Grignan Roses (c) Kristin Espinasse
A rose lover's Shangri-la: the village of Grignan. (Just don't steal the flowers... or the sweetness.... read on in today's story column.).

choper (sho-pay) verb

    : to steal, to pinch, to nab; to catch

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words (Download MP3 or Wav file)

Il a chopé un rhume / He caught a cold.
Elles ont chopé le sucre du bistro. / They nabbed the sugar. 

Synonyms: dérober = to purloin chiper = to swipe, filch piquer = to pinch, to nick

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

(Note: the following story is a re-post. It was written one year ago...)

"The Sugar Snatchers"

When your aunt and your uncle are in town for under a week... you've got to be picky and choosy about just which postcard-pretty places you'll take them to see.

Grignan was a must! Its chateau, overlooking the vine-flanked valley, and its perched, rose-petaled village, were once the residence and the stomping grounds of Madame de Sévigné, who wrote prolifically to her fille. Picture so many words showering down from the chateau, falling like tears of joy, watering all those heirloom roses, from "Autumn Sunset" to "Gipsy Boy".

The flowers steal one's attention making it is easy to be attracted to this rose-rampant "rise" in the French sky. Their colorful petals pull your eyes up the narrow paths, or calades, past the boutiques and the art galleries until you are overlooking the patchwork paysage of Provence. After your eyes expand over the valley, they are drawn back in to the skirt of the citadel, which bustles with café life.

There, at the Brasserie Le Sévigné my aunt, my uncle, and I sipped caffeine from colorful tasses à café. Feeling that after-lunch slump, we were content to let our ears do the walking and we listened as they bent here and there capturing the various conversations, most in French, though some were accented in English "city" or "country." I wondered whether the two ladies at the next table were from London? Then again, what do I know about the topography of talk or "accentry"?

Finishing our café crèmes, we stood up to leave.  I called over to my aunt, motioning to the sugar (we were each served two packets with our cup). Having only used one-half of a sugar envelope, I was slipping the leftovers into my purse. I had seen my aunt do the same at the previous café.... "Waste not, want not," she had explained, offering another of her affectionate winks. I figured I could give my aunt the extra sachets de sucre for her train trip to Paris the next day... It is always good to have a little blood-sugar-boosting sucrose on hand when traveling.).

"And take that one too!" I encouraged, pointing to the unused sugar packet in front of her.  
Just then, I caught sight of the Englishwomen at the next table. They were watching wide-eyed.

Caught red-handed, en flagrant délit, I had no choice but to finish shoving the second packet into my purse and I cringed when I realized the sugar envelope was open and showering down granulated sweetness, mixing with the contents of my purse.

My dear aunt, her back to the would-be whistle-blowers, was unaware of our unseemly circumstance. "Here," she said, handing me her unused packet of sugar. Meantime my uncle voiced our actions, as my uncle is wont to do: "Oh, what's that? You are taking some sugar? I see."

The problem was others, too, were seeing! And, what with my uncle's commentary, we thieves were a terribly conspicuous crew.

"Put. It. In. Your. Pocket!" I snapped at my fellow sugar-snatcher. But my aunt stood there, her arm extended like a red flag, sugar packet waving like the drapeau of death. It seemed to take hours for that sugar packet to reroute itself into my aunt's pocket and I stood startled-eyed until the evidence disappeared into la poche.

As we turned our backs on the café, my aunt overheard the condemning comment at the next table as one woman spoke in a disapproving tone, pointing out our petty theft to her table-mate. "They've taken the sugar!" she reported. 

Half-way to the getaway car and my aunt and I were giggling, "They've taken the sugar!" we laughed, lacing our voices with disapproving English accents. My uncle got into the back of the car, scratching his head in confusion, having missed the episode completely. Meantime, I started the engine and my aunt hopped into the passenger's seat and when we did she winked at me: 

"I've got the sugar," she confirmed. "Hit it!"

With that, we peeled out of the postcard-pretty town, bidding goodbye to a proper Madame de Sévigné and leaving, in the sugar dust, the would-be whistle-blowers with their cups of unsweetened tea.

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::

To leave a comment or a correction, thank you for clicking here.

Do you have a minute to read a short story about my uncle? And about keeping up appearances? Click here.

French Vocabulary

une fille = girl, daughter

une calade = a sloping, paved pathway

le paysage = landscape, scene

la tasse à cafe = coffee cup

le café crème (synonym for le café au lait) = coffee with cream

le sachet de sucre = sugar packet

pris en flagrant délit = caught red-handed

le drapeau = flag

la poche = pocket

Reverse Dictionary

waste not want not = (not a word-for-word equivalent, but here are two equivalent French proverbs: les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivieres ("little streams make big rivers") and plusieurs peu font beaucoup (a lot of littles make much)



 "The Missing Photo". Mama Braise says: "But where is my picture, missing from the bottom of the rack?" Smokey (off in the distance, chewing on something) responds: "...munch, munch, munch...." Braise: "Smokey, is that you I hear?"....

   French shopping bag I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.

Easy French Reader: A fun and easy new way to quickly acquire or enhance basic reading skills

In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.

Refreshing mosterizing mist: vine therapy by Caudalie

"The Joy They Bring". Smokey, as a young whippersnapper, and Chief Grape. 

Meet Chief Grape in Belgium  :

- In Liège at "Vive le Vin", May 26th from 6 PM
- In Brussels at "La Maison des Vins", May 28th

Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the five-star reviews, and order, here.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Jackie Sand

Ah. Loved the sugar story. I have a bag of sugar cubes and packets from trips to France and Italy. Would they be served again to another client if I hadn't taken them off by saucer? What fun to serve them to friends and have waves of memories rushing back. Thanks for the story, Kristin.

Diane H.

That is too funny - and clearly highlights the benefit/challenge of having English as a mother tongue. Wherever you go you can usually communicate somewhat, but you also have to assume that people understand you.

Unfortunately, the "understanding" parts always seem to happen when you're doing something embarrassing, not when you're being super clever.

BTW, we were in Grignan yesterday and the roses were indeed STUNNING right now.

Gail & Mike

Love the story, know the Café, and have committed the very same crime, many, many times! P.S. WE ARE ENGLISH!!


My aunts used to steal any leftover rolls and put them in their purses!


So opening the sugars and using them all in your coffee is fine, but taking them with you is some kind of theft? What kind of stupidity is that!

I don't put sugar in tea or coffee, but I always take one if not both the sugar packets or wrapped lumps as a souvenir, especially if they have the name of the restaurant or bar printed on them.

The English (of whom I am one) can be amazingly prissy.


As always, loved this post! Thanks, Mary

mary Paulson

Kristin, your words were so descriptive they brought on a good belly laugh! who hasn't tucked a half open sugar packet into a bag?
You have me smiling again, early this morning.Thank you .......


We do love Grignan...although it somehow always rains when we go! I've always been in the fall, so have never seen the roses in full bloom: next time!

anne wirth

Loved your article today. Hmm,look at it another way, do you want to be wise or do you want to "look" good. I always take left-overs home and sometimes when traveling, I take a few sugars with me. Turn it around in your head and say,"Those women left the sugars, oh my stars".


As always, your story brightened my day! The photo is beautiful!

Eileen deCamp

I remember this story Kristin! The photo is so beautiful! Love the playful photo of Jean-Marc and Smokey!

Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Another lovely flower-y town is Biot, even the back stoops are abloom

The first (1987) day I lived as a Provencal, Kristin, in other words, went down into Cannes on those cooked spaghetti roads, went to the bookstore and sat in a café for a croissant and real coffee in those large cups, I was absolutely charmed by the sugar cubes.

Being both poet and Francophile, I found it particularly endearing -- for the little rectangle said

Pour gardez la propriete
Nous servons le sucre

(can't do accents, but you know...)

Thanks for bringing that moment back

I remember, it was the end of October, and Cannes was planting pansies! We didn't have winter pansies yet at home, and I found that more exotic than the palm trees.



Julie F in St. Louis, MO

Thanks for the roses. We've had just too much rain in the Midwest. All my peonies are beaten down and I don't even have a chance to get out between storms to plant the pots.

I know doggie bags are not a French thing, so I've learned to walk away from some meals I couldn't finish. However, when my husband and I spend a fortune at one of his fancy restaurants he loves to splurge on, by the time dessert (my favorite part of the meal) comes -- and then the petits-fours (sp?) and truffles -- I'm too stuffed for all the sweets after multiple courses. So I always travel with kleenexes. Brad's the lookout while I quickly wrap the sweets and put them in my purse. We savor them and the memory of the wonderful meal all week.

Right now I'm doing the reverse of stealing sugar packets. I'm collecting yellow mustard packets from fast food places in the States to pack for France this summer. While I love to cook with Dijon mustard, I don't like it on my ham sandwiches. So after all these years of eating plain jambon, I'm planning ahead and taking supplies with me.


When I am in France, I also pinch "les sachets de sucre" in cafés and restaurants.
Am I a compulsive thief, addicted to French sugar?
No, I am not a kleptomaniac. Besides, I never put sugar in my coffee! Time to "faire des aveux" (to make a confession) and give you full explanation...

The fact is in England, it's not very common to find large or small quantities of sugar 'cubes' in shops. I've never found them either individually wrapped up when having a cup of coffee in a restaurant or a coffee shop!
When I'm back to England, I leave my stolen "morceaux de sucre" in their wrappings and I drop them in an empty jar next to my small bottle of French "alcool de menthe Ricklès" (2 shelves above my laptop!).
Three drops of "Ricklès" on a lump of sugar after a heavy meal, or when I'm a bit tired (or when I feel like it) works wonder!

A small bottle of only 50ml lasts for ages!
Voilà, je vous ai tout avoué!
Hmmm, at the moment, my jar of "morceaux de sucre" is empty...

- voler, s'approprier, dérober, s'emparer de = to steal
- familiar for to steal -> to pinch, to nick ...
- Fam in French (argot)
---> rafler, barboter, faucher, piquer, chiper,
and we can also add the verb at the top of this newsletter: "choper".

-> about la fille (= girl, daughter)
Here, the mother is la Marquise, Madame de Sévigné (1626 – 1696)
Her daughter is La Comtesse, Madame de Grignan. She is remembered for the famous "Lettres" her witty and beautiful mother wrote to her.
Madame de Sévigné died in le château de Grignan in Provence.
Note: re-read the description of Grignan given by Kristin at the beginning of this newsletter!

There is no French Vocab list, so, if you like, I'll send you another post with a bit more.

At this time of the year, Grignan must be full of roses and lively "cafés", as on that day a year ago.
Is it on your "List of places to go with Jules"?

Cindy McDonald

Chere Kristin, love the gorgeous photo and your story...tres drole!

Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life

My first time visit... and what a FUN and interesting place to be in.

I'll have to get linked up so I can come often!

Here's wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places.

BTW.. love the photo of your dog.. and maybe the mischief too!

Shelley Longmire

Kristin, So glad you included a story about Grignan! We loved it and want to come back again. Wonderful little shops with tasteful gifts and artist galleries tucked away. We also went back for a fabulous and affordable dinner at L'etable. Sorry we missed visiting your vinyard this time but hope to return later in the season. I don't know why I have skipped the opportunity to hoard some sugar of my own but I will not pass up another opportunity!


Salut Kristin:
You described today's moments so well that I've got the feeling I was right there, witnessing everything and laughing with you three. Your uncle's innocence reminds me of my own husband hahaha!
Awaiting more new expressions from Newforest in your next newsletter :0)

Un petit coucou à Jules. J'espère qu'elle n'a plus de souci médical.


'artist galleries tucked away'... (said Shelley)...
Did you hear that, Jules?
Have you placed Grignan on your 'map of wishes'?


To you, Kristin,
and to the readers interested in the French language,
here is a bit more French Vocab for this newsletter.

*** une calade (mentioned when describing Grignan)
-> In Provence, a cobbled path ("un chemin de pierre") or a cobbled street ("rue / ruelle pavée") is called "une calade".
-> "Calades" are uphill ("en pente"). I think they're always 'uphill but I am not 100% sure (?)
-> The Provençal "calades" are paved with "galets" - round river stones from "Le Rhône" (the river Rhône) or from "La Durance" (the river Durance) - or, they are paved with "des pierres calcaires" (limestone) from the region.

*** le paysage = the landscape.
-> '... the patchwork paysage of Provence'...
- In French, ' patchwork landscape' is "paysage diversifié"
"paysage en mosaïque"

*** une tasse (a cup).
-> use of "de" or "à" following "tasse":
- une tasse de café = a cup of coffee
- une tasse à café = a coffee cup
(same idea with "un verre à".... and "un verre de"...

*** "un sachet de sucre" is a small sealed paper bag containing a very small amount of sugar - given in cafés and restaurants to sweeten your cup of tea or coffee.
- In France, "un sachet de sucre" contains a small lump / a cube of sugar.
- Here in England, you get either some crystallised demerara sugar for coffee, or fine (white) caster sugar for tea - served in a sachet, or in a bowl (no pinching!)

- other "sachets" we don't have in England are "sachets de sucre vanillé" the French use for baking.

*** "un café crème" ... a bit confusing for me because what you get when ordering a "café crème" may vary according to ... ? (regional habits ?)
A "café crème" is basically an espresso with steamed milk - frothy top may vary - I don't really like it when served with a blob of "crème Chantilly" on the top.
I prefer "un café noisette" (espresso with just a tiny dash of cream)

- plural of "un café crème" -> des cafés crème , but also -> cafés crèmes.

Candy in SW KS

"I've got the sugar! Hit it!" That's classic, Kristin. How cute. I can just hear her saying that with a wink and a smile and then off you go! Love it! And Newforest, thank you for the phrase "paysage mosaique". What a perfect description of the beauty of that lovely landscape - like a Greek or Roman work of art. Except it's even better as it's God's work of art. Parfait!!


This is my dream home!!!!!!!!

Cynthia Lewis

I laughed out loud while reading today's post! Many thanks. Could it be that "calade" is a word used only in certain locations? I am unable to find it in Le Petit Robert or in Larousse. (really loved the roses,too)


I don't mind previously posted articles. You are increasing my knowledge of geography along with my French vocabulary. Merci!


Our family just moved to Luxembourg from the States and I have been trying to learn French, also I love to garden as well so I really enjoy reading your posts! Your uncle reminds me of my Dad except he has hearing difficulties so he shouts whatever I am trying to conceal! When my parents came to visit they talked so loud in English wherever we went, I explained just because you do not understand them does not mean they can't understand you, as most people speak some English here. It did make for humorous lunches though, thanks for the post.


To Cynthia Lewis,

The answer to your question on "calade" (+ extra details about that word) can be found in one of the posts sent yesterday (3 posts above yours)

Bonne journée!

Cynthia Lewis

For Newforest: Thanks for your response to my question about "calade". You noted clearly that it is a word used in Provence,but it somehow didn't "sink in". I enjoy your little French lessons which are a nice adjunct to Kristin's delightful writings. Bonne journée!

Cynthia Lewis

Looking at the time corrected for France, I should be writing... bon soir!


Bonsoir Cynthia,

Thanks for your appreciation.


20:50 here in England
so, 21:50 in France (09:50 pm!)

No idea what the time is for you but you're right to change "Bonne journée" *Have a lovely day!)
"Bonne soirée" (Have a lovely evening!)

I just noticed we now have a French Vocab List
(I'm pretty sure there was no list yesterday...... ???)
and, 3 English expressions translated into French. Nice addition! Thanks!

Kristin, I've got the impression you've been extreeeeeemely busy these last days.

Hope you got some good news from Jean-Marc in Belgium.
All the very best!


When I was young, I remember being out to dinner with my mother and father and a business associate of my father's and we were in a really fine restaurant. My mother liked to collect salad plates and she wanted the one from this restaurant. She tried to discretely tuck it into her purse, but my father's friend said "let me clean that for you" he proceeded to hold up the plate, clean it and passed it to my mother to take. I was mortified! At least my mother was too embarrassed to take the plate.
I will take packets of sugar, only raw sugar for my expresso, because you can't always get it at restaurants.

Daniela V

What a breath of fresh air your website and your dual-language texts are! I am just finishing a professional course which qualifies me to teach French to elementary students. All along we have been emphasizing how to make language learning come alive for most less-than-enthusiastic learners of French. We have said that language learning has to be put in useful contexts (like going to a cafe in France :) and also that kids will pick it up best if they know something about French culture around the world. Your little story about the sugar packets is the first that i've read on your website and it's just what us French teachers have ordered--entertaining, applicable to real life, and learning english and French side by side (somewhat novel in French learning texts)--really enjoyed it. i will follow your site for sure. Daniela from Canada

Sara Larsen

Kristin, I love this story, you and your Aunt and Uncle too. Also, please don't ever skip sending pictures of Smokey and Braise. What a photographer you are...thanks, thanks, merci.

Sara Larsen

Here's a second comment! French-word-a-Day always makes me happy. Thanks again.

Darlene Stewart

This story is reminiscent of a similar event my friend and I had with her brother-in-law in attendance. Our tiny french flat had a dearth of supplies, so we took sugar packets on a regular basis. When he saw me do so, he actually helped collect the packets for us.
What a fun memory. Always brings a smile to my face.
Darlene Stewart

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