Our 13-year-old, Jackie, making a wish after putting several pièces jaunes into the votive candles tray. Sign up for a free French Word-A-Day.
pièces jaunes (pyes zhone) noun fpl
: "yellow pieces", or loose change
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Jackie and I are counting coins in the parking lot beside the boulodrome. It's "after school" aka "l'heure du gouter" and my 13-year-old is hankering for a powdery beignet, only I'm out of cash, or had thought I was....
Réfléchissons! What about the car's cendrier? My daughter and I grab for it... one of us signaling our victory with a rattling of the removable ash bin (and those cantankerous coins within!).
The triumphant rush is quickly hushed when all we can see inside the cendrier is a yellow haze. Pas de chance! Gone are the silver-edged coins that would make our bakery run an easy one. Not a one- or two-euro coin to be found!
"Plan B" has us pecking out several easy targets: the more "meaty" 10 and 20 centime pieces. What's left are the tinny tiny pièces jaunes. For our muffin mission, we'll need another 30 or so of these petite pièces.
Building little coin stacks as we go (and none of those paper penny wrappers I used as a kid, years ago), we sort through centimes of various value—in ones, twos, and fives—to add to our modest but respectable ten and twenty centime pieces. Enfin, we arrive at the spendable sum of one euro.
Having done the arithmetic and painstakingly come up with the gist of it (the funds necessary for one sugary bun), we linger thoughtfully. It is a mixture of pride and politesse that is nagging us. On the one hand, or the "pride side", one of us (I've already elected Jackie) is going to feel very uneasy unloading a ton of tiny coins on the baker's counter. And on the other hand (celle de la Politesse) one hates to trouble the baker with so much coin counting.
Then there's the guilt: the "yellow pieces" really don't belong to us. They are for the needy, or should be. A hankering is not a need, nor is a hankerer a needy one (though a hankerer may be hungry, and for a bun!). I am thinking of "Operation Pièces Jaunes" the French foundation that began in 1990 with the goal of improving the daily lives of children and adolescents in pediatric hospital wards.
Yes, but, giving is optional and, as options go: we can opt to use these yellow pieces now... and use this occasion as un rappel: a reminder to contribute our cantankerous coins to Operation Pièces Jaunes!
How quickly we convince ourselves and, like that, fast as fried flour, Jackie is off to the baker's for her beignet and back in a flash.
"How did it go, Sweety? Did the baker look at you funny?"
"No," Jackie assured me. "But she wanted me to tell you that she would be happy to buy some of our wine. That we need only to go and see her...."
With that, I slid down in my car seat. I had thought about pride; I had thought about la politesse... but I hadn't imagined our baker would worry about our very own financial fitness! Let that be un rappel. Next time I'll remember: the pièces jaunes really are reserved for the poor!
Post Note: to be clear, the French do regularly use those not-so-handy pièces jaunes... (else why would a baguette cost 85 centimes? Hmmm?). So don't hesitate to use them when you are in France.
...still and all, it is good to be reminded that a better place exists for our excess: in the pockets of the less fortunate it is always used best.
le boulodrome = area for playing boules
l'heure du gouter = snack time
le beignet = doughnut
réfléchissons... = let's think for a moment...
le cendrier = ashtray
pas de chance! = outta luck!
les pièces jaunes = "yellow pieces", spare change, pennies
enfin = finally
celle de la politesse = that of politeness
un rappel = a reminder
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That's the other Jackie, in drag. She is one of my muses, someone I had the chance to meet thanks to my belle-soeur, Cécile. Read a poem ("Bohème") I wrote for Jackie and see a picture of my belle-soeur (she's the one with the tattoo) here.
Might I add:
Thankful to be reading this book about a strong woman who doesn't have a namby-pamby bone in her body and who knows the meaning of gratefulness (grateful for a coconut covered fly to eat, grateful for a grass mat on which to sleep...) Order this book, here.
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