posts!! Mary


What a wonderful day you must have had! Maybe I'll have to come to Provence and learn a few bird calls (especially the alouette). We just planted an olive tree in our backyard here in Southern California. Hope we can shape it as skillfully...

Julie F

What a mouth-watering post. It just makes me even more impatient for my July trip and all the food that awaits.

As for the second opinion about tribe, I think (from my American perspective) that the French are more formal, not just in language but in personality. Therefore "tribe" might be perjorative. But in America if we speak of our "tribe" as invading hordes, we really mean it lovingly. It's like when people hear the Midwestern, ubiquitous "you guys" in every conversation applied to all genders, all numbers of people (1-infinity), all ages, all levels of social relationships. Some people from outside the Midwest take affront at being a "guys."


The heart-shaped opening with the bright faces of the flowers above was a perfect introduction to the story. :-)

cynthia in the french alps

That was a delicious story! And so French! I've missed reading your blog during my 6 week trip to the US but now Im back in France and can catch up with your posts. Truly lovely post. Cynthia in the French Alps

joie  carmel,ca

What a wonderful day. And, did you call your mother?

Kristin Espinasse

Julie, good point about our informal vs. the more formal French -- as you noted: we mean it affectionately.

Joie in Carmel: yes indeed, I called my Mom. One of the best conversations ever! (Mom: you are THE BEST!!!!)

Herm Meyer

Salut, Kristin,

Great blog and especially good today.

Did your family honor you for Mother's Day (American) yesterday or will they wait for the French Mother's Day which I think is June 7th? Maybe they will do both....That would be nice.

À bientôt,

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

gail bingenheimer

Bof! La vie en rose! gail


Hi Kristin and all your friends !

Bricole is a feminine noun : une bricole, almost nothing
Rossignol for nightingal
à coco is not right : à la noix de coco, au coco .
Un appeau
wishing the best to all of your sibblings and friends ! Gilbert B.

Kristin Espinasse

Herm, my kids celebrate the French Mothers Day... thanks for asking!

BRISSY -- I appreciate the corrections. Off to fix those now...

Marianne Rankin

I was wondering if the French celebrate Mothers' Day - apparently so. Do they observe Fathers' Day?

Big family get-togethers are less common, I think, than they used to be, but are fun, and good for children, so as to maintain generational ties, and see that "family" encompasses more than just parents and sibilings.

The food sounds wonderful. Sandy Maberly, how did you gain ONLY three pounds in France? The idea of making meals from food just harvested from the garden is very appealing. Hope to do that later this summer, when strawberries and tomatoes are ripe. I'm eating arugula salads every couple of week from my own "potager."

Of course, what makes food taste especially good, and makes a meal more than just refueling, is spending it in enjoyable conversation with others.

joanne nixon

hello kristin and famille......thank you for the lovely post. our family dinners are chaotic and fun...i always love them. they are at our house most of the time, since i am the "maman". i make a charlotte russe which is one of the family favorites...it makes a superb breakfast too....lol..greetings from goodyear, az....today is a simply lovely day.....may you have one as well...

Kristin Espinasse

Salut Marianne, I would love some of that arugula from your garden! Enjoy and bon ap! Re Fathers Day: yes... it looks like the Fête des Pères is June 20th  (in France) this year.

Suzanne Austin

Interestingly I just came across the word "smala" in a book I've been reading, "Haussmann: His Life and Times, and the Making of Modern Paris," by Michel Carmona. On page 74 he says that Haussmann's wife Octavie joined hem at a new post in April 1849 "accompanied, Haussmann tells us, by a veritable smala (originally, an Arab chief's retinue: the conquest of Algeria was imminent). There were the two daughters, their private governess, a chambermaid, and a valet-cum-maitre-d'hôtel.".

Fred Caswell

Charming and tasteful words, story, pictures, and style by a charming and lovable ecrvain --- comme toujours!

ken boyd

You did it again.
wonderful words. great style .
You have come out of your funk !
Keep it up !
Napa Valley

Kristin Espinasse

Suzanne, Thank you for the helpful example sentence for smala! :-)


Sounds like the best fun!! Long Spring french lunches with the family multitudes in the vineyard sounds just lovely!
My husband is one of ten so I have approximately 38 nieces and nephews ( I have lost count now :-) ...family get togethers are always hilarious and always with a pot luck menu!

Jules Greer

Hi Honey, Your post is just a delight, I'm back reading it again on Tuesday. I felt like I was with all of the family, what a great way to present a post, you are so talented. Looks like Jean-Marc has lost a little weight, he must be working hard in the vines. Love the photo of JM and Max at the BBQ, Max is getting taller. I love you and miss you.



Jacqui McCargar

I'd love to be there sitting outside under the tree sipping the 2009 Dentelle Rose and enjoying the company (and the wonderful food!)
Happy Mothers Day Kristi!

Nicole lidji

Thanks for the Smalah.Had not heard the word in years ,but always thought of it as arabic although we used it in our french sentence ! We even used it with the arabic nuance and melodic sound . A very beautiful word !



Work falling on Mon, Wed, Fri, once again messes up my chance to read this the day you send it, and I am not sure how often you return to read what has been written. When I read about life in France, I love how meals are there...family and friends together talking for hours; enjoying wonderful food. In America we tend to eat fast, on the go, it seems. At work we eat quickly just in case a call comes out. I have cooked dinner there many times, only to have to leave before I get to eat, or worse have to give directions on how to finish while packaging a patient.

On that note, I need to go make dinner. Have a wonderful day tomorrow!

Good night


theresa farrens

tout la smala....ou toute la smala? xxootheresa

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Buffy, I receive every comment via email and am happy to see yours (though sorry to read about the rushed mealtimes, due to work!)

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Wonderful! What a nice place to have fun with your family and friends.

Deirdre G

Jennifer in OR

Kristin, this was absolutely beautiful, a FABULOUS story!! I wish I could have been an olive on the tree (or perhaps a leaf?) listening and watching it all.

sue m.

Reading your wonderful story reminds me of our last trip to Lille visiting our married daughter & petit enfant. A must for me is the Sunday market where we purchase produce in season (it's catching on here)bread, cheese, fish, poulet, flowers, etc. After a morning of cooking, we settle in and my sweet son-in-law says, "This is what I miss, Sunday meals with family." I miss them as well. My daughter has a wonderful l'argot also. Just as you said, Kristin, it's all about kinship & kindness. We feel very fortunate and blessed having them in our lives. It was destiny!
sue in N.C.

sue m.

"Ponder well on this point, the pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link with some memory of the table." Charles Pierre Monselet (1825-1888)
Sue M.

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