Il devait en être ainsi: Meant to be (predestined) in French: A Chance Encounter with some Ceyrestens

Primeur in Ceyreste South of France
The sign reads "change of ownership". Today's story takes place in a town nearby: Ceyreste. FYI: The inhabitants are called "Ceyrestens" for men and "Ceyrestennes" for women.

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TODAY'S WORD(S): Il devait en être ainsi

    : meant to be (predestined)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristin Espinasse

While French greeting cards are interesting and exotic for family back home, I wanted to celebrate my nephew Payne’s college graduation in plain English and was delighted to find a clever card on Amazon France. But, when I received an email informing me I was absent for the delivery and would have to drive to the next town to retrieve my paper-thin parcel (the card would’ve easily fit in my mailbox), that delight turned to dégout. “But we were home all day!” I grumbled to my dog, Ricci. “I’ll bet the driver took the easy route, dropping it with a lot of other packages at the nearest (for him) dépôt!”

While I had a mind to report the rogue livreur, intuition whispered to go with the flow of what Life (if not the driver) had successfully delivered: an opportunity to put my current soucis on hold and get out for some fresh air and flânerie.  At the very least, it would be the chance to practice my driving, which is rusty after all these years of being a passenger.

The Mistral wind in full force, our compact Renault Zoe swayed back and forth along the road to Ceyreste but I made it safely to the village and even found parking. What a pleasure to see the vintage Tabac sign near the church square had not been taken down, and ditto for a few other old businesses including Boucherie Jacky. I would have liked to explore more but the wind was sending my hair flying in every direction and I just wanted to get my nephew’s card and go home to my warm bed for une sieste with my dog.

I don’t know what it’s like chez vous, but in France packages that cannot be delivered to a home address are rerouted to a point relais. It’s a good way to discover and support a variety of local commerces, who go to the trouble of handling the parcels. I once collected a dog leash at a cannabis shop and une couette at a former garage turned optical. For my nephew’s carte de vœux the packet has ended up at a primeur of all places.

The green grocer’s was easy to find, I could see the colorful produce a block away. Entering the shop, there was a customer before me so I mosied on over to the root vegetables and selected a bunch of carrots (for a fresh jus de carotte for Jules every morning to help her eyes). While filling my basket I overheard the shopkeeper talking to the older gentleman:

“I’m afraid we don’t carry fougasse here, Jean-Pierre,” she said gently. “You might try the baker.”

Monsieur looked confused. After a long pause he asked for du lait.

“Sorry, Jean-Pierre. No milk here. We sell fruits and vegetables.” With that, the shopkeeper shot a conspiratorial wink my way. “But I can offer you a coffee. The machine’s in the back.”

“Do you have sugar?” came the hopeful response.

“No, I don’t have sugar….”

Monsieur looked over at me as if I might be able to produce a few cubes from thin air. “It’s not bad without sugar,” I smiled. “C’est mieux pour la santé.”

Vous savez, j’ai travaillé dans le nucléaire.” You know, I worked in the nuclear industry, Monsieur offered, out of the blue.

I gathered he meant What does sugar matter when you’ve worked around radiation? but he was only reminiscing. “I lived in Avignon…and Qatar…and Algeria….(He mentioned a few other cities but I lost track, focusing instead on his innocent eyes, the color of la noisette he would now be drinking if only there was milk in this fruits and vegetables-only shop.

“What was your favorite place?” I set down my basket to listen closely.

“L’Algérie. Oui, L’Algérie...”

“I hear it is beautiful there,” I said.

As the venerable Ceyresten struggled to convey the beauty of North Africa to his captive audience of two, I experienced that rare sensation of time standing still. In that moment, there was no rush, no rigid routine, and no pressure to produce (though there was plenty of produce, green and leafy, surrounding us). When he finished speaking, I reached over and placed my hand on Monsieur’s shoulder, without stopping to think about cultural norms or boundaries.

“That’s lovely. Thank you, Jean-Pierre. Did your sister send you out for anything else?” The shopkeeper smiled, jogging Monsieur’s memory.

“Perhaps,” he said, thinking about it. During the pause, the shopkeeper gestured towards me and I handed over a basket full of carrots. “Oh, I have something to pick up as well. I don’t know why a little greeting card I ordered was delivered here,” I shared. 

The shopkeeper sympathized, “Maybe it was meant to be.”

Driving home I thought about the errant postman, who wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Now, looking at the bigger picture, I see his role as some kind of cosmic carrier, rerouting my own, and a few others' paths that day...and also the role of the tiny parcel, in altering our schedules and so tinkering with Father Time. Perhaps that is peace: when the clock stops ticking and the heart opens up to the moment at hand.


I can’t end this update without sharing the message on my nephew’s graduation card: (First, picture a dachshund wearing a party hat): “Well done you clever sausage!” the card reads. Today, this message also applies to my Mom, for her cheery, positive, and grateful attitude while being poked and prodded at Hôpital Européen in Marseille on Tuesday. As we keep Jules in our thoughts and prayers, her French health insurance is set to expire this week. We eagerly await its renewal, crucial for her upcoming 4-day hospital stay and a battery of tests aimed at uncovering the cause of her inflammation.

Dachshund card

To leave a comment or a correction click here. Merci!


Audio File Click here to listen to the French pronunciation

le changement de propriétaire = change of ownership
Il devait en être ainsi = it was meant to be
le dégout = strong disappointment 
le dépôt = drop-off site
le livreur, la livreuse = delivery man, delivery woman
le souci = worry
la flânerie = stroll, ramble
la sieste = siesta, nap
le point relais = parcel pickup location
la couette = duvet, comforter
la carte de voeux = greetings card
le jus de carotte = carrot juice
la fougasse = the French equivalent of focaccia bread
le lait = milk
une noisette = “a hazelnut” means a shot of coffee with milk in a very small cup
C’est mieux pour la santé = It's healthier
j'ai travaillé dans le nucléaire = I worked in nuclear

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Boucherie Jacky Ceyreste

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.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Calin: A Hug in French, Family Reunions and My Break in the States

Dogs in golf cart
Some friendly characters encountered back in the Southwest, USA.

"The book’s chapters weave through the realities of being a mother, wife, and daughter living in an adopted country with different rules, cultural norms and language nuances." Read Carolyne Kauser-Abbott's review of Blossoming in Provence.


    : a hug

Rien ne vaut le sentiment d'être avec sa famille--et un câlin.
Nothing is worth the feeling of being with one's family--and a hug.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Salut! Ça va? My two-week congé is over and I am home now in France--back to the murmur of French, to the scent of the Mediterranean Sea, to bright yellow mimosa and extended family. Sunday's cousinade, or gathering with the cousins near Aix-en-Provence was a joyous occasion even if I am still queasy with le décalage horaire. Surely jetlag was responsible for the confusion when my aunt-in-law, Annie, said I could set down the dirty dishes dans le potager. Now for me, potager means "vegetable garden," but who am I to question the authority of une véritable countrywoman?

Balancing a stack of dessert plates I was headed to the garden when doubt stopped me in my tracks. This time I consulted Cousin Sabine…
"Dit, Annie tells me the dirty dishes go in the potager???"

"Ah," Sabine laughed, "Maman is referring to le comptoir! We call that le potager. Voilà dear reader, an old-fashioned term for you the next time you're referring to the kitchen counter!

I spent a lot of time at the kitchen counter--er, le potager--back in the States, where my daughter Jackie and I had the chance to spend time with our American family. This short and sweet réunion de famille began with a brief stop in Denver, where my sister Heidi nurtured us back from desynchronosis or time zone syndrome. While filling up on everything from homemade tacos to spaghetti and meatballs, I savored time with my nephew and niece, Payne and Reagan, who came home from college CU Boulder for a visit before Jackie and I ubered back to the airport, direction Californie. I was headed to the desert on a very specific mission: to hug my dad.

From cousinade to "calinade"
While family back home often reassure me the phone is marvelous technology, rien ne vaut une bonne câlinade--nothing compares to holding your loved ones close. So, after, several calins back in Colorado, it was time to hug a few more family members. My little sister, Kelley flew in from Washington State, followed by Heidi, and we spent 4 memorable days in Palm Springs with Dad and belle-mère Marsha, enjoying lots of time at le potager, chatting at the kitchen counter, and lots and lots of hugs! But the best was seeing Dad looking so fit, healthy, and happy, grâce à son épouse, Marsha, who is also a doting hostess to us girls. And it was great to finally enjoy our "coffee with Kristi" as Dad calls our father-daughter chats, in the same room instead of on different continents, technology permitting.

Over breakfast of fruit and Raisin Bran, I watched Dad toss blueberries directly from the carton into his bowl. "Dad, don’t you wash the pesticides off those berries?" My father smiled: “I think the body does a good job sorting these things out.  I'm not worried.” I like Dad's relaxed attitude and realize all the stress of keeping my food clean is more harmful than a handful of unwashed berries. It's these bits of no-nonsense wisdom—and Dad’s endearing presence I miss so much...and the fact I can’t see the blueberries--those little things he does daily that speak of his philosophie de vie. So I soak in as much together time as possible and make a vow with my sisters to visit more often.

While chasing each other in golf carts, accompanying Dad and Jasper to the dog Park, or gathering around the potager/comptoir…we all seized the chance to laugh, shed a few tears, and encourage each other. All of these are important for an expatrié, for anyone living an ocean apart from loved ones. Yes, the telephone is a marvelous invention (and Whatsapp and FaceTime, too) but those warm hugs are vital. Rien ne vaut un bon câlin!

COMMENTS - To read the comments or to leave one, click here. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my story.

Heidi Kristi Kelley Dad Marsha Jackie

Heidi, Me, Kelley, Dad, Marsha, and Jackie.

Kristi Heidi Kelley sisters
A sister sleepover, with Heidi (center) and Kelley (right)


First study the French terms below, then click here to listen to them

salut = hi
ça va = how are you?
la cousinade = reunion of cousins
le décalage horaire = time difference, jet lag
le potager = kitchen garden, kitchen counter (in old Provençal)
dit = tell me
la réunion de famille
= family reunion
la câlinade = a made up word for hug fest
le câlin = hug
la belle-mère = stepmother (can also mean mother-in-law)
la Californie = California
grâce à son épouse = thanks to his wife
la philosophie de vie
= life philosophy 
rien ne vaut = nothing equals 

With much appreciation for your donations to my French word journal. Merci beaucoup! 

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Thanks again for your blog and amazing photos. Odile

I look forward to reading your stories and looking at the beautiful photos, and appreciate the time and care that you put into trying to make everything just right. Be of good courage! Peace and all good, Sherry

Love the blog and stories of life. It's also a good media for Martha & I to keep up with you folks. Thanks again for all the good reads. Charlie and Martha

Don't miss the story about my belle-mère, Marsha.
And a favorite memory "Joie de Vivre" about Dad's visit to La Ciotat

Desert landscape
In addition to seeing my family, the scent of the desert and its familiar landscape brought me back to my roots. This year marks 30 years since I said "I do" and permanently moved to France from the Arizona Desert.

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:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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

The French Speedo is Back as France strips down for the Climate

Levant Island France
Levant Island, off the coast of Hyérès, is one of France's naturist territories. From April to October locals and tourists roam free (of clothing). Find out why the French government is expanding its "no clothes zones" across the Hexagone and what, if any, effect this will have on Paris. First, today's French phrase:


    : in one's birthday suit, without a stitch on

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

In the three decades I've lived in France, I have witnessed a few cultural, economic, and social changes in my adopted country--the most extreme being the abrupt demise of la bise. Before that, there was the disappearance of the French franc. And the past decade has seen a particular custom disappearing as, little by little, on French beaches from coast to coast, the French are "covering up." Whereas you used to see a lot of topless women (and men in speedos), these days one-pieces for her (and long "board shorts" for him) are à la mode. While all this amounts to just a few more square inches of fabric (if you can call it that), environmentalists at the Paris Climate Summit say the trend of "seasonal overdressing"--or wearing more than necessary during warmer months--is having an effect on greenhouse gas emissions. So much so that global heating experts believe it is clothing--and not cows--that's the real culprit behind the climate crisis.

C'est les vêtements! Non pas les vaches!
"It's clothing! Not cows!" You may have seen this mantra on posterboards that began cropping up across France in March. It is no coincidence officials waited until Springtime to crack down on "Les SVs" (Les Sur-Vêtementés or Over-Clothed). But a new law will do more than crack down on clothes hounds, it will penalize anyone wearing too much clothing in summertime.

But just how much is too much clothing? According to France's climate minister, Philippe SansHabilles, 1 kilogram of clothing--or the equivalent of a t-shirt (350 grams), shorts (500 grams), and underwear (150 grams) even this much is a burden when you consider just how much energy it takes to machine wash and dry or produce the collected tons of clothing throughout France. (And you thought cow burps were to blame!)

Wear less, emit less....
As summer heats up, so do new legislative measures. By June 15, the clothing limits fall to 700 grams. In July, with the heatwave well underway (and when CO2 levels peak in Europe) citizens will be required to shed their "threads" by another 200 grams and to use the community lavoir to rinse what few articles of clothing they're still sporting.

By August it is rumored certain towns along the South coast will have the same stature as Île du Levant (France's "naturalist" island which I reported  about here after ditching my jeans and t-shirt).

Naturiste zone france ile levant
"Bring Back the Speedo!" A drastic measure to slow climate change has the French government scrambling for a solution. 

Our town of La Ciotat happens to be within this bare-all jurisdiction and these extreme government measures are no longer a rumor but a soon-to-be reality. In order to drastically reduce the ecological footprint, citizens will be encouraged to go about "en costume d'Adam" or without a stitch of clothing. (Fig leaf optional.) Failure to wear less will result in une amende of 1500 euros (1629.60 USD) or two days of civil service (I can tell you from personal experience this is a super creepy job--even in Paris!). CCTV cameras are posed to record and track perpetrators and to assign points: the more points the fewer grams of clothing you're allowed the next time out. 

Thankfully our mayor (more of a Prudist than a Nudist) has divided the town into zones:

Zone A ("Adam's Costume," or no clothing)
Zone B (Barely-Clad)
Zone C (Clothed--500 grams maximum)

For those like me who are prone to skin cancer, the city will be distributing free and unlimited crème solaire, but I won't be taking any. You will find this hopeless prude holed up at home. I can't bear the idea of seeing my neighbors naked (Zone A)--and don't want to catch our local policemen sporting speedos (Zone B)! Hallelujah, though. I just realized my church is in Zone C (but what will 500 grams of clothing look like on my brothers and sisters? Does this include shoe weight? Are shoes "clothes"? What about espadrilles(which have a lot of fabric)?

As you can imagine, there's a lot to consider given these drastic measures go into effect very soon. Meantime, if you are traveling to France this summer and if, like me, you'd like to keep your pants on, stick to Paris where the clothes hounds hang out. If you do come south, take heart: there is one day a year when such draconian laws are relaxed: April 1st. (Only an April Fool would be caught in their birthday suit today!)  



Click here for the audio file and listen to these French words

être en tenue d'Adam = to be in your birthday suit 
la bise
= a French greeting wherein two people kiss
à la mode = in fashion
C'est les vêtements! Non pas les vaches! = It's clothing! Not cows!
les Sur Vêtementés = the Over Dressed
le lavoir = community wash basin
Île du Levant = Levant Island
une amende = a fine
le costume d'Adam = Adam's suit (to wear no clothes)
la crème solaire = sunblock
amicalement = yours


Jean-Marc beach St cyr sur mer
Jean-Marc, ever comfortable en tenue d'Adam

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:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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

A Common Mistake + favorite English word translated to French

The kasbah Agadir Morocco North Africa
The Kasbah. Agadir, formerly "Santa Cruz", is located on a seismic line. Agadir was rebuilt after the 1960 earthquake that killed 17000 people and destroyed 60 percent of this city. More about our visit to this former French colony, in today's post.

NEW: The audio section has moved and is now a dual-recording. Jean-Marc pronounces the French and you'll hear my Arizona accent for the English! To access the French/English sound-file, scroll to the vocabulary section. Reading via email? You will need to click over to the website for the full edition.

TODAY’S FRENCH WORD: se ressaisir 

    : to pull yourself together, to buck up

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

I love the slightly old-fashioned expression “to buck up” and its various definitions:

To buck up is to become encouraged, reinvigorated. To pluck up courage. To improve, smarten, to raise the morale of, to cheer up… In French, to buck up could be translated to se ressaisir.

After selling his wine shop, and following his last day as a business owner and gérant, Jean-Marc wanted to travel somewhere warm and sunny for some renewal and cheer. He finally settled on Agadir, Morocco--a 3-hr direct flight from nearby Marseilles.

By Sunday morning we were walking along an exotic beach when my husband turned to look at the giant, white-tipped vagues which draw so many surfers to the area.“I wonder if la mer is warmer here?” 

“The sea?” I grin, but it’s too late, he can’t take it back. And now it’s my turn to have a little fun with Jean-Marc:

“But this is not the sea! It's the ocean.”

How my spouse loves to correct tourists who visit our own station balnéaire, who innocently confuse the sea and the ocean as I often did. But here, on vacation in North Africa, it must be the relaxed state he is in that’s caused the confusion. “Oui, l’océan!” Jean-Marc smiles. "Je sais. Je sais."

“But do you know the difference between the ocean and the sea?” Quizzes Monsieur Smartypants, only to answer his own question: "Une mer est entourée de terre…a sea is surrounded by land.”

"I know, I know." But the truth is I'm just scraping by when it comes to geography. Witness this letter I received from a reader, following my previous post: Richard writes: “A lovely story, but if you were in Agadir, the sun was setting in the Atlantic, not the Mediterranean!”

Oups! The funny part is both Jean-Marc and I missed the error when proofreading the essay.

Here on Agadir plage, on the Atlantic, the beach is so wide and deep and smooth the locals play soccer on the endless sandy field. The sun is rising when a young man with a stick draws a large rectangle over le sable. The rectangles extend down the plage for a half kilometer as a dozen or more teams enjoy early morning practice.

There are a few other women walking on the beach at this early hour. Their heads and sometimes faces are covered with scarves. Up on the hotel terraces overlooking the shoreline, bikini-clad tourists (mostly French) will soon be sunning themselves. Just when I'm feeling super foreign, I notice the soccer players are all playing ball dans leurs chaussettes! As a mom, I can suddenly relate to their moms, who are not going to be happy on laundry day. As exotic as the women here look to me, we are all dealing with the “outdoor sock issue” back home.

Back in our hotel room overlooking the pool and the sea—l’océan—I am tugging at the one-piece bathing suit I’ve ordered online. Yay, it fits…even if it doesn’t fit in with the barely-clad Frenchies. I take that back. It looks like more French women are wearing one pieces....

I’ve settled in poolside when another woman arrives. She sets her beach bag down four chairs away from mine. When she removes her paréo, I see she’s wearing the same black one-piece as me. I reconsider walking past my sosie to get to the pool stairs, where I was headed for a swim. Oh buck up! I think instead. I’m tired of hiding from everything and everybody. Vive la liberté! Freedom calls!

Only, the water in the heated pool is not as warm as the “piscine chauffé” sign would lead one to believe. It is so cold that I regret I didn't follow my husband who just dove into the sea. I mean the ocean. Oh, you know what I mean! 

I leave you with my favorite English verb, to buck up. For the rest of this year, I will be practicing it--even if I never did buck up and dive into... l'Atlantique!

Kristi berber horse agadir morocco
That's me being taken for a ride--in both senses. I could have ridden this sweet horse forever, this gentle cheval erased all my fears... for the brief moment we were together. (The unsolicited ride began "for free" and ended up costing a Moroccan day's salary. Thankfully, the berger and the tourist came to a settlement wherein each left with their dignity intact.

Soccer practice agadir
Remember the soccer players? Those are socks--and not shoes--on their feet. Ouch! They also kick the ball barefoot! 
Camels view from kasbah
Part of the panoramic view from the Kasbah.

BOOKS: The Conquest of Morocco
" the mad scramble for African colonies, Morocco had one great attraction for the Europeans: it was available. In 1903, France undertook to conquer the exotic and backward country. By the time World War I broke out the conquest was virtually complete." --from "The Conquest of Morocco"

se ressaisir = to buck up
le/la gérant(e) = manager
la vague = wave
la station balnéaire = coastal resort, seaside resort
l’océan (m) = ocean
je sais = I know
une mer est entourée de terre = a sea is surrounded by land
oups = whoops
le sable = sand
la plage = beach
dans leurs chaussettes = in their socks
le paréo = beach cover up
le sosie = twin
vive la liberté = long live freedom
la piscine chauffée = heated pool
l’atlantique = the Atlantic

Following the vocabulary list, there is a pause in the recording. Then you will hear the sentence below. (I get a little tongue-tied toward the end!) Do you enjoy these husband/wife recordings? Let us know.

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc and me pronounce the French and English

La langue française fait partie de la vie quotidienne des Marocains. C’est un héritage d’une période de colonisation durant laquelle elle avait même été proclamée langue officielle des institutions coloniales. Aujourd’hui encore, plus d’un demi-siècle après l’indépendance du pays, la langue française reste très répandue au Maroc, notamment dans les secteurs des entreprises privées et de l’éducation. (credit:

The French language is part of the daily life of Moroccans. It is a legacy of a period of colonization during which it was even proclaimed the official language of colonial institutions. Even today, more than half a century after the country's independence, the French language remains widespread in Morocco, particularly in the private business and education sectors.

Agadir riflemen war 1913 tirailleurs maroc
The handwriting from 1913 reads "north-east side is camp of the riflemen. What else can you say about this postcard? Share your history knowledge in the comments section and add to this post. Merci!

Camel and shepherd berger kasbah agadir morocco

Moroccan pastries corne de gazelleSWEET OF THE WEEK, NO 8: North African pastries, made by our Algerian friends (thanks Sidi and Sidi's mom who made them). Here's a Makroud, a baklava (my favorite!) and a corne de gazelle. So delicious and satisfying with or without mint tea. Ants love them too so don't hide them in your nightstand.

La ciotat france mediterranean sea paddle board sunrise
January sunrise. From shore to shore. From surfers to paddle-boarders. After the ocean in Agadir, here is the sea in La Ciotat, near Cassis. Please check out the book list in the side column (or end) of this blog. New books have been added.

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:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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

Les Étrennes: This French new year's custom will have you digging in your pockets

Marseilles les arcenaulx mailboxes boite lettres
Photo of les boîtes à lettres taken in Marseilles at Les Arcenaulx. Thank you, Jean-Marc, for recording two sound files for today's post (the second is found below the vocabulary list). Note: if you are experiencing déjà vu reading the following column--tout va bien--the story is being revived from the archives


    : New Year's gift, tip, bonus

étrenner = to wear or use for the first time; to be first in the line of fire

Listen to Jean-Marc read from
Avec les vœux du Nouvel An arrive le moment des étrennes. Vous ne savez pas à qui donner ni quel montant consacrer à cette tradition ? Ce don d'argent n'est pas obligatoire, mais c'est un signe de gratitude qui permet d'entretenir les liens avec des personnes qui vous facilitent la vie. With New Year's wishes comes the moment of New Year's gifts. Unsure of who to give to or how much to devote to this tradition? This donation of money is not compulsory, but it is a sign of gratitude that allows you to maintain ties with people who make your life easier.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

On Saturday Mom and I were crammed between the two folding doors of an old telephone booth (now a tiny, free library brimming with books). We were checking the latest titles, including Shogun, which Mom could not read because it was in French. Helping return the book, I looked out through the window of the cabine téléphonique and spotted Postwoman Marie....

Postlady marie

"Mom! There's Marie! Should we give her her gifts now?"

Mom suddenly confessed she had eaten Marie's present. The giant plastic champagne bottle filled with miniature candy bars had been too much of a temptation, stored as it was for the past three weeks on Jules's kitchen comptoir....

We began searching through our coat pockets for some cash, for this was the opportunity we had been looking for... Tis the season of les étrennes! Time to tip those people in our lives who make our days easier or brighter. (And I certainly appreciate it when Postwoman Marie opens our gate and drops a package--rather than putting a yellow ABSENTE slip in our mailbox for pickup at the post office!)
"Hurry, she's getting back on her motorcycle!" Jules and I sped toward Marie, singing Maria Maria! 
Having caught up with la factrice, we showered Marie with kisses in thanks for her warmth and realness.

 Marie pulled off her heavy casque de moto, revealing bright blue cropped hair.

"Oh, I love the blue!" Mom said, "even more than last week's green!"

"Merci beaucoup," Marie smiled. "Attendez!" She said. Having accepted our gifts, Marie pulled out a stack of calendars from one of the satchels on her yellow motorcycle. "Il faut choisir...."

Mom was thrilled by the unexpected gift, and she thoughtfully examined the selection of themed calendriers....

Il y avait des chevaux, des champs de mer....

Not wanting to keep our postwoman waiting, I nudged Mom to hurry up and select a calendar.

"Oh, I'd better take the kitties," Jules decided, and Marie nodded, from one animal lover to another.
Our factrice put her helmet back on, only for Mom to shower her with more kisses. And when our blue-haired postwoman drove away there were bright pink kiss prints, les bisous, all over her helmet, and hopefully all over her heart.

Story Update: it is now January 2022 and Mom (who never receives mail) has Postwoman Marie's tip ready. "I'm giving extra this year--for her family." Jules is referring to "Guacamole" Marie's adorable, four-legged complice.


Click here to listen to the French terms below
les étrennes = New year's gift, a tip, (also "Christmas Box")
la cabine téléphonique = telephone booth
le comptoir = counter
la factrice, le facteur = postwoman, postman
la casque de moto = motorcycle helmet
attendez = wait
Il faut choisir = you need to choose
il y avait =  there were
les chevaux = horses
un champ de fleurs = fields of flowers
la mer = the sea
le bisou = kiss

Vocabulary that didn't make it into the sound file:
le/la complice = partner, partner in crime, accomplice

Kristi in telephone booth and smokey
Smokey and me at the telephone booth-turned-library from today's story

Jules my mom in front of coiffeur in la ciotat france
A favorite picture of my Mom, Jules, walking in La Ciotat

Les arcenaulx mailboxesClosing with another photo of the mailboxes at Les Arcenaulx. Stroll with me there in the story "flâner"

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:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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

Culte: How I found out I was in a sect in France (humor)

Today's word: un défi

    : a challenge

lancer un défi = lay down a challenge

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Note: the following (humorous) story is not intended to start a religious debate, but to highlight just one aspect of French life. Please read it under the filter of cultural understanding! As always, this is a personal journal about my life, and one aspect of that--albeit a big one--is faith.

Mom and I went to church together for the first time in 30 years. You'll like this one, I assured Jules. That said, I warned Mom not to be alarmed when she heard the word 'culte'--it simply meant 'worship service'.

"It could be," Mom surmised, "that in France, a non-Catholic church is referred to as a cult."

Do you think? In any case, in English we don't use the word in the same way; cult, it seems to me, is most often associated with a group whose members have been brainwashed, or undergone un lavage de cerveau. Come to think of it, some would say as much of we believers, or nous les croyants... But that is another story and we won't get (too) religious here today--lest some of you sign off before I can secretly and methodically convert you! 

Not to worry, I am primarily here to share the French language and my life, ici dans l'Héxagone, for the past 25 years. Early on, I hoped to find a church, but I never thought it would take this long. It was a chance encounter with another marcheur (along the path I take each morning) that brought Mom and me to this tiny local just off the old port here in La Ciotat.

baptist evangelical church eglise evangelique in la ciotat france
With all of 12 members in attendance, things went relatively well during our first visit to L'Eglise Evangélique Baptiste--apart from my singing Grace Infinie off-key, and Mom's fit of yawning (who could blame her, she doesn't understand French!) which began an hour into the culte. But by our second visit, a week later, Mom and I were in the swing of things, juggling two song books, confidently accepting the Eucharist (Ouf! It was only grape juice! wish I'd known that last week....) and having located the donation box (marked Grazie! on the side. The church's treasurer is Italian). 

We especially appreciated the young guest pastor, from l'île de la Réunion. His message on How Not to Worry and his words on positive thinking made me wish my whole family was present. So when he mentioned un défi at the end of the service, challenging us to bring one person to next Sunday's service, I began to wonder who I could invite....

Then, last night, my son and his friend Paul were here, busily making dinner. As Paul prepared homemade French fries, I sidled up to the kitchen counter and smiled. "Hey, do you want to come to church with me next week?"

Max didn't respond right away, but our frites maker chimed right in. "You go to church?" Paul seemed surprised.

"Yes. I do now! To the Baptiste Evangelique church."

"Oh..." Paul said, a sly grin on his face. Isn't that a sect?

"A sect! Paul, don't say that! No, it's not a sect! It's a Christian church." 

"Yes, well, we (French) consider it a sect," Paul said plainly.  

There followed a surreal moment in which my feet were now firmly in the shoes of every other religion on the fringes of what society deems classic, and the question begged: Did the French see me as a Jehovahs' Witness? 

Paul nodded. "Kristi, you did try to get me to come to church...your church did ask you to go out and find new members..." 

Trying to explain my denomination (Baptist? Protestant? Gospel?) to Paul via a creaky rendition of Oh Happy Day didn't work either. Paul smiled patiently, and asked, "Have you ever heard that sung in a French cathedral?"

No, admittedly. But I thought the French loved Gospel! What about all the Gospel concerts that fill up each summer? Did they consider gospel singers as part of a sect, too?

In the end, we all agreed it was a great song! And so the evening ended with Max, Paul and me belting out Oh Happy Day over a delicious plate of frites. Hallelujah for French fries and peace to all of those who's shoes we have not walked a mile in. It is better to feel empathy than to define it. I will never forget those 5 minutes in which I stood wearing, in another's eyes, a cloth that did not define me--a T-shirt market SECT. And I could see, for the first time, how things might actually look to the French, and how things could  actually feel to those on the fringes.

Further reading: In this blog's archives, check out Explaining your Religion in France


le culte = service, worship
un lavage de cerveau = a brainwash
le croyant, la croyante = believer
l'héxagone = France
le marcheur = walker
le local = room in a building 
ouf! = phew!
un défi = a challenge
une frite = french fry

Kristi Words in a French life
For more about French cultural differences, please check out my book Words in a French Life (click here).

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:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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

Say "Pink Flamingo" in French + Reverse culture shock

Sunflower and pink flamingo
Sunflowers--and come see the exotic pink bird in our garden... at the next wine tasting here at Mas des Brun, August 6th. We hope to see you! Contact [email protected] for details.

le flamant rose (flamahn rowz)

    : pink flamingo

Audio File: listen to today's word and example sentence, read by Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wave file

Flamant Rose. En Camargues, les flamants roses sont des espèces protegées. Pink Flamingo. In the Camargue, pink flamingos are a protected species..

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE… by Kristin Espinasse

"Reverse Culture Shock"

After missing the London-Nice connection, Jackie’s bag made it all the way home from Denver! My 16-year-old was sleeping off her long voyage when Chronoposte arrived with the beat-up valise, but when Jackie awoke her first instinct was to ask for that bag.

“It’s in the garage, Sweety. Have Max carry it up for you.” I left my daughter to root through her suitcase (sur place, for there was apparently no time to wait for her brother!). Moments later I heard a knock on my bedroom door.

“Mom, there’s a surprise for you in the garden….” Jackie said, wearing that crooked smile her father wears when he’s up to something.

I couldn’t help but wonder what my husband (assuming he was in on this) had installed, erected, or otherwise “fashioned” in the backyard. Would it be pleasing to the eye? Would it involve a thick band of silver tape as so many of his solution-inventions do?

Climbing the stone steps beside the garage I followed the girl in cutoffs, my heart swelling as her ponytail swept from side to side. How Jackie had changed in four weeks, after spending time with my sister and family in Colorado and Idaho!

“Mom. I need to take the TOEFL test. I want to go to the University of Colorado, in Boulder!” she announced, almost as soon as her plane landed….

TOEFL? Boulder? Go away from home? But that was a few years away! For now we were here together, here in a garden in the south of France--here on a treasure hunt! My eyes scanned the verger, its floor covered with paille. But nothing looked out of the ordinary … there was the comfrey and the row of chives I’d recently planted, the little plants leaning out of their toilet-paper roll jackets (which were supposed to eventually compost, according to the experts).

With an anxious motioning from my daughter, I moved on to Sector Two, where four raised beds made of local stone held a chaotic forest of herbs and vegetables. “Say ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, and help me find it!” I begged, when suddenly a bright something to my right began drenching my peripheral vision, in pink!


Turning, my eyes met a plastic pink flamingo.

"It’s from Heidi," Jackie pointed out.

Well, that was odd, I thought, staring at the unnatural object. Sort of kitch! Normally my sister has better taste than that. 

It would be necessary to hide the thing. But would I remember to pull it out when my sister came to visit? In the words of Walter Scott, “Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” No! The whole scenario was too complicated. I’d have to fess up, and let my sister know that this one was a bomb. Not at all my style.

“Heidi said you would understand,” Jackie smiled, eager to know my thoughts.

Understand? Now it was I rooting through the pockets of my mind’s valise, trying to make associations. Pink flamingo… understand… pink flamingo? Little beads of sweat formed over my brow as I came close to failing The Recognition Test.

Was it something to do with our childhood, Heidi's and mine? My mind raced back to the Arizona desert, where coyotes and quail, and rattlesnakes roamed. Were there pink flamingos, too?

“Mom!” Jackie’s impatience woke me from my reverie. “Heidi said it’s something you (you Americans) do. You put these in people’s gardens … to surprise your friends! 

My mind began to perk up and I was back on the streets of Phoenix, rolls of toilet paper in hand, laughing with a gaggle of girls as we played a prank on a friend. Once the cactus and the citrus trees and the mesquites in the front yard were covered … we’d leap out of the yard and run like bandits.

I vaguely remembered an occasional pink flamingo in those desert gardens, but it never registered then (at 12-years-old). Except in retrospect. Yes, it was another kind of prank! Not the kind kids were good at (owing to the expense of the plastic birds.). Toilet paper could easily be stolen from the bathroom!

It was surreal, standing there in my garden, listening to my French daughter teach me a lesson in American Pop Culture. Surreal may well be the definition of reverse culture shock: when something is so intimately familiar to you that you can’t recognize it at all.

"You mean out of all the stuff you bought in America, you managed to cram a giant flamant rose in your suitcase?"

"Aunt Heidi helped me," Jackie shrugged her shoulders and that crooked smile was back.

As we gazed at the kitchy pink bird, I threw my arm around my daughter and broke out into what the French call a fou rire—a serious case of the giggles. That sister of mine. She’s priceless. And so is this cheap pink flamingo!

Would you keep the pink flamingo--and “own it” when your French compatriots come to visit, questioning your sense of style? Or would you plant it in your neighbor’s garden, and so introduce the prank to French culture--which seems to have its own version: garden gnomes! Click here to comment.



Not everybody is thrilled with this new arangement. Some are getting their feathers ruffled over it! A pink imposter?

Pink flamingo and corn
Breizh is not happy with the new setup either, and is remembering a sarcastic French expression: Tout nouveau tout beau (A new broom sweeps clean). Harrumph! Time to chew on an ear of corn, if ever it will grow.

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:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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

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 :-)

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:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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

Trajet: Drivers, travelling in Morocco, and the road to Marrakesh

Moroccan Woman (c) Kristin Espinasse
In contrast to the chaos in today's story, we'll begin with a peaceful glimpse of Morocco. Read on, now, for another 'picture'! (Photo taken two years ago, on a family trip.)

le trajet (trah jay)

    : trip, journey

In books: French Demystified...simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student. Order your copy here.

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav file

Le trajet à Marrakesh était un veritable parcours du combattant!
The ride to Marrakesh was a real obstacle course!


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

The Motorway to Marrakesh

When Jean-Marc was asked to be témoin, or best man, in the marriage of a childhood friend, he could not refuse the honor--never mind the delicate timing (during our busy wine harvest!) or the not-so-convenient location: Afrique

No sooner had our plane arrived in Morocco's "Red City" than I began to suspect that the town's colorful synonym had something to do with blood, for the ride from the airport to the hotel was nothing short of a death march.

I stared out the shuttle window at fellow travelers along a chaotic chemin (was it a highway or an expressway?). It couldn't be an autoroute... or why would 5 lanes of traffic include both man and animal? By 'man', I mean homo pedestrian, and, by animal... well, there were camels and donkeys and dogs... and monkeys walking along the expressway, too!

There on the outskirts of the airport, we were one great procession, weaving, wobbling, crawling (were those toddlers teetering on the curb of the express way? Mon Dieu!) ...zipping, shrieking, and honking our way forward, toward the setting sun.

As the sky darkened, the fragile human and animal pèlerinage began to fade into the background, where streetlights ...when alight... cast a faint lumière on the surreal atmosphere.

Our bus lurched forward, yanked to and fro by the whim of its heavy-handed operator, who seemed faintly amused by his passengers' terror.

Between gasps, puffs, and more sharp intakes of air, I evacuated my fear, to the amusement of those more experienced passengers. The man in the front seat, on hearing me, began a game with the driver, so that each time a member of pedestrian traffic was spared, he shouted: râté! ("damn, missed that one!"). His macabre sense of humor only goaded the driver, who homed in a little closer, each time, to the living, breathing "obstacles".

From my unsecured seat (no ceintures, or seat belts!) facing the menacing windshield, I watched as entire families were transported on a single moped: father (in a protective helmet) at the helm of the rickety scooter, followed by baby, then wife. (The babies--for this wasn't the first family aboard a moped!--were sandwiched in between the driver and the veiled mother--neither of which wore safety headgear!) 

Criss-crossing the swaying flow of traffic, were the elderly and the disabled... who seemed to have wandered onto the highway from a hospital bed somewhere.... I watched a blind man (he would have had to have been aveugle to have ventured into this death trap) navigate across the traffic lanes, with the help of his cane! 

Arriving at a roundabout the traffic lanes narrowed and I heard scraping... I turned to see the metal bite of a donkey rubbing against our bus's window as the fellow travelers (our bus and the donkey) squeezed together when the lanes merged, or bottle-necked.  

Wait! No! But! Ahhhh! Gosh! Eek! Oh!.... I gasped.

"Raté!" the sadistic copilot shouted, in mock disappointment, and I saw that the donkey's hooves were spared from the bus tires. But I could take no more. I closed my eyes and thought about my childhood in Arizona, where drivers stayed to the very center of the wide traffic lanes. If a driver needed to change lanes, he first made his intentions known by deploying what, in America, we call a "turn signal" or "blinker" (a bright light that flashes a clear-as-day warning to surrounding motorists). As for fellow motorists ("motor" being key), in America we classify as "traffic" the collective presence of vehicles (mobile machines with four--or sometimes two--wheels and an engine) on a given road. And people are not normally considered vehicles, indeed, walking anywhere near a motorway meant that you would be committing a crime punishable by law (JAYWALKING!).

Speaking of crime, where were the traffic police? Who were the powers that be that were supposed to be watching over this swaying, scraping, uncontained menagerie? What about safety?

I leaned forward to inquire about traffic statistics, specifically incidents of death: "Just how many accidents mortels happen each year?" I asked the driver.

"No accidents!" he insisted. 

"No accidents?" Just then I watched another near-miss, when a scooter slipped sideways between a donkey-drawn carriage and a truck... were those feathers flying out of the truck bed? Was that a squawk? And what about the poor souls hidden from view--the casualties who were on their way to becoming casualties (or the chickens on their way to the slaughterhouse?) Didn't they count, too?!

"No accidents!" the driver insisted, and I noticed his conviction, which was backed up by his own testimony. Looking out over the streaming sea of innocents, some old, some young, some furry, some bent, he announced.

"God is protecting us."



Well, I couldn't argue with that. Whispering "amen", I stared, with awe, out the window, at the fragile-yet-confident travelers, who advanced toward the hazy horizon, beyond which the mysterious universe traveled on and on.  


French Vocabulary

le témoin = best man, witness

Afrique = Africa

le chemin = road

l'autoroute (f) = motorway, expressway

le pèlerinage = pilgrimmage

râté! = missed (target)

la ceinture = seat belt

aveugle = blind

accident mortel = deadly accident

Exercises in French Phonics is... " a great book for learning French pronunciation" Order your copy here

Sara midda's South of France: a sketchbook Sara Midda's South of France is a place of ripening lemons and worn espadrilles, ochre walls and olive groves, and everything born of the sun. It lies between the Mediterranean and the Maritime Alps, and most of all in the artist's eye and passion. Read the glowing reviews, click here.

In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.

Eiffel Tower Cookie Cutter -  handcrafted by artisans to last for generations. Order here.


auto ecole drivers school in France lamp post shutter hanging laundry
The shop sign reads "drivers school". Do you have a minute to read another story... about learning to drive in France? I'll never forget the smug feeling of driving to my driving school class... only to feel humbled, when I had to sit beside the 17-year-old students (at 38, I had been driving for almost 20 years! Yet... it was necessary to pass the French driver's exam. Read the story "Conduire" here


THANKS, to those of you who wrote in, in response to my story about the search for a good "skin doctor"! I am moved by your caring words, as former patients and as friends and family of those who have had an experience with skin carcinoma. Thanks also to the doctors who took the time to write in with encouragement and helpful information. Update: this picture was taken 6 months after my surgery. More about that scar on my forehead, here.

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:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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

un filleul

(photo of my husband, Jean-Marc, and his filleul, Matthieu)

Easy_speak_frenchEazyspeak French teaches 800 vocabulary words; quickly extends conversational skills

un filleul (fee-yul) noun, masculine
1. godson, godchild

filleule = goddaughter
filleul de guerre = adoptive son (in wartime)

Mon filleul va bientôt partir, ainsi la guerre va devenir plus personnelle pour moi. My godson is going over soon, so the war's about to get personal for me. --Garry Trudeau.

"I love Marseilles. When I was young, I loved to feel the Mistral wind blowing through me. I would stand still and just let it whip through my hair. I can no longer bear the Mistral. But I still love Marseilles." --Mme. Chollet

In the spice-scented salon* of the Chollet's home, I marvel at four generations of French women, one as beautiful as the next. The great-grandmother, with her dark chocolate brown hair and large clip-on earrings, recounted her passion for the windy city. Curiously, her lust for Massalia* skipped a generation, to her granddaughter. Her very own daughter (seated beside her, dressed all in black and looking very Cannoise*) prefers La Côte d'Azur, explaining, "Les Marseillais* are violent like the wind that blows through their city! The wind is mild in Cannes."

I sat facing my friend Corinne, her mother, and grandmother, thinking about how my feelings for a city that I once called home had changed. I didn't always like Marseilles. At one point I despised it. Returning now, as a visitor, I am enchanted by this historical town founded by the Greeks over 2600 years ago.

Earlier, as we motored through the 8th arrondissement, past the Bagatelle (where Jean-Marc and I were first married, but that is another story...) I found myself wondering how, newly arrived, I could not see the charm and beauty of this ancient city. Back then, Marseilles felt like a perpetual attack on this desert rat. (I would not recommend moving from warm, dry Phoenix to cold, windy Marseilles; Chicago to Marseilles, why not, but Phoenix/Marseilles--forget it!)

The cruel wind, the absence of a "user friendly" anything, the aggressive, unsympathetic government employees who threatened to deport me, and the lack of edible tortillas were just a few elements that wrecked havoc on the successful integration of this Phoenician, in a town founded by the Phocaeans.*

But now, 14 years later, I can't help but be caught up in the whirl of this action-packed, passionate, multi-ethnic ville.* Marseilles IS violent. Like its famous Mistral wind, it kicks, pushes, whirls, stomps, spits, and sometimes slams, daring you to cling right back to it, for the ride of your life.

My first child came into this world via Marseilles, kicking and screaming like the wind, which might explain his constant joie de vivre. (My daughter was born in Aix-en-Provence, and is reserved like the Aixois, or citizens of Aix.)

But, returning to our story, and to the Chollet's cozy salon, we were about to celebrate the birthday of a little guy who had just turned two. Matthieu, pronounced "ma-tyeuh," is my husband's filleul* (and the birthday boy in question).

Matthieu's mother, Corinne, had prepared five desserts for the celebration and, knowing what a good cook she is, I got in line illico* to sample the gateau au chocolat,* crumble au poires,* Madeleines, gateau au yaourt* and a brownie...or two.

Next we watched the birthday boy (dressed in a t-shirt that read "J'ai 2 ans!" I'm 2!) boogie and chanter.* And what did he sing? A song about St. Tropez! I take it that passion for Marseilles has just skipped another generation.

References: le salon (m) = the living room; Massalia = Marseilles' original name; une Cannoise = a woman from Cannes; les Marseillais = the people of Marseilles; Phocaeans = inhabitants of an ancient district of central Greece; une ville (f) = a city; un filleul (m) = godson; illico = right away; gâteau au chocolat (m) = chocolate cake; crumble aux poires = pear crumble; gâteau au yaourt (m) = yogurt cake; chanter = to sing

Hear French spoken:
Listen to Jean-Marc recite today's quote: Download filleul2.wav
Mon filleul va bientôt partir, ainsi la guerre va devenir plus personnelle pour moi.

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