Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential French and Italian for Mamas

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This summer, my family and I took a vacation to France and Italy and stayed with families in both places. The French family had five boys, aged twelve to three, and the Italian-Swiss family had a boy, five, and a girl, three. We'd previously lived in France when our daughter was in kindergarten, so, combining our time living there and this most recent trip, I share with you some helpful vocabulary for families.

"Ce n'est pas évident."
Literally: It's not evident. Figuratively: That's too bad for you.

We learned this phrase when our daughter was in kindergarten. It was said whenever we complained -- about how hard it was for her to be in a French school, about our confusion over something cultural, about how long it took us to figure out the word "classeur," which means 3-ring binder, but was not in any of our dictionaries.

Basically, this response is perfect for when you are talking to someone who is having a hard time with something because it is new or unusual or uncomfortable for them. For mamas, this phrase could be used every day with a child.

Example:

"Mom, I don't know how to make my bed! You do it for me!"

"Ce n'est pas évident. Let me teach you so you can do it on your own."

~

"Quelle bordelle!"

Literally: What a whorehouse! Figuratively: Clean up this pig sty!

To be used when entering a room where children have been playing and there are toys and clothes and empty glasses and half-filled cereal bowls everywhere.

Again, this could be used daily.

"Mom, can Jimmy come over and play today?"

"Quelle bordelle! Look at this play room! Clean it up, and then we'll talk play dates."

~

"Il y a du monde!"

Literally: There is the world! Figuratively: What a crowded mess!

This phrase is to be used when you travel somewhere that you, your spouse, or your kid has been dying to go see and you spend thousands of dollars on air fare and you fantasize about it and you bust your butt to get there and then it's so crowded you think you will have a panic attack.

This phrase comes in handy when you feel jealous about people who visit famous venues while you stay home -- or when you want to avoid the crowds at such places.

Example:

"Mom, can we go to the amusement park on the last weekend before school starts?"

"Il y a du monde! Let's stay home and play in the sprinkler and have a much better time!"

~

"Prego!"

Literally: Ready! Figuratively: Here you go! You're welcome! No problem! Enjoy your meal! Have a nice day! Leave a good tip! Learn Italian!

You will hear this word from a waiter, a hotel concierge, a store owner, a host, and a man on the street who gives you directions -- all within your first ten minutes in Italy.

It is, like most things in Italy, seemingly small but so bursting full of meaning and flavor that you wonder why all those Italians in America ever left. And then this gets you thinking about Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher Columbus and immigration and poverty and globalization and you start feeling a little serious. Then La Nonna hands you a platter full of mussels stuffed with pork that took two days to make and you put one in your mouth and say, "Delicioso!" and she says, "Prego!"

And you hope you can be a Nonna, a grandmother, like this one day.

Example:

"Mom, this is the best mac and cheese you've ever made!"

"Prego!"

~

"Basta!"

Literally: Enough! Figuratively: Enough!

The essential word for every mama's vocabulary. When your toddler reaches for a third cookie, "Basta!" When your tween whines that she has nothing to wear, "Basta!" When you are dead on your feet and wondering if you can leave the dishes till morning, "Basta!"

Example:

"Would you be willing to volunteer for the worst committee ever created at your child's school, do all the work, and get none of the credit?"

"Basta!"

~

I invite you to write a piece (poetry, fiction, or essay) that reflects upon the experience of being a mother in a new culture. You might reflect on the challenges of linguistic differences or unfamiliar cultural traditions, or you may want to explore the gifts that being in a new place has given you as a mother. Please email your submission of 800-1000 words to birthingmotherwriter[AT]gmail[dot]com by September 5th. Be sure to put "Birthing the Mother Writer: 5" in the subject line, and place the text of your submission in the body of the email. By sending in your submission, you agree that your piece, if chosen for publication, may receive suggestions for revision, and you also agree to revise and submit a new version for publication.


Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D. is the author of 13 books, most recently Earth Joy Writing. The book includes writing prompts for every month of the year, plus audio meditations and video workshops. She teaches an innovative online course combining mindfulness and feminist theory for women academics called The Feminar. Cassie is currently working on a memoir about how coming out returned her to her mother and her faith.


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Thanks Cassie! I love your phrases, especially Basta! Here in South Africa I've learned two very handy parenting phrases: "Just now" which means sometime in the future (ie don't hold your breath) and "Now now" which means soon. My boys are onto this however. If I respond to pleas with "Just now," they'll whine louder: "But that's too long!"
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