6 Jun 2013

Provence… Lost In Translation

Even after all these years in France, I still get lost in translation.

I can communicate well… understand even better… but sometimes what I hear and comprehend aren’t actually the reality. It’s so very easy in a language that is not your own to miss the little nuances… to fool yourself that you have the words under control… that you are on the same page…

Not always the case for me… especially when it comes to the little details…

Yesterday I went to see the kitchen for Le Petit Bijou

I have an image in my mind… and I presumed that I had conveyed this successfully…

A wall of armoire style cupboards on one side with a concealed refrigerator…  all the other gadgets, with shelves above, on the other.

Simple, practical… it’s a holiday house… Who wants to cook anyway… Right?

Especially in Provence… when out the door are many marvellous cafes and restaurants. Yet… sometimes it’s fun to buy at the local markets and take a night off… put the feet up and have a home cooked meal… So the kitchen, although small, will do it’s job.

I got ‘lost in translation’ trying to design some fancy panelling… no big deal… it doesn’t really matter at all…except I did smile when I saw their interpretation… In a space the size of a cupboard we will have more panels than Versailles…

The wonderful thing about the carpenters, the very same who worked on our house years ago, is that they want to please… Nothing is too much trouble… and they are artisans who care about their work.

We worked it out… it’s not perfect but I would rather have too many panels than hurt their feelings… Yes, I am a soft touch… Make or break it’s not…seeing their smiles, their pride turn inside out would be much, much worse…

The kitchen will still be pretty and feel as I imagined it to feel…

As I was leaving the atelier… I stole a look into the office…

I think the photograph above tells the story…

This is a very successful carpentry business… always in demand…

I did laugh… In a huge warehouse of doors, shelves, cupboards and bookcases… wonderful joinery, fabulous mouldings… all that we could dream of when it comes to storage…

The office was… well… the office was as it was…

It’s aways the way isn’t it? xv

Be inspired by Living In Provence and Provence Style or another of my favourites… Essentially French


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Elizabeth Eiffel

I know this experience only too well. My poor French accent also contributes to the confusion. I had the Bricco (hardware) people totally confused when I asked for floor boards of dog. It was only when I wrote the word (which at least I could spell correctly) that all was revealed…I was after boards of oak, chêne, not of dog (chien)! Warm wishes


You made me laugh ELizabeth… I am sure I have everybody in stitches with my pronunciations…:)

Gigi Thibodeau

Ah, yes, the cobbler’s children have no shoes! It is always this way when people are good at what they do, isn’t it? They are so in demand that they have no time to do the work for themselves.

I love your story about getting lost in translation, Vicki! And now you will always have this story to tell, which is even better than having perfect cabinets. You are so good at seeing what’s really important, and at caring about the feelings of others. That’s my favorite part of this story. xo Gigi


Thanks Gigi… it’s true… I didn’t have the heart to change it all… it doesn’t matter… Even changing a few I felt guilty!


Ah Vicki, a cluttered desk is the sing of a brilliant mind, and that’s why they do such wonderful work!


So true… I love a cluttered desk! Still… they could do with some shelves!!

david terry

Oh….as for “Lost in Translation”???????……3 examples:

1: shortly after I had first met Herve (ten years ago, and only a year after he’d moved to the USA), he came to visit the house I’d shared with a novelist friend for the previous seven years. She offered him dinner, which he politely declined….announcing that he’d already had dinner….”STICKS & BASTARD”

Both my friend and I have degrees from Oxford, which is to say that we’re prepared to hear of dishes such as “toad in a hole”, etcetera. So, “Sticks and Bastards” sounded perfectly English to us (Herve was taught English by English tutors). I assumed that “Sticks and Bastards” was probably french-fries and sausages of some sort.

Turns out he was referring to “steak and pasta”.

2. Some months later, he told me, in front of other people that he had, earlier that afternoon, “given a massage to your sewing machine”. At least, that’s what we THOUGHT he had said.

Turns out he couldn’t pronounce “ANSWering machine” (nor can he prounce “soul”). Nor did he, at that stage of the game,have a handle on the idiom—-you leave a message ON a machine, not TO it. He had left a message on my answering machine. I should emphasize that I have never owned a sewing machine. I (and several other people standing around him) found his comment disorienting.

3. Just this past March? Having gotten off the telephone with my VERY southern, 75 year old mother, I told him that she was having trouble with unwanted calls from folks she didn’t know.

Herve said (or at least I THOUGHT he said) “That’s terrible. She should get colored I.D.”

I said “Why would my mother want to know beforehand if a black person were calling? She’s not a racist…she has plenty of black friends..”

turns out Herve meant to say “CALLER I.D.”.

I supppose I may have told you that, courtesty of my own ignorance and mispronunciation, I once called Herve’s own mother (and this was in front of at least ten people during a cocktail party in Tours)a-woman-who-performs-oral-sex-for-money.

I’m not kidding….I really did that (and the specific term does, indeedm exist in French). It was the first time I was at their house.

Oh, well….what can you do except to struggle along as we all flounder in translation?…….

—–david terry


I’m feeling better after that David… I have made some real clangers… but not quite as good as yours… ;)

Esther-D. Abad

Indeed, sometimes translating-interpreting an idea in another language is complicated, I can read, understand perfectly in French-English, not so much write-talk is what I happened to read your post today, but I dare say I grasped the meaning and do not know what you mean.
I am currently undergoing a revival of my little-old cottage where I live 80% of time for nearly 30 years to 60 km (45 minutes) of Madrid, the other 20%. In the last three months have been home to 30 people of different trades, many of my own language. Still to this day I still do not agree determiandos concepts, but everything goes according to my indications.

I followed your recent trip to Paris with your daughter, next week it’s my turn tolie dress for my daughter’s wedding and a thousand other things, dream about it.
Eshter-D. Abad

(Google Translation)

Garden, Home and Party

I had to laugh, years ago we had a wonderful carpenter (since retired) who was such an artist and he would often misinterpret what I had explained, at it was always with the theory that ‘more was better, and probably what I meant’. He was such a talented and kind sole, I usually just went with it. Honestly, I love his work in our home so much that now it just makes me smile at the ‘lost in translation’ part of it all. I hope you will share with us your little house redo as it progresses. What fun!


I will as soon as it’s photo ready!!
Too much mess and builders… :)

A Gift Wrapped Life

You know how this turns out don’t you? Somehow wayward design matters when handled with a sensitive manner end up (remarkably somehow) being the feature everyone loves and comments on, it’s the way of good design karma. It is a reminder that people always come first in good design, something you showed beautifully Vicki. Having fun? I know you are! Text me your chat time, it has been way too long. Much love xx


Can’t wait to chat… and you are right… it’s the personal touch that counts… :)

Jeanne...Collage of Life

I know this feeling well Vicki, in fact I dealt with something similar this morning..via long distance. Mine involved a forester and an arborist. I reckoned it was best not to rock the boat, especially when there was still work to be done. Fortunately, the trees are still standing. :)

Tricia Heliker

I loved this post, Vicki. Even without a language barrier it is difficult to translate ideas to another person. My brother has been doing some work for me and we sometimes have to work very hard at “getting clear” with each other. I also enjoyed the comments immensely.


Hello, Vicki. This post on language was timely as I’m wanting to learn French/Spanish. I thought of either language lessons with a tutor in a classroom setting or the Rosetta Stone. I know immersion in the culture is the best way to learn but if that’s not available, what to do? Do you have an opinion?

I love decorating and can’t wait to see what you have done with Le Petit Bijou.


I think the classroom is a good idea because that way you have interaction with fellow students and the teacher… maybe follow up with the tapes… I also find watching French movies /TV shows excellent for language skills.. xv


You are right to see their smiles…with so much pride in their work. I would be the same as you :) All sounds exciting…the office pic was pretty funny xoxo

Faux Fuchsia

All that clutter strikes fear and anxiety into the FF heart.

Meanwhile, I miss France so much I could cry.

It seriously is the best place for people watching and snacks on the planet.

Not to mention drinks and meals. x



As my French language skills only go as far as the extremely basic. I can order coffee, say hello, goodbye, goodnight and thank someone I can’t imagine having to actually have a conversation in French where important details have to be explained. If I had a house in France to renovate and the tradesmen didn’t understand English my house would really end up looking lost in translation.
I had a good laugh while reading what David Terry wrote. He writes so well.


The kitchen sounds lovely, can’t wait to see the finished result. The extra panels will add a beautiful story to the finished product. Love your attitude Vicki!


Hi Vicki, the funny thing is I get lost in translation in English! I am sure your kitchen will look brilliant. With an office oozing such character it can only be good.
Kathy xx

miss b

I think my reaction would have been the same as yours – I wouldn’t have wanted to upset them too much when they take such a pride in their work. It must be exciting putting the final touches to Le Petit Bijou – those little details which make a big difference to the overall look.

Anita Rivera

Good morning dear heart.

I love “A Year in Provence” when Peter Mayle so beautifully describes his desire to move a stone table into his Provençal home. The TIME it took for the workers to move that beast of a table into the house was far longer than Peter or even we Americans could bear! But the slow pace of the workers, their UNDERSTANDING of a task was much different!

I sometimes wonder that even though our LANGUAGE skills are great, and we use the correct words to convey our message, if perhaps there is another element of understanding that gets lost….the cultural understanding of the task…but I agree with you that the French are awesome artisans, and your panels will be lovely.

I wish you FUN and much happiness as le petit bijou gets its final work. SHARE WITH US when you can! Anita

The Enchanted Home

That says so much about you “I would rather have too many panels then hurt their feelings”..I can relate…you see someone who takes such pride in their work, you don’t want them to feel they failed you. I am so excited for you and who knows maybe this “lost in translation” incident will translate into something wonderful elsewhere, maybe using the extras somewhere else? I know with your magic touch..its going to come out tres magnifique!


I feel the same way… last time I was in Paris I nearly understood everything – at least that’s what I thought ;) But I find it really hard to speak the language myself… especially as fast as the French.

And I must say that I love the Provence area – used to go there on holiday when I was still a kid… would really love to go back.


Design Chic

Oh how I understand this. Isn’t it funny how people can sometimes interpret your vision. Fortunately, most of our beach house remodel has come together as we envisioned, but waaaay too often I don’t seem to “translate” too well. Love the office!! Have a wonderful weekend ~


Oh, I adore this story! How hilarious! I love that you took it in your stride & laughed about it instead of getting mad & hurting their feelings ;-) You’re a wonderful woman.

Clare x


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