Serendipity in French: un heureux hazard
Paris story + How to say "locked out" in French?

How to feel alive in France & chapeau!

This picture appears in my book, where each hat represents a character in a preceding chapter. Some of these hats now represent the book's reviewers, including "Wise Owl," who writes:

 [Kristi] has lived in France most of her adult life raising a family and living in touch with the natural world. Her words and photographs capture the small and often unnoticed bits of buildings, blooms and interactions among people that help me feel that I have traveled to where she is, seeing new parts of daily life. Read the latest reviews for First French Essais: Venturing into Writing, Marriage, and France.

LE CHAPEAU (shah-poh)

    : hat

chapeau! = well done! bravo!
le chapeau de soleil = sunhat

AUDIO FILE: Thank you, Jean-Marc, for recording these helpful soundfiles in French! Listen here: Download  MP3 or WAV

Quand j'ai un chapeau, il m'arrive toujours des trucs extraordinaires. Mon chapeau d'aujourd'hui est un chapeau d'homme. Un feutre gris, très classique, chiné dans une friperie parisienne il y a déjà bien des années.... (from the text, Se faire des idées, by Landry Mestrallet)

English translation:
When I have on a hat, unusual things happen to me. My hat today is a men's hat. Gray felt, very classic, salvaged in a Parisian thrift store many years ago now...

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

After zigzagging down the street, wondering which way should I go? on my second-to-last day in Paris, I finally relaxed and followed my feet.

I had just turned right, onto rue du Chemin Vert, at times edging towards the buildings or teetering off the sidewalk into the gutter, allowing more-purposeful walkers to hurry by. I still had not decided whether to claim a free ride from Uber--and be instantly transported to Montparnasse--or to flâner on, in the 11th arrondisement, when a 6ft tall marker stopped me in my tracks....

It was one of those informational signposts that are dotted across La Ville Lumière. This one read Histoire de Paris: Les Botanistes, and went on to tell about this former sentier, or path, that was once lined with gardens. 

Vraiment? Pausing to look around me, all I could see was a concrete city. And then,  that strange sentiment returned, echoing my daughter's words: à Paris, c'est comme je n'existe pas. In Paris, I feel as though I don't exist. Reaching for my smartphone, about to dial a free ride out of this emotion, I heard a gentle voice:

"C'est un jolie chapeau que vous avez, Madame!"

Turning, I saw a trembling gray felt hat... when the owner wearing it looked up at me. Her blue eyes were several shades lighter than mine, from cataracts, and her upper lip formed a heart--owing to a small wart which tapped her lower lip, punctuating each of her words as she spoke.

"Merci, Madame," I smiled. "I... I was just reading about this jardin," I said, suddenly feeling the need to explain my existence.

"Cela vous va très bien!" the stranger affirmed. "Très, très bien," she said, her little wart busily punctating things, as if to say, You are lovely, EXCLAMATION POINT! I like you, PERIOD.

Tugging on the rim of mon chapeau, I thanked my hat admirer with a story. "It was a gift from my mom. I thought it looked (on second thought, no saying "like an old lady's hat!) That is, I thought it was not my style, but I have since grown fond of it, especially since my Mom left."

Holding on to my midnight blue hat with its "sky" of twinkle stars (the hat was sprinkled with silver studs), I listened to the old woman speak, quickly, familiarly, never enunciating as one does for a foreigner. 

"Every since I began wearing my hat," she was saying, "I have never been sick!"

"Ça, c'est bon à savoir! I wear mine for sun protection, I said, pointing to the scars on my face."  But as soon as I said it, I regretted it. The more I talk about myself, the less I learn from others. 

"That is a lovely pin on your hat!" I offered, and was quickly rewarded by the sight of soft blue eyes roving like a searchlight in the night as the woman looked for the exact spot on her hat where her rhinestone pin existed. As if settling on it, she  said: "It was a gift from my friends in San Francisco! Oh, how I would love to see that city!"

"Well, why don't you?" 

"Oh, I am too old now."

"Mais non! You are never too old!"

With that, the woman reached for my hand and we stood, for a moment, holding on to each other. Her little wart began to tap again, this time forming an elipsis as she said au revoir....

Watching her toddle off, in her pink coat, short pants, sagging navy blue socks and sneakers, I reached for my smartphone, to capture the endearing image. But, just like my feet, my hands had a mind all their own...and they put my camera gently away. 

*    *    * 

Next up, My sentimental hat disappears!

...for English or French mistakes... are welcome in the comments box!


flâner = to stroll, wander
arrondissement = a district in a large city
La Ville Lumière = Paris
vraiment? = really?
le jardin = garden


My daughter, making a silly face as she sends a snapchat photo to her friends of our train ride to Paris. And here's the blue hat my mom picked out for me. Do you like it. I hope whoever finds it enjoys it too. Read the next post, here, to learn what happened to my hat!

Do you enjoy hearing and learning new French expressions? Then "Other Cats To Whip" is a new must-have book!

Capture plein écran 24062015 195258

Graham Clark, moved to nearby Marseille in 2012, but suffered a language mishap when trying to drop the phrase "J'ai d'autres chats à fouetter" (meaning: I've got other fish to fry) into conversation with his boss.   Inspired by this story - which you can read in full in the introduction of the book - Graham and his co-author Zubair Arshad, have carefully crafted this book of delightful French idioms, each with illustrative cartoons, direct English translations and actual meanings.   The book is a great resource for learning these French expressions and even better for a good hearty chuckle. Here's one good example:


Starting at only £3.99, or $6.25 in the US, the kindle version of the book is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US and the paperback version can be ordered from Amazon UK and delivered worldwide.

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.

Ways to contribute:
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Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Suzanne Dunaway

I love when you talk through your hats!!!

Jackie Clark Mancuso

"The more I talk about myself, the less I learn from others." good advice. wonderful story kristin.


Lovely, lovely vignette, Kristin. You have such an eye, ear, and heart for detail and talent for expressing your impressions. I marvel at your spontaneity...and compassion for others, even in Paris. People like this old lady are there for the noticing. I hope you have inspired others to find and embrace them as well. The world needs humanity such as you describe. This is a beautiful piece. And anonymity in Paris appeals to me also. Well said.

Heather in Arles

This is for me, just the perfect example of what you do best, what makes your voice so unique, Kristin. And you make it look so effortless too. I was quite moved by this small yet lovely encounter. Merci...

Chris Allin

I love your stories, such as this one, with a touching twist at the end...

Trina from St. Petersburg, FL USA

What a lovely way to start the day with the details of your chance encounter! Your words transport me right there.

Deborah Crawford

I enjoy ALL your writings - but today's offering was extra special. I was transported to the very spot you encountered your charming companion, and for a brief second, shared the time and space with you. Merci. Your generosity in sharing your tales with all of us is greatly appreciated! Did you ever find out about the path of gardens?

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Deborah and friends. No, the farther along I walked, the more the street turned into a kind of factory clothing district. No gardens, just garments. But I did see a riot of wild hollyhocks....

Linda Hampton Smith

Beautifully written, Kristin.


Oh, what a delightful story, Kristi! Thank you for warming my heart and bringing a smile to my face this morning. Your advice, "The more I talk about myself, the less I learn from others" is one that my grandmother shared with me many years ago. Among the many other pieces of wisdom she sprinkled for me, this one struck a cord. I, too, remind myself to speak less and listen more, ask more questions about others, so that I can learn more about them and, in turn, about myself. Merci for today's story.

Cynthia P. Lewis

If I had to choose one of your stories which exemplifies your kind and thoughtful personality, this might be it ... beginning with "teetering off the sidewalk, allowing more-purposeful walkers to hurry by". Your understanding eye for detail is uncanny. Thank you for this lovely vignette. Best wishes.

