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!

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