What does "retour du bonheur" mean and what does this have to do with the word "muguet"?

How to say "a small matter" or "something trifle" in French

Snoopy's philosophy
Earlier this week, on Facebook, I posted Snoopy's message (even if I didn't believe a word of it): Chaque fois que tu trouves de l'humour dans une situation difficile, tu gagnes.

une broutille (broo-tee)

    a trifle, a small matter, a little thing, nothing

Audio File: Listen to Max Download MP3 or Wav file

Ils se sont disputés pour une broutille. They got in a fight over a little matter.

perdre son temps à des broutilles = to waste one's time on unimportant matters
se préoccuper de broutilles = to focus on insignificant details
s'inquiéter pour des broutilles = to worry about nothing
se disputer pour des (ou une) broutilles = to fight over nothing

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

On Monday morning I quietly packed an overnight bag and left it on the edge of my bed. Next, I drew a few deep breaths, clicked open my blog, and began searching the archives for a post to rerun. Though I have gone to work and written stories under more nerve-racking circumstances, this time the energy-fueling crisis could not be put to constructive use--not even for sentence construction (emotional turmoil can be an adept wordsmith).

As I searched for a story to repost, I stopped, now and again, to contemplate the packed bag. If it eventually disappeared from the edge of the bed, it would be the first time in 19-years of marriage that I dared employ Plan B (a night spent alone at a cheap hotel...to think things over). But what would a little room cost? I wondered. I'd spend 60, at least... Surely I could get an off-season room in Bandol for 60/65...? Maybe they'll offer a discount if I stay a week. Will I stay a week?

Don't think about that right now
, I told myself. Wait for that "still small voice" inside to guide you. Meantime, one step in front of the other... Get your work done and then you can decide what to do. 

The argument had been over such a trivial matter. And to think, the day had begun in a deceptively peaceful way! I had passed my husband in the hall, where we exchanged smiles:

"Oh by the way, do we have a smaller one of these?" he said holding up the narrow arm or vaccume cleaner attachment.

"No, I don't think so," I answered, continuing on my way to my room, to dress.

"Never mind." Jean-Marc was chipper. "I think this one will fit down the drain...." 

I walked on in ignorant bliss until, suddenly, my smile fell and I froze in my tracks. The drain? He is not going to put that vacuum attachment down the drain!

The alarms sounded inside of me and that old fear of WATER + ELECTRICITY was paralizing. I thought of the neighbor we lost. The young father, who, along with his wife, worked night and day to fix up their modest village home. And then he was electrocuted (at work. He was putting up the municipal Christmas lights).

Electricity is a big bone of contention in our household. Over the two decades that I have lived with Jean-Marc, I have watched him dabble in DIY work. He is no good at it, he admits, but that doesn't take away his enthusiasm--nor do the trips to ER when he slips! Lately, after long discussions with my mom, I have learned to see Jean-Marc's DIY adventures in a new light: not only is he extremely curious, but such projects are his way of expressing himself--unleashing his inner-artist! Thus, we have the velcro-taped GPS in our car and the duct-taped mop-spear. The perfectionist in me winces at each of my husband's latest "solution creations" which lack for visual esthetique. But, lately, thanks to Mom's help, I can smile at them and even begin to appreciate the quirky man-made fix-its. And I can almost overlook my husband's obsession with refitting all the electric cords (on the microwave, the TV, the lamps...he seems fascinated by the anatomy of the cord. He itches to reveal the wires within the black rubber conduit).

But I draw the line at electricity and water.

"There is a plastic bottle cap stuck in the drain and I am going to vacuum it out!" This, Jean-Marc states with intention, for he knows that I will go hoarse trying to talk him out of it. "The drain is dry," he adds. "There is no worry about water!" 

I pause, knowing that if this conversation continues it will continue at a great expense. Listen, I want to say to my husband, I get it that you need to do your thing. I get it that I am to leave you alone with your projects and schemes. I get it. I get it. But I will never "get" electricity and I am asking you to wait for the plumber to arrive. He's scheduled to be here, anyway, and he can get the bottle cap out of the drain!

Realizing that I was not going to let up, Jean-Marc let go, losing his battle with self-control. This happened somewhere between his urging to, "Trust me that I know what I am doing," and his final desperate plea: "LET ME LIVE MY LIFE!"

I did trust him to know what he was doing and I did want him to live his life (obviously!). Only, as I so often tell our son, "It isn't you I worry about. It's the other drivers!" (Here, it isn't Jean-Marc I worry about. It is the water and the electricity!)

Back in my bedroom, having closed the door on the verbal gunfire that raged on, solo, back in the living room, I tell my daughter: "Get your bag, we are leaving for school now." Only, when I open the door, there stands my husband, goggle-eyed, arms rising up and down.

I see he is waiving the plastic bottle cap in one hand, in the other, the vacuum. Victory is written all over his beet red face.

"I GOT IT! I GOT IT!" he thundered. "AND. I'M. STILL. ALIVE!" 

I stood completely silent and still before the stunning bottle cap-and-vacuum spectacle, not a single of my limbs in motion, yet inside my arms were flapping wildly and my mouth thundered just like his. I was just as riled as he was, only I managed to keep it all tucked neatly inside as I walked right on past the live wire and out the door.

Returning from school, I discreetly packed my bag and waited for intuition to tell me what to do next. Meantime, I finished my post, hit the publish button, then relaxed by surfing the net (that "still small voice" hadn't gotten back to me yet, and I needed distraction from the emotional turmoil).

I don't know how I happened onto the site of a photographer based in Memphis, but I stayed to study every single photo in her touching self-portrait exposition, in which she photographs people sneering or mocking her (seemingly unbeknownst to her) because of her weight. Artist Haley Morris-Cafiero writes:

For my series, Wait Watchers, I set up a camera in a heavy-traffic, public area and take hundreds of photographs as I perform mundane, everyday tasks as people pass by me. I then examine the images to see if any of the passersby had a critical or questioning element in their face or in their body language. I consider my photographs a social experiment and I travel the world in an attempt to photograph the reactions of a diverse pool of passersby.

But it was the photographer's final words that gave me goosebumps: 

I have always had a hard time controlling my weight. My uncontrollable exterior has determined my place in society and I have often felt left out and awkward.

The artist's words hit hard and for the first time I realized that, though we all have struggles and vices, some of us have the added humility of having to wear their uncontrollable sides on the outside--weight and temper being two examples. With this thought came a wave of compassion for all who suffer from outward expressions of their inner conflicts.

Jean-Marc calmed down in time to bring me wildflowers in an attempt to reconcile. Accepting them, I was unable to curb my impulse to point out HIS faults. (I didn't see it as humiliation at the time but--like using a blow torch to put out a lighted candle wick--such words were crushing and unnecessary... and only served to fuel the flame!

 By the third bouquet of wildflowers (it took days--and many bouquets--to reconcile...) I began to see some of my own vices, trickier for myself, or others, to identify as they are hidden on the inside: stubborness, self-righteousness, intolerance, perfectionism, the need to control, over-anxiousness--to name several. Unlike the overweight photographer or the short-tempered husband, I have the luxury of keeping my vices and sins to myself, though I endeavor to share most of them in the stories I write. Afterwards, I can't help but see the humor and the beauty and the value in the struggle of life.

Wedding Jitters
Marseilles, 1994. Would you like to add a caption? See the comments box :-)

Disclaimer: Lately I have received a few emails and comments regarding my writing: 

"I'm uncomfortable when you talk about your struggles with alcoholism," one readers comments. Another writes, "Aren't you afraid you'll lose Jean-Marc--aren't you doing him a disservice by writing these very personal accounts). I worry some other woman will steal him away from you!

Such notes make me cower back inside myself, and I think my writing days are over. If I cannot tell my story--through the lens of humor or whichever lens I'm using for a particular episode--then I might spend my time sorting socks (and some of you will agree yes, Kristin, this would be best!).

"But writing is your gift! Don't let intimidation silence your creativity!" my mom urges me (sure, she's my mom, Moms say that kind of thing... but I feel that kind of thing--not the gift but the words and sentences that will not stop filing across my mind, or chattering in my ears, until they are set down in story form. It is torture, but, three times each week, it is delivery).
Post note: Jean-Marc has always encouraged me to share my story. "If it is the truth," he says, "then tell it."
Taking the week off to be with Mom (she arrives Sunday), so I won't be checking email--but Mom and I will be reading messages here in the comments box. Thanks! (P.S. I never did check in to the hotel :-)

Thanks for visiting our sponsor:
LISTEN & READ-ALONG French/English mystery book & AUDIO CD! Vocabulary, grammar, & quizzes. Great French gift! $34.95
Capture plein écran 02052013 101946
Retro Citroen Kitchen apron... one idea for Mother's Day. Click here to order.

When you shop for any item at Amazon, using the highlighted links, you help to support this free French journal. Merci beaucoup!

  1. Check out Carla Bruni's Little French Songs
  2. A Tour of the Heart: A Seductive Cycling Trip Through France. 

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety