indice + Jean-Marc's recorded letter...

cougar (and the French word for "boy toy")

Cat on the isle of Ré (c) Kristin Espinasse
Watch out, you middle-aged skirt chasers—here come les couguars! (Note: I didn't see any cougars to photograph on the island of Ré; I hope this cat will do! Also, enjoy these white umbrella flowers, which covered the island, competing with all those hollyhocks.)

 un coug(o)uar (koo-gar)

Le mot couguar désigne une femme, généralement de plus de 40 ans (la génération de trentenaires qui précède la cougar est plutôt appelée "puma"), qui cherche ou fréquente des hommes plus jeunes, typiquement ayant au moins quatre ans de moins qu'elles. Ces hommes sont généralement appelés des toy boys ou des lionceaux. --definition from Wikipedia

The word cougar designates a woman, generally over 40 (the generation of 30-year-olds who precede cougars are called "pumas"), who looks for or hangs out with younger men, typically at least four years younger than herself. These men are generally referred to as "toy boys" or lionceaux.

Audio File (Note: waiting for my LION to return from his errands in time to record today's definition... ) Update: the sound files are ready, listen here: Download MP3 file or listen to Wav file

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

Our second day on l'île de Ré we rode our vélos from the beach to the farmers' market. I parked my rental bike in front of the tourist office, waved goodbye to Jean-Marc, and set out to discover the busy marché, with its fishmonger, its beachwear vendor, its olive merchant, and its obese man selling figure-slimming cookware. Step right up, Madame! Check out this pan!

The pots and pans salesman wasn't the only curious sight, there was that aspirin-white American woman with the two giant watermarks on her shirt... My bathing suit had soaked through! Thankfully, I was unaware of the state of my chemise, and could suffer the embarrassment later, upon checking my appearance in the mirror back at our rental.

As I checked myself in la glace, scrutinizing every detail of my person, I remembered the remark my husband had made after we met up outside l'office de tourisme. Unlocking our bikes for the ride home, Jean-Marc teased me:

"Ça va le maraîcher?" he snickered. 

The produce guy? So my husband had seen me lingering at the vegetable stand... chatting with that young man!

The embarrassment bubbling up from within soon showed itself on my face, which reddened visibly despite a precautionary thick white mask of sunblock.

I laughed it off. After all, that student selling onions and cantaloupes was only a few years older than our son, Max! What did my husband think I was—a cougar

Of all people! The truth is, while my barely-clad French contemporaries were busy watching Sex and The City (around the time we were reaching our 40s), I was poring over Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, fearful my sinful nature would betray me at any moment! The word "cougar" never even entered my lexicon until my friend Diana shared the term with me, over an evening barbecue in which our middle-aged husbands smoked cigars and helped themselves to seconds from the dessert tray.

Facing the mirror, searching my face, with its crows feet and cicatrices, I couldn't help but think how ridiculous my husband's insinuation was, that an out-of-shape, 44-year-old femme mariée had been flirting with a charming student! 

(Did I say charmant?)

To be continued... (Click here for the 2nd half of this story)

Note, the underlined (or highlighted) words within the article contain links to archived stories, including the story in which Jean-Marc is caring, for the first time, for his very own vines. Don't miss "Surrogate Mother" (La Mère Porteuse) here.

French Vocabulary 

le vélo = bicycle

le marché = (farmers') market

la chemise = shirt

l'office de tourisme = tourist office

Ça va le maraîcher? = How's the produce guy doing?

une femme mariée = a married woman

Fun French expression: in the story, I referred to my skin tone as aspirin white. I borrowed the expression from the French, who use the following idiom: blanc comme un cachet d'aspirine (as white as an aspirin pill)

Kristin (left) with Kris Hendrickson
If you're new to this journal—welcome! That's me, Kristin, on the left and this is the 10th year that I have written this blog. One of the rewards of writing is meeting readers. Kris (right) joined us for one of our last tastings of the season. She eventually traveled back to Brittany after being stuck in Tulette one week no thanks to car problems. Kris tells me the Domaine Rouge-Bleu wine she and her husband bought helped them through this extended visit! 

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Spotted another cougar on the way back from the beach.... There's Jean-Marc heading to the market.

Holding up the hollyhocks. Islanders take such good care of their emblematic flower. One woman told me that a hollyhock, or rose trémière's, lifespan is two years. Lucky for us, each season they drop hundreds of graines,  reseeding themselves.

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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john h abeles md

Kristin... What's the French word for young men prowling for older, attractive women?

Karen Whitcome - Towson, Md USA

These pictures are soft, lovely and full of light, just like you.

Other than that statement, I am usually "off my rocker" so therefore I choose "B" - this story probably has nothing to do with your surprise.

jl keith

Aren't your "umbrella flowers" Queen Anne's Lace??
I enjoy your blog and especially your photos!

gail bingenheimer

Great expectations! There is nothing like young love. Who we choose to love is so important. We need to guard our hearts or protect them. When you do meet that special someone then wear your heart on your sleeve.

Bruce in northwest Connecticut

"typiquement ayant au moins quatre ans de moins qu'elles"!? No cougar worthy of the name would date a boy less than ten years younger than herself!

How appropriate that the French term for "boy toy" is "toy boy" — those whacky French, always putting the modifier after the noun!

What the heck is figure-slimming cookware? How can a frying pan help you lose weight?

And Kristin? You do know we can see the pictures you post of yourself, right? If you think you're out of shape, you need to take another long session in front of that mirror.


Kristin, what a delightful blog post! I don't think that any woman who has any life left in her is EVER to old to enjoy the conversation and company (and who knows, maybe more!) with a charming and much younger man!

Mike Hardcastle

Oh Kristin,

Crows feet, cicatrices, 44 (as old as that). We all want to appear attractive to the opposite (or the same) sex, it doesn't go away, even at my great age I do my best.

It my be that Jean-Marc felt a touch of jealousy, and who could blame him.



Kristin, your photos on this blog are extraordinary! Beautifully composed and so pleasing to look at - thanks! Oh, I do love the hollyhocks around the French countryside...

Judith Harris

are you following the Olympics? What do you notice about reaction of your French friends ? How much are they interested? Is there a particular rivalry? Are your son and daughter following the games and athletes on twitter?

Eileen - Charlottesville, VA

Hi Kristin,
Love the story and the photos. I just recently planted some Hollyhocks to attract more butterflies and hummingbirds. I remember becoming so flustered in Avignon when I was shopping with a friend and we went into a store where the shop keeper was a young, good looking man in his early 30's maybe late 20's and I was probably 40 then. I wanted to buy a Santon and the one I wanted was the "la boulangére". I was so caught off guard by how cute this man was that all I could get out of my mouth femme avec le pain.


"Toy boy" or "Boy toy"?

Martine NYC

I vote that the surprise is connected to the Isle de Re.
Also, many hollyhocks live for years and years(as well as reseeding). Like foxgloves. They don't always read the memo about being biennials.
Lovely post today.

Ginger Rose

Hi Kristin--
Loved your posting today (and always)! Based on your reference to the term "surrogate" I think you are going to adopt a child. Eagerly awaiting the surprise.

Annette Moore

Kristen, Altogether, this is a totally charming account of a day on your vacation in Isle de Re. A great way to start my day reading about France, and another area to visit on a future trip! You are accomplished at communicating the nuances of your life that make it come alive in print!


HI Kristen, you are hysterical and as for being an out of shape 44 year old, I think you look dam pretty good.

Charles Orr at Flat Rock, NC

Bonjour, Kristin--
Whether you do it with a camera or with words, you always manage to give us a delightful snapshot of French life. I enjoyed this one very much, as usual. To reduce future editing efforts (for your next story collection) I would suggest using "sight" vs. "site" and "poring" vs. "pouring".

Please pass on my congratulations to Jean-Marc for his latest wine ratings--very impressive and well deserved!

Debra Karimzad

Since you asked, I love Arbonne's sun protection line. Formulated in Switzerland, the ingredients are pure. When you put it on, you can see the beautiful white screen spreading over your skin which gradually absorbs, moisturizes and protects from UVA and UVB for 40 minutes. Also the best lip balm with spf 30.

judi dunn

.. always love hearing of your adventures.. on vacances or at home! I also suspect that a child may be coming into your lives as well.... and what a fortunate being that would be... sucha a loving family to embrace him or her.... Best wishes, Judi Dunn, Tallahassee


I'm pretty sure you mean "boy toy" (the object of the cougar's attentions). But will have to wait till the next installment to find out.

Julie S. from San Diego

To follow up on the other comments above, the expression I have heard is "boy toy". Anyway, very fun and amusing post today! No, I don't think this has anything to do with your secret.
My guess about your secret? You mentioned Angelina Jolie a while back, so maybe you and Jean-Marc are tending to the vines on their vast estate and bottling the Brangelina wine!!

Gaelle (Gail)

I have hollyhocks here too growing in AZ! They normally burn up by now....but I have some still going strong, even though they are small.
No idea about your "secret" but I am intrigued. Am also counting the days until I leave for France!! Whoo Hoo!!!

Angélique Droessaert

Totally charming... it is good to feel alive, isn't it?

Cynthia Lewis in Salisbury, Eastern Shore of Maryland

Enjoyed your photo of the think that they have grown so tall and beautiful in the cracks between cobblestones and stucco, no rich soil and mulch required. My hat is off to them!

Maybe the family secret that we are all trying to guess is an exchange student who will be arriving in late August or even that Braise is going to have puppies! Bonne soirée....

Suzanne, Monroe Twp., NJ

A very funny and enjoyable post today, Kristin. Wish I had been with you at the marche to see the pan salesman.

Karen Whitcome - Towson, Md USA

Now I wonder if there was another clue. Are you expecting a boy (canine, human, natural birth, adopted?). Or was I right a few weeks ago when I said Angeline Jolie was going to visit? - total cougar!

Judi Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

Kristin, I'm not sure if it's France that you make so enticing or just your joie de vivre but whichever (or maybe it's both), I want to be there! And, I am seriously envious of Gaelle 'counting the days' before she leaves for France! Lucky woman! I'm still hoping for next year. Meanwhile, Kristin,I'll continue to live a slice of the good life through your wonderful posts (and patiently await the big news )

Judy Feldman

Kristin, you are definitely beautiful enough to be a cougar! But with Jean Marc as a husband, why bother! We're in Flagstaff for the summer, where the hollyhocks also are blooming!


Hi dear Kristin,
Such beautiful pictures!
And! Another wonderful post (as always!) that brought smiles to my face and laughter to my heart.
You've once again given us example and inspiration-- if we can't find some humor in ourselves, life is, well, just awfully dull.
Natalia XO


Not correction time for this yet, but THIS did hit me:"The pots and pans salesman wasn't the only curious site..." I think you mean "sight"?
Love your writing and your photos! Stop belittling yourself: you are a natural beauty and will be in all your subsequent decades!!!

Jacqueline Gill

First, you are lovely. Second, I do believe Jean Marc was a wee tad jealous. Absolutely. Third, I have been reading your blog for four years and living vicariously in Provence ever since and am happy to say that I will be visiting the area next year! Yay! Am so glad you have weathered your bout with skin cancer so well--I kept you in my prayers .I am thrilled to know that you too nurture a spiritual self, which only adds to your complete loveliness. Thanks for a fun read, always.Jackie

ann ceraldi

I'm dying to know your secret!! Are you adopting a baby? Are you perhaps expecting one yourself? (I had TWINS at almost 41....) You certainly aren't showing yet if that is the case!
I love the hollyhocks--mine never do that well--jealous of the islanders!
And please stop saying how "out of shape" you are or I will have to send you a photo of someone truly out of shape (me).

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

Hi Kristi,

Queen Anne’s Lace grows wild as weeds here. I love to add it to bouquets. Funny, a mere 17 years ago it was part of my wild flower wedding bouquets; that’s when I learned of it. Now, to see it growing far from my home.

Aren’t hollyhocks so charming? Just as lovely and charming as you! Blessings on a sunny, hot August afternoon in Applegate!

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

The entry in French wikipedia for le cougar is funny! Complete with a list of modern cougars. Much better than the one in English wikipedia that it cites. We ordinary mortals need not worry about it too much, it is for the celebrities.

"Ce phénomène serait marginal, les couples restant traditionnels sur une différence d'âge réduite : une enquête de l'université de Cardiff auprès de 22 000 femmes de 14 pays révèle que les cougars appartiennent essentiellement au monde du show business[7]."

Seems cougar is spelled couguar en français. They take the English spelling for this social phenomenon.

Much fun, this post. Excellent photos.

Phil Anderson

"Pouring" over Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? As in 'raining' over them? Believe you meant 'poring' over them as in 'reading' them. So many people use the wrong spelling when this verb is being written but we love you anyway and look forward to each and every episode of your French-way of life. Keep 'em coming! We love you no matter what!


Today's photo is looks like a collaged artwork!
My daughter has been within a whisker of you over the past couple of days as she has travelled form Nice to Marseilles! Lucky girl!


Without the "s" that is! ;-)

Gary Rodan

KRISTIN I am 69 yrs old and adore creative intelligent independently minded women, such as Lara Fabian, Carla Bruni, Alysee 26, Charlotte Ardizzone -69 (a painter lives in Midi-Pyren'ees)the older Brigitte Bardot" 80+, Catherine Deneuve 69Jardine Libaire 39(author and Bartender). That is my strength or ny weakness. I see Your photos and read Your blogs and must add You to the list! I am an even older man that loves cougars. You are still beautiful inside and out! Part of the French life is healthy living with lots of exercise. hard work, and excellent food (and wine of course) You exemplify the healthy French Woman. You are not getting old, just better!
Life begins at 40 - enjoy it fully. The age of men You are attracted to doesn't matter. Feelings of love and attraction are not infidelity. They are natural.
So how do You call a really old man who loves women of all ages. Polymorphous Perverse?? No - because the kind of Love I feel is free and not at all binding' it is not lustful but aesthetic. So it is ok on that level to be attracted to younger or older men (or women). Jean-Marc is very lucky to have found You . You are a jewel! Please don'tforget this! -Or let him forget it either. Hope this is not too personal!


Hi Kristin,

If the secret involves Angelina Jolie, I'd guess you are either adopting a child or making a film that involves your vineyard or blog?




Thanks for taking me to France with your lively observations and wonderfully composed pictures.


Four years? My goodness we still ARE gender discriminatory. I was surprised to learn that one of my (male) coworkers had been divorced, and even more surprised to learn that he had been advised by the other women in the office that HE could expect to date women who were as young as half his age plus plus seven...He's 57....I think. Who cares the age anyway? It is what is in common...and it sounded as though chemistry might have been the only thing.

Kathleen from Connecticut

Don't forget Mrs.Robinson. Flirting is fun and can be very innocent and it can make you feel good.
Kristin, you are still very young and beautiful and any man would love to flirt with you and any women would love to flirt with Jean-Marc.


Hope things will work out fine
Like your hubby's good ol' wine!


I just read this today 12/31/12 and missed your announcement at the end of the month (hadn't started reading "you" yet!) Also, missed the continuation . . . How can I get filled in?


Hi Kristin,
Nice picture.. I hope you are well. Pin-Up


i need the info. for the cougar in french because i have this project and stuff!!! plz help

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