epingle a cheveux

peur bleue

Door in Sicily (c) Kristin Espinasse
The French have a colorful word for what we scaredy cats feel. Read on. Photo of Italian door taken in Aciereale, Sicily. Get out and take some photos or keep a point and shoot camera on hand, at all times, and never miss a shot!

une peur bleue (per bleuh)

    : a morbid fear 

(also, in French expressions including color, see "l'heure bleu")

Audio File
: listen to the following words: Download MP3

Je connais des gens qui ont une peur bleue des serpents, des araignées, et des rats. Et vous? C'est quoi votre peur bleue? I know people who are frightened to death of snakes, spiders, and rats. And you? What scares the daylights out of you?

Pronounce It Perfectly in French with Audio CDs

avoir une peur bleue = to be scared stiff
faire une peur bleue à quelqu'un = to put the fear of God into someone


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

The rain in Catania, Sicily had us changing our plans: forget a periple through the vine-dotted hinterland—, we might take our chances and follow that patch of open sky.... 

In a rented Fiat Panda, Jean-Marc drove toward the clear coastline, and we hoped the industrial zone that we were currently passing through would break, just as the clouds had, and it did. We coasted into the city of Acireale, our eyes filling with history as it draped itself across the façades of the Baroque bâtiments.

A New Year's day parade was underway and we weaved in and out of the Catanian crowds, like fish in the Ionian sea just below, and when the sea breeze wafted past we followed our noses out of la piazza, past a dozen churches and chapels....

"Ça te dit de marcher jusqu'à la mer?" Jean-Marc proposed, pointing up to the street sign, which indicated a footpath to the sea.

I am not so adventurous as my husband, but it is a new year!: a good time to shake off one's lazy ways and a good time to put other's wishes before one's own. 

Halfway down the isolated path, doubts began to creep in. Strangely, there was no one else around—unless you counted the ghosts of graffiti. And where there are graffiti there are gangs, are there not?! I thought about the industrial zone we had passed through earlier... industrial zones where delinquents roam!

Stop imagining the worst! I cautioned my mind, which was ever jumping to conclusions, thanks to the news reports that had fed it over the years!

Still, I began to panic. What if a couple of drug-hungry hooligans were hidden at the end of the painted tunnel through which we walked? Switchblades came to mind. My heart thumped and, fast as that, my mind was off and running... with all of the sensational headlines that I had ever read! The macabre news came back to haunt me. It was for this very reason that I had to stop reading the newspapers last year, when the collective shock value of so much bad news had begun its debilitating effect until it seemed safer to stay in ... than to venture out.

It is thanks to almost daily telephone calls to my mom, Jules, that I am reminded of all of the good in this world, despite so much tragedy. Though my mom spends a lot of time in her room, when she does get out the door... to the Mexican streets beyond, she is shaking hands and kissing faces and smiling at the locals—and wondering why she doesn't get out and dance with life more often.
"But Mom!", I always warn her, "you should be careful where you go!" Nevertheless, by the end of our conversation, I have listened to yet another lively story of love: or what happens when you reach out and literally touch someone. 

During last night's call we shared our sadness about the horrible tragedy: the shootings that took place this past weekend in our former home state of Arizona. And yet, Jules reminds me, you've got to trust others, despite it all. We cannot live in fear, which only perpetuates more of the same.

The antidote to this peur bleue, or "blue fear", may just be a red badge, or un emblème rouge: the courage to face our fears, to continue to count on and be counted upon by others, and to trust that it is, after all, a beautiful life.


(Read part two of this story, here.)

To post a comment on this story or on today's word, click here.

French Vocabulary

le bâtiment = building

la piazza = Italian for square (village square)

Ça te dit de marcher jusqu'à la mer? = Are you up for a walk to the sea?


Graffiti and all, it's still a beautiful life! Photo taken in Aciereale, Sicily, Italy. 

Smokey (pictured here as  a pup) recommends the story "Mémère"--about his own mom and the funny French term of endearment that they gave her as a pup! Click here.


Bien dire magazine Keep up your French with Bien Dire (magazine subscription). A 52-page magazine to improve your French that you'll enjoy reading! Full of interesting articles on France and French culture, Bien-dire helps you understand what it is to be French order here.

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Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Kay Cotner

Bonne Annee a vous et votre famille......toute la famille.....chiens inclus.
Love your vignettes & absolutely love today's photo of Braise & Smokey.........
Seems you had a wonderful trip to Sicily....

Bill in St. Paul

I'm very claustrophobic so my peur bleue is to be caught in a tight spot, like being buried alive in a coffin!

Great picture of dear Smokey, snuggling with his mother!

Mike Hardcastle


Sometimes the poetry of what you write really his the spot with me. The latest example, ' we weaved in and out of the Catanian crowds, like fish in the Ionian sea just below,' Magic!

As far as peur bleue is concerned I can't think of one, certainly not like Winston Smith's terrible fear of rats in 1984 causing him to betray Julia. The shame of such a betrayal would never go away.

The news media has performed a major disservice to society in its inference that danger lies round every corner. Travel firms too with their warnings about pickpockets on the Paris metro, gypsies in Rome and Naples football hooligans in Britain and Germany. By and large people who are aware and sensible don't get into trouble. Carry your wallet in your FRONT trouser pocket (not many pickpockets can get that close to your groin without you knowing), don't have your handbag on the passenger seat of the car, or on your lap if you are a passenger, if possible don't have your wallet in your handbag. Lonely places are lonely because there aren't any people, ergo no danger. I have spent a lot of my life alone in various cities in Europe sometimes in very quiet streets day and evening, and still do (now 73) and have never felt threatened. But I don't push my luck and I would not have wanted my wife to wander quite so freely.

Thanks again for my daily fix of the Espinasse family story and a beautiful picture of Smokey and his mom.


Linda R.

Good morning, Kristin. Your beautiful photo drew me immediately in to your story. Today is my daughter's birthday - she loves lions and I love doors so ... whatever serendipity chose you to decide today to include your wonderful picture (well .. peur bleue obviously) - it was a perfect choice, almost like a birthday present. I also love the picture of Smokey snuggling with his mom. Thanks, Kristin.

The lives lost in Arizona this weekend is a sad reminder of the craziness out there; your mom's words and actions are a good balance.

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin

Not much humor from Arizona today. The mood in the aftermath of this weekend’s tragic event is a combination of disbelief, disappointment and anger. The victims probably didn’t have time to experience “une peur bleue”, but the survivors and witnesses may develop phobias in the future.

Sort of makes one “mentalize” on the role of fate in our lives, doesn’t it?

À bientôt


Just love reading the slices from your life, and seeing the pictures of smokey and braise. Your comment on the tragedy in Arizona was fitting. Look forward to the next installment of Sicily

Frank Levin

I am excited by the serialization of today's story. I anxiously look forward to the next episode. The ending, however, is somewhat spoiled by the fact that I know you made it though this ordeal of passage and survived to write about it. The building excitement parallel the statewide excitement here in Oregon about our Ducks facing Auburn tonight for the football title in your home state. Today my peur bleue is that somehow my TV reception will vanish at a crucial moment.


Had to add this to my previous comment after I read your story about Memere, "in the meantime, and, like our puppy, I will need to be trained to quit licking plates." That is good advice for me to follow as well. You are so funny!


Thank you for your post today. Struggling with a personal peur bleue myself so I found this encouraging. There is more good to life than bad. If we can make that difference to even one person...well, I think it's worth it.
Sad that our dear Arizona here is again on everyone's lips in a less than positive way. The particular neighborhood in Tucson where it happened is a place where you would have felt very safe. I guess we just never know when tragedy will strike. I think we just have to live, love & do our best to encourage others. In otherwords, face our peur bleue, just as you did! Hope you made it to the beach! :-)


Cheers. Good posting; I studied French over 50 years ago; however, I am a whip at English, and here is what I found:

". . . when the collected shock value of so much bad news had began its debilitating effect. . ."

Should be "had begun." "Began" is for the simple past only. <3

Debra Houston

When I feel blue, I remind myself I am not alone. Neither am I in control of events. But someone greater watches over me. My worry will not change anything. Basically all I can do is send up a prayer, not only for myself, but my neighbors, my leaders, my country, my world. Kristin, I was touched by your post and how your mother put your concerns in perspective. Thank you. Debra Houston, Lilburn Ga

Carole Buschmann

Your mother is so right- if we don't live with love and an open heart then fear and darkness take over(have won).

Marianne Rankin

My peur bleue will always be that something bad could happen to my son. Nevertheless, I've not confined him or smothered him; we have to live, and without constantly looking over our shoulders. Nevertheless, it doesn't hurt to take reasonable precautions, including always locking the doors of the house and the car.

Margaret Dennis

I was immediately drawn to today's post by the door. I want that door. Could you ship it to me? I was wondering if the saying has anything to do with "blood running cold." I know how you felt and am thankful for the skills I honed while working in Los Angeles that keeps me alert even if I appear to be relaxed.

It would be easy to stay in our homes but we can't. I never would have met you if I had! Turn off the news, turn on a good movie and develop a radar system that keeps you safe but allows you to enjoy life.

When all else fails, curl up with Braise.

Margaret in Durham, NC waiting for the snow to begin!

Esther Dalgas

Thanks to you for this story, and blessings on those who dare to venture out and share life and love despite true danger or imagined fears. The skies are still blue above the clouds.

Lee Isbell

The older I get, the less I seem to fear "the world," mais j'ai une peure bleue des araignées, et en France elles sont ... and here I never know the correct use of grandes or grosses. (Or maybe énormes?) At least after my French spider experiences, I'm screamingly aggressive in my approach to them, rather than catatonic with fear. Whereas the French people around me were amazed at my reaction to the "nice little animals." But a phobia is a phobia, not something that can be talked away.


I am so with Jules on this one :) Life is indeed beautiful, and when we look for the good around us we can't help but find it.
When next you talk to Jules send her a hug from me will you please?
I can't wait to hear the rest of your story.

Kristine, Dallas (where snow has landed)

Bonjour Kristin:

It has been a bit since I've comment, life and all. But today (or actually tonight) I had to stop and say something as the photo in today's FWD was extraordinary. I don't know if it is a door, or what, but it makes me want to peek in and see what is beyond the lion. And the color~ tres jolie!

I find it fascinating how God divides up gifts and sometimes I catch myself asking why some, like you, 'seem' to get more than others. Your command of the written word, your eye for the world that surrounds you, and the beauty of you that is not just skin deep. I am at times envious but always thankful he created you!

Happy new year and blessings to you and yours!

GwenEllyn Anderson

Can you direct me to a site with more French phrases using colors? I think this would be a fun lesson for those that we share and those that are completely different - (rire jaune, for example).

Merci bien.

tim napier

Kristin -- yes, prose becomes poetry in your hands (and mind). Your comments about the recent tragedy were beautiful and poignant: we must continue to count on andbe counted on by othres, to re-establish the beauty of life, the beauty that life holds for us all.

Eileen deCamp

Bonjour Kristin,
I agree with Jules....Hi Jules!
I think there is so much more good in this world, the media focuses on the bad. Just live your life to the fullest, be happy, love one another and face your peur bleues!

Mike Hardcastle

Lee Isbell,

Grand(e) is tall gros(se) is fat (a little more politely large or big but most people would feel insulted if described thus).
Difficult with spiders, grosses araignées I would think. Perhaps énormes is more for children to use about spiders.



A walk to the sea sounds great right now!

Jennifer in OR

I loved the contrast between "peur bleue" and "un emblème rouge." Hoping for the latter in 2011!


We can easily let our imaginations get away from us, as I think that you did as you walked down to the sea. I hope that you met some very pleasant teenagers and not the gangster type.
Love the picture of the lion door knocker and of the dogs. Smokey looks so content - no peur bleue. Nice contrast to your story.


I too am a door lover..I've spent whole days wandering the streets of European cities facinated by the elegance of them. They seem to have such character and sense of history. So of course I was immediately drawn into your I am everyday. I loved your book and find your way with words delightful!

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