Friday the 13th / le vendredi 13

By   November 13, 2009

The number 13 and Fridays are usually considered bad or even evil according to Christianity, and the tradition of Friday the 13th being a very unlucky day still persists in many cultures. Yet in France, vendredi le 13 is considered a lucky day when people buy lots of lottery tickets. Have you bought your ticket yet?

As Le Pourquoi du Comment explains, “les jeux de loterie n’ont pas hésité à s’approprier le vendredi 13 pour vendre du hasard à grand renfort de matraquage publicitaire, et pour prendre dans leurs filets, sans avoir à redoubler d’efforts, les esprits les plus cartésians alléchés par l’appât de gains collosaux.”

It’s all about money, of course!  I wonder why the US lotteries haven’t tried to reverse the superstition and get people to buy more tickets. Though getting Americans to stop believing in ridiculous things is a huge battle….

Kentucky Fried Chicken in France

By   November 8, 2009

It’s Sunday and we have no food in the apartment because it’s Sunday and no stores are open. Ok, some stores are open in the morning on Sundays, but they are so crowded that I hyperventilate just thinking about it.

A KFC opened in Chambéry a few months ago and I was actually curious to see what it would be like (though I haven’t eaten at KFC in the US since I was in high school…) and David wanted to try it too since he’s never had it. KFC hopes to open 200 restaurants in France by 2012 and according to their awful flash-heavy website that takes 2 minutes to load, there are currently 93 restaurants open.

So I got some Crispy Tenders (the menu is mostly in English, of course). My first impression of a Frenchified KFC is: where are the mashed potatoes & gravy?!

Yes, they sell pieces of chicken in a bucket with Col. Sanders’ face on it but that’s about where the similarities end. The sides available with the meals are a salad, fries or a little corn on the cob that no one knows how to “make” and so they won’t even give it to you, but instead substitute fries without your knowledge.  The sauces available for the chicken are barbecue, sweet & sour or curry. The desserts are the standard ones you find at French McDonald’s and Quick: fondant au chocolat, tiramisu, tartes, etc.

No mashed potatoes, no gravy, no biscuits, no mac & cheese, no beans, no rice, no apple pie or parfaits.  I figured these things wouldn’t be served in France, but I still had a tiny bit of hope. And now I’m actually craving the mashed potato bowl – mashed potatoes with corn, chicken, gravy and cheddar cheese on top. It’s seriously no surprise to me that French people would not want to eat that, but now I do! And I can’t have it. ::sigh::

I suppose what bothered me most was the fries. I am so sick of French people complaining that Americans are so fat and Americans eat french fries at every meal, blah blah blah. I very rarely ate fries in the US and I have never had so many fries forced on me as I do in France. I can’t even eat fries anymore because of it. I used to just to be nice, but now I don’t care. You can do more to potatoes than just frying them, ya know, like boiling and mashing them!

One good thing is that it seems to be much cheaper than other fast food places in France. Compared to US prices, it’s still ridiculously expensive for not-so-great food.

And their Hot Wings? Not so hot.  France and spices don’t get along.

At least in December, some stores are allowed to be open on Sundays for Christmas shopping so we won’t have to resort to fast food. The law passed earlier this year allowing stores to open on Sundays for the entire year is only for Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and Lille. Those of us in the boondocks get nothing because the law is supposed to be intended for tourists in tourist-heavy areas only because French people couldn’t possibly want to shop on Sundays!

My American Market

By   November 7, 2009

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French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942

By   November 3, 2009

A little history lesson thanks to David’s grandma who didn’t throw these French newspapers away (that we just discovered in the storage space this weekend!)

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 Conditions of the WWI peace treaties were decided in May 1919. (Women’s suffrage is just a teaser. That wouldn’t actually happen until 1944.)

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 The Treaty of Versailles was signed June 28, 1919.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier gathered in Munich in September 1938. Hitler “accepted” to delay mobilizing troops.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 The Munich Agreement was signed on September 30, 1938 and everyone proclaimed “PEACE!”

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 A Historic Night. Enthusiasm in Munich. And much sadness and betrayal in Czechoslovakia, who was not even invited to the conference.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 270,000 refugees of the Spanish Civil War came to France in February of 1939. (The actual number was closer to 500,000.)

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 German troops invaded Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg (as well as northern France) on May 10, 1940 which marked the beginning of the Western Offensive, also known as the Battle of France.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 Italy declared war on France and England on June 10, 1940.  France signed an armistice with Germany 12 days later and the Vichy Regime was formed on July 10.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 Vichy France, run by Phillipe Pétain and Pierre Laval, urged Frenchmen to go to work in Germany in June 1942 for “the freedom of prisoners” and for “OUR COUNTRY!”

Just another October 31st

By   October 31, 2009

I didn’t decorate for Halloween this year, didn’t buy any candy and didn’t carve a pumpkin. It really doesn’t feel like Halloween at all. But fall is definitely here.

David & I went to the marché this morning after stopping by the optician to order my new glasses and contacts (for a grand total of 16€! Thank you new mutuelle!)

Then we walked back home through the park and enjoyed our pain bio and Tamié.

This closed shop reminded me that I need to buy some new boots for winter, but I will probably have to wait until les soldes.

Goodbye October. Hello November.

Television is Educational (especially when it’s in another language)

By   October 28, 2009

Just for (nerdy) fun, I wrote down all the Québécois words that were spoken in 3 episodes of Catherine as well as their “standard French” counterparts that appeared in the subtitles.

QuébecFrance QuébecFrance
plattechiant gangbande
chaudièreseau napkinneserviette de table
écœurerdégoûter pantoutepas du tout
cheapradin bobettesculottes
bocverre chicanedispute
blