French Friday: Le Tour de France and a Château in Normandy

Based on American newspapers, magazines, novels, and even children’s books you’d think that France is Paris and southern France. But when I meet ordinary Americans I find them equally, if not more, interested by Normandy, my home region, and the Tour de France than the City of Lights and the Riviera.

Last week, I bumped into a couple of middle aged Americans who assumed that I was a seasoned cyclist because I was born and grew up in France.

“My dream,” the man said on a confidential tone, “is to see the Tour de France.”

“I’ve seen several,” I blurted out.

I hadn’t intended to appear blasé, so I described how I got to watch the yearly race with my family.

Embed from Getty Images

For years, the Tour de France ran past my home, so we could stay inside until the last minute and rush out when people started to shout, “Les voilà!”

Most often, however, we would line up on both sides of the road and wait with our neighbors while the anticipation and excitement grew. Back then summers were sunny but rarely hot. I still remember the breeze on my bare arms and legs. The ambiance was festive and low-key. Adults made money-free bets, based on the results from the previous days but mostly on their favorite cyclist. My mother, as so many French people, favored the underdog Raymond Poulidor over Eddie Merckx as she had in the past when Jacques Anquetil was Poulidor’s competitor. Poulidor nicknamed Poupou never won the Tour de France and remained the eternal #2, without ever losing French people’s sympathy.

Embed from Getty Images

When my sister and I were small my father would alternatively carry us on his shoulders so we could spot the arrival of the cyclists. Except for the one who wore the yellow jersey – le maillot jaune, symbolizing his victorious previous races, these cyclists were so incredibly fast that I was never able to distinguish one cyclist from another in the pack– le peloton. I would just watch, breathless and impressed. Whoa!

I loved my bike and adored the few descents along the neighboring back road where my parents had just allowed me to bike with my younger sister and classmates. But these cyclists were faster than the most daring of us. To this day I remember the whooshing sound of their wheels and how the spokes left me dizzy as they zoomed past us.

Above all, the Tour de France remains for me the joyful exhilaration that preceded the distribution of small gifts. Thrown from the voiture balai or sweeping car that followed the caravan of bikes, these candies, visors, whistles, and balloons took the appearance of the most precious treasures.

“That must have been lots of fun,” concluded the middle-aged couple.

I had never realized until I moved to the US that few people saw the Tour de France from their doormat.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Right after I met this American couple, I spotted Valerie Davis’s latest post: Tour de France.

There she shared her 1950 Tour de France as well as her stay in Paris and in a provincial château, when she was a twelve-year-old British girl.

Which prompted some of my own childhood memories, some twenty years later, in another château located in my native Normandy.

For privacy reasons this is not the château of my post but another one, quite similar, in Normandy. Photo courtesy cotecaen.fr

Three of my cousins lived in the most unusual setting because their parents were the caretakers of a large property including a medieval château.

I lived half an hour away and yet a world separated us.

Which is why I equally loved and disliked this place.

The natural beauty was irresistible. The land was planted with centennial poplars, oaks, chestnut trees, and fir trees. Stonewalls covered with moss and ivy surrounded the château and the extensive grounds. Iron wrought gates opened on a long pebbled driveway that split at some point toward my cousins’ farmhouse and the château. Only a short walking distance separated them, so my uncle and aunt could easily go from one place to another.

Well-kept paths and trails that I’ve rarely seen away from France led to more forest-like fields and moreover to the river where my cousins camped in the summer. Regardless of the seasons the land was gorgeous, alternatively covered with snow, daffodils, wild flowers, and golden grass. On the way to the river stood a small chapel where the count, countess and children could attend mass when they stayed over during long weekends and school vacations.

Courtesy to Pinterest

My cousins were accustomed to aristocracy. I was not.

Why would the nobles, I wondered, enjoy privileges and these châteaux, while French people who didn’t belong to the aristocracy lived in small houses, often in tiny flats they couldn’t afford buying?

So I started my own small rebellion. When my cousins reminded me to call the count and countess’ children Monsieur and Mademoiselle before their first name, I did my best to talk to them without ever addressing them directly. Which was not that hard. What was impossible, however, was to never say “you.” In French, we have two pronouns for “you.” If you address a person you know well, a child, a family member or friend you use “tu.” But if you address someone you don’t know and is older than you, or anyone who deserves respect such as a teacher or a boss, you use “vous.”

Apparently “vous” was also mandatory when addressing aristocrats, even if they were my age or younger.

And that was a real issue with me. No way could I use the formal “vous” when talking to a girl younger than me or a boy my exact age.

Now these kids were fun and I loved playing with them. Since our games took place on this historic property we even had a real château to protect from the enemy or attack depending on which side we were.

Adjacent to my cousins’ farmhouse stood a tower where my uncle stored hay for the cows and steers.

The tower was more modest and had only one front door and a top opening, but it was still a tower. Courtesy Pinterest

We were about twelve kids, aristocrats and commoners, split between two armies who fought either from the ground or from the top of the tower. Our weapons: dry cow dung.

During these wild battles, my cousins bombarded the young counts and countess without ever losing their good manners.

“Prenez ça, Monsieur! Vous êtes mort!”

“Et vlan, c’est pour vous Mademoiselle!”

On my front, things were more complicated. The tower was the Bastille and I had to free the prisonners. The ultimate goal was to reach Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. I was young but understood that no amount of dry cow dung would ever be enough. So my only attempt to change a system I found unjust was to fight in silence, with occasional groans but no monsieur, no mademoiselle, and no vous.

In her post, Valerie writes about her memories of eating gouter at the château. The French afternoon snack time, served mostly to kids, either after school or around four p.m., comes from the verb gouter or to taste. So a gouter is never a big meal.

At my aunt’s, after those long days spent mostly outside, gouter was not limited to two cookies or an apple. My aunt sliced the large loaf of country bread she bought every morning at the village bakery. She buttered the thick slices and either spread confiture (jam) or gelée de groseilles (redcurrant jelly) or still shaved some dark chocolate on top. Which was my favorite way to enjoy my gouter.

My aunt used much thicker bread but the concept has not changed. From Chef Simon

The gouter at my aunt was pretty much a All-You-Can-Eat buffet. Dinner would be served much later when she would be back from the château where she helped at the kitchen.

We know that we tend to embellish our memories, one way or another, as time goes by.

It was probably tiring to wait for the Tour de France. The small gifts were cheap tokens. The cyclists were so fast that they were gone in the blink of an eye.

But after an afternoon of playing war with dry cow dung, I don’t exaggerate if I say that this simple, restorative gouter brought civilization back to our lives. Sometimes commoners and aristocrats shared this meal together. There was then no need for Monsieur, Mademoiselle, and vous.

We were equally ravenous, equally pooped, equally dirty, equally silent as we devoured our gouter. In my young mind, in these moments it looked like we were also equally French.

 

 

French Friday: Strangers in Their Own Land

French Friday is a new series that I inaugurate today. I won’t follow strict guidelines, except that each Friday I will blog about writing, reading, and living in the USA, away from my native France. Bear with me as I just start this new series and jump in if you have any suggestions.

When I moved from my native rural Normandy to Paris I heard a few “Parisians” making fun of these “provincial” people moving to the capital. The American hillbillies are called culs-terreux or bouseux in France. Both derogative terms designate a farmer. Although the remarks were never directed to me and despite the fact that my parents were not farmers, I felt the sting of the insult. However, I laughed with the “Parisians,” sensing that it wasn’t worth arguing that people are more than the place they come from. I had already understood that they would not change their mind about “provincial” people.

Someone told me once that I didn’t speak like a Parisian. Nowadays I would insist that French is spoken in many other places than France. With all kinds of accents, it remains French. Hey, I know first hand about accents 🙂

Back then, I only laughed. I was twenty, shy, and yes, from provincial France. For the first time, I realized that being brought up in rural France was negatively perceived. Not being from Paris or a major big city put me lower on the social ladder. Humiliation is never a good feeling.

I spent ten years in Paris, a city that still shows up in my dreams or grazes my mind at random moments. But, my home region is never far from my thoughts either and I don’t forget the place where I am from. Which I credit for my love for the outdoors, but also for being the place where I learned that keeping our challenges to ourselves with resilience and dignity isn’t always a bad idea. Pride and deep connection to the land is common to the people living away from capitals and big cities.

This week I finished reading Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild, a prominent sociologist based in Berkeley, Cal. The book was a 2016 National Book Award Finalist for Non Fiction, a 2016 New York Times Notable Book, and also a New York Times best seller. Researched between 2011 and 2016 and published by New Press, a nonprofit, public interest publisher, at the beginning of Donald Trump’s unstoppable ascension, the book is a fascinating, troubling prescient journey to the heart of our political divide, the Lake Charles area in Louisiana, a state that has known and still knows its share of hardship.

If you wonder why our country was (is) divided and why we envisioned (envision) it so differently, this book is for you.

If you cannot put your strong beliefs on the side burner (at least for the time of a book) or don’t really want to dislodge any of the bricks that have erected a solid wall between liberals and conservatives, coastal and rural areas, North and South, this book is not for you.

No book is ever perfect and this one presents some flaws, too.

For example, I would have liked the author to visit other regions, in addition to Southern Louisiana, such as parts of Arizona, Oregon, Wisconsin, or even some California counties to balance her research instead of reinforcing the divide North versus South.

Hoschchild, however, takes us on an unforgettable trip to a region that echoes extreme pollution in the name of oil and petrochemical industries, a region foreign to many of us and that will probably remain so.

As a sociologist the author had noticed the escalading divide within our country. Troubled, she was aware of having spent her entire life in a liberal bubble and decided to explore the heart of the Tea Party, hoping to find answers to the questions she had. One of them being: why former Democrats would turn to hardcore conservatives? As she shared her idea for her next book, one of her former graduate students’ wife told her that she had to talk to her progressive mother and her Tea Party best friend living near Lake Charles. This introduction was enough for Hochschild to meet a mix of men and women who had lived their entire lives in the area.

I would lie if I said that after reading the book I understand why people who’ve witnessed the demolition of their beloved bayous and seen many of their family members and friends die from polluted air and water still favor the same businesses that destroyed so much. I would lie if I said that the book made me change my own vision for our country, but I would also lie if I pretended that these people’s shift toward the extreme right hadn’t moved me.

This is due to the author’s initial desire to reach across the wall and approach what’s beyond with empathy. To achieve the result she has dug into each man and woman’s deep story. We all know that few things in life happen overnight. What we think today is the product of our past. For adults it can mean decades of life. It is rooted in our childhood, anchored to our birthplace.

In any case, no one can remain 100% cold when listening to the stories behind the stories that our fellow citizens shared with Hochschild. In fact, no one, I believe can be left unmoved when hearing any other human being’s deep story.

The stories from these Southern Louisianians don’t justify their current desire for a country with no or very little government (yes, it means no financial help to anyone, including for the poorest of all, for higher education, no affirmative action, and no universal health care, among other things). But behind this deep belief lays the story of resilience in the face of hardship. And that part of the book touched me.

The author went back to the 70s when wages started to stagnate and even decline, when more women entered the work force, and when affirmative action followed the civil rights movement. Until then the people in this part of Louisiana had moved on with resilience in the face of any struggle, resilience sustained by strong religious faith and also a tight supportive community. When this way of life felt threatened by the necessary changes societies must experience to improve, the world felt slippery beneath their feet. As if walking on quick sand, they soon witnessed what they describe now as loss. Loss of the world they had always known and that too few people seemed to share. This feeling of isolation was frightening.

Yes, the consequences of these changes affect more deeply white middle aged men who had always provided for their families and suddenly lacked education and the desire to leave their beloved region to move on. Many ended up losing their jobs or never got the expected promotion. Some, however, did well, thanks to the oil industry. Which explains blindness to the pollution brought by the industry. By the way red and blue states use the products created by the petrochemical industries (plastic used for bottles and even toothpaste, to name only two).

 

As a French native who only went to New Orleans a few times and never drove through the Lake Charles area I read the book as a novel. The people the author met became the protagonists of a deeply disturbing story that kept me up until I finished it.

Occasionally I was reminded of a woman I met while my family lived in San Mateo County, only miles away from San Francisco. We had kids in the same elementary school. I had relocated from Concord, Massachusetts, she from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I loved the way she pronounced the French name and since I had never been there I pictured a highly industrialized area and imagined that my new friend would only be happy to have left. So I was surprised when she never mentioned the pollution and shocked when she admitted being homesick. It’s very cold here, she told me. I understood that she didn’t speak of the cool weather on this side of the Bay but of the people. She craved the tight knit of her home, the famous Southern hospitality, the seafood and Southern comfort food, and yes, even the heat while I could only see pollution and a less open-minded part of the States.

When I read Strangers in Their Own Land I was moved by the sense of place that the locals living around Lake Charles experienced. As polluted as their bayous became they still loved them with all their heart. They recalled happy childhoods spent fishing and swimming in clean waters while their parents who knew all their neighbors trusted one another. They now live in a state of nostalgia that a born-foreigner can share.

So many years after hearing true Parisians laugh out loud whenever they evocated provincial France I know what I despise viscerally: putting people in boxes and tagging them according to their place of birth or current address.

Coming from the left or from the right the biggest human mistake we all make at one point or another is to assume “things” about others without taking the chance to meet them, to listen to them in order to discover their “deep story” that makes them think the way they think. Doesn’t mean that we must leave our own beliefs on the side. Doesn’t mean that we must adopt beliefs that are not ours. Just listening would be a start. You may argue that it is hard since we seem to live in clusters with people who thing likewise. True. This is why this book is a bridge to an unknown world.

The author concludes with two letters, one written to her liberal friends and the other to her conservative friends.

They are a little too idealistic, bordering cliché, but she makes a valid point: if we crossed the wall built between us we would find out that we have in fact things in common.

Perhaps, I’m thinking, it’s only one thing: huge money that increases our differences. Then could we unite against our common enemy?

As a last note: as he was still campaigning the new French president Emmanuel Macron (a Centrist) has said that the real divide in France is between progressives and conservatives.

 

 

 

Quelques Fleurs New Yorkaises…

En 1986, ignorant qu’un jour nous nous baladerions avec des téléphones qui nous permettraient non seulement de parler mais d’envoyer des textos, de prendre des photos et des selfies, ignorant qu’une révolution technologique changerait à tout jamais notre façon de communiquer et de nous orienter, ignorant que le garçon qui m’avait passé son Guide du Routard de New York deviendrait trois ans plus tard mon mari, je fis confiance au plan de NY glissé dans la poche de mon jean, au fameux guide, mais aussi à mes pas pour me promener dans cette ville dont je ne connaissais rien.

En 1986, New York était impressionnante, bouillonnante d’énergie, futuriste mais aussi vieillotte, en deux mots : complètement exotique.

C’est à New York City que j’ai appris à commander des œufs au plat en anglais. Vous ne trouvez pas que ‘sunny side up’ est tellement mieux que ‘œufs au plat’ ? C’est aussi là-bas que j’ai mangé mon premier hotdog. La cuisine chinoise n’était pas vietnamienne mais coréenne. Les sushis et les pizzas pouvaient se commander par téléphone.

De la nourriture américaine je ne connaissais rien si ce n’est le cheese cake, le chili con carne et le vin Paul Masson servi en carafe chez Joe Allen aux Halles.

Les femmes portaient des baskets dans la rue et le métro, transportant leurs talons hauts dans un sac en plastique. Elles se baladaient dans Central Park avec des lunettes de soleil noir opaque et les hommes avec des casquettes de baseball aux couleurs de leurs équipes favorites. Dans la rue les gens buvaient de l’alcool, la bouteille ou canette cachée dans un sac en papier brun.

Je connaissais la culture américaine à travers sa musique, ses films et ses romans, mais rien ne se compare avec l’expérience vécue.

Le dollar régnait en roi. Onze francs français pour un dollar = un caleçon noir de chez Gap que mes copines parisiennes ont adoré et un peu envié aussi et un pot de beurre de cacahuètes qui les a fait hurler d’horreur.

J’ai trouvé les new yorkais moins snobs que les français. J’ai aimé que d’un pâté de maison à l’autre (c’est aussi à New York que j’ai découvert le sens du ‘block’ américain) le meilleur et le pire pouvaient se côtoyer. J’ai eu la chance de diner à Harlem quand Harlem avait encore une mauvaise réputation.

Un matin mes premiers mots ont été en anglais. Un signe précurseur de ma vie future que je n’aurais pas du ignorer !

Cependant mon coeur battait toujours aussi fort pour Paris et je ne l’aurais pas abandonné pour New York.

Quatre ans plus tard le garçon du Guide du Routard et moi quittions pourtant Paris pour les Etats Unis.

Pendant nos cinq années passées dans le Massachusetts nous sommes allés de nombreuses fois passer un weekend à New York. Avant les attentats terroristes du 11 septembre il était facile de sauter dans l’un des nombreux avions qui font la navette entre Boston et New York. Un permis de conduire présenté à la porte suffisait alors.

De retour en Californie nous ne sommes pas retournés à New York avant l’été 2003, juste après la réouverture de l’hôtel Millenium très endommagé par les attaques du 11 septembre. 2003 marquera le début de nos voyages en voiture et en famille à travers les Etats Unis. Quelle que soit la route empruntée nous avons toujours fait escale à New York.

Pendant de nombreuses années, de notre chambre qui surplombait Ground Zero, nous avons peu dormi, nos nuits étant entrecoupées par le travail constant là où se tenaient moins de deux ans avant les Twin Towers.

Les bulldozers, lents et prudents, s’arrêtaient avec l’espoir d’avoir trouvé la preuve d’une vie interrompue au matin du 11 septembre.

Les voix des ouvriers s’interpellaient au changement d’équipe.

Les lumières des voitures de pompiers et de la police clignotaient à travers les rideaux.

Année après année les bulldozers, les voix et les lumières sont devenus plus sporadiques. Ground Zero s’est transformé pour faire place au mémorial de 9/11 et à son musée. Trop d’émotions me lient à cette journée pour en écrire davantage, si ce n’est de vous encourager à vous y rendre si vous vous trouvez à New York. Le site est très beau. Sobre et serein il offre réflexion et espoir.

Cette année pour la première fois nous sommes allés à New York avec seulement nos deux plus jeunes enfants et l’un de leurs amis, un californien qui n’avait jamais vu la ville.

Pendant que le trio essayait de voir autant de quartiers, de musées et d’adresses mythiques que possible, ni mon mari ni moi ne sentions cette urgence.

Les souvenirs de nos nombreuses visites à New York nous tenaient compagnie.

Est-ce que la nostalgie pour le passé prouve que l’on vieillit ?

Est-ce que c’est idiot de se demander à quoi les villes ressembleront lorsqu’elles finiront par toutes se ressembler?

Est-ce que c’est tout aussi stupide de se lamenter sur la disparition des librairies au profit d’un autre magasin de vêtements ou restaurant ?

Est-ce que c’est triste de préférer les magasins qui évitent de choisir des noms français pour se donner un je ne sais quoi et les restaurants qui ne servent pas de macarons et de crème brûlée?

Les contrastes si saisissants qui rendaient New York si exotique par rapport à Paris s’estompent. C’est un fait.

Et pourtant quand le soir mes enfants et leur ami nous ont rejoint pour diner, j’ai retrouvé dans leurs yeux mon émerveillement, dans leurs récits mon éblouissement.

Ils sont nés aux Etats Unis et connaissent San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego et Boston. Mais New York quand même…

Finalement, me suis-je dite, New York n’a pas tant changé.

Son pouls bat toujours à trois cent à l’heure. Les musiciens de jazz jouent toujours dans les caves du  Village Vanguard. Les femmes préfèrent encore le confort à l’élégance et portent souvent des chaussures plates pour la rue et le métro, réservant les talons pour le bureau. Les enfants jouent encore dans les bassins des squares quand le baromètre passe la barre des 35 degrés Celsius. Les taxis jaunes sont aussi nombreux qu’avant (malgré Uber). Times Square regorge toujours de touristes, mais après 23h on entend ses pas résonner sur les trottoirs du downtown. Les new yorkais mangent encore des hotdogs. Les livreurs de pizzas sont autant en demande. Les gens sont encore pressés mais toujours aussi civils.

Tout ce que j’avais remarqué avec étonnement en 1986 est un peu moins évident car notre monde s’uniformise. Mais si on prête attention New York est restée une ville non seulement différente de Paris mais aussi des autres grandes villes américaines.

En souvenir de ma toute première fois à New York où je me baladais au gré de mes pas, sans portable pour immortaliser tous mes instants, je ne voulais pas ajouter de photos à ce billet.

Mais si une chose a vraiment changé à New York c’est la soif de nature de ses résidents. Alors voici quelques fleurs new yorkaises prises pendant mes longues promenades dans la ville.

photo(100)

photo(99)

photo(97)

photo(96)

Quand Jefferson et Lafayette Parlaient Indépendance

Embed from Getty Images

 

Le 4 juillet les Etats Unis fêtent leur indépendance.

Evoquer la déclaration de l’indépendance américaine c’est parler de Jefferson et de Lafayette.

Jefferson, homme libre, ouvert sur le monde, ferveur défenseur de l’éducation, était aussi un francophile qui vécut une longue amitié intellectuelle et personelle avec Lafayette.

Alors que leurs deux pays vivent des changements extraordinaires le relation entre les deux hommes sera sincère et productive. Lafayette sera accueilli à Monticello, la propriété que Jefferson fit construire au-dessus de Charlottesville en Virginie.

Le rôle de Layette sera crucial au cours des événements qui précèdent la déclaration de l’indépendance américaine. Une réplique de l’Hermione, le vaisseau qui amènera Lafayette sur le sol américain pour aider à combattre les armées anglaises est parti de France en avril et se trouve maintenant à New York pour les cérémonies du 4 juillet.

Embed from Getty Images

Je suis contente de pouvoir voir l’Hermione dans le Maine car elle sera à Castine le 14 et 15 juillet. Juste à temps pour fêter la révolution française ou Bastille Day comme on dit ici aux Etats Unis.

Les liens qui unissent la France et les Etats Unis sont réels, même si parfois ils évoluent au gré des présidents et des événements qui affectent le monde.

Alors que je fête en compagnie de mes compatriotes américains l’indépendance de notre pays j’aime l’idée que la France et les Etats Unis, mes deux pays préférés sur cette planète, partagent une longue histoire commune.

 

To each of you, my fellow Americans, wherever you are today I wish you a Happy and Safe Fourth of July!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day With an American Twist

I gave birth to my second child an hour before Mother’s Day, a few months after my move from Paris to the San Francisco Bay Area.

I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast and was starving. A vision of a delicious tray came to my mind and made my mouth water. A warm vegetable soup, then a fresh tomato and mozzarella salad, a piece of crusty baguette and a slice of creamy camembert and to end on a sweet note a mousse au chocolat would be perfect. I envisioned a sparkling Perrier with a zest of lemon to quench my thirst. After all, the year before I had delivered my first child in Paris, and the service had been close to the prestations of a Relais Château.

“You must be hungry,” the nurse said, reading my mind. “But the kitchens are closed now. Let me see what I can do.”
She returned with a huge grin. “I found something for you!” she announced cheerfully, handing my husband and I two cans of freezing cold Coca-Cola. “Congratulations and Happy Mother’s Day!”

Even though the Coca-Cola didn’t taste like the champagne the French uncork in similar circumstances, it was, however, fresh and sparkling.

This is how my husband and I toasted our first-American born child.

My first Mother’s Day in the USA remains very special, and even though my daughter was born an hour before the official day, I’ve sometimes wished her Happy Birthday on Mother’s Day when both happen to fall on the same day.

And I always kept a very fond memory of the Coca-Cola that felt then as sophisticated as French champagne.

 

This assortment of flowers is my Happy Mother’s Day bouquet to every Mom, Maman, Mama, Mum, Mummy…, reading this post.

 

photo(66)

photo(65)

photo(52)

photo(68)

Vous pouvez aussi lire un ancien billet ici en français.

Sentiments or Feelings Post A to Z Challenge

A-to-Z Reflection [2015] - Lg

 

From April 1st to April 30th I posted every day but Sundays a French idiom, its literal translation, and its best American English equivalent.

 

  • I had previously considered writing about French popular expressions but always postponed the task. It’s only when a friend of mine asked me to join her for the A to Z challenge that I finally wrote A Month of French Idioms.

Like anyone else I benefit from an occasional Coup de Pied aux Fesses or Kick in the Butt.

  • The response from the people who already read me but also from new readers was positive, encouraging me to explore similar themes for my blog.

Receiving good feedback Donne des Ailes or Give Wings.

  • I never blog on a daily basis and don’t plan to do so, but during the month of April my productivity in other areas of my writing increased.

Sometimes Travailler Contre la Montre or Working Against the Clock is good.

  • These idioms had been with me since a long time. In fact I realized that I used at least one in my two novels Trapped in Paris and Chronicles From Chateau Moines.

Ne Sois Pas une Poule Mouillée : Don’t Be a Wet Hen or Don’t Be a Chicken.

  • Thanks to Mary’s suggestion I am now recording the idioms for your enjoyment.

J’ai du Pain Sur la Planche : I Have some Bread on the Wooden Board or I Have Some Significant Work to Do.

  • Would I do it again or am I disappointed?

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

 

 

What do you think of the A to Z challenge if you participated? If you didn’t, did it trigger your desire to give it a try next year?

And to each of you who kindly stuck with me for a month: Thank you. Merci. See you soon. A bientôt.

 

 

Zero Plus Zero Equals the Head of Toto or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Today marks the end of the series a Month of French Idioms From A to Z.

Through familiar French expressions and their equivalents in American English, I’ve shared for twenty-six days my affection for my two favorite countries on earth.

Languages and cultures may vary from one place to another, but the need for human beings to use metaphors and visuals to express ideas is the same.

The last French idiom du jour illustrates, in my opinion, how language and culture make one and how making them yours can take some time.

 

photo(59)

ZÉRO PLUS ZÉRO ÉGALE LA TÊTE À TOTO

ZERO PLUS ZERO EQUALS THE HEAD OF TOTO

 

 

La Tête à Toto or The Head of Toto is a school game that was very much part of my French childhood.

It starts with this equation :

0+0=0

This how it works: You write the equation as a drawing and as you draw you recite.

 

photo(63)ZÉRO

photo(62)PLUS

photo(61)ZÉRO

photo(60)ÉGALE

photo(59)LA TÊTE À TOTO

 

Since Toto’s head equals zero, his intelligence is also zero.

Toto was a popular character in my elementary school culture. There were also many Toto’s jokes.

The equivalent of the French Toto’s jokes would be for me the American “Knock Knock” jokes.

 

I didn’t find an American equivalent to this unique French idiom/game.

Wherever you live or are from, did you play a similar childish game that was part of your culture?

Since I brought up my children in the USA, I’d love to know if today French kids still play 0+0= la Tête à Toto and if the Toto’s jokes are still around.

Les Français? Est-ce que les enfants jouent toujours à la tête à Toto?

 

Although daily blogging is not my cup of tea (See? I have a hard to time to stop the flow of idioms!), I am very grateful for your company and have been looking forward to your visits and comments.

I especially thank the bloggers and readers who have stuck with me for the whole month of April.

Your support, your fun and also relevant comments have made this challenge much more interesting.

Bravo to each blogger who made it to the final line of the 2015 race through the alphabet.

 

See you soon for a Recorded Version of this Series of French idioms!

Fried Whiting Eyes or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

As I wrote the literal translation for the French idiom du jour, I learned the proper name for the fish called “Merlan” in French.

For some reason I tend to mix and match the French and American names for the countless varieties of fish.

 

photo(58)

YEUX DE MERLAN FRIT

FRIED WHITING EYES

MOON EYES

 

 

Since the end of the 19th century this expression is used to describe the adoring and a little stupid way people in love can sometimes look at each other.

In the 18th century the comparison was made with a carp and not a whiting.

This kind of look was especially used in old silent movies.

I find the English expression a little more accurate than the French one, although the literal translation made me smile.

 

P.S. The fish above is not a Merlan or a Whiting but a bass, caught (and released) by my son at our Maine cabin last summer.

 

 

A to Z Challenge

See you tomorrow!

 

Bijou, Caillou, Chou, Genou, Hibou, Joujou, Pou: a Twist to a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Unless you know of a French idiom starting with the letter X, I must give a twist to the expression-du-jour.

I owe the idea to my husband. He masters the French language like a French native and finds a solution to any problem like an American. Merci, thank you, for letting me off the hook with this suggestion.

 

The majority of French nouns mark their plural with the letter S, matching the English most common way. However, like irregular plurals in English, there are some exceptions in French, too.

 

photo(56)

The most notorious are seven nouns that as a child I learned by heart, in alphabetical order, almost like a short poem.

 

 

BIJOU: JEWEL

CAILLOU: PEBBLE

CHOU: CABBAGE

GENOU: KNEE

HIBOU: OWL

JOUJOU: TOY (a small toy, or a babyish way to name a toy)

POU: LICE

 

These seven nouns ending with the letters O and U don’t mark their plural with an S but an X: Bijoux, Cailloux, Choux, Genoux, Hiboux, Joujoux, Poux.

 

Now, I’m asking my French friends:

Do kids still learn them the same way? Les enfants français apprennent-ils encore ces pluriels irréguliers par cœur?

 

Promise, I’m returning to the French Idioms series tomorrow!

 

A to Z Challenge

 

To Put the Wagons Before the Locomotive or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

As soon as I embarked the A to Z Challenge, I knew that I would write about French idioms and their equivalents in American English. I also knew that I would have some trouble with a few letters. With a little bit of help (merci to my husband and to my Wonderful virtual French friend Lectrice en Campagne), I managed to find an expression for every letter of the alphabet.

Including W, even though W is not the first letter of the idiom-du-jour.

 

Mettre les Wagons Avant la Locomotive

Put the Wagons Before the Locomotive

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

I didn’t find a matching idiom in English. But I personally favor another idiom, which was widely used in my native Normandy and has in addition a perfectly good match in English. It is not surprising to me that the French ‘Boeufs’ became a ‘Horse’ in the US.

 

Mettre la Charrue Avant les Boeufs

To Put the Cart Before the Oxen

To Put the Cart Before the Horse

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Whatever idiom you prefer, both have the exact same meaning: Doing things the wrong way, confusing cause and effect.

It is also common to use these idioms in the negative form as a warning, such as: “Il ne faut pas mettre les wagons avant la locomotive,” Or: “Il ne faut pas mettre la charrue avant les boeufs.”

Your pick!

A to Z Challenge

See you tomorrow!

%d bloggers like this: