prendre sur soi
vouloir dire & what does "Tanguy syndrome" mean in French?


Artists along the port in St. Tropez (c) Kristin Espinasse

Still pinching images from Google image search (I promise I took these!) after my computer crashed one week ago (typing this post on my son's PC).... This photo was snapped in St. Tropez. Its artist theme fits with today's story of the "tree artists" (or pirates, rather...). Read on, in today's column.

chaparder (sha-par-day)

     to pinch, to lift, to steal

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Pirates of the Olive Plantation

For the next week or two there will be a modest camping-car parked in the driveway below our house. This is part of Jean-Marc's solution to our tree-pruning dilemma: hire a specialized team to tackle the project in one intensive fortnight!

Like this we have insta-neighbors—though we don't see them or hear them very much. Tanguy* and Thomas, who arrived Friday from the Gard region, will spend their days cutting back the enormous oliviers that have graced this land for centuries.

It would be fun to imagine the two tree-trimmers as Edward Scissorhand's distant French cousins, but the truth is they look more like pirates than gothic gardeners. (There's a definite Johnny Depp connection. It must be the rock ‘n’ roll demeanor they share. It's that giant silver hoop, or créole, that Tanguy sports or that bad boy air that surrounds Thomas, who, with une clope dangling from his lazy smile, easily perpetuates the myth that cigarettes are seductive.)

I knew a little bit about Tanguy before he came to live here for this short séjour. His partner, Aurélie, has helped at all our grape harvests. I had a hunch that Tanguy might know a lot about how to forage wild plants, as Aurélie does, so I asked him to help me identify some pissenlit (or confirm it was indeed dandelion) that I was hoping to use in the kitchen. That is when I learned that Thomas, Tanguy's friend and co-pirate, knew a thing or two about les plantes sauvages. At the picnic table, yesterday, a sleeveless Thomas reached down and snapped up an herb with lance-shaped leaves, declaring it plantain.

Thomas handed me the wild specimen, which I could use to compare against other wild plants—eventually adding it to my knowledge base. I am hoping to have a certain understanding of the comestible plants on our property ("certain" being the key word. I want to be sure the plants I am picking are mangeable and not poisonous as they are destined for soups, salads, and juices).

Changing the subject, so as not to take up Tanguy and Thomas's lunch break, I said: 

"By the way, that would have been a great photo of you two in the olive trees this morning!" I was remembering the image of Tanguy and Thomas, each on a different branch high above the ground which is graced here and there by wild orchids this time of year.

Tanguy laughed. "You aren't the only one to think so!" he admitted, telling me how he and Thomas seemed to be stopping the traffic that normally cruised by the great olive field. 

More than a sight to behold, the tree-trimmers were surrounded by some very attractive commodities: the centuries-old branches that were piling up on the ground beneath them.

"One grand-mère pulled over, hiked up her skirt, and climbed onto the olive grove," Tanguy explained. "She plucked up a couple of olive branches, saying they'd make great gifts (an olive branch symbolizes peace—what better offering than this?).

"Another guy pulled over and snapped up an armful of leafy cuttings. 'For my sheep,' he explained." (I wondered if the punk rock sheepherder was back? Was this whom Tanguy saw stealing away with the olive branches?) 

Tanguy shook his head, smiling. "I let him take what he wanted. Sheep love to eat olive branches!"

(Come to think of it, that was true! I remembered the transhumance that took place on our land last month—and how the sheep stood on hind legs to reach the olive branches!)

I listened to stories of the other motorists-turned-thieves. What funny images it all painted in my mind. It was amusing, too, to think that Tanguy and Thomas weren't the only ones to share a pirate's likeness—apparently half our neighborhood did too!

I pictured Tanguy and Thomas dangling high up in the olive tree (or ship mast...) as a host of unlikely pirates landed on the orchid spotted deck below, before disappearing with the leafy loot.


 Here I have to smile at the colorful French definition of today's word:

chaparder: dérober de modestes objets (to steal objects of modest value). True, the branches weren't worth much, but many an unsuspecting thief found value in those discarded tree limbs, and yo-ho-ho! away they rode.

*Learn all about the cool name "Tanguy"--click here and scroll down to the story column. We met Tanguy via his partner, Aurélie. I wrote a poem about her here: "...Heroines with hot peppers in their hearts, they sizzle with mystery and soul." Read the story-poem "Bohème" - click here.

French Vocabulary

un camping-car = camper van, RV

un olivier = olive tree 

une créole = large hoop earring

une clope = cigarette

un séjour = a stay

le pissenlit = dandelion

la plante sauvage = wild plant

le plantain = known as ribleaf, lamb's tongue and other names

mangeable = edible

127 things to do in Paris: click here to read the latest reader-submitted tips!

Olive trees
The gnarled and noble trunks of the olives trees that Tanguy and Thomas are pruning this week.

Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.

Sunflowers (c) Kristin Espinasse
Always leave on a sunny note--something I sometimes forget, especially when taking for granted the daily comings and goings of family. Speaking of sunny, have you planted sunflowers seeds yet? If you don't have a big yard, where else could you plant one? Ever seen one of those cool sunflower houses--where you dig a square trench and plant seeds all around - leaving space for the "front door" door? When they are grown you can connect the tops! To comment on any item in this post, click here, and thank you for forwarding this letter to a friend.

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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Bruce in northwest Connecticut

Plantain? Does that mean you'll be harvesting small, green, banana-like things this summer?

I've never heard of a sunflower house before, but I love it! Now I want to make one. Umm … grow one. Grow one and then make one.

Eileen - Charlottesville, VA

Hi Kristin,
I would like to know more about the sunflower house too! I love the photo of the house with the olive trees. Do the sheep cut the grass or does JM or Max?


Good morning Kristin,

On CBS News morning show, just now, they announced a study that a daily dose of aspirin prevents skin cancer in women. The study was done by Oxford University and USC. Please check their website for more information. (I will read todays post later.)

Kristin Espinasse

Bruce, no, but wouldnt it be great if they were real bananas!

Eileen, the sheep could mow the grass (too uneven for the lawn mower) Now to find the sheep...

Sharon, that is good news! Thanks


Hi Honey - could you please call me, feel like talking about Heidi.



P.S. I LOVE this story - please take some photo's and video's of your two new pirates...

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut Kristin,

Olive trees love the desert climate around Phoenix and it is interesting to see the sculpturing that’s done on them. I love the character of those old weathered trunks. You’ll have to show pictures of the end result.

Both the French and the American names for dandelion have interesting derivations. Apparently the English word comes from a corrupt form of “dent de lion”, French for lion’s tooth, and refers to the shape of the leaves. The French word comes from what a person might do in their bed because of the diuretic qualities of the leaves. So not too much in the salad!

À la prochaine

lynne in the New Forest

I've just realised that growing up in Arizona you would not be familiar with these so very common weeds. At home here in England we would have great fun as kids . We really believed that if you picked a dandelion you would wet the bed so would try to trick each other ,and you can blow the seed heads to find out the time. plantain were used on our dolls plates as vegetables . Happy memories !

Lee Isbell

Yes, really hoping you will have photos of the pirates up the olive trees once your computer comes back to life. Or is it time for a new one?

Bill Facker

Kristin, thanks for sharing the photos of those olive trees .. any idea how old they are? What nice sentinels to have on your property. And Congratulations !!! I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but your readership passed the 40,000 mark! That is an incredible accomplishment. I'm happy to get two or three comments on my blog! :-) Congratulations Kristin .. your writing and your "self" are both deserving! Aloha, Bill


Photos of the pirates, please. :-)

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Bill F.! How often do you post to your blog Kaui to Paris? I have heard that it is good to post at least once per week, but that two or three times per weeks could be even better. Aloha.

Sue jean

The story of people helping themselves to various items reminded me of my great-grandfather, born in Rouffach, Alsace. He eventually came to California where he had an orchard as well as a winery. He alway said that he was happy for anyone to pick the fruit from his trees that they could easily reach, and would eat then and there.

Bill Facker

I've become more prolific lately, but it has come slowly. The real estate business in Kauai is a time demanding effort (that I love) and I've just begun to discipline myself to create the habit of sitting down to my blog. It is becoming more of a driving force every day. Once every 4 days seems to work for me when I'm "hitting on all 8 cylinders". Following you all these years has certainly been an inspiration for continuing. Congratulations again .. what an incredible accomplishment!

Bill Facker

For anyone interested ... I'm also aware one needs to be very specific in their blog content (which I'm not) in order to gather a following. This, I believe, is one of the many reasons you (Kristin) have become so successful.

suzanne dunaway

I'm curious and hope that you kept some branches for your fireplace!!!!! Let them dry; they make wonderful fires for barbeques, like the vignes. And did you know that you have most likely enormous amounts of salad on your property called Miner's Lettuce or purslane--sells for 5 euro a bunch in Paris...tiny white flowers make a salad sing.

Debbie Ambrous -

I've learned something new once again on your blog. I only knew about the plantain bananas which are a favorite of mine. How could I spend all of those years in Coconut Grove, Florida and not become a fan? I did a quick search and found that the plantain plant you mentioned is called Snake Weed in the U.S. The article said it could possibly be used for rattlesnake bite. In our Alabama area, rattlesnakes are prevalent. In fact, our hometown Opp,Alabama has the Rattlesnake Rodeo this month. Considering how much snakes scare me, I don't know if I will be there or not. If so, maybe I should take a bouquet of Snake Weed! Enjoyed the post,as always.

Kristin Espinasse

Bill F., that is true. Having a specific topic, like language or cooking or design -- or poetry (I am thinking of Herm, of course!) helps. I remember how my stories floundered in cyberspace... Until I attached them to words or words of the day.

Suzanne, thanks for a great tip! I will hunt for the minors lettuce. It seems easy to identify, according to these google images


Are the audio files going to be available again? I look forward to the French Word-A-jour to work on my French. I always recommend this websit to my French Clients so they can update their French. I wish the French Vocabulary was on the Audio Files.

Thank you

Bill Facker

Debbie Ambrous .. I'm sitting here having a silent chuckle over your Rattlesnake Rodeo. The visions conjured up in my mind of bronc busting, bull riding Rattlers will probably hang with me a good part of the day! Not to mention the Cool Cowboy Snake, leaning on a dilapidated wooden building with a ten gallon hat and a fresh rolled cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth. :-)

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Allen, yes, the sound files will be back when my computer is back - I am on my sons PC, meantime. Many thanks for recommending my this site to your clients!

Christine Allin

Kristen, your sunflower photos remind me so much of northeast Kansas, where I am forever searching for parallels with France.

We also have our own version of Tanguy and Thomas. Ron, a scrappy little guy, who
can singlehandedly take down a 30 foot tree in less than 15 minutes. He just did that for us!

I have found what might be a kindred spirit for you…and many parallels as well…

I love Kansas but often wish we were back
in France!

Alyssa Ross Eppich

I couldn't find an explanation for the * that follows Tanguy's name in the second paragraph of today's story. Did I miss something that might explain it? Is he simply a tan guy?

Beverly J. Campbell

Would you be so kind as to specify which of the vocabulary words you offer are "argo". I have had difficulty finding some in my French common usage dictionary and have even asked several of my French friends and also members of my French speaking group if they have heard of words such as "meli melo' and "clope". None have.

I was told we borrowed the word for cigarette from French (une cigarette), so why should one use a slang word?


joie blair

Are the plantains or lamb's tongues the same as mache? I love it with avocados goat cheese, roasted pine nuts and a vinegarette.
Every year my sister and I have a contest to see who can grow the biggest sunflowers. She always wins because it is hotter out in the valley and I am near the ocean. But maybe this year if I start now and give it lots of food and maybe a sun lamp during the foggy days....maybe this year!

Richard Harold Ainsworth

Dear Kristen,
I spent this past Saturday up in my apple tree (on a ladder)doing the annual pruning. I should have done it in January, (on a sunny weekend day)but that didn't happen this year.
This morning was our food co-op delivery. I am now the proud owner of nine pounds of raw organic hulled unsalted sunflower seeds. We will be well stocked for quite a while. I use them in my bread and in our homemade granola.
It is currently 2° and raining in Beautiful Joliet.

Kristin Espinasse

Alyssa, sorry about that. Tanguy is a popular name in NW France, or it originates from there, I think. Can anyone reading this correct me or add more info on this charning name? re the * -- this was to point out a further reference, about Tanguys girlfriend. See the link.

Beverly, I sometimes include argot so that we French learners are aware of the terms, which come up in spoken French. I have often heard the word clope, during the harvest or at a cafe or... So it is useful to be aware or these words, or one might miss part of the conversation. re meli-melo, you are likely to come across this term while shopping, or see it in a catalogue. A look at the French news pages turns of numerous meli-melo references.

Kristin Espinasse

Richard, love the apple tree image! Though you must have been sore! That homemade granola seems delicious.


Hi dear Kristin,
Another wonderful post (and pictures!)
You have such a great cast of characters filling your days (!) and what a privilege it is for us to share in them! Especially love your descriptions! Your words just paint pictures for our imaginations!
A comment about my experience with daily aspirin: I'm both a heart patient and skin cancer survivor, and I used to take a baby aspirin every morning with hopes of helping myself.
(with the doctor's okay) The only downside to this regime is that I began to bruise,terribly. Even the pup's paws would leave an imprint which would then turn blue and black. The doctor told me that this is a not uncommon side effect. I noticed other women with my same' markings' ;we look at each other and nod in understanding.
Love, Natalia XO

Diane Young

By the time I read the FWAD, a lot of my questions have been answered. However, note it's "rock 'n roll", specimen, orchids. And Jules uses apostrophes which aren't needed in plurals unless it's letters (mind your p's and q's) or numbers (6's, etc. ) The funniest thing about today's column has got to be pissenlit. I couldn't figure out what peeing on a bed had to do with a dandelion. Live and learn. Merci for the great pictures of the olive trees and the house.

Jan (in Edmonton, Canada)

Every time I hear "plantain" I think of the early part of the play Romeo and Juliet. Romeo's cousin Benvolio is trying to get Romeo to forget about Rosaline and fall for another (more willing) girl:

BENVOLIO: One desperate grief cures with another's languish:
Take thou some new infection to thy eye,
And the rank poison of the old will die.
ROMEO: Your plaintain-leaf is excellent for that.
BENVOLIO: For what, I pray thee?
ROMEO: For your broken shin.

("Broken" means skin that has been cut or opened, not a broken bone.)

Remember that the next time you run out of Polysporin! ;)

Kathleen from Connecticut


Dean beacame very concerned about how much you were pruning from the trees. He thought that it was only a small percentage of a tree that should come down in pruning...although this might be only American trees. I'm sure that your guys know what to do!
I want to get out into my garden , but we still have snow on the ground...ugh! I need to prune and cut back my ornamental grass and a lot of other things. Too much to do before our trip to France.
Enjoy your spring weather...hope we get out soon.


Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

Tanguy is not tan guy. How to say this name? Something like tanh-ghee?

Tree guys working high up, so confident, so skilled, they impress me tree-mendously. As did your story today.

The olive trees are gnarled if you mean twisted in their trunks and limbs -- knarled seems to be an archaic spelling.
Then there is knurl -- a cross grained knot in cut wood, among other meanings.

Not wanting to be a knurl :-)

I hope your hard drives are all saved and your lap top restored to full function soon. Why it is good to have more than one computer in the house!

Kristin Espinasse

Jan, love it! Now I will never forget plantains properties!

Diane, thank you for the needed edits. Re apostrophies, they dont show in my comments (some glitch that has to do with my commenting via my email program).

Natalia, i will remember that next time I see a friend with bruises on her arms. I did not know aspirin could be the culprit.

Kristin Espinasse

Sarah, thanks for the pronunciation of Tanguy -- yes, that is how we say his name, just as you noted. I appreciate the edit (gnarled) and will update the post soon. Merci :-)

gail bingenheimer

J'aime ce blog!


Sunny pix and prose. Just the lift that I needed today in gloomy New Hampshire!



I love your sunflower photo. I'm always surprised how like paintings your photos are. That's what inspired my copy of your photo. Not sure when I'll get around to painting 'Sunflowers'.



Hi Kristi,

Fabulous writing! Don't ever doubt your writing!
I so really enjoy your stories - and this was was so funny and I have already LOL at the next post!

Ah...Johnny Depp..we all like a little of the strange sometimes and he is so 'interesting' as are your 'pirates'!

Thanks for all the good reading :)


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