Le Dernier Mot: Pride Comes Before La Chute

 
Le Dernier Mot: Pride Comes Before La Chute

Kristin learned an important lesson on the slopes – and it wasn’t how to ski!

When we were newlyweds living in Marseille, my husband planned a trip to the French Alps. “Tu sais skier, chérie?” he asked. Truth be told, it had been 15 years since I’d last hit the slopes, but wasn’t skiing like riding a bike? “Yes!” I boasted. “I lived in Colorado for nine months. We skied every weekend!” Hearing myself speak, I recognised an old foe: la fierté. And you know what they say about pride… l’orgueil précède la chute!

The old town of Marseille

The old town of Marseille. Photo: Brigitte Miramont

La Piste Noire

In Serre Chevalier, in 1992, I barely made it off le télésiège before it hurtled its rickety carriage back down the mountain. Just when the terror was beginning to subside, I looked left, and saw the drop off – there was not even a barrier to protect skiers from the mountain’s edge. A quick, hairpin turn to the right was necessary to avoid imminent death and reach the slope. As I edged my way off the landing I shouted to my husband – who’d already taken flight – “Just what sort of ski run is this anyway?”

C’est une piste noire,” Jean-Marc called back. A black diamond? I don’t remember hearing that when he planned the outing! But what did it matter now? At that moment I was having a technical problem with my skis: they would not turn left or right. “You’ve got to get moving first,” my husband explained, having trekked back to help me.

Serre Chevalier

Serre Chevalier, FredrikLähnn at Wikimedia Commons

As I struggled to get going, young children et des gens âgées sped past me. How was it that they could ski and not me? Too terrified to get up enough speed to slalom down the steep piste, I gave up – and slid all the way down on my backside, in my jeans, cursing my husband the entire way. Fast forward 27 years, and plans to enjoy a trip to the Alpine resort of Megève (where I would sightsee while my family skied) changed suddenly when I developed the flu and had to stay home. Remembering how certain rental properties in France require travellers to bring their own linens, I quizzed my husband, who had reserved the rental: “Will you need sheets?” I asked, offering to help him pack. “Oui, des draps-housses, s’il te plaît.

The faded inscription on this cadran solaire (sundial) reads ‘L’ambition est la perte de l’homme’ – ambition is man’s undoing

The faded inscription on this cadran solaire (sundial) reads ‘L’ambition est la perte de l’homme’ – ambition is man’s undoing, taken from France Today Magazine

Housse de draps?… On hearing the words my mind conjured up a picture of a slip cover. “Are you sure?”

Oui, des draps-housses.” No matter how many times my husband repeated it, I could not figure out which type of sheet he was talking about. Jean-Marc’s patience was running thin when bingo! I finally understood he was asking for fitted sheets. I had been so distracted by my own thoughts (buzzing on about how my forgetful spouse wouldn’t remember to bring our sheets home again) that I was not hearing him speak. It occurred to me that my French might finally improve if only I could be a better listener!

My family had a wonderful time in Megève, and I was so pleased to see that my husband remembered to bring back all of our bedding. “Je les ai mis dans le panier à linge,” Jean-Marc told me, hurrying over to la télé to catch the end of the soccer match (Paris vs. Marseille. Allez, OM!)

What did he say? Something about putting them in the laundry basket ready to be washed? No, I don’t think I want to hear that today. I’ll become a better listener tomorrow…

French Vocabulary

La piste noire = Black Diamond ski run
Tu sais skier, chérie = do you know how to ski, dear
La fierté = pride
L’orgueil précède la chute = pride comes before a fall
Le télésiège = chairlift
Des gens âgées = older people, elderly
Le drap-housse = fitted sheet
S’il te plaît = please
Je les ai mis dans le panier à linge = I put them in the laundry basket
La télé = TV
Allez, OM! = go, Marseille

From France Today Magazine

Lead photo credit : Ski Lift, Alexandra Luniel at Unsplash

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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.