Kristin Espinasse began French Word-A-Day in 2002 she decided to share a piece of Provence by distributing her “café letters” from France.
What began as an earnest attempt at freelance journalism, eventually worked itself into a more suitable self-made mêtier as resident “French Word Artisan” and author.
Kristin says… “Although I majored in French, I still struggle daily with the language.
Luckily I have two built-in tutors, my 14-year-old son Max and my 12-year-old daughter Jackie, who have taken it upon themselves to straighten out my language faux pas.
Sometimes I get a bit miffed and remind them that I spoke French before they did, but they just stare back, heads shaking in disbelief.”
You can read more about how French Word a Day came to be created by reading Kristin’s book… Words in a French Life.
1). You come from Phoenix, Arizona. What are the primary differences between there and where you live now?
Kristin – The tortillas are better in Phoenix, the hot chocolate is better in France; the driving lanes are wider in Phoenix–so are the smiles — but in France everyone receives a more personal acknowledgement (bonjour monsieur, bonjour madame) whereas back home it’s “hey!”
2). What provoked the unique concept of French Word a Day and what is it that makes it work?
Kristin – I guess you could say it was that “lost in space” effect that provoked it. I had begun to post my stories in cyberspace, at “kristinespinasse.com” and watched as my words floated around, fledgingly. I needed an anchor–something to define the “new French ‘zine”. Because my stories were salt-n-peppered with French words, it occured to me that a language journal would be the right place to dock in cyberspace. So I named my site “French Word-A-Day” and offered a free “mot journalier” as a bribe to get people to read my stories (which follow the word).
As for “what makes it work?” Readers make it work (readers who are delighted to discover that France is approachable, and not stuffy, after all). I could not write without the support and encouragement that readers send in. It fuels my mind and keeps me going when doubt creeps in.
3). Looking at today’s post on French Word a Day (Jan 6th 2010) I think that Smokey and Braise are going to be the true heros of your blog, aren’t they? Do you expect them to have more postings of their own and what do they think about being catapulted (if I may use such a word with your dogs) into internet stardom?
Kristin - I hope our dogs will take over part of the writing. It has given me some time off… and their fresh voices are a welcome change from the usual stuff. Re stardom: Braise is not a lime-light chaser (she’s more laid back), however Smokey loves the girls and if stardom is what it takes… then he’ll be a ham it up for the darling dames.
4). Many of your readers are English speaking expats now living in France. What advice do you have for anyone thinking about resigning from the golf club, pulling the kids out of school, packing the wife in a suitcase and moving to France to start a new life with only schoolboy French?
Kirstin – Just do it! But don’t pack the wife–we’ve lost luggage before and you wouldn’t want your femme to end up in Finland. Some lucky Scandinavian might swipe her and then you’d be on your own in France, with a couple of jet-lagged kids.
5). Your husband is a wine maker (link to site) and, I guess, you have to help him taste all the new vintages. That must be a difficult job but someone has to do it. Living in Provence, how important is wine in your day to day life?
Kirstin – Wine is very important in my husband’s day to day life. He has to taste his wines daily, to check their evolution. As for the kids, the dogs and myself, we’re always ready to stick our noses into the glass and help my husband via feedback. This means we are sensitive to scents ranging from “pipi de chat” to “old felt hat” (okay, so I just made the last one up…)
6). Back in August 2004 (I’ll have you know that having an incredible memory is a required skill for staff at A Taste of Garlic!), you mentioned the effect that the death of Julia Child had on you. You said (or rather, your husband said), “Elle a gardé son âme” (she kept her soul.) Are there any other French people that you admire in the same way?
Kirstin - Other than my mother-in-law, who has a devilish twinkle in her eye when she pulls my leg… have you read about Soeur Emmanuelle? Her sense of humor was rivaled only by the greatness of her heart. She “retired” in one of the worst slums in Cairo… don’t miss this story:http://french-word-a-day.typepad.com/motdujour/2008/10/yalla.html
7). Being totally serious now, apart from your husband, Johnny Hallyday, Johnny Depp and me, who is the sexiest man living in France today? And why?
Kirstin - I am still so blinded by my husband’s charm that I can’t see clearly enough to pick out a “second” best (hang on, I’ve just visited your profile page and… well, I won’t go on or Jilly’s claws might come out!)
8). What do you say to people who believe that Elvis isn’t dead but is living in a Beaumes de Venises and is keeping himself to himself until he gets the hang of conjugating some of the more difficult irregular verbs?
Kirstin – I’d say: if it makes you feel better knowing even Elvis–the most romantic raconteur of all time–has difficulty in a language, then go with it! Anything to keep up your confidence in the language, for it takes confidence to crank out those French syllables and accents!
9). Are your two children (Max and Jackie) being brought up as French children or American ones? Or aren’t there any differences?
Kirstin – You might say they are being brought up as FRENGFANTS (both french and english “enfants” (children.)
10). Johnny Hallyday or Edith Piaf? “Que Je t’aime” or “Je ne regrette rien”? Do you have a favourite piece of music, and what does it mean to you?
Kirstin – Amazing Grace — it means everything to me.
11). For many people, French is a tricky language to learn. All the conjugation, all that grammar – not to mention gender and all those words that sound the same but mean different things! Apart from subscribing to French Word a Day and buying your books (which all sensible people have already done, or are just about to do), what simple advice would you offer to those who are having difficulties with their Avoirs and Etres?
Kirstin – Listen to others. It doesn’t even have to be “French others”. Listen to your mom. Listen to your grandpa. Listen to the lonely postal worker. Listen to your dog. If you are like me, you may have difficulty listening to others. So busy talking… we have lost the art of listening and hearing. Once we can properly hear, and so train our ear, learning French becomes a breeze.
12). You’ve recently published a new book, French Word-a-Day. What is it about and why should people buy it (apart from > getting to see Smokey and Braise wearing hats?)
Kirstin – Buy it to be transported to France via photos and stories of real French life. Buy it to lessen your fickleness about “fitting in in France”. The French are down to earth normal folks like you and me. Finally, buy it to support Braise and Smokey’s college fund (they’ll need a few classes in writing and grammar if they are to continue to pen… or paw… a column at French Word-A-Day).
13). Would you like to pop out into the garden for a nice glass of 2005 Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Hawkes Bay from New Zealand whilst I just make up the rest of the answers?
Kirstin - Lovely! But only if you’ll say that 5 times fast–and with a French accent:
Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Hawkes Bay…
Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Hawkes Bay…
Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Hawkes Bay…
Many thanks Kristin, on behalf of all the visitors to A Taste of Garlic. I’m sure that we will all knuckle down and try our hardest to get our French up to scratch.
All the best