Carolyn S

What a wonderful vignette! I have been following your blog for years, and your writing just gets better and better. Your stories now flow so naturally and so beautifully- it's such a pleasure to read your work. Merci beaucoup!


Such a gentle, sweet story, Kristin. Maybe it's about hats, maybe it's about time for the elderly or lonely who so need it. Either way, it struck me as tender. You can "blame" it on your feet, or possibly something much greater!

Karen Cafarella

What a wonderful story. It is so wonderful to meet and talk with others. We never know what story they will tell. As always you give my heart a sentimental tug.



Our dear Kristi,
This is so beautiful!Once again you have transported us to a place filled with beauty and imagination.And!Once again you have inspired us to open our eyes and not just look,but to see!
Natalia. xo

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you very much for your encouraging responses, which are such motivation to keep on writing - through the ebb and flow of inspiration. Wishing you a happy weekend!


Hi Kristin,

Sometimes it is good just to listen! Your writing is so great Kristin! I felt like I was there right along with you with my own little chapeau. I love the big floppy one in the left of the photo with the blue trim! My kind of sun hat! :-)

Judy Feldman

Kristin, I love all your blogs, but today's was especially charming & poignant for me. You are such a sensitive woman, and express yourself so beautifully. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!!😍🎨🎨

Victoria Roth

Such a sweet, tender and very French moment!

One of your best posts yet. Felicitation!


Bonjour Kristi,

Une histoire charmante , mais pas de photographe de ton chapeau? Nous voulons le voir!


What a lovely encounter! Thank you for sharing. It takes me back to the day I walked across a small park to enter the Marmaton museum. Cannot remember the correct spelling - that was over 20 years ago. But the beauty of the park with a slight rain and two tourists asking me for directions will always be cherished - a brief encounter. They are lovely. Thank you again.

Diane Young

Chere Kristi,
You have done it again! Your story puts us in the picture as though we were beside you, looking at the lovely old lady. That is the sign of a good writer. Merci pour les moments a Paris avec vous.


When we let go of our own agenda and listen and really hear another person, only then can we be truly present to that person. And that's what it's all about.

Joan Miller

Lovely story. Merci!

catharine ewart-touzot

one of your very best posts

Kathleen from Connecticut

Lovely story. It is always wonderfultotallwith strangers. You can learn so much and they can make your day. Thank you.


Graham Clark

Lovely story Kristin, beautifully told. It's always the unexpected encounters with strangers which breed the greatest amount of inspiration. Good decision on putting the phone back, and I hope she makes it to San Fran!! :)

Thank you also for featuring our new book. I hope you (and your readers) enjoy reading it as much as we did making it!

Stacy - Sweet Life Farm

I adore how beautifully you portray the earth angels you meet along your way. This is lovely, as ever, as you are. xoxo


A gem. Merci.


Your story made me love this woman! I enjoyed it so much whenever anyone asked me a question when we were in Paris - it does make you feel like you exist. And, I guess an important lesson for me is for ME to ask others and engage others and not just hope someone will approach me. Kind of scary, but I'm sure it can be very rewarding - the human connection! I just need to put myself out there a bit more! Loved your story today - what a wonderful encounter!

Leslie Auxer

It is when we take the time to engage with another for the sheer pleasure of sharing a moment that we find our own selves in this hectic world.

Julia deV

Beautiful and thought provoking. Merci.


This story is very sweet, but EXACTLY and HONESTLY how much of the conversation is real and how much is embellished/constructed?

catharine ewart-touzot

well it was a nice hat, but like many things it is only ours to enjoy for a many second hand items I have loved and enjoyed..and the new hat owner, if it is not returned to you, will too! A lovely vacation and time of sharing with your daughter.

Betty Gleason

The garden in which you walked was the lush path of personal connection. Jules will agree that the hat served all its purposes, keeping you protected, providing an entry into the universal sisterhood where we share our dreams & reinforce one another & giving you fodder for at least 2 stories. Priceless! Jackie's loving hat will continue the journey.

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