Memorial Day in French = la journée du souvenir

ceder le passage

Bull dog by the sea (c) Kristin Espinasse
Name this photo! Click here to add a picture title or a thought bubble. (Photo taken near St Cyr-sur-Mer).

céder le passage à quelqu’un

: to yield (when driving)

A Day in a French Life… by Kristin Espinasse

I woke up this morning with the nagging doubt that the kids might not make it to school today—worse, that we might be stranded on the side of the road, our thumbs awkwardly stuck out as we begged an early morning ride.

I should have filled the tank yesterday! And now, our car was almost out of gas. The nearest station is in Camaret, but that would mean backtracking. I could drive to Tulette, but was the pump open this early?

Just as I began calculating the distance from Sainte Cecile to Pierrelatte, Max offered  a solution. “There’s one near my collège. I’ll drive us there.”

Well, why not ? He has completed his cours de conduite, and the drive would count towards the 1000 hours kilometers of road time he would need to accumulate in order to get his license (but not before the age of 18).

Max, Jackie, and I buckle up and are soon on our way to Bollène, driving past fields of grapevines and little yawning villages, window shutters opening as we speed by. The morning sun feels good on our faces and the drive is relaxing, after all. As passenger, I feel pretty secure driving with our 17-year-old, who has completed an excellent driver’s training and knows the rules of the road by heart. He is probably a better driver than I am, but experience has merits of its own, namely precaution, which in my book trumps skill.

As we drive, I offer an ongoing commentary. “Always anticipate an obstacle—a little kid that bolts from a side street… or a dog… or a grand-mère or…”

Max interrupts. ”Mom, je sais!”

“I’m sure you know, Max. In fact, I think you are a very good driver and I feel safe riding with you. But it isn’t you I am worried about so much as the other driver out there. You must be alert! Practice defensive driving!”

Here Max shares the story about his driving instructor who had an accident in the very spot over which we are now driving. It was a head-on collision. He was driving with a new student.

“Did she survive?”

“Yes, the car just spun off the road… ”

The next few kilometers are passed in thoughtful silence. When Max picks up speed, I perk up.

“You need to slow down!” I remind him again. Only, for each reminder, Max has an argument.

“But Mom, the car is registering kilometers-per-hour, not MPH.”

It is too early for me to calculate (or divide?) kilometers to miles and so know whether Max is going too fast or too slow for my comfort zone. I cut to the point. “Well, it feels fast to me—so slow down!”

Nearing the village of Rochegude I have to look over at the odometer again.

“Max, what is the speed limit here?” 


“Then why are you going 84?”

“Mom! Old cars show a higher speed. We are really only going 80.”

“This is not an old car. Slow down!”

As we approach the gas station, it occurs to me that I won’t have to do the messy chore this time!

“Your driving instructors have taught you to fill the tank, haven’t they?”

“Yes,  but I can’t do it this morning. It will make my hands reek and I’ve got to go to school afterwards!”

I shake my head. He sure has an excuse for everything from faulty odometers to smelly gas pumps—and it all seems to work in his favor!

After I fill the tank, Max fires up the engine attracting the attention of the student in the next car’s passenger seat. Subtle Max, you are subtle! Careful, now, not to kill the engine as you did on the way in! You won't look so cool putt-putting out of here, just as you putt-putted your way in!

At the industrial roundabout in Bollène Max slows, observing the yield sign.

I watch as cars speed around the busy circle, or camembert. Although a little nervous, I trust that Max will take his time. Only, when a lumber truck passes carrying a forest of giant logs, I notice Max does not stop!

I watch as the semi-truck’s wheels spin past our car, which is presently entering the roundabout , right on the heels of the giant truck!

Our car slips in so close behind the semi that I fear we will be sucked in beneath the truck’s back tires. Looking up from the passenger seat, I now see a tower of lumber above us. The ends of the neatly cut trunks are so near our faces I can count the many circles that represent the tree’s age. Will we live as long?


In the school parking lot I am lecturing Max, who, as expected, has an argument for every point I make. And when he doesn’t have a point, he simply replies, “Quit screaming!”

Finally, I make an ultimatum:

“Max, you are NOT going to explain things away and have the last word each time! Now, listen closely. I am going to say it one more time and this time you will not interrupt me—do so and you will lose driving rights for two weeks!"

I finally get the chance to make my point without being cut off. “What you did was dangerous and there is no justifying it!”

I wait, lest one more peep come out of the reckless driver. When not one peep is made, I am satisfied and have to turn my face away, lest the smirk upon it degrade its authority.

Despite the grave situation that was now past us, it feels so good to have the last word. Cathartic, even! I can now see the allure “le dernier mot” has for my ever righteous kids!

But that self-righteous feeling soon gives way to simple humility and gratitude. Thank God none of us had the very last word this time!

French Vocabulary

le collège = junior high school

le cours de conduite = driver education

la grand-mère = grandmother

je sais = I know

le camembert = the popular round cheese is also a synonym for roundabout

le dernier mot = the last word




Max likes to lift things, just look at those arms!


Smokey likes to eat things. Just look at that tongue!


No matter what you like to do, it's nice to stop to rest and to look in a new direction. To comment on a photo, click here.


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              Click to enlarge this photo, taken in Villedieu (near Nyons).

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Avad Fan

Mothers and teenage sons: it doesn't matter where you live. The conversation is the same on both sides of the pond. Good luck with the driving. I've never prayed so often.

Karen Whitcome  (Towson, Md)

Phew! I had my passenger's foot firmly pressed on the imaginary brake pedal through this whole post. I don't remember being this way as a new driver. Wasn't I cautious? Did I attack it like a pro without having the experience, like they do? A mon avis - both of my children drive either too fast or too slow - fluctuating between the two at all of the wrong times. I worry for everyone on the road with us as well as for ourselves. Pray, pray, pray.


Loved it! This is the time when you can see them growing to adulthood right before your eyes. Alas, when they need the fine tuning the most, their reception is blocked by wanting the last word. They are straining at those bonds of childhood wanting to be adults. Now is the time to ask occasionally for a polite written reply. If it is important enough to them, they learn to form thoughtful arguments & not just mindlessly test authority. They also have to listen more intently & remember if they wish to answer.

One small typo: "whether Max is going to fast or too slow for my comfort zone" should be "too fast."

Have a really good day!

Karen Whitcome  (Towson, Md)

I've got to say - Max has superior muscular arms! And, the photo of Villedieu looks like a painting!! Did you photoshop it or just capture it in it's true state?



You have ignited many memories from our past with todays post...after I went through the 'hell' of teaching Heidi to drive back in 1980 - I literally would hand on to the door grip and hyperventilate as she would cruise in and out of traffic on the freeway. I was beyond terrified. Then when your turn came four years later I just handed you the keys and turned you loose. By that time I had convinced myself that you and Heidi were really not my kids anymore, you were God's kids and I was finally free of all the terror that comes with being a single mother in all of the castrophe's (sp_) that come with that territory. As I have complained over and over I was a single mother for 25 years and totally alone ...the car I had found for your 16th birthday was an old VW BUG on it's last leg....then as you remember my life kind of went into the toilet for many reasons so you were shipped off to live with your Dad - luckily your Dad had just completed his divorce and needed a daughter like you to take his mind off his transition. It seems to me after a while Kip gave you a nice little convertible and sent you on your way all the way from Seattle back to were 17 years old drove yourself all the way back home. My Dear God - how did we ever survive all of those years, I don't know - but we got up every morning at 5/,.M":LK}+_) - five-thirty a.m. and moved forward on the ever-turning ferris-wheel of life. AND WE MADE IT - JUST AS MAX WILL MOVE THROUGH HIS LIFE IN THE PROTECTION AND HANDS OF GOD.

My Darling Kristi - once again I must encourage you to to release MAX - you must follow my lead and only open your mouth to build up - never tear down. I remember when I had to come to live with you in France years ago because of my broken was definitely a tense time for all of us - very, very tense. After Lisa gave me my own little studio in Les Arcs and I was able to move out of your house I taped a big note to the door in my studio. It said, "KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!'

Each time you knocked on my door or I left my studio to hike through the village and up the mountain to your home I firmly set those words into my mind because I knew the pit I would fall into if I didn't follow those words. This is the path of a mother...actions speak louder than words. A peaceful and loving heart encourages and aids in the labor of your garden....MAX of course is our first flower, just as I laid that beautiful red rose on his little chest a few moments after he entered this world we must remember that he is blooming right on schedule.

Sorry to ramble on so this morning Honey - I am out on the terrace here in Mexico and the sky is still dark - but the birds are singing in the palm trees - teaching me the song for today.

I love you so much - I should be with you.







Colleen Osten

Hi Kristen, I have been reading your blog for years, and am finally posting a comment! I was nodding my head in agreement as I read this. My son is 16 1/2, and a week away from his road test. Everytime I correct him I am reminded how much more current his information is, how he is actually a better driver, and some inane excuse why the dangerous thing he just did is actually fine! I bite my tongue half the time to avoid the arguments. On the other hand... he can pick up his sister, loves to drive on long trips, and is actually a remarkably safe driver for his age. I guess it is all part of having teen boys. We lived in Aix for four years, and I can only imagine what learning to drive would be like there. I practically closed my eyes when passing vehicles in the tiniest narrowest passages, just waiting for the scratching noise. Alas there were none, but my heart would scratch a little each time!

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut tout le monde,

I had three boys that had to learn to drive in Phoenix traffic. It was quite a challenge, but they all made it. The 1000 hrs France has is a lot of practice.

Yesterday was the 366th day (leap year) of the 81st year of my time on the planet.

Cheryl in STL

My husband is a driver's ed teacher! When our two sons were learning to drive, they always wanted their dad to go in the car with them. In spite of my best efforts (I really did keep my mouth shut!), I guess I just couldn't hide my white knuckles! Bon courage, Kristin!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,

I remember being a passenger in the car when my kids were learning how to drive and holding on for dear life! I remember stomping on the floor as though I could brake the car. haha

The first time I saw a camembert was when we lived in Kitzingen, Germany and it was my first time overseas and I had to drive to the city of Wurzburg. There was a HUGE camembert near the center of town and so much traffic. I entered and kept driving around in a circle because I was so frightened and at the same time looking for my exit. There were about 8 or so exits out of the circle. It's funny to think about now.


Photo Name:
Specialite du Jour: Hot Dog

Christine Webb-Curtis


Ah, yes. I, too, remember all too well the experiences of teaching my three sons to drive--all the while trying to balance the instruction with the praise. In driving, as in life, they emerged as wonderful men with caring hearts. I certainly made mistakes along the way, but they return to my table very regularly--even the one who lives 80 miles away in San Francisco. For that, I am most grateful. I must have done something right. Bon courage et t'accroches à l'espoir.


Linda Williams Rorem

My third son is now "in training," as is Max, and he also has a bit of a lead foot. Every ride is an adventure and an exercise in my own self-control. The last time I announced, "If you don't slow down, I'm going to take your keys away," my son replied, "Mom, if I had a dollar for every time you threatened that, I'd be rich..." Funny how teenage boys really are the same around the world.


Photo caption - After one of each plate....

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Dear Kristin,

I love your story. I truly relate --- I had to get my driver's lic in England (USAF). It was a unique experience. Then my daughter started driving when we lived in Germany. Too much stress, and some fun.

It is truly fun to look back on all of these adventures.

I love reading your mom's posts. They are thought-provoking and truly interesting.

Happy 81st Birthday Herm in Phoenix!

Be well.

julie camp

Your story sets the hook and is well paced. Everyone can relate to the dynamics: teaching-learning, adult-teen, mother-son, criticizer-criticized, right-wrong, safe-unsafe. Excellent.

Years ago I was driving my boyfriend in his Porche on a mountain pass amid Friday evening ski traffic. Hot stuff, I thought as I wheeled in and out of semis and cars alike. My date was squirmy but I was pumped, a confident 40-something adult. After about a half-hour he registered a complaint. I felt attacked but couldn't come up with the just-right defense--one with a little superiority. Suddenly it occurred to me that I was driving HIS car and HE was uncomfortable. I apologized, "I'm so sorry my driving is making you uncomfortable. Thank you for telling me. We'll stop and you drive." -julie-

Luann Poch

Boeuf Dreams might be a good caption for the photo of the bull dog by the sea. Stunning picture - the balance of color to black&white is superb!


I always love when you post pictures of your pupper dawgs! :-)

David Navarre

"Old cars show a higher speed." Interesting. I'd never heard such a comment before. After some quick research, I found that speedometers are as much as 10% inaccurate, but that it's always on the high end. That is, showing 84kph, might actually indicate a true speed of 76kph or so. That said, the speed limits are chosen with the expectation that you have a speedometer with that level of inaccuracy and everyone has an expectation of your speed based on that inaccuracy, so going what looks like 84kph on the speedometer will surprise other drivers and pedestrians.

Reaction time and expectations are everything. That's why it's so challenging to start driving somewhere new - everyone's habits and one's lack knowledge of the specific roads makes everything less expected and driving more challenging.

Carolyn Chase

Photo caption that came to my mind was
"So many choices, so little time"
(as I sit here with my mouth watering!)

Karen from Phoenix

Oh those days of teaching my boys to drive. The funny thing is I am a lead foot so I had to be careful what I said to them.

Jules, love that about keeping your mouth shut. I am such a blurter, meaning I talk before I think. I have been trying so hard to stop, think, then talk.

Herm: Happy, Happy Birthday!

Karen from Phoenix

Forgot, Max, Love the Steve Nash shirt!!!!


Julie F in St. Louis, MO

I was so taken by the photo that I have no comment for the story (of course it brings back memories of teaching my kids). "Hot dog" is a fantastic caption.

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

Great photo! Tangerine dreams....




The male ego. You are mom, you know nothing. The adolescent male knows all. Just accept it. :-)


Hi dear Kristin,
What a wonderful story!And how beautifully you transition from your little boy (we remember the photo of him at 13!) to your now so grown up young man!You brought smiles to us all in remembering our own early driving experiences (parents uttering prayers while hanging on for dear life!)
What a lovely way to start the day! THANK YOU!What a gift you have!
Loved Jules' replies! (and Happy Birthday Herm!)
Love, Natalia XO

Judi Boeye Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

"Just maybe, I shouldn't have eaten this entire menu!" for the caption. (I know how he feels!)

Wonderful story - and can see just how many can relate to this teen driving. It's kind of funny, but I hear your same words I pronounce to my husband, especially about 'not worried about your driving, but you need to be more on the defensive, looking out for the other guy at intersections, the child with the ball, all the same admonishments.. only difference is that my husband is 50 years older than Max!! It just never stops! :-)

Ted Loewenberg


Thought bubble for the pooch on the porch:
"I wish had 14 €. What's a "€"? "

For Max's sake, remember the car has only one steering wheel. He'll have a life time of "back seat drivers" to deal with, so why train him now on practicing on mom? Was it really that dangerous, or did your depression in the floor-board simply leave you without control? Was Jackie alarmed, too?

Jean Creighton

Great story. Brought back a lot of memories. My daughter bought her first car-stick shift, and we had to drive through Dallas traffic to get it home. Yeah, she didn't know how to drive stick either, but learned very quickly.
I love Jules comments and advise. And Happy Birthday, Herm, and caption--
"I can't believe I ate the whole thing!"

Jill in Sydney

Hi Kristi
I was so interested that in France you need formal driver training and 1000 hours and licence at 18. Here in Sydney it is just parents teaching and 120 hours experience (100 if you go to a driving school I think)and licence at 17. Even 120 seemed a lot to me as my daughter and I drove to school and sport training and friends' places through heavy city traffic, me with clenched teeth. There have been many complaints in the media here about the 120 hours as being too onerous. I'll now be able to quote France as having almost 10 times as many hours as its requirement!

Kathleene Eubanks in Concord, CA

What was this Pooch thinking?
"Wonder what's on the leftover menu for me tonight?
I also enjoyed the story very much. It's hard to see our children grow up because it reminds us that we, too, have grown up! But believe me, the rewards of having a well-adjusted adult child (mine's 28!) are without measure.

Nancy,                     Cambridge

Hi, Kristin-
Great post! I remember my son trying to push the car into second gear, having it buck, and him saying, "Oh, now I know how all those old movies make the car stall!" We all had a good laugh. But it is terrifying, and although I have all the faith in the world that my children will make it to where they are going, I prefer to not be in the car!
Superb writing and ending, am I realy going after this?

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

I liked your story and I liked how you interacted with your son.
You gave no false threats, made clear points, and waited until he responded properly.

Once I read that parents must be like a solid wall for teens to bounce off. As long as they need that wall, they will always seek that limit to know it is still there. Everytime they hit the wall, parents need to say, yes the wall is still here, the behavior rules still apply, the consequences are still the same, and yes you will feel those consequences.

The wall is around the safer world of childhood, which of course falls away once they are really grown up.

Your story said that all so much more clearly.

Cynthia Lewis in Salisbury, Eastern Shore of Maryland

Dear Kristin,

I became tense while reading your wonderfully expressed post today. Learning to be a careful driver is serious stuff and not easy for the new driver or the parents of the new driver! Bon courage to all.

Happy belated birthday, Max !! And Happy Birthday to you, also, Herm!


That was an intense story! Max and you are lucky to be alive!

Gayle Markow

Excellently told universal story Kristin. At 16, I, myself, was a "very good" teen driver in Phoenix who got caught going 65 in a 30mph zone. Lots of other random bad driving too, though i kind of knew better. I'm 64 now. drive much more cautiously than before. Experience does count for ALOT. I consider myself a very good driver. Still I sometimes surprise myself at the "dumb" mistakes I make, or occasional lapses of attention. I taught my now 34 year old daughter to drive on San Francisco hills and freeways when she was 16. It was terrifying. She's home visiting now, and today she pulled over and circled the block while I ran in to get a Bi-Rite gelato. When she picked me up, she was looking at her cell phone though the light 40 feet in front of us was green. I gently alerted her to the green light, but she wanted to get that last look in before she noticed the car behind us was a police car. How quickly she then put down the phone and drove. What I'm saying is that whether we're 16, 34, or 64, driving is a challenging, ever-changing, and potentially dangerous endeavor. So is the art of communicating our fear, concern, or any kind of feedback we give our children or each other. Thanks Kristin for your - as usual - simplicity, honesty and brilliant inside view into your own ever-changing challenges. Here's smilin' at you.

Marianne Rankin

I keep wondering - doesn't the French system provide school buses? Why do you have to drive your kids to and from school? What do parents do if, for whatever reason, they can't provide transportation?

To keep my hands from "reeking" when I pump gas, I wear a pair of washable work gloves. If they get any gas on them, I can wash it out. My hands stay clean and fresh.

A fast way to figure kilometers-to-miles is to divide the kilometers in half and add 10%. So 80 km divided by 2, plus 8, is 48 mph.

Controlling the car is only part of learning to drive. The rest, as you pointed out to Max, is having the judgment to avoid dangerous situations. Il faut savoir quand c'est necessaire de ceder le passage. Traffic already "in" a place (roundabout, highway, etc.) almost always has the right of way over traffic entering it.

You are wise to alert Max to other drivers (as well as pedestrians, bike-riders, etc.) who aren't as careful as he is. It seems I barely avoid hitting vehicles or people almost every day because they aren't paying sufficient attention.

When I was in France in 1979, I drove over 800 miles on French Roads. In general, the traffic seemed better regulated than when I'd been there in 1972, when it seemed somewhat chaotic and rather dangerous. Cars going 160 km (almost 100 mph) on the autoroute were only about 3 feet apart! There is a camembert of sorts at the "Etoile" in Paris, where 12 streets converge. Fortunately, I turned in the rental car at that point!

My first car was a hand-me-down with a broken speedometer. I never knew how fast I was going, so made sure I never went faster than surrounding traffic. And I've never gotten a speeding ticket.

As my son practices driving, I can certainly understand your trepidation. Wishing you all safe travels.

Ted Loewenberg, the symbol after the 14 is for "euro".


I totally feel your pain with a teen driving. Last time my son drove us, he ended up pulling over and told me to drive. It is a scary feeling when my driver at work drives at times, and he has had emergency driving classes. It is even worse when your unexperienced kid is doing it.









Sharona Tsubota

"Ohh, I ate too much. I think it was the tartare...or maybe the carpaccio...who can remember?!"

Patricia Jolles

Not on the menu, have the dessert.

Kathy Mathews

Good luck with your son learning to drive, it is such a scary time. My husband taught defensive driving for UPS so I let him have that chore!

Dave Kapsiak

Title For the dog sleeping in front of the restaurant:

"Ahhh...J'ai Bien Mange"

Kathleen from Connecticut

Title for Max and Braise - "we aren't going to the vet - are we?"
or "Please don't do bench presses with me."

Title for the first pic "Boring - aren't there any other choices?



Hi Kristin,
I am a lucky and very happily married old man but ok ok I confess I think I love your mom. This was a very gripping story for a father and grandfather to read and so very familiar. Once one of our teen boys took our 24 foot RV thru the Blue Ridge Mountains way way too fast and I just let him. He finally got scared himself and slowed down. BTW where did little Max go? He is a jock now! Happy New Year, Winn

Robin Lewin

I LOVE Smokey - we had a puppie dog named Smokey also. He was a Cairn Terrier. Just a great little friend. I've not actually taught anyone to drive but my husband can tell a few good stories about teaching HIS kids!
Take Care,

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