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kif-kif! + list of Arabic words you will hear when in France

Port-Cros island off the south coast of France (c) Kristin Espinasse
The island of Port-Cros, where those who love nature roam.... This protected site, off the coast of Hyères, is a protected paradise. Put this one on your bucket list -- unless you suffer from island fever or prefer to lick windows ("shop", that is) when on vacation. Only one boutique on this island--and it sells foutas. Read on.

Mas de la Perdrix - visit this charming rental in the south of FranceProvence Villa Rental Luberon luxury home; 4 bedrooms, 5 baths; gourmet kitchen, covered terrace & pool. Views of Roussillon. Click here.  


Today's word is woven within the following post, where you'll find many more useful French (whoops! Arabic terms!) You'll be happy you learned them when next you find yourself strolling down a southern French beach. Among the chant of the cicada and the crashing waves, these Arabic words will sing-song along--as natives in the South of France shoot the breeze, using words that have naturalized just as certain foreigners have. Tee-hee!


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

If you think you learn a lot by reading a language blog... you'll learn even more by devouring the comments readers post. Voilà, so much for my sneaky way of alimenting my own français

This morning I sneaked into the comments to learn a thing or two or three when I spotted Hani's commentaire:

"Has the word fouta been used long in France? It is actually an Arabic word meaning towel..."

Aha! So fouta means "towel". Well now that makes sense! Delurking in time to write my own comment, I thanked Hani for the insight... only my message ended up in my blog's spam filter! (I'll fish it out in a sec... For some reason, Bill's and Julie's comments often end up there, too. And this morning Odile was trapped in the filter! Ah well, if I find any other comments--or yours there--I'll fish them out too. So much for the disappearing comments caper!) 

Meantime, Hani's comment inspired today's post: a list of oft-heard Arabic words used here in the south of France (and perhaps beyond--in Lyon or in Paris?). And because I've been meaning to share photos from Jean-Marc's and my recent getaway, I'll marry the vocab words with the photos. The terms won't necessarily match the images, but just like a good couple they will compliment each other :-)

 Speaking of couples, here we go--

Jean-Marc and Mr. Sacks ride the ferry (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jean-Marc and Mr. Sacks on the Ferry to Port-Cros. One of these guys has lost weight--and it ain't saggy ol' Mr. Sacks!

Yes, look who joined us on our getaway: Mr. Sacks! No, that's not a cabas, that's my husband's beloved, takes-with-him-every-where bag--the adorable Monsieur Sacks (see him in all his glory here!).

1. cabas = shopping basket

  Arrivng at the harbor of Port Cros. No, we didn't travel via fishing boat :-)

And this just may be Mrs. Sacks. (Notice the blue Hawaiian beach bag--she appeared here, too, hidden somewhere in the "reunited with ex husband" post.) Mrs. Sacks was a gift from Reader Fred Caswell (hi! Fred!), who brought her to me at a New York city book signing. He also brought his lovely wife Nancy (Bonjour, Nancy!). See, Fred, I really do use the soulful bag--even though you apologized when you offered it, wondering whether it would be of any use. Useful? It's a staple! Long live Mrs. Sacks!

By the way, those aren't babouches, those are loafers on my feet: 

2. babouche = slippers

Epicerie on Port Cros island (c) Kristin Espinasse
The island's épicerie or grocer's or mini-market is, as the sign says, "at the top of the stairs, to the right"

 We didn't see any toubibs on the island. Had we seen a doctor, my guess is he or she would look like this--for all the natives wore shorts and loose-fitting tops--and all the locals were barefoot or pieds nus, which gave them an even more je n'ai pas un souci au monde (or not a care in the world) look.

3. toubib = doctor

Port-Cros harbor and village (c) Kristin Espinasse
A dump, a hole, a godforsaken place? I think you'll agree that the village of Port-Cros is no bled

4. bled = the "boondocks" as we say back home, or a remote--or rural--place

Mini Moke (c) Kristin Espinasse
I hope Brian is reading. My sister's beau loves cars and would appreciate this cross between an American jeep and a skateboard--designed by the British Motor Corporation.

Port-Cros does have a little in common with a bled paumé (a one-horse town), in that no cars are allowed on the island--apart from the cheery Mini Mokes or low-riding island jeeps! Bikes, or vélos, are not allowed either, as Jean-Marc learned. All the more reason to enjoy one of the many protected sentiers, or hiking trails.

signposts or island direction (c) Kristin Espinasse

"Would you like to go to Plage du Sud or return to Port Man," Jean-Marc offers. 
"C'est kif-kif". It's all the same," I answer. All the beaches are beautiful!

5. kif-kif = a fun term that means "the same thing", or "c'est pareil" or "six of one half a dozen of the other"

Prickly pears on the island of Port-Cros (c) Kristin Espinasse
It's hard to resist capturing these figuiers de barbarie, or prickly pears--much easier to take by photo than by hand. The island of Port-Cros is a parc national, filled with interesting plants above, and sealife, below. As for dogs, or clebs, the sign on the ferry boat mentioned they were not allowed on the island. 

6. clebs = (slang) dog

Island dog - golden retriever (c) Kristin Espinasse

Well then, I wonder where this gal came from? Hmm? Hmm?And all her friends that decorated the windows and lounged beside the café chairs where the tourists sipped steaming cups of kawa

7. kawa = coffee

I wanted to take a little space, just un chouïa, to show you this seagrass called "posidonia" that is found on the island and in the calanques nearby our home...

8. chouïa = a little

The posidonia piles up high along the seashore--making a comfy natural mattress for an afternoon siesta: perfect for forgetting about those nagging fardeaux awaiting the tourist back home....

9. fardeau = burden or emotional toll

  la méduse or jellyfish (c) Kristin Espinasse

Speaking of burdens, a violet tribe, or smala, tormented the seaside. Here we see a member of the jellyfish family... two of which bit me! Are people who swim in these waters brave--or seriously maboule?

10. smala = tribe or large family
11. maboule = mad, crazy

little island (c) Kristin Espinasse
Cash, or flouze, would have been useless as there were no pharmacies on the rugged coast. So I remembered a tip I'd learned from one of the info boards at the tourist office...

12. flouze = cash or "bread"

How to Treat a Jellyfish Sting

  1. rinse with salt water (this is convenient...)
  2. apply sand to the area (hot sand is best) ; massage gently
  3. to remove tentacles: find a flat-sided object to scrape off the sand plastered over the wound (a credit card would have been ideal, but I used a sharp-ended pebble).

Tip! Don't do what I did: When my stings were not apparent, I began to doubt whether or not I'd truly had a painful run-in with the jellyfish. Worse, I began to apologize for being such a big baby! Just in case, I went ahead and half-heartedly treated the invisible area, using the protocol mentioned above.

A day or two later things weren't so invisible. Two large bumpy wounds were unmistakable--one on my ankle was the size of a sand dollar, the other a "slap" across the hand -- both deep red and itchy as can be! So when in doubt -- go ahead and thoroughly treat the area, making sure all tentacles have been removed. 

I leave you with one last word, close to my heart: taboulé!

My mother-in-law, Michèle-France (born in Marocco), makes the very best. And because she is moving this week, I'll end this post and say "see you next week"... 

...insha'Allah (if God be willing).



garde-manger (c) Kristin Espinasse
A garde-manger or dish protecter--perfect for keeping the winged ones out of the taboulé!  

Comments  and corrections welcome here. I'd love to know if you enjoyed these photos and words--or have come across other Arabic words adopted by the French. Thanks for joining the discussion here in the comments box.


 New to this language blog? You might enjoy Blossoming in Provence. Here's a Amazon review from Debnance at Readerbuzz:

Blossoming in Provence


I read Espinasse’s earlier book, Words in a French Life, a few years ago and liked the way she connected stories from her new life in the south of France with French vocabulary lessons. Blossoming in Provence is more of the same. And equally inviting.

Island of Port-Cros (c) Kristin Espinasse
The heavy object, to the right, looks like "une meule" or grindstone. Wonder what it used to grind? There are plenty of wild olive trees on the island, but no local olive oil, it seems....

Would you like to see more pictures of the island of Port-Cros? Have you ever been there? Let us know, here in the comments section

(Just making sure you have not confused the island of Port-Cros with the nearby island of Porquerolles, shown in this blog post.) 

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Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
Lovely post and photos today! I love "C'est kif-kif". Vinegar works really well on jelly fish stings too. I used to bring a spray bottle filled with vinegar to the beach when the kids were little. One time I forgot the vinegar and ran back to the house to find some. We were out of vinegar, but found bottled salad dressing. I am on the beach dousing my child with salad dressing. It didn't work!

Julie Farrar

Thanks for the visit and the vocab lesson. I don't think I've heard any of those in Burgundy except insha'Allah. I would love to find a garde manger. I'll just have to look harder for one here. I'd love to make my own list of special French terms I hear; however, since the French talk so fast I can never tell exactly what words I'm hearing. I'll never master the language.

Pat Cargill

Kristen, this is a delightful post - your armchair travelogue is inviting and Port-Cros is a perfect place for a romantic getaway...well, minus the jellyfish! Tabouli - so yummy. Do you have Michèle-France's recipe? Do share, please.


Hi, I enjoyed a lot your getaway !
I know those islands, Port-Cros, Porquerolles, etc.. (since I'm french and born in the South) and I agree, they are fantastic !
As for the arabic terms we use, "bled" and "smala" come from the previous French Colonies, especially the North of Africa. But when we say "bled", no need to add "paumé" (current pleonasm !), because a bled is already paumé, often in the desert ! Another stuff : we do say rather often "clebs" but it's shortened from "clébard" which is slang for dog (as you wrote).
At last : a "cabas" was a very large basket, made of woven straw and was mainly used for the veggies & fruits & so on from the (real) farmers'market, some decades ago...! But the origin of this word is not arabic.
Sorry for my mistakes.
Have a very nice end of week and WE !

Kathleen from Connecticut

Hi Kristi,

Port-Cros sounds like a great get away, forget your troubles and work place. No cars,no velos, just walking. I would guess that the food and accommodations are good and that the locals are friendly. I will have to add it to my bucket list when traveling to France again.

I'd love to see more pictures and thanks for the new vocab. The French Language is being inundated with English, Morrocan and many other languages...what are the language police doing about this...going crazy?


Bill in St. Paul

Great photos! I had to get out my Michelin map to find where Port-Cros exactly was. It looks like a delightful place to visit. Thanks for the Arabic terms, I'm sure they would come in handy in Marseille when bartering in the Arab market.

michèle shuey

Thank you for the beautiful pictures and your list of Arabic vocabulary! Merci! ça sera très utile dans mes cours de français. Vraiment vous faites un travail fantastique.
Michèle S. Pittsburgh

Suzanne Dunaway

Morocco with an 'o' and for jelly fish sting, have someone pee on it. Really. It works miracles!!!

Margy,plus,plus Port-Cros!
I have friends and family from Benin who live in the US and Lyon. Merci for the window on your(our) world.


Ruth massaro

Love all your photos...always...what an eye you have! Do you have any more of that posidonia washed up on beach? Looks amazing!



Debby Howell

Yes, I love the photos of all your vacations. I like the wide variety of topics you cover--such a wonderful full view of real life in France today. I would like to have seen and heard more about Cassis. It looked so beautiful. And the life and interactions of your family are wonderful, fun to read about.
Thank you for such a wonderful blog.

Anne - Music and Markets Tours

Didn't know that fardeau was of Arabic origin... learned that word when singing "Cast all your fardeaux (cares) on Him... " in church in Aix.


Cou Cou!
Here on the Gulf of Mexico we also use vinegar for medusa stings!
And fardeau is interesting for me, too. The first time I heard it was in a poem, I think maybe by Chrles Baudelaire? "Il faut etre ivre."
" Il faut être toujours ivre. Tout est là: c'est l'unique question. Pour ne pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du Temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans trêve."

Lorna Peterson

Hello Kristin!

Thanks for this lovely story, nice to learn the Arabic words and
see this beautiful little gem, Port Cros..... would love to get
there some day! I hope it remains simple and unchanged ; )
Like the sound of no traffic!!
Be well,

Diane Young

Yummy Arabic food - couscous, taboule, kibbe, hummus, etc. Sights, sounds and smells of your trip must have been intoxicating. Glad you went and hope you go again soon. Speaking of which, it's getting nearer to the time for your cruise with JM, n'est=ce pas?


Love the clothes mannikin! Looks like a life size version of the paper dolls I liked to make as a kid....if it was for sale you could nearly squash it up into your bag easy!! ;-)
For bluebottle stings here the suggested treatment is not to rub sand in as it can push the tenticles back in but to pull out any you can see with tweezers and to soak in hot water....otherwise a stingersuit would help! All the things you would take to the beach (not!) :-)
Looks like a lovely the words!


Thank you so much for sharing your vacation. It is ironic you gave us Arabic words. Just yesterday I wanted to learn the Arabic words, hello, and goodbye. Medical terms would be great as well, but I doubt I will retain them enough or speak them correctly enough to ask patients any questions.

Take care, and enjoy the last days of summer. I cant believe it has already been over 3 mnts since we were there.

Joanne Polner

Je dis Ditto pour tout que j'ai lu. Merci, Kristin et merci chers correspondants pour ayant exprimé mes propres pensées. Nous avons tous abondé dans le même sens.
Ah, Baudelaire, bien sûr! Il faut rappeler le poète qui puisse expliquer les faits du monde dans un moyen mystique, poétique, et, selon T.S. Eliot, qui utilise « the…imagery of common life… [an] elevation to the first intensity—presenting it as it is, and yet making it represent something much more than itself…[to] create a mode of release and expression for other[s]… » p.266, A Survey of French Literature, Harcourt…1955. Nous sommes accablés par les fardeaux du monde--dans n’importe quel siècle. Aux Petits Poèmes en Prose, XXXIII, Baudelaire (1821-1867 [sic]) répète « Enivrez-vous. Mais de quoi ? De vin, de poésie ou de vertu, à votre guise. » Kristin, est-ce que vous ayez su que la poésie se trouve aussi au Port-Cros ?
Joanne Polner,NJ


Loved all the arabic words! To my delight, almost all of them were in current use through my childhood and youth in Brussels, pre 1970!!! Que de souvenirs....
Chouïa, kawa and taboulé were the exceptions. Luckily, I discovered tabouli during my years in the desert..... in Alice Springs!

Edie Schmidt


A belle place!
We have prickly pear plants here in Savannah. They have yellow blossoms.
We also have jelly fish. Being stung by one is very unpleasant.
I've heard that white vinegar is also a good treatment for stings.
Thanks for the addition of Arabic words in your post. C'est tres interresant! One of the best Middle Eastern meal we ever had was in a restaurant in Paris.

Edie from Savannah

Robert Wildau

Thanks, Kristi, for this useful post, helping me to further blend in here in Provence.

Matthew Foss

Thanks for this blog. The French family I lived with in Provence back in the '80s were pieds-noirs from Algeria (they emigrated to France during the civil war and I believe the oldest son was born there), so I remember hearing at least some of these Arabic terms, especially "kif-kif", "bled" and "toubib." They also had some Algerian workers in their vinyard in St. Paul-Trois-Chateaux. (They had another vinyard in Valreas, which is where they lived when I stayed with them.) Unfortunately, over the years I have lost contact with that family. They treated me really well and I really loved Provence at one time in my life, especially the food and the scenery (and the smell of lavender, although that's not a very "manly" thing to admit).

Matthew Foss

Interestingly, "kawa" (pronounced "kava")is the Polish word for "coffee." Coffee came to Poland via the Turks, so maybe the Polish word "kawa" comes from Turkish? I've never investigated that question.

Also, I remember the Baudelaire poem referred to in Angelique's comments. We read it in high school French class a long time ago. I was fortunate that we had one of the best French teachers in Virginia at my high school and we read a lot of French literature.

Matthew Foss

Indeed, according to Wikipedia, the Arabic word for "coffee" is "qahwah", which in Turkish is "kahve", so it seems that the word for "coffee" in most (if not all) languages comes from the Arabic and/or Turkish word.

Fred Caswell

I think of you, JM, and your "kids" de temps en temps. Seeing a gift to you still being used and useful really brings me joy. Hi! a toi aussi! Great seeing my name in one of your replies. Comme toujours! Fred Hope you get to read this.

Rose Chandler Johnson

Comme d'habitude. Vraiment super! XOXO

Jan R

I agree with Suzanne! The best cure for jelly fish or coral stings is to pee on it. Or failing that, you could use Windex just like in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as long as it has ammonia, since that's what does the trick. BTW, just a couple of minor English vocab corrections: I believe the past tense of sneak is sneaked (not snuck) and of weave in this context is woven (not weaved). Apologies if I'm wrong. Loved the post today. Those Arabic words will come in handy sometime. cheers!

Carolyn  Dahm,  Sharon, MA

Bien sur, Kristin! Plus de photos de Port Cros, s'il te plait! So glad you had a great time. Thanks for the Arabic lesson as well.

Yes, I wonder what that sneaky yet adorable dog was doing there....hmmm....I would like to know more about that! That little island would be a sad place without our puppy friends!

Hope Marie France's move went well. I'll have to read the next post...


Your pictures are beautiful. I used to vacation in Porquerolles every summer as a kid, so thank you for the trip down memory lane, and the lesson, I had no idea cabas or fardeau came from Arabic.

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