Homesickness strikes during passport renewal at the American Consulate in France
How to say kleptomaniac in French?

How to say "endangered species" in French? Plus a cultural snafu?

lady bug and artichoke (c) Kristin Espinasse
Today is Earth Day and we're talking about a humble old arbre also known as The True Service Tree. (Don't mind this artichoke, today's subject is still "tree", but the artichoke's red and dotted passenger seemed a good fit with Earth Day!) 

espèce en voie de disparition

    : endangered species

Audio File: Download MP3 or Download Wav file

Quels sont les arbres en voie de disparition? What trees are endangered?

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

Two Stories in One

Last night we sat out on the front patio for a goodbye dinner. It was time to thank Tanguy and Thomas (who returned last week, with a friend) for their hard work pruning the centuries-old olive trees. Nearly 100 oliviers, some close to 500 years old, were given a new lease on life.

As we sat chatting about a couple of exciting discoveries (endangered trees...), Max and his friend Paul appeared, in time to say goodbye.

Paul and Max (c) Kristin Espinasse

(Photo: Max and Paul, on their way to town.)

Max (c) Kristin Espinasse
(Extra photo, nothing to do with the story... everything to do with a proud mom. Max turns 18--French driving age!--in a few weeks. Oh gosh, there go the tears again.)

The boys--make that the young men--had helped the men with the débroussaillement (the clearing of the thorny bushes and weeds) at the feet of the olive trees. Max and Paul were exhausted by the work and were left with a new respect for Tanguy and his crew (aka the pirates of the olive plantation). 

I watched as the hip and cool (and whatever the current word is) teenagers reached down to kiss the pirates who were seated around the dinner table. Even after two decades in France, I still experience the occasional "cultural awareness moment", never mind I've seen the kiss-on-both-cheeks ritual a thousand times by now. 

For an instant, I imagined the cultural snafu that would be committed, were the boys exchange students in America. What if they suddenly forgot the etiquette? (How many times had I reached out to shake someone's hand, in France, when protocol required la bise or cheek kisses? Such an etiquette slip is not a big deal in France, but the same easy-to-make mistake in the States--with kisses in place of a handshake--could be dangerous.... if you were male. Such a deep, culturally ingrained habit of respect could get you beaten up elsewhere in the world.

This got me thinking: could it be that some cultural blunders are further compounded by sexism? i.e. okay for girls to make the gaffe (just a little awkard, after all), but the same etiquette error could amount to ridicule--or even a black eye--for boys!

(Sorry for the digression, but it seemed a good chance to bring up etiquette and an "unequality error"! Your thoughts welcome here. Meantime, on to the next story now...)

 *    *    *

Now, back to the trees discovery. It was Tanguy who identified them as cormiers. The tree's fruit, affectionately known as a poirillon (for its resemblance to a small poire, or pear) is seemingly unedible (super sour!), but, Tanguy explains, if you wait until the little cormes or sorbes fall off the tree, you can eat them. The secret is to let them blet or over-ripen. 

Tanguy says he uses the fruit to make a special kind of beer or cidre called piquette de cormes.  (Jean-Marc would enjoy that! As for me, I can't wait to get on my hands and knees and harvest the overripe fruit. But when? I forgot to ask Tanguy. Jean-Marc guessed October...)

Sorbus domestica Fruits Leaves (c) Wikipedia
Sorbus domestica. Photo from Wikipedia

Last fall, while looking for a place to hitch her make-believe roulotte, or gypsy trailer, Mom noticed one of the trees, its ornamental leaves bright beneath the blue sky of autumn. Something seemed special about the arbre, which towered over a carpet of rosemary and thyme. 

It turns out the tree, called a sorbus domestica, or "Sorb Tree" or Whitty Pear, was once highly prized for its wood--harder than oak. The bois was used for the fabrication de manches d'outils or tool handles. No wonder it is endangered, Jean-Marc commented, as we looked at the information online.

  Petit cormier (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse

Some say the trees are of cultivated origin, probably from a mediaeval monastery orchard planting according to Wikipedia....

Another thing to love about this endangered tree is its humble name. Known unceremoniously as the service tree or even the true service tree, one imagines etiquette is the last thing in this tree's heart. Chances are you could wrap your arms around its trunk and safely plant a big kiss on his bark cheek--and no one would look twice. If only the world and its at-odds customs could be as easygoing and down to earth. Au fait...

Happy Earth Day! Bonne fête la terre!

French Vocabulary
un olivier = olive tree
un arbre
= tree
un débroussaillage = a clearing of the undergrowth
la bise = a kiss on both cheeks greeting
au fait = by the way 

  How to say "Welcome" in French (c) Kristin Espinasse
Watch out Mr Sacks... You've got competition! If you think Jean-Marc is sentimental about his sacoche, you ought to see his heart leap, every spring, when he unpacks his trusty sandals. After "Mr Sacks, what could we name these guys? Share a name, here. (Re the photo, I tried to outsmart my shadow, keeping her out of the picture... what a dummy!)

  Kristi and Jean-Marc (c) Bill Facker
Bill Facker took this photo of Jean-Marc and Braise and me and posted it along with a touching tribute at his Kauai to Paris blog. Thank you, Bill!

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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Mrs Figg

The panty twins (if they are as comfortable as slippers! (from pantoufle) or even a pair of panties!

Kristin Espinasse

Mrs Figg, fair enough... fair enough for pantoufles--but these are sandles. :-)

Jan greene

Where has the time gone? That Max is adorable! Or, now almost 18, a handsome young man!! WOW!

Linda Casey

What a stunning couple you and Jean-Marc make!! And that boy of yours is the spitting image of his DAD! It's hard not be be envious .. gosh. What a life you have!

Kathy Shearer

Thinking about your cultural awareness moment and the added nuance of sexual preference...I've just attended a large wedding event where old friends and family greeted one another after long absences - in some cases, years - and there was much hugging but also some cheek pecking between the more reserved members. There is that brief moment when one waits for The Clue -- which will it be? Then the more dominant member usually leads with what is most comfortable for her/him. Very interesting how this simple, brief act seems to reveal so much about a relationship. PS- Great picture of Max -- I see both you and JM.


Wow that Max is Ooh La La! You must be so proud of him.

suzanne dunaway

Kristin, your darling son is the spittin' image of you, as they say in Texas. And your daughter is definitely JM. As for the kissing, it's wonderful to see men embrace both in Italy and France. My problem is that I forget which side is first ALL the time and end up almost kissing on the lips or nose, which, with a semi-stranger, can be really hilarious.

Bill in St. Paul

I don't mind the kissing but as Suzanne said I forget which side to start on and then I can't remember which part of France kisses once, twice, or (as I discovered in Pau) three times. For J-M's sandals, hmmm, need a plural name, how about the Peditwins...(Off to Toulouse tomorrow.)


What a handsome boy! My boy is turning 18 in June and me too I get teary eyed sometimes. He is here, working on paddling a canoe:
(he is the boy on the right in the first picture on the left)
What a beautiful picture of you and Jean Marc over on Kauai to Paris!
As for a name for the sandals... les slip twins.

Christine Allin

The sandals...perhaps "les petits bateaux" ?

The might be an analogy there...the turf to the surf, the land to the sea, the rocky path, smooth sailing. And of course the sunshine that emerges overhead!

The sandals being the means to carry Jean-Marc on his journey...

suzanne dunaway

Name for the shoes: The Scarpa Twins
I know it's Italian, but what the heck?
Or his "Sandies"??

Elizabeth Lincoln

We call sandals our "kicks"', so how about Mr.Kicks?!


"Sole Brothers"


Darling Kristi,

Well - I must say each time you post a photo of Max, especially photo #3 today my breath actually caught in my throat...I thought I was seeing KIP from long ago back in 1966 !!! Now I remember why I was so head over heals crazy about your Dad. Max is the image of his Grandfather in this photo, just need to put him in a Air-Force uniform with some silver Lt's bars on his shoulders and it would be Kip all over again. Well, this just goes to show history actually does repeat itself. I could go on and on about this but today I will keep all of my thoughts to myself - we'll compare photos when I arrive.

Loved your post today - you are always so humble about your life. I know I have counted over 200 olive trees, I guess I will have to do an official count and photo record of each and every one of these precious trees. Your property is actually known all over the area as the official 'Olive Farm' of St. Cyr sur Mer and Bandol. It has laid dormant for years waiting for just the right 'tenders' to come back to the land and rescue them from the forest. I am so proud of both you and Jean-Marc for stepping up to the task of this enormous project, you will be blessed with lots of olives and oil in the coming years. I am sure you have added years to my life as I will be the one drinking the wine and eating the olives til my last breath.

I am starting to have my 'travel-dreams' again. Last night I was at the gate to enter the plane and realized I had forgotten my suitcase and passport. Please start praying that I will have a safe and happy flight - also that once again I will get bumped up to first-class.

And thank you Jean-Marc for sending me another private email this morning with a lovely photo of the spot you have prepared for me to relax under the shade of a lovely vine which is just bursting with new leaves to welcome me. You are the greatest son for any old Mom to have in her life.

It is just wonderful to wake up and have your children surround you with their thoughts and photos on this beautiful Monday morning...and especially nice to have all of your friends here online to share these moments with. I am blessed.

Also don't miss Bill's post about Kristi & JM - a lovely man who came into all of our lives via Kristi's blog and has brightened our lives with all of his comments. Bill is a real treasure for our family.



Kristin Espinasse

Mr Kicks, The Sole Brothers, and MY MOM! Loving the comments -- so grateful for each one and for the links and photos you share. Happy week ahead to everyone! Photos of the olive trees Mom spoke about... on the way!


I think Max is a clone of you, Kristi! Your daughter resembles Jean-Marc more....You are all beautiful people.....Looking forward to pics of Jules, too, when she comes to visit.....

Ginny McCann

He IS a handsome boy.
Isn't culture fun and confusing? When I visited France, I saw my good friend from home who was visiting her family in France. After 2 weeks in France, I gave her a bise rather than the hug I would have given her at home. :) Here in the northeastern US, the hug seems to have taken the place of the handshake among friends - especially females and male/females. Guys shake hands and give a pat on the shoulder. They're not into hugs between guys. For women, handshakes seem to be more formal, for strangers, straight-laced older aunts, possibly casual acquaintances or business.


"Dames sandales" c'est evident!


Our dear Kristi,
Another wonderful and thought provoking post!
I had forgotten about differences in cultures,especially for something so common as to whether to shake hands or kiss on the cheeks!
No wonder you are a proud mom!Max has grown into a handsome young man,with the best of you both!
Bill's tribute to you and Jean Marcus echoes all of our sentiments exactly.We're privileged to have you in our lives and to share in yours.
Love,Natalia. XO


Your mention of the olive tress reminded me of the last book I read "The Olive Farm" by Carol Drinkwater. It opened up my eyes to the world (and work) of olive trees. You would find it an interesting read, as she is an Irish actress living in the south of France who purchased a home which turned out to have many olive trees.

Leslie NYC

This post has everything!
Artichokes are my favorite food, so that photo was a gift! I am a gardener, so the ladybug is another. Max is a gorgeous young man. And I vote for Mr. Kicks.
And something I think a lot about--greetings, attitudes, homophobia, and humanity in France and the U.S. I think there are profound differences in how men, especially, are viewed and view themselves in the two places. To make a broad statement, I see men embrace their own humanity and sensitivity in France and run away from that here. In America, this ends up creating homophobia(real men don't show affection) and the idea that "men are animals"(with no responsibility to interact with society), and this belittles them and makes excuses for bad behavior. I see men much less threatened about their manhood in France. They feel like men, and are then free to be gentle and expressive.
I find that French people readily guide me through the sides to kiss first and the number. I start with the other's right cheek and stop when they do! They know we're new at this! Also, I learned that you only do the greeting the first time you see someone in a day, not 2 hours later. "We already said hello," I was told when I went to kiss someone again!

Audrey Wilson

Etiquette re bises. Depending what region your are in France it can be two, three, or even four kisses I always get caught out when I go to Provence. Here in Roussillion we only do two !!
A handsome son indeed & so like Papa.

Ellen from BH

Max is like a young Tom Cruise! No stopping him now!

Nancy in Fort Worth, TX

When my family and I lived outside Versailles in the 80's, I had a girl friend with a big Golden Retriever. She called most afternoons and we walked her dog before our kids got home from school. Being French, she easily and naturally linked arms with me as we walked behind "Nicky". I could safely practice my fledgling French skills and we grew so comfortable in this pattern. Women in the USA would totally freak out at this simple, genuine gesture of female bonding.


Once more with feeling – one of those vanishing posts: I love the artichoke & ladybug picture for Earth Day. Nothing beats so strong as a proud mother’s (or grandmother’s) heart. Perhaps you saw the picture on my Facebook page of my grandson Matt who turned 17 yesterday. Both he & Max are growing into such handsome men. As for cultural embarrassment, an 8 year old French lad I was tutoring corrected my French with a world weary sigh “We don’t say that, we say …” Regarding the greetings, here in the States women are supposed to initiate the hand shake, is it also true in France with la bise?
I prefer “Witty Pear” for your new found fruit and you can be comforted by the peaceful spirits of the monks who trod your land in previous centuries. My sister & I were discussing your olive trees last night as we were imagining our northern & southern european trips. She wasn’t aware of your move. Bill’s piece on you & J-M in his blog was lovely. I was writing a comment on his campfire blog & that disappeared also.
Is there a word in French for snafu as that is an army acronym for “Situation Normal All Fouled Up?"

Kristin Espinasse

Nancy, great example about the arm linking. So true!

Good news for those reading here today.  Monday, April 22, is A FREE DAY TO DOWNLOAD A TOUR OF THE HEART AS AN EBOOK; just go to

This is Maribeth Clements latest book set in Paris. enjoy!


Thank you. Just downloaded the book.

Bill Facker

Max "James Dean" Espinasse and Nature all rolled into one posting. A Mother's creation and Mother Nature's glory .. is that symbiotic or what! A great celebration of life Kristin .. Thank You.

Happy Earth Day Everyone!

Bill Facker

JULES .. Thank you for those very kind words.

Bill Facker


Hey Bill - You are spot-on about the "James Dean" look, Max definately has that spark about him. He is going to drive the girls crazy with his French Accent when he travels to the U.S. to hang out in Sun Valley and Palm Springs with his dear old Grandpa. What a great life Max has had and the future is wide open.

xoxo - Jules


definitely - working on my spelling - xoxo


KRISTI - could you please download Maribeth's book for me to read when I arrive...xoxo - Mom

Cheryl in STL

Linking arms came to my mind right away! I studied in Grenoble with friend from my US university. We would frequently walk arm in arm when we were in France. One day after we got home, we ran into each other on campus and immediately went to the arm in arm walk---right past the student union with a whole group of guys hanging out on the front steps. It didn't take us long to realize our cultural mis-step!

And Max is looking so grown up and handsome! He does look a lot like you! My sons are 33 and 28 and I love this grown up relationship, too!


Bill Facker's commentary on his blog was the real "cultural snafu." Manic and long-winded, it plays into the glib American stereotype.

Cynthia Lewis (Eastern Shore of Maryland)

What a marvelous post with beautiful/handsome photos of the Espinasse family! I enjoy so much seeing them and thank you for sharing with all of us.

Years ago (I'm 76) in the deep South, we would walk arm in arm with girlfriends and even fairly recently I was walking arm in arm with my mother-in-law when we both lost our balance and fell together into some azalea bushes. I immediately thought what an easy fall it was until I realized that I was on top of my mother-in-law!

The photo of the artichoke is beautiful,too. Mark Bittman had an article and video last week in the New York Times where he demonstrated how to prepare artichokes. One person who grew up in Sicily wrote in her comments following the article/video how to stuff an artichoke. Sounded wonderful. (I tried to leave the website but couldn't--désolée)

Karen from Phoenix

What a great post and beautiful photos.

Thanks for book download. Can't wait to read it.



Loved this one Kristi ! Hoping you can tell us all the correct procedure re the bisses (who goes first and what side etc...)It's all very confusing ...much like the language !! (But I will keep trying !) Re. children growing into adults : the end product is like growing a garden and seeing how beautiful they have turned out after all those yrs of nurturing...we feel so PROUD !!!

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

Pondering an olive tree that might be 500 years old. That is amazing! And still producing olives, I suppose. Yes, photos of the trees would be a joy to see.

Earth Day well celebrated with this post.

You are right to be proud of your son, growing up so fine.

Thanks for the link to Bill's post, it was a pleasure to read.


SARGAM - sargam - can you hear me yelling your name. I think you should never come back to this blog.



Earth Day! I appreciate it more at 81 than I ever did! With live oaks surrounding me, I clean my double driveway sometimes twice a day. What a mess. We bought in this beautiful Florida development because of the trees that grew so long to bring beauty. Then, came "the others" who couldn't stand the mess (for about one month a year) , cut down their trees and within a few years, moved away. Happy Earth Day to them, wherever these treeless people have gone and thanks for the memory.

Bill Facker

Sargam, I certainly respect your opinion and hope to grow from your critique. All criticism is good critcism. Thank you.

Bill N. - Cambridge, MA U.S.A.

messrs. Sacks et Sans-Sox


Oh Bill - You are such a gentleman, thank you for teaching me with your kind reply to Sargam. .. I do have a little temper when I feel my daughter or my dear friends have been harmed in any way. Maybe Kristi could please delete my comment - hopefully he will never see my 'naughty reply.' xo J.

