French Friday: Les Gilets Jaunes

Until last Saturday, most Americans didn’t know about the protests that have been shaking France since late October.

The coverage by the American national news was slow. After all, France is often experiencing protests and strikes. It runs in the DNA of the nation.

But last weekend, as violence escaladed in Paris, I started to receive some texts and emails from American friends expressing their shock.

As you all know, I was born and brought up in France. I left my native land at the age of 30. Many years later, I am no longer a ‘real’ French woman. And yet, France will always stand at the edge of my mind.

So when any significant event happens on my homeland I am naturally ‘there.’

My American friends translated the Gilets Jaunes by the Yellow Jackets. Which made me smile despite the seriousness of the situation.

A Gilet is a Vest in English and not a Jacket, which is a Veste in French. Powerful letter E!

French drivers are required to carry a yellow vest in their car and to wear it if they need to pull over, whether to change a tire or wait for road assistance. The safety protection became mandatory, due to the many accidents involving drivers hit by other drivers as they stood in the emergency lane. The French yellow vests are the American flares or triangles.

The yellow vest seemed then a perfect fit for the people who decided to oppose the increase in France’s fuel tax. If you read, watched or listened the news you likely know that the French government has first delayed the application of the planned tax and then canceled it in response to the violence in and outside of Paris.

I didn’t intend to write about the Gilets Jaunes and won’t attempt to explain a complex movement, but I felt compelled to clarify why a yellow vest and also to add that, as we say in France, the tax was la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le verre or the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Otherwise, French citizens would already have folded their Gilets Jaunes back in the trunk of their cars and the French government would not have required the support of the French gendarmerie and their armoured vehicles to protect Paris tomorrow.

As I watched the French news and heard some of the French citizens last night I was reminded of Strangers in Their Own Land, an important book that attempted to understand the fight against big government, just before the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign. I scanned the post I wrote about this book in May 2017 and had forgotten that I also wrote about my provincial upbringing, a significant keyplayer in the current Yellow-Vest movement.

Although a vast majority of French people understand the reasons behind the movement and support the Gilets Jaunes they also condemn violence, loathe the casseurs who come from the extreme right and left, and call for peaceful marches and protests.

May they be heard.



French Friday: There Is No Universal Female Story

A year ago, the early days of October gave birth to the #MeToo movement, here in the U.S., then followed by other nations, France being one of them.

A year later, it is clear that the movement is not a fade.

The recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has proved how deeply divided the American people are on issues related to women, including women themselves.

Truth is: there is no universal female story.

Which is why I have for the last year purposely read novels written by women about girls and women.

My three favorites walk the line between YA and adult readerships. Following their date of publication:


The Girls by Emma Cline (2016)

2016 saw many novels with “girl” being part of the title. Remember Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train?

The Girls by Emma Cline remains for me the most memorable. From its publication in June, I saw its cover in every bookstore across the country. Set in Northern California at the end of the 1960s, it is an extraordinary well-written story that won’t leave female readers indifferent. Although the plot can only remind of the Manson Family the book is a work of fiction. Through Evie Boyd, a lonely, sometimes naïve but also very thoughtful teenager the author explores girls’ vulnerability and strength. First drawn to a group of girls who live on a sprawling ranch deserted hills Evie becomes quickly obsessed with an older girl. Without realizing that she’s stepped in a cult led by a charismatic man Evie who wants so badly to belong falls headfirst. The novel takes off, leading to unstoppable violence that illustrates with poignant accuracy how a moment in a girl’s life can go horribly wrong. Even though a lot has happened for girls and women between 1969 and 2016, this novel remains a timeless moving realistic portrait of girlhood and womanhood.



The Burning Girl by Claire Messud (2017)

Probably the best recent novel about these unique years when girls tiptoe into adolescence and leave their childhood behind. Claire Messud explores the strong bonds between two girls who meet at the age of four and remain friends until their road split and they stop being friends toward the end of high school. Messud is a very skilled author who has penned several other memorable novels. Her writing style is sparse, but she tells so much in so few words. I was in constant awe. Although Julie, the main character, is a girl (mostly shown from the age of 12 to college application time) The Burning Girl is not a typical YA novel. I would, however, recommend it to high school girls who love the English language and want to understand themselves a little bit better. I found bits of younger me in this story, although I lived my adolescence in France and not in New England and was a teen during the late 70s and not in the 21st century. With wisdom and heart Messud captures the turbulent and yet sometimes so quiet moments when we girls become so aware of the unstoppable changes that affect us as we grow up. A slim book I read very quickly for the psychological thrill but read twice after to relish the many details and layers. A masterpiece.


Marlena by Julie Buntin (2017)

My daughter gave me this novel for my birthday last year and I still thank her. Skillfully told between past and present this is another friendship story between two girls. Cat, the main character, moves to a small rural Michigan town with her mother and brother and feels quite lonely. This is probably why she is immediately so attracted to her enigmatic, gorgeous next-door neighbor Marlena. Soon drawn to Marlena’s circle Cat witnesses her new friend’s unstoppable fall into drugs. Within a year Marlena is found dead in icy waters. Cat bears the responsibility since she didn’t act, even though she knew more was going on inside Marlena’s house and life. Decades later, a ghost from this troubled period suddenly reappears. Cat is forced to reopen the past and to reexamine her memories of Marlena. Gorgeously written, Julie Buntin offers yet another haunting tale about female adolescence, those crucial emotional years that shape us for better and worse.


Although there is no universal female story, fiction has the power to bring different stories to the front stage and I hope generate in turn less judgment and more empathy.

Now your turn:

Have you read memorable, challenging and yet life-affirming adult novels written by female authors that depict young girls just before womanhood?

Lisant davantage de romans contemporains écrits en anglais américain, dites moi si la France a aussi vu une explosion de romans pour adultes écrits par des femmes avec des adolescentes pour personnages principaux.



In Homage to Charles Aznavour. En Hommage à Charles Aznavour.

Today one of the most well-known French singers passed away. He was 94 and sang for 72 years. His long, prestigious career is also unusual since he was born poor and the sons of two Armenian immigrants wo left Turkey in the wake of more violence against their people, eight years after the Genocide.

My mother told me that I liked one of his songs when I was only a few years old. I don’t remember. What I remember tonight, though, is one of his concerts.

A first for me. A last for him in North America.

Here is what I wrote when my husband and I saw Aznavour in concert in Montreal, almost exactly two years ago. Unforgettable moment and weekend.

Pour vous mes amis français qui venaient de perdre l’un des plus grands noms de la chanson française voici ce que j’ai écrit en voyant Aznavour en concert à Montréal avec mon mari, il y a deux ans. Moment et weekend inoubliables.




French Friday: French Comfort Food With a Twist

This post was just published when my favorite editor texted me.

Mom! You wrote cherry cheery. Three times!

I replied that since I was in my car, on my way to Trader Joe’s, I would attend to the matter later on. Which was great since a smile followed my immediate embarrassment.

Today of all days I likely wanted to feel cheery.

Now that I’m back home I am following my editor’s advice, of course.

What I did is what we call a lapsus révélateur in French. I would not go as far as calling it a Freudian slip but simply a revealing slip.


Unlike millions I didn’t watch the Thomas’s hearings in 1991.

Unlike millions I didn’t watch the O. J. Simpson’s murder case in 1994.

Unlike millions I didn’t watch the Clinton-Lewinsky’s scandal unfold and lead to President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.

Starting a new life thousands of miles away from my native France and caring for very young children didn’t allow me the possibility. My husband briefed me since he listened to the radio as he commuted to work, watched snippets on TV on his lunch breaks, and spoke with colleagues. Retrospectively this bubble of isolation was probably more a gift than a curse.

Yesterday, however, like millions, I was able to watch the Kavanaugh’s hearings from the beginning to the end.

I could write an entire blog post about the topic. I won’t. We don’t need more divide right now.

Watching hours of TV was a first for my husband and me. I grew up without TV. My parents bought their first set when I was in high school. Together my husband and I spent years without a TV set and today we still don’t have cable.

Although yesterday was a turning point in our country, I don’t recommend watching TV for hours.

What I recommend, though, when we go through emotionally charged times, is a slice of comfort food. Another phrase that I discovered in the U.S.

American comfort food remains different from one region to another, from one family to another, and even from one person to another.

My idea of comfort food stands on the sweet side of the aisle. In the States it is bread pudding. In France it’s clafoutis.

I found out recently that even comfort food could be a topic of discussion.

Early September I hosted my monthly book club. Since I am the only French-born in our group we never share French books, but I still do my best to add a French touch to our meetings. Since we met mid morning I baked a clafoutis this time.

From, mouth-watering pictures and everything you want to know about this dessert.

I am the only French-born in my book club but not the only French speaker. One of my friends was born and brought up in Belgium and we always speak French together.

Our American friends loved my clafoutis that they found amazing. I never get tired of the American enthusiasm.

“How do you make it?” asked one of them.

“Actually this is not a typical clafoutis,” I started. “The traditional one is baked with cherries and I used blackberries for mine.”

“Less work,” added another of my friends. “Pitting cherries is a pain.”

“You do not pit cherries for a clafoutis,” I said.

“Oh! So you spit the cherry stone?”

I nodded, mimicking the way to do so.

“Not for little kids, then,” concluded another friend.

The list of baked goods I stopped making when parents or teachers told me they were potentially dangerous for little kids grew in my head 🙂

“But there is a reason behind,” I went on. “The clafoutis was first made in Auvergne, a central France region. Auvergne people are said to be cheap and since clafoutis was sold by weight, they kept the cherries with the pit.”

“Funny!” said the most diplomatic of our group. “Well, pitted or not, this dessert is excellent. How do you call it already?”

“Clafoutis,” I said, and my Belgian friend joined me as I spelled out C-L-A-F-O-U-T-I-S.

“Oh,” she said. “I don’t put an S at the end.”

“I think both are correct spellings,” I said, realizing that I had probably never read the word with an S in the U.S. but always with one in France.

This clafoutis was already twisted, so we went on, enjoying each a slice as we discussed our book.

Later that day, I got a text from my Belgian friend who said that she Googled ‘clafoutis’ and that I was right about the spelling. Clafoutis was written with an S. I replied with a funny face emoji and added that even French native speakers met occasional challenges.

Which is the reason why authors are often reminded to stay away from foreign words, unless there are crucial to the story and ring authentic.

This is why I cringe when I read choux and not chou, or Pierette and not Pierrette, or still “votre secret es dans de bonnes mains,” an awkward sounding sentence to start with, but moreover with wrong subject/verb accord, in otherwise excellent American novels.

Writing in another language is tricky. Believe me 🙂

Despite our different way to spell the infamous Auvergne dessert, my Belgian friend and I agreed: With or without an S a clafouti(s) is yummy.

The one I favor is very simple to make.


And very quick to polish, too, when comfort food is needed.









French Friday: The Magic of Fall

When I arrived in California from Paris I had no idea that Americans called autumn fall.

I really fell for the season’s magnificent gifts when my family lived in New England. It’s truly magical, I kept telling everyone around me. New Englanders smiled politely, used to the compliment. I pressed leaves so colorful they seemed painted between the pages of my dictionaries and later sent them all the way to France.

Away from the Northeast, I’ve learned to track the more subtle ways nature signals the arrival of fall.

In Southern California for the last week, sadly without my husband who for business reasons could not join me, I traveled from one place to another, often by foot. Quiet witness of the delicate shifts in the air, I missed my husband’s voice in my ear, his arm looped around mine, his jokes and laugh that can lift the thickest fog, but I felt so thankful to our children for taking me to their own cherished places.


7 A.M. fog in Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego County

I almost expected to see my husband, waiting for me on this bench seated above the Pacific

A plane cut through a perfect blue sky above the Liberty Public Market, in Point Loma San Diego where my daughter invited me for a Thai lunch, food we both adore

Pepper plants in bloom in Los Angeles County

SoCal Beauties, still in Los Angeles County

And everywhere through this part of the Golden State, the distinct colors of fall 

Fall remains only a name for another month in SoCal. The hottest days are behind, but the Santa Ana winds can still blow warm air and the rain remains a distant dream.


Awaiting for rain, plants are dormant along the trail that leads to Cowles Mountains in San Diego

The 1,593-foot (486 m) summit is the highest point of the city of San Diego

My daughter took me up to the less dusty, more urban, still steep Secret Stairs in La Mesa, San Diego County…

…and then down…

Fall is maybe only a name in SoCal. Yet the change of season is here.


Hot Tea Replaces Iced Tea

Red Is the New Color

Overcast morning on the Pacific means

sun-drenched afternoon

Magically, new books make their way to bookstores, here at Warwick’s in La Jolla, San Diego.

Speaking of which, I read two magical books over this trip.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton is an unusual story that explores the meaning of love through several generations of people. A friend lent it to me, probably because the family has deep roots in France and also because the novel is filled with mouth-watering baked goods 🙂

I was not immediately drawn to the novel, mostly because it targets Young Adults and I found it very different from most novels in this genre. I suspect that older readers (college students, for example) and even adults will appreciate the beauty and meaning of the story more than teenagers. Anyway, it took me a few pages to be fully immersed, but soon the exquisite writing and the original pulled me in. Gorgeously crafted, filled with lots of sensory details and irresistible baking this book was a magical companion to my trip.

I hadn’t anticiped to read another novel filled with magic realism. But I’m a sucker for Middle Grade books and I knew I had to read The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine. She’s one of the biggest names in children’s literature and each and every of her books is a gem. I knew I would not be disappointed but didn’t expect to read one of her funniest and yet deepest novel.

Nine-year-old Julian is 100% obsessed with space. He even has imaginary friends in alternate universes. He’s also very scared of water and doesn’t go anywhere without his life jacket. The story of Julian’s family (fourteen-year-old sister Pookie and two moms) moving from bustling Washington, DC to rural Maine to run a lakeside bed-and-breakfast is told through his amazingly fresh and honest voice. Julian loves his family, but he is really tired of Pookie’s typical teenage mood swings. In reality, he misses Pookie’s younger version much more than she annoys him. I loved Pookie!  And loved the siblings’ realistic relationship. Let’s be frank: Julian’s behavior is quite strange, so his overprotective mother, the one he calls Mom wants to homeschool him in order to save him from bullies. Thankfully, his other mother, Joan, is much more laid back. That was cool to see the two mothers acting so differently and yet equally lovingly toward Julian and Pookie. The bed-and-breakfast project derails when the retired neighbor sends a lawyer over because the latest addition to the bed-in-breakfast illegally blocks his water view. Pookie convinces overfriendly Julian to befriend the neighbor to make him drop the lawsuit. The rest is a smartly crafted story packed with stars, dreams, Smores, lots of love, and even dogs.

I hate spoilers, so I won’t say more. Anyway the first sentence of the novel says everything.

“Magic is all around us, but most people never see it.”


A week later, I came home to find out that my husband had also read and loved two books while I was gone.

Fear by the one and only Bob Woodward and Small Fry, the memoir written by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs’s daughter.

Totally different books from mine. But you know what they say? Opposite attract. It’s magic.


Tomorrow marks the first day of fall. Enjoy its magic and a couple of books, too!

French Friday: Freestyling on the Road

Away from my American home, even when still in the USA, I pay attention to little French things unnoticeable otherwise.

Like these clothes.





Often popular in the U.S., I kept spotting them everywhere this last week.

Nothing beats hands-on experiences to acquire a foreign language. Trust me.

Of course, these explorations come with mistakes. We can always correct them later on. Otherwise, there is little chance to progress.

Do you spot the tiny French mistakes on these T-shirts and sweatshirts?


On the other side of the Atlantic, things are pretty funny too. I discovered a young Belgian singer who sings in French but incorporates some English lyrics in her songs. In her really cool song La Loi de Murphy she complains about her ruined brushing, which is a blow dry and orders a coffee to take away. She got the hips and is shaken to the top. I love Angèle Van Laeken, simply called Angèle for obvious reasons. Really awesome.

And the winning team Orelsan/Stromae is really great in the song La Pluie (The Rain). The French rapper Orelsan sings mostly in French, but occasionally adds some English words.

How can I blame them?

I sometimes go freestyle too. Sentences form and grow in my head, some words in French, some in American English. They would sound strange to anyone these sentences built from two languages, but somehow they create a song that belongs to me and accompanies me when I am away from my American home, even when still in the USA.






French Friday: Ah, Those False Friends…

The more I speak French with my daughter the more I’m reminded that my native language and American English share a fair amount of false friends. Faux amis in French designate words that look exactly the same in both languages but have very different meanings.

I made my first acquaintance with false friends over my very first trip to New York City in the mid 1980s. The American couple who hosted me described one of their friends as being special. Although the French adjective spécial (e) also means unique, it is not the first choice to describe someone who has a very special place in your life since spécial is also used to describe someone or something that exists away from the accepted norms. It took me a while to understand that my friends were speaking highly of their special friend and didn’t find her peculiar.

More than a decade later I made closer encounters with more false friends.

When one of my daughters invited a kindergarten classmate for a play date, I met a precocious six-year-old boy who spoke eloquently and was a huge fan of the adverb actually. Which I instinctively translated in actuellement. But, actually means in fact and not currently which is the translation of the French actuellement.

Years went by, yet I could still occasionally think in French. Once, because of an injury I needed physical therapy. Frustrated with the slow progress, I expressed my concerns. My PT kept telling me that I would eventually recover full usage of my left knee. Although his warm smile was encouraging I had a hard time believing him. In fact, I freaked out, unable to accept that he meant that in the end I would be able to use my knee as I used to. In my mind, he meant possibly, which is éventuellement in French. Ultimately, my PT was right: I finally fully recovered.

When my daughter talks with me, texts me, or e-mails me, she makes the effort to do so in French, and I do too, although it would sometimes be much simpler in English. If only to avoid those false friends…

Of course, my daughter has always been able to avoid the classic ones, such as pain, which means bread in French and not hurt, or coin, which designates a corner in French and not some currency, or still store, which is a blind in French. She knows that when real estate agents claim that location is key to a property they are not talking about a rental but about localisation.

But when she read passer un examen, she naturally assumed that the candidate had been successful after taking the exam. In fact, passer un examen means to take an exam. To pass an exam is être reçu à un examen.

False friends are confusing to nonnative speakers. But they can be fun, too.

When recently my daughter told me in French that she didn’t like people who lectured her, using the English noun lecture, I had to smile. A lecture in French is a reading. People who give you moral lessons don’t lecture you. They give you a lesson or a sermon. They sermonne you. By the way she wasn’t talking about me 🙂

I’m not immune to my own mistakes if I don’t pay attention. When I bump into adjectives such as comprehensive, for example, I must remember that it doesn’t mean understanding as it does in French, but detailed, complete, which are my French détaillé(e) and complet (ète).

Or when I instinctively use design instead of designate, thinking of désigner, which means to designate.

Below is a very short list of words that have the potential to create mistakes, more or less funny. I picked a few nouns, adjectives, and verbs from American English and not British, which has its own set of false friends. If you took French in high school or college, you may have met some of these false friends too.

A cave: une grotte and not a cellar

Confidence: confiance and not a secret

Grand: grandiose and not tall

Sensible: raisonnable and not sensitive

Rude: impoli and not rough

Confection: friandises and not ready-made-clothes

Notice: avis, préavis and not instructions

To demand: exiger and not to ask


Witnessing my daughter’s immense progress and occasional setbacks reminded me that she and her siblings didn’t have it easy, contrary to what many English native speakers have so often told me. You don’t automatically become fluent in your parents’ native language only because they are your parents. You have an edge, but only work will make you bilingual. Which explains why my daughter is so, so close to be.

But I knew all along that she would.





French Friday: Living the Year in Which You Were Born

On the morning of his birthday my husband woke up announcing that this was an exceptional birthday since he was the age of the year in which he was born, an event that could only happen once in a lifetime. And maybe not for everyone, he added, already calculating. Anything about math puts him in a good mood. I’m the other way around. But you know what we say about the irresistible attraction between opposites?

By the time the smell of fresh coffee, golden biscuits, and breakfast quiche – birthdays call for special treats – wafted through the house, my husband had already asked our friend Google for more information.

“So,” he said, reading from his phone, “I’m celebrating my Beddian birthday.”

“Your what?”

“Beddian. When your age matches the last digits of your birth year.”

“But, why Beddian?”

“This is a pretty cool story. Sad too. Still cool.”

And cool it is. Sad too.

In 2007 an artist who had also some interest for math was walking her grandkids in Manhattan. As often, she stopped by the neighborhing firestation, so the kids could admire the fire trucks. That day, Bobby Beddia, one of the firemen, announced that today was a very special day since he was turning the age of the year in which he was born, adding it could only happen once. The artist had never paid attention to the possibility and told the fireman that he should contact a mathematician to share his discovery. In fact she was already planning to approach one of her friends and surprise the fireman with the idea. Unfortunately, a few hours later Beddia and another fireman died extinguishing a fire, near Ground Zero. To honor his memory the woman continued her investigation. The result is a theorem called the Beddian theorem.

As I said les maths et moi ça fait deux or maths and me make two. So this is what I remember after reading the theorem: A Beddian Birthday can only fall in an even-numbered year and doesn’t happen to everyone of us.

My husband being my husband was very much into this Beddian theorem and called our kids to inform them about their own Beddian birthdays. The sad part, I realized, is that we won’t be with them to celebrate. The saddest part is that maybe they won’t even still be alive.

For the complete story about the Beddian theorem, the Beddian birthday, and of course fireman Bobby Beddia, read this 2007 article in the New Yorker. It’s the first article written on the topic. It’s short, compelling, totally worth reading.

Neither my husband nor I had ever heard of a Beddian birthday until now. When I searched for a potential photo to illustrate this blog post, however, I bumped into this greeting cards website.

Even young kids can celebrate Beddian birthdays

The American website Zazzle makes Beddian T-shirts and has a French version, although the message on the T-shirt is in English and the event doesn’t seem to be particulary celebrated in my native land.

Mes amis français, célébrez-vous? Et si oui, comment appelez-vous cet unique anniversaire?

At home, Beddian birthday or not, I had already planned a day of cooking and baking anyway, so all was good.

My husband has still time to prepare my own.


Did you know about the Beddian theorem?

Have you already celebrated your Beddian birthday?

Is there a chance you will?




French Friday: Pipi in Paris … and Elsewhere


So many cultural facts jumped to my eyes when I moved to the USA from my native France!

However, when last week my husband forwarded me a link about newly installed public urinals in Paris he not only gave me an idea for a French Friday post but he also pushed my memory button on. I suddenly remembered the top cultural difference that I immediately noticed upon my arrival in California.

Wow! I thought. There are so many places pour faire pipi. And they are free and clean. They even have changing tables and are handicapped accessible.

I kept raving about the fact that toilets in the States were no longer a place to avoid and no longer a daily challenge. And our numerous French visitors confirmed my first impression, even if they were initially shocked to see that most stalls didn’t have full-sized doors and that it could be possible for someone to peek. At first, I was surprised, too. Years later, I can attest that no one has ever peeked. In fact, I’ve stood in long patient lines in women’s restrooms, everyone of us assuming that each stall was occupied while in fact some were not. No one peeks in American restrooms. Only visitors do 🙂

Back to the early 90s. Yes, doing number #1 in the U.S. was far easier than in France. French public restrooms were fewer, rarely free, and sadly much dirtier.

For more true stories on the subject, scroll down to read about our family toilet adventures in the City of Lights.

Despite the dire situation for all Parisians, men, though, had an advantage, thanks to urinals found in most metro stations and also in public spaces. My husband argues that they were filthy and that as a boy and teen he felt uncomfortable using them. I totally get him.

Embed from Getty Images

Still, men had an edge. French girls and women had to learn one lesson: hold it.

Things changed in 1981 when the first sanisette was installed in Paris.

Kiosque à journaux et sanisette à Paris le 20 octobre 1984, France. (Photo by Mohamed LOUNES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

It cost one French franc to use them, but they were clean and private.

Fast forward to 2018. Has the French pipi scene improved?

Sanisettes are free, but many close at 10:00 p.m. since they can be used for drugs and prostitution deals. Cafés still forbid their restrooms to anyone who’s not a paying customer.

So it remains a challenge to find clean free restrooms throughout France, including in Paris.

No wonder alleys, building entrances, and street corners have turned into Men Restrooms. Women still hold it.

Which explains why men were on designers’ mind when they invented the uritrottoir, a noun created from urinoir and trottoir, which mean urinal and sidewalk in French.

Embed from Getty Images

The French company based in Nantes installed the first uritrottoirs in Nantes in May 2017 and their arrival didn’t trigger vehement reactions.

In Paris it has been another story.

This summer a few uritrottoirs have been placed in the city.

From the Ville de Paris’s twitter account

This what CNN wrote about it.

A quick linguistic note: French people may contradict me, after all I’m not an expert on male toilets, but I never used or even heard of pissoir. In French urinals are called urinoirs, pissotières or vespasiennes.

Here and there are two additional articles, if you read French.

Residents in Île Saint Louis, one the most posh Parisian neighborhoods, argue that they spoil the look of the historical landmark.

Embed from Getty Images

Visitors to the area, though, applaud the idea.

When I browsed through the articles, whether pro or con, I quickly noticed that almost every person interviewed on the topic was a man.

Of course, they love the uritrottoir.

The idea answers a need. Neither the pungent smell of urine wafting around nor the vision of men using the street as their urinal is particularly interesting. Also the uritrottoir is environmentally correct since there is no need to flush and yet odors are neutralized, thanks to hay placed inside the red metallic containers. They even come with flowers grown on top. How bucolic!

Embed from Getty Images

But, I wondered, what about us? Where is our female uritrottoir?

It’s not men’s fault, of course, that nature has provided them with a handy way to relieve themselves in public. But I was still a bit upset to witness the absence of comments about a pretty huge gender-based inequality. This is why I was happy to find this humorous and so right-on post on the topic. I wish you all read French.


To conclude on the important topic of faire pipi in France:

*Two family bathroom adventures in my homeland, back in the early 2000s, with our little kids.

Soon after lunch, the girls asked for a bathroom. That would be a challenge. Paris closed most of the few public WC or water closets in the city, the cafés and restaurants forbid the use of their facilities if you are not a customer and the stores have no public restroom. Your only hope is that the public restroom called sanisette will work.

I dug in my pockets, emptied my purse, searching for the precious French francs the sanisette would accept. I felt my youngest daughter tensing. “I don’t really need to go,” she said. After three lemonades, I didn’t think so.

“I’ll go with you,” her older sister offered.

“That’s nice,” I said.

“You can’t,” my middle daughter announced. “It says one person at a time.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s just if you are too big and can’t fit inside.” Then a horrible thought came to my mind. You can be too small for a sanisette. I remembered a horrible story about a young child who drowned in one of them.

“Anyway,” the big sister went on, “it’s out of service.”

She was right. A sign had been hastily hung but in polite French asked messieurs and mesdames to look for another pipi room.

We took the car and slowly drove across the city, detectives on the look for a restroom. We saw a few more sanisettes out of service and more, which for some strange reason didn’t accept my change. After fifteen minutes of unsuccessful search, we decided to go to a café.

When the waitress came with our orders, I asked for “les toilettes, s’il vous plait?”

“Downstairs.” She pointed with her chin in direction of a dark stairway.

My three girls stood up as one and dashed to the toilets. They came back as fast as they went down.

“It’s locked,” one said.

“Maybe someone is inside,” I offered.

“No, we knocked. Come on, Maman,” they begged me.

I followed them down the narrow, poorly lit stairway, to a small closet at the end of the hallway. I turned the knob. The door didn’t budge. I knocked timidly and then louder. “Il y a quelqu’un?”

Nobody answered and I returned to the same waitress. “With all the homeless people,” she said, sweeping an invisible crowd of vagabonds with her opened arms. “We have to reserve the toilettes to our customers.” She handed me a key.

Why didn’t she give it when I asked for the restrooms? Wasn’t I a customer? Did we look like a homeless family? Anyway, homeless people need restrooms too.

The toilets scared my six-year-old and I walked in with her. It was smaller than a plane’s restroom, if such a thing is possible. With my back squished against the door I felt a puddle under my feet. “Just water,” I told my little girl whose big eyes searched for comfort in this unusually dark and smelly closet. I was glad the light was dim so I wasn’t able to check the nature of the liquid on the floor.

We hurried to the exit and found with relief the cozy café with its sophisticated waitress behind the counter. I had never paid so much attention to the French toilets than now.

Not representing the café where it happens 🙂

A few days later, we decided to take the children on a tour of Versailles and the Petit Trianon. A thin permeating rain fell on the French kings’ residence and we ran to the entrance to seek harbor. We bought our tickets, left our coats and umbrellas, as it was required.

“La salle de bains, s’il vous plait?” asked my daughter in her best French and most polite tone

Les toilettes,” I whispered. “Not the bathroom.”

Les toilettes sont dehors,” announced the lady behind the booth.

“Outside?” I said. The lady only nodded. “Then, can we get our clothes back?”

With another nod, she handed us our coats and tickets. Outside, the drizzle had intensified. More menacing clouds circled above us and we hurried before it poured across the paved courtyard, following the toilettes sign. We reached the door, drenched and freezing, wondering why the most famous French historic landmark had no restrooms inside the château. I took the girls to the ladies section and bumped into a woman whom I quickly identified as the dame pipi. I had forgotten about the ladies who govern the few French public restrooms. I searched my purse for a few coins.

“What are you doing?” whispered one of my daughters.

“I need some change,” I said, as if I had known all along that paying to go to the restroom was the most normal thing. Happily, I found one euro which I handed to the lady.

“That will be four euros,” she said. I must have looked puzzled since she specified, “Aren’t you all going?”

“Yes,” I said, hoping that perhaps I would get a package price. After all, France is one of the few countries that offer all kind of discounts when you have children. However, it didn’t seem to work for the toilettes since the lady insisted, “Then, you owe me four euros.”

I handed her the money and we all went to the restroom. The girls hurried. Did they think that it would be more expensive if they stayed too long? I wondered if I should try to explain my daughters why in France you have to pay four euros to go to the restroom when you visit Versailles. I wasn’t enough French anymore to find a justification and I felt sorry that my daughters might remember more about their restrooms experiences in France than the richness of Le Louvre and the grandeur of Versailles.


*Away from home, toilet breaks present challenges. For outdoorsy people, even more so.

Yosemite, the National Park I know best, has installed some toilets, flushing or not, even in remote spots. And when I camped in Havasupai, Arizona to hike the Havasu Falls the rustic eco friendly toilets amazed me. Not the case at the top of Mount Everest, it seems.

Now I’d like to hear from my blogger friend Curt, currently on a thousand mile hike on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail).

Curt began his hike in Ashland, Oregon and travels south to Mount Whitney, California. A seasoned hiker and a nature lover he writes from the bottom of his heart, with serious knowledge, humor, and humility, too, about the extraordinary landscapes of the west of the United States and about his numerous adventures as he explored them and keeps bumping into nice people, like these two French hikers.  The raging fires in California had the potential to impact his current plans. But he remains a real trooper and his most recent post shows him in good spirits.

If you have a minute, pay a visit to Curt’s blog. Through his posts and photos you’ll get the chance to follow a rare trip along the legendary PCT.

Seriously, I wanted to acknowledge Curt’s 1000-mile hike since a while. You may remember that in French we have an expression to describe something ridiculously easy: c’est du pipi de chat (it’s cat’s pee). Well, what Curt is doing is certainly NOT du pipi de chat.

If you are just reading this post or returning to it, this is an article posted on August 31, 2018 in the New York Times about the uritrottoirs being vandalized.





La Reine de la musique soul est morte.

The Queen of Soul Music has died.

Je n’ai réalisé qu’hier que je connaissais toutes les chansons d’Aretha Franklin.

Only yesterday did I realize that I knew each of Aretha Franklin’s songs.

Pas les paroles dans leur intégralité, mais leur mélodie et refrain.

Not every single word of the lyrics, but the melody and the chorus.

Ce n’est pas souvent qu’une chanteuse laisse une telle empreinte musicale.

It’s not often that a woman singer leaves such a musical soundtrack behind.

J’ai aussi réalisé en entendant les chansons d’Aretha Franklin passées sur toutes les chaines de télé et les stations de radio que je les avais toutes entendues alors que je vivais encore en France.

I also realized, listening to Aretha Franklin’s songs, played on all TV channels and radio stations that I had heard all of them while I still lived in France.

Il y a eu aussi bien sûr la comédie musicale des Blues Brothers en 1980 qui l’a fait davantage connaitre de notre côté de l’Atlantique. Un succès phénoménal en France.

There was of course the musical comedy The Blue Brothers in 1980 which gave even more visibility to Aretha Franklin on the other side of the Atlantic . A blockbuster in France.

Il y eut aussi une amie de campus qui n’écoutait pratiquement que des chanteuses. Quand je lui rendais visite, on sirotait nos cafés en écoutant Patti Smith, Annie Lenox, Pat Benatar, Rickie Lee Jones, ou bien encore Janis Joplin.

There was also a girlfriend on the campus who listened almost exclusively to women singers. When I paid her a visit, we sipped our coffees listening to Patti Smith, Annie Lenox, Pat Benatar, Rickie Lee Jones, or still Janis Joplin.

Et il y eut ce fameux duo Aretha Franklin Annie Lenox Sisters Are Doin It For Themselves.

And there was this infamous duet Aretha Franklin Annie Lenox Sisters Are Doin It For Themselves.

De toutes les chansons d’Aretha Franklin, j’ai toujours préféré I Say a Little Prayer and Respect.

Of all her songs I’ve always prefered I Say a Little Prayer and Respect.

I Say a Little Prayer est une telle consolation quand rien ne va plus.

I Say a Little Prayer is such a soft consolation when things go down.

Quant à Respect la chanson ne m’a vraiment donné la chair de poule qu’après des années de vie aux États Unis.

As for Respect it’s only after many years spent in the U.S. that the song gave me goosebumps.

Le mot Respect s’écrit et se traduit de la même façon en français et en anglais.

The noun Respect is spelled and translated the same way in French and English.

Le sens n’est sans doute pas tout à fait le même dans les deux pays.

The meaning is probably not exactly the same in both countries.

Un demi-siècle plus tard la chanson Respect a encore la même pertinence. Je ne sais pas ce que ressens à cet égard.

Peut-être juste du respect.

Half a century later the song Respect has still the same relevance. I don’t know what I feel about it.

Maybe only respect.

%d bloggers like this: