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How to say "cleaning frenzy" in French! + photo vocabulary!

Old wooden boat in Giens, near Hyérès (c) Kristin Espinasse

Gone fishing! I'll see you in a week, when the next post goes out.
Meantime, keep up your French vocabulary by visiting the French word archives. Thanks for reading and for sharing our language journal with friends and family. See you soon--with more photos and stories from a French life! Bisous, Kristin 

la frénésie de ménage (fray-nay-zee deuh may-nazh)

    : cleaning frenzy 

... and if you are one of those loves-to-organize types, here's another term for you: la frénésie de rangement = organizing frenzy. Share this one with a neatnik!


    by Kristin Espinasse

The Quirky French Household

After a house full of guests leave today and Saturday, I've got a bit of time to get this boat in shape. My sister is arriving this weekend!!

The past week has been full of excitement, with a lot of bed schlepping and sheet wringing. The flurry began after one of the teenagers (there were 6 sleeping here this week) woke with welts up and down her legs. Next, my brother-in-law complained of the same--only in a different place (he hasn't been able to sit down since.) Mosquitos?

Bed bugs! I tore off all the freshly laundered sheets and began rewashing everything. Saperlipopette! We could have used a machine dryer for once! Meantime, Jean-Marc vacuumed and disinfected the mattresses. Result? Bed bugs were not the problem (for the record: no bed bugs at the Espinasse household! I repeat... pas de punaises de lit chez les Espi!).  The culprit was the mosquitoes, after all. We needed to buy a better repellent for this years invasion!

So much for scrubbing sheets and matelas. Meantime, my sister's visit! The house will get a good dusting and a lickety-split polish. No use worrying about appearances--but I am doubtful about some of the household quirks we have here in France. How will these bizarreries come across to those who are unaccustomed to them? (It's been years and years since my sister came for a visit. And this time she is bringing a very special guest. I don't want to cramp her style; as her little sister, I will be a reflection of her! I wouldn't want her significant other to think we're from the boondocks--or maybe even The Twilight Zone....

Anyone who has seen our new old place would be shaking their heads about the boondocks comparison. The truth is, this is an endearing house--cracks, cobwebs, and all. But back to those quirks... every French household has them. For outsiders like me, French homes take some getting used to. But now, after two decades, I don't notice cultural differences so much anymore. Yet I feel the need to explain certain european idiosyncrasies to my sister and her cheri. I'll list several here, in case my upcomping guests are reading:

That's not cardboard, those are our guest towels.
The upside to drying your laundry on the line is this: the bath towels double as excellent skin exfoliators (it's that sandpaper texture they develop after hardening in the Provencal sun. I hope Heidi and Brian will "get it" and, especially, will go with it. Their tender skin certainly will! 
Insecticide? Not!

Here, just a stone's throw from the city, it is normal to find an ant traipsing across your cheek as you slumber through your afternoon nap. I'm used to plucking them off, sending these and other friendly creatures on their way.

And the bees with which we cohabitate are harmless, too. I once had a guest pull back the freshly-washed bed sheets (and the mattress cover beneath them). Her curiosity led to a startling discovery: a row of meticulously formed mud houses. "There are spiders in my room!" she screeched.

"Those aren't spiders," I assured her. "Those are mud daubers. They wouldn't harm a fly. But they might eat one!" As my guest watched, wide-eyed, I scraped away the tiny, hollow mud balls and tossed them out the window.

(Best not to peek beneath the mattress cover when you sleep at my place! But I guarantee freshly washed, air dried sheets--free of bed bugs (I repeat pas de punaises de lit chez les Espi!).

Another concern about my sister's visit: all those spider webs I've grown accustomed to. I take it for granted that not everyone is as blasé as I am about les toiles d'araignées. Apart from an occasional pause--to marvel at their intrinsic designs--I don't even notice them anymore. But spider phobics will! Is my sister's beau one of those? On verra!

French Bricolage or why certain doors and things are off-centered, unbalanced, or defy reasoning

It is definitely a French thing. My friend Cari, also married to a Frenchman, will vouch for this: the French just don't see things "spatially" as we do. That said, most everything in our new (old) house is perfectly balanced (this is thanks to the British family--including a mathematician--who lived here before us). 

As for "most everything" being in harmony, I'm afraid I have to take the blame for first "off-set" to the natural balance around here. It happened when we renovated Max's bathroom. I suggested we reuse a shower door from our previous home. Only I didn't stay to watch the handyman install it.... And the handyman didn't question the size of the sliding doors. Result: the doors will not open completely.

Jean-Marc doesn't see what the big deal is. (Of course not, he's French!)  And he made it a point to demonstrate that even he, big guy he is, can squeeze through the 31.5 cm crawl space that remains. (Brian, if you are still reading, you're just gonna have to do like us and suck it in!)

I hope these tidbits about our beloved home have not been off-putting. I've got to go now--more towels to put on the line. And, Heidi, if you are still reading, brave sister, I leave you with a warm bienvenue chez nous!

Comments welcome here.

 Today we're talking about from quirky households to insects--to guests! Please jump into the conversation and leave a comment.

When you forward this story to a friend, you open up a whole new quirky world for another to enjoy. And they'll learn a bit of French vocabulary in the process. Thanks for sharing!

French Vocabulary

une bizarrerie = peculiarity

le matelas = mattress

le cheri (la cherie) = sweetheart

une toile d'araignée = spider web

le beau = the boyfriend

on verra = we shall see

le bricolage = do-it-yourself 

bienvenue chez nous = welcome to our place

Exercises in French Phonics: A helpful manual for pronunciation! "Really breaks it down for you on how to properly pronounce French words." (review by New Chic) Read more customer reviews, and order a copy here.

Reverse Dictionary 

spic and span = nickel (nee-kel)

 A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Maison des Pelerins, Sablet.Click here for photos.   

Door curtains in Beaumes de Venise (c) Kristin Espinasse
Let's build our vocab with these pictures I took in the Vaucluse. Notice the green volets, a cement banc, white and blue rideaux de porte, the old rusty boîte aux lettres, and the furry chaton noir. See any other vocabulary in this photo? Add it here, in the comments box.


Bar toutous
The French word for this yellow object is une gamelle. But don't you love the synonym: bar à toutous (doggy bar). Other vocab in this photo: notice all the colorful affiches taped to the window of the office de tourisme in Sarrians. 

Please forward this post to a clean freak or an animal lover--may it bring a smile :-)

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Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
I need to do both of these : la frénésie de ménage et la frénésie de rangement. I like to have things in order and when things are a mess I get crazy! haha

We have lived in Brussels for three years and Germany for six and the one thing I couldn't get used to was the absence of window and door screens. Flies drive me crazy and I don't know how you get used to all the flies all over the kitchen and the food. I also had to get used to the crack in the middle of the beds. Can you find queen or king sized matelas now?

Enjoy your sister's visit!

Eileen deCamp

I forgot to ask if you are staying cool! We just returned from 18 days in Europe and there was a heat wave going on! Everywhere except Amsterdam was in the upper 90's. Vienna, Austria was 100 degrees F the day we were there. How do you get used to no air-conditioning!


Don't worry about spider webs Kristi, just enjoy each other's company! I almost met Heidi when she was visiting Brian in Colorado, but her time was short and we decided to do it next time she comes here. Have loads of fun and make wonderful memories!

Julia Frey

Ah yes, bugs are synonymous with summer on the Côte d'Azur. And you've already noticed that the recent rains brought out voracious mosquitoes. I bet you've also already noticed (another major cultural difference) that the French hate window screens. My friends say they think they're ugly. (They must think mosquito bites are pretty). May I suggest some cheap, removable screens?
After floundering for five years for a solution, we finally bought a roll of 25 yards of velcro ("scratch") with sticky tape, and MANY yards of mosquito netting. Glue the sharp, hooked side of the velcro all around the frame of the window (or door you are willing not to walk through any more), cut a piece of net for each opening, and instead of attaching the velvety side of the velcro, just press the mosquito netting to the spiky velcro around the window edge. Except for hunting for mosquito netting sold by the yard, it's a cinch.


The moustiques are bad here in Les Arcs too....but what is worse are the tiny delta wing shaped arabies (? sp). It looks like a mosquito bite but does go away for over a week..... We live in the dark so as not to attract them.


Try lemon juice for mosquito repellant.

In Quebecois a boyfriend is a chum and a girlfriend la blonde.


As a French friend of mine ( le homme) would say when I wanted to spray the trail of ants on his patio, " non, c'est nature." Spot on Kristin. Bonne visite with your sister.


I think the quirkiest thing about French houses is their lack of screens. That's why the mosquitoes can bite you at night--no screens on the windows to prevent their entry into the bedroom.

Julie Farrar

I was glad that our French apartment came with a washing machine, no matter how tiny. There is absolutely no space to fit a dryer. However, as an American I can't stand to dry with or sleep on sandpaper (or wear it, either). Therefore, I've taken to stuffing all my wet laundry in my market cart and rolling it up to the laundromat for the drying. For one euro I can dry a load enough to get it almost dry, soften it, and remove most of the wrinkles. Then I roll it home and hang it to finish drying.

Suzanne Dunaway

Anyone lucky enough to be invited to your beautiful, special mas should thank his/her lucky stars that they have a room, a bath and great food for their stay!!!! Spiders eat mosquitoes, a plug-in anit-mosquitoe contraption works wonders as do laurel leaves in the pantry and lavendar in the beds.
If they have problems with your hospitality, put them out in the doggy house......
but I do understand anxiety over a sibling visit; she'll be green with you know what...

David Sheegog

One of the first things I did over here in the Montaigne Noir was build screens for all my windows and all the upstairs French doors. My problem was initially bats that would come in chasing moths around the lights in the rooms. As summer approached it would be mosquitoes. Took me a couple days to build 7 screens, made from small wood lathing that fit snuggly in place. They have the added advantage of keeping the bedrooms cool at night.

When I started reading, I thought for sure the problem was going to be aoûtats, French chiggers with persistently painful bites that can itch you to death for a week or more. I get them working in my yard, occasionally, but have learned to stay out of the tall grass.

Agree entirely about quirkiness of French bricologe, and propensity to have exposed plumbing and wiring.

Bill in St. Paul

One of the idiosyncrasies that we have found is one that Kristen alluded to: the lack of clothes dryers. We've rented houses/apartments in various parts of France and have always had a washing machine but no clothes dryer (except once but the cottage was owned by an American thus it had a dryer). I love the French Bricolage, it often so inventive, especially the older the "fix" is. Have fun with Heidi and Brian!

Cheryl Mauro-Berg

I love this site! I'm Italian & American & French - living in both southern Italia and southern u.s. Truly laughed at this fun post, as we have all the same 'issues' in italia!! learned quickly that I can keep bugs at bay with lots of Bounce sheets (they travel regularly with us from america to italia), but this time we spent 1000 euro on zanzariere for three french doors & two windows in our appartamento. okay, I caved. couldn't take the zanzare buzzing us in the middle of the night any longer! LOL

Heather in Arles

Yes! David nailed it--our landlord thought absolutely nothing at all about the exposed pipes running the basebords, the electrical sockets hanging out of the wall and the decades old looking light bulb on a wire that was a light ornament! :o We have gotten used to the pipes and fixed the rest...

Ooh, a visit with Sister. I am thrilled for you. I just had a long talk with mine yesterday and while it was lovely, I did a little sigh when I got off the phone from homesickness.

And finally, great minds think alike! (heehee) I don't know what kind of bee got into my bonnet this morning but I was a cleaning TORNADO. I have three garbage bags full of random dusty stuff to throw away...woot woot!

Bruce in northwest Connecticut

Last month I was in a laundromat in Arles. As I transferred my clothes from the washing machine to the dryer, another customer asked me, "Why don't you just hang them outside?" The only response I could come up with is, "I'm American."

Our house isn't French, but it has its own quirks that I only think about when other people come over. Most are due to the fact that it was built in 1870. For example, when you set a pencil down on a table — any of the tables — it rolls off.


French , living on an Island in Maine , I am still puzzled by the hyper phobia of my american family to bugs . Lots of Lyme disease , but as I did in France in my youth in Sologne ( vipers !) you were boots long pants etc ..and that is OK . Still very gentle with spiders at night , less in the morning !. ' araignee du matin, chagrin ; araignee du soir, espoir " !. SO now here everything is a "tick " ou tic . And even if you get Lyme, you cannot stay in a bubble all your life.
And I too, in this" posh " side of the Island , is putting up my laundry on the line!. Nothing like that nature ironing by the sea breeze !!!.

Cynthia Lewis (Eastern Shore of Maryland)

Did you know that you are always within three feet or closer to a spider of some sort? Once when my brother-in-law was visiting, I told him this and he looked at me in disbelief. Just at that moment I noticed a daddy-long-leg behind his chair. I never mind spiders but flies, ticks, chiggers and mosquitoes are another matter!

Have a wonderful visit with Heidi and her cheri. They will have to remember:"When in Rome do as the Romans". I'm certain that they will be charmed by your home and family. (By the way, I especially like a nice scratchy towel and I hang my clothes outside,too.) Salut!


First, I love your opening picture--so peaceful!

I'm so glad you don't have bed bugs. I've heard they are very difficult to get rid of. I would have such trouble not having a dryer! Towels and sheets must take so long to dry. And when it's cloudy or rainy, you just don't wash them? It sure would be hard getting used to no screens as well. They would certainly keep out a lot of the critters.

But I have to laugh over the lack of construction symmetry. My husband is a structural engineer, and that would be his biggest adjustment. It's my dream (like so many others) to move to the south of France. Or at least, rent a house for a visit. I will have to warn my husband about all this--could be a deal-breaker! ;)

Thanks for another delightful post. Enjoy your visit with your sister and her cheri!

Kathleen from Connecticut


While in France at a friends house,I found that if I turned on a light at night, I would shut the windows first and when I was ready for bed I shut off the light and then opened the window. Less mosquitoes .

My husband gets disturbed by all of the exposed pipes and wiring, but I don't. In the US, everything goes into the wall and is not seen! I wanted to add ceiling fans after our construction was done, but he did not like the idea of seeing the wire or the casing that would hide the wire. Oh well, no ceiling fans!

Have a great visit with your sister and her beau, and hopefully they will not even think about the Idiosyncrasies which are typical of the French house. Sometimes we worry too much!


Trina, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

Beautiful "gone fishing" photo! Just gorgeous. Loved that!


Our dear Kristi,
Once again,another wonderful post! Through your gifted writing,you kept me laughing with your descriptions,and made us feel like we're right there with you,battling bugs,spider webs, and shower doors that don't fit.
Your picture with the sea and Morning Glories was absolutely gorgeous. (So remember those when I was growing up in Phoenix).
Please give your dear sister a hug for me. Know your visit will be full of happiness!
Love, Natalia XO
Know your


Best natural remedies to deter mosquitos; NO BiteMe soap- essential oils used; make a lather and smooth it everywhere like a lotion. Works great. Must order online. I like the soap bar better than the cream. Non toxic, smells nice and no bites!!
Also- can put patchouli oil and lavender oil in sweet almond oil,or something like a light massage oil and rub on. Mosquitoes hate it!

Joan Linneman

My husband is fond of saying "this thing needs to be taken apart and put back together again." He does take things apart and USUALLY puts them back together, but sometimes there are extra parts. We have lots of little plastic bowls in our house full of used screws, wires, etc, and we have more keys than we can identify. His family background is French Canadian and Illinois farm, and farmers never throw anything away that might be of use some day. He also sees the backyard as an extension of the inside of our house, so the screen door is always open when he is home. Your post today has helped me understand the "French side" of him a little better. Vive la difference!

Leslie in Portland, Oregon

Our house is full of quirks, most from the previous owner. A designer of computerized lighting systems for Broadway shows, he did his home remodeling, repair and maintenance projects (always le bricolage) as if he were working on a theater set. As we began to discover soon after moving into the house, the results were crafted as if they had to look good from a distance and work for a short time, then be torn down. Early on, this led to a couple of dangerous electrical emergencies, but in the 25 or so years since, we've learned to chuckle (with maybe a hint of exasperation) when we discover yet another of his "short cuts" (and to admire his ingenuity). We certainly understand why he breathed a visible and audible sigh of relief as we signed the closing papers.

I think the quirks in your house sound rather wonderful (excepting the mosquitoes)!

Michael Emmerich in Seattle, WA

Et vous n'avez pas parlé des scorpion! Harmless they may be, my wife never warmed to the country house we rented last year near Uzes because those little black critters kept popping up everywhere. The owner of the house was completely non-plussed by it. C'est la vie.

Anyway, this is my first comment on here, after reading the blog for a couple of years. Keep up the good work


Hi in the picture taken in Vaucluse....where you give vocabulary; can I add ...La grande pierre utilisée comme une marche/étape pl tell me which one is right marche ? etape ?

dorothy dufour

Comme toujours, tes photos sont merveilleuses!
Or maybe they're masculine - to me that's always the hardest part of french....

Some of the people I met were what I privately call POISON CLEAN. you know the type. I had a
sister who hated housework ( but a great cook)
and she was just scathing about PC types. As I
age I seem to get fussier, but I remember her, and stop obsessing.... I tumble clothes in the
dryer, sans heat, and dry outside, but one of my daughters likes her towels rough.

dorothy dufour

mEANT to ask you if you have snakes in that part of the world??

Diane Young

I encountered a big, long snake the other morning when I opened the door from kitchen to garage. I screamed a little (nobody around to hear) and he kept moving away as I backed into the house. I checked later on and didn't see him anywhere. Hope he's in the pond behind the house by now. There are dozens of chameleons and lizards around as well as the occasional small black snake who lives in the boxwood hedge, but this was my first encounter with a large snake in the 26 years here. Having no knowledge of herpetology, I am clueless as to type and possible danger. I've learned to just go away and they usually do also. This summer there have been very few mosquitoes and I don't go outside at night because they always bite me. Hope you have a wonderful time with Heidi and Brian. Don't sweat the idiosyncracies. I had forgotten about lack of screens. We used to dream of starting a business selling them in Europe, but never tried to pursue.

Bette Goode

Hi Kristin,

I am such a spelling nerd - the correct spelling is vouch for the word which means to agree that something is true or as described.

Have fun with your summer guests!

Bette Goode

Brenda Chinn

I didn't think about the benefits of sand papery towels for exfoliation.
We Americans are such wimps. We're spoiled and need our fabric softener and machine dried towels.

Brenda Chinn of San Francisco

Jennifer in OR

I'm sure you're all having a fabulous time! Thought of this post tonight as I did dishes in the kitchen and looked down (in my bare feet) to see a huge scorpion! Ugh.

Mary Keates

Dear Kristin,
Have fun on your fishing trip.MyFrench son, who lives in Paris/Shanghai,his partner,and other family members are meeting in Our Cote D"Azur,Florida!.The mosquitos are so big you can saddle
Them!.LOTS of bug spray...
If you want, I can send you some of those all American half screens that they sell at my Hardware store.I have a few for my screenless windows.
Not pretty,but remind me of my Grandma's house.


Bonjour Kristin, je n'ai pas pu lire tes petites histoires depuis quelques semaines car j'étais très occupée et je m'aperçois ce matin comme elles m'ont manquées! Voila moi j'ai un problème avec des pigeons qui ont élus domicile dans mes gouttières, est ce que quelqu'un à une idée ou plusieurs pour qu'ils aillent ailleurs? Merci d'avance. Moi aussi je suis toujours angoissée de rencontrer mes frères ou sœurs! J'ai entendu que deux scorpions dans un trou s'entendent mieux que deux sœurs ou frères dans une maison? Je t'embrasse et à bientôt de te lire. Bonne journée. Jos

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