Mara in Wisconsin

Then there's switching from "vous" to "tu." I recall French students addressing me as tu and the realizing it was "une americaine" and backing up to vous. When visiting a French family, the mom told me I as the more-or-less adult)needed to start the tutoyer-ing with the grade-schooler.

Bill Facker, you are doing well at the patience part of your list. Sargam could use work on his tact. Most of us need work on both at varying times!

Kathleen from Connecticut

Max will be a heart breaker. How handsome!
I use the cheek kiss all of the time here in th USA and my husband hugs all of the guys. We have not problem showing our affection for other people. We also do this in church, around town, wherever.
Americans need to get OVER IT!

Katherine in Palo Alto, CA

What a delightful tale of endangered tree species, Kristin! And how wonderful to have such knowledgeable and hard-working helpers for what must be a daunting project, resurrecting so many ancient olive trees. A very thought-provoking piece on Earth Day!
Reading about the tradition of la bise shook loose a long-forgotten memory of my first trip outside the US in 1981. In Germany visiting my then-boyfriend's aunt and uncle, the aunt held out her hand to shake, but I--being the naive young Californian--went in for a friendly hug. She stiffened. I realized my gaffe but it was too late. It was one of many lessons in cultural differences I learned on that trip.
Regarding la bise, I also marvel at grown men greeting each other with such a tender gesture. In the US, it is rare to see men warmly hug each other, but it is more common now than it used to be. I think that's a good thing.


Hi Kristin,
Thank you for your blog. It's so enjoyable to read and escape to. Please keep writing. You have a wonderful gift.
Best regards,
Lesley in Sydney, AUS

Leslie NYC

You are my hero. Bill can be gracious, but there is also a need for someone who calls 'em like she sees 'em. On more than one occasion you have played the blog bouncer and you were born for the role. It's a gift! Sargam's comment stands out for its vicious, venomous, slithering attack. I have enjoyed Bill's many comments here, but didn't know about his blog. I looked at it just now and it brought tears to my eyes. So sweet and real. As my grandmother once said to an unwelcome intruder, "Beat it,bud!" She was a lady who always wore a hat and gloves, but she didn't suffer fools.

Kristin Espinasse

Leslie, I would say: you took the words out of my mouth, but that would be untrue. Having searched, I still cannot find the words to respond to hurtful comments. Love your words about Mom. Were you there, a year ago, when she was attacked in the same way? It was awful. No wonder she is the first to speak up for others. That old saying also speaks to me: If you do not have anything kind to say... 

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Leslie! Just the encouragement every writer needs! No matter how many years I practice writing, the current work day can be as discouraging as the day before... when searching for le mot juste! The more I write, the more respect I have for those writers of all levels: just now beginning or seasoned by decades of work. (This comment dedicated to Bill and to all who write or yearn to write!)

Bill Facker

I am overwhelmed by the kindness extended by so many. I will stand in the soft morning sun tomorrow and be filled with gratitude for each of you.

Thank You .. Merci Beaucoup

Jan in Monument, Colorado

I have a friend who is originally from Wales and when I see him, we usually exchange one kiss. I was always going in the wrong direction and he explained that our kiss should be heart-to-heart. We each should go to our right and the other person's left so that our hearts are touching. Now I can always remember what I'm supposed to do! I'm a bit late for Earth Day wishes. I congratulate you and J-M for the work you are doing to perpetuate the olive trees. The earth thanks you! It snowed here on the front range of Colorado--about four inches in my yard. It's a very lovely winter scene when I'm really ready for spring. Kudos to Bill for his article and to Jules the bulldog!

Lisa A.,Los Angeles, CA

Change of subject for a moment: I was at the COL-COA French Film Festival in Hollywood over the weekend and was told about an event that has been taking place in Malibu Hills, CA for 32 years now. I thought of you and your husband; maybe for next year...Take a look! Enjoy! (I also put a Youtube on my Facebook page of the Non-Profit event...all the money goes to help children)


Sorry to offend Kristin but please remember Bill is not yr. Mum. She's family and can say whatever she wants. Personally, I found his encomium childishly naive but I understand that its acceptability may reflect cultural values (which was sort of my point). And kindness is one of yr. charms.


Now I remember what I wanted to say. This fruit reminds me of another old blet - the medlar.


Relax girls, no need for alarm. This is a tempest in a teapot (next week's phrase a la jour). Women flatter each other, men criticise each other, neither really mean it.

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