Le Dernier Mot: Hen Pals Lead to Pen Pals

Le Dernier Mot: Hen Pals Lead to Pen Pals

Kristin’s fine feathered friends prompt an unexpected correspondence

Ever since we built our poulailler along the fence facing the street, our five hens have become a kind of neighbourhood attraction. ‘Cot! cot! cot!’ I hear from my bedroom window, which overlooks our driveway and the street beyond. That’s not our chickens talking – those are strangers, young and old, flapping their arms, clucking and strutting as they mimic our colourful gallinacées.

Some even leave gifts. Several months ago, on my way to collect more delicious eggs from the hen-house, I noticed a sack hanging on the portail. Peering inside I saw an array of baguettes. But when I went to share the bread with the chicks, they turned up their beaks… I grabbed the garden hose to soak the dried bread. They loved the softened version!


By the time another mystery sack arrived a few weeks later (tossed over the fence this time), I began to fret over un remerciement. If I posted a note on our gate, “Merci pour le pain!”, it might be misinterpreted by the steady stream of tourists passing by our house, leading to a build-up of yeasty donations at our gate.

Finally, using a scrap of cardboard tied to a string I penned a note: “Pour la personne qui nous a laissé le pain, merci beaucoup! Signé, Les Poules.” (To the one who left the bread, thanks a lot! Signed, The Hens.) Little did I know this would be the beginning of what the French call une relation épistolaire – correspondence between strangers.

A few weeks later more dried baguettes arrived, along with a card depicting a smiling snowman: “Joyeux Noël, Les Poules, et bon bout d’an. Christine et Georges.” How delightful! Perhaps the donors owned a bakery? And we were the lucky ‘doughnees’ – receivers of the excess bread? Springtime now and the latest delivery came inside a bright, violet-coloured bag so full it looked like a giant Easter egg. The note read: “Bonjour Les Poules. Tout va bien? OK. N’oubliez pas… Dimanche c’est Pâques… Alors vous cachez les oeufs… He! He! (Hello Hens, Everything OK? Don’t forget… Sunday is Easter… So hide some eggs!)

What cheer these strangers brought into our lives! But the joy was soon eclipsed by sadness when two hens suddenly died of unknown causes. Then a third and fourth chicken disappeared. A bird of prey had discovered our suburban flock. Our once-lively basse-cour became a ghost town. Just a scattering of hay and an empty henhouse, only one chick in sight: our cantankerous Edie, seule survivor. I didn’t have the heart to break the news to the two strangers who’d taken an interest in our hens, but eventually found the words and tied a letter in an envelope to the fence, which then disappeared. A few weeks later a bag of bread arrived with a card inside: “Chère Edie. Nous te souhaitons en grande forme… As-tu des nouvelles copines?” (Dear Edie, we wish you great health. Have you some new friends?)

Ouf! What a relief to know the tragedy did not bring an end to this light-hearted correspondence. Time now to pen a response to our delightful incognitos. After all, the key to an ongoing relation épistolaire is this: you’ve got to feed it – with creativity (and a fair few breadcrumbs).


LE POULAILLER = hen-house, chicken coop
COT, COT, COT = cluck, cluck, cluck
UN/UNE GALLINACÉ(E) = domestic bird
LE PORTAIL = the gate
UN REMERCIEMENT = a thank you
UNE RELATION ÉPISTOLAIRE = a correspondence with somebody, with a stranger
LA BASSE-COUR = barnyard
OUF = phew

From France Today magazine

Read more of Kristin’s popular columns here:

Le Dernier Mot: Exit Strategy
Le Dernier Mot: Wait a Minute Mr Postman
Le Dernier Mot: Crowning Glory
Le Dernier Mot: Affair of the Heart
Le Dernier Mot: Inside Job
Le Dernier Mot: Naked Ambition
Le Dernier Mot: That Which We Call a Rose…
Le Dernier Mot: France Isn’t All That Bad!
Le Dernier Mot: A Passage to Corsica
Le Dernier Mot: Desperately Seeking… Dessert
Le Dernier Mot: Sirène Again!
Le Dernier Mot: Milking the Breakfast Bar
Le Dernier Mot: Saperlipopette
Le Dernier Mot: Uninvited Guêpes
Le Dernier Mot: An Exception to Every Rule
Le Dernier Mot: Odd Woman Out

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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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  • Muriel
    2021-12-08 18:07:25
    Well done, Kristin. Hopefully, you will get to meet these bread people. What a unique way to start a friendship. M