Dernier Mot: Fighting them on the Beaches

Dernier Mot: Fighting them on the Beaches

Kristen watches as a clash by the coast stops short of turning physical.

My husband and I were strolling along the boardwalk when we overheard shouting. Up ahead, we saw a couple of disgruntled dames down by the beach. A white-haired woman, waist-deep in the sea, had been enjoying a sunrise swim when another woman began walking her dogs along the sandy shore. The early morning altercation seemed to be about their mutual rights.

By the time we reached the scene, accusations were flying via some choice and colourful cuss words. I recognised several of these gems, gros mots I’ve never uttered, l’étiquette exige. But over at the water’s edge, good manners were quickly sinking, including that one about respecting our elders.

An early morning dogfight

Je vais appeler les flics!” The woman in the water threatened, making it clear that walking dogs on the beach was punishable by fine. “Vas-y connasse!” The young woman spat. Whew! That’s no way to speak to a woman of a certain age. But then… “Vas te faire f@^#!” The Bather retorted, totally unruffled by the insult. Could it be that her morning baignade in frigid winter waters had given her thick skin?

Dog Woman fired back a phrase I wasn’t quite sure of the exact translation of, but the fierce delivery really packed a punch! Looking around, Jean-Marc and I weren’t the only spectators: a man on a bench served as a self-appointed commentator as a bevy of locals looked on, some already taking sides.

As an animal lover, I might have rooted for Dog Woman. Though I wouldn’t dare walk a dog along the beach in summertime, plenty of locals bring their pups to the beach off-season when the shores of La Ciotat become an illegal-but-tolerated dog park (Municipal sacs à crottes distributors keep things clean!).

Now to understand the swimmer’s perspective. For one, she might have had a certain peur de chien. Invoking the law might have been her way of feeling safe in what should have been a No Dog Zone. Or maybe she’s a stickler for the law? (Rare among the French, who make a game out of breaking the rules.)

Beagle on the boardwalk, © KRISTIN ESPINASSE

A narrow escape

Or could it be that both women woke up with a certain humeur de chien and their foul mood carried over to la plage? The impromptu audience watched as Dog Woman reached the end of the cove and sat stubbornly on the stone embankment beside her two trespassers. Infuriated, The Bather steamed out of the water, towards her towel, and Dog Woman flew off her rock, heading in the same direction!

The women sped closer and just when they seemed sure to collide, in a territorial catfight, the unexpected happened. Whether by mercy or by pride, mere inches before impact, one stopped short and the other veered right, chin held high. But for this recalculation, the dénouement would have been a hair-clawing mess, or what the French call a veritable crêpage de chignons!

From France Today Magazine


  • LA DAME = lady, woman
  • LE GROS MOT = swear word
  • L’ÉTIQUETTE EXIGE = etiquette requires
  • APPELER LES FLICS = to call the cops
  • LA CONNASSE = silly cow, stupid idiot
  • LA BAIGNADE = bathing, swimming
  • LE SAC À CROTTES = poop bag
  • LA PEUR DE CHIEN = fear of dogs
  • UN HUMEUR DE CHIEN = foul mood
  • LA PLAGE = beach
  • LE DÉNOUEMENT = outcome
  • UN CRÊPAGE DE CHIGNON = cat fight, fight between women

Lead photo credit : Plage de Capucin La Ciotat, © KRISTIN ESPINASSE

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The American-born author and photographer lives with her French husband, Jean-Marc, and their two children on a vineyard and olive farm near Bandol in Provence. She's the author of "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France" and runs the French Word-a-Day blog and newsletter.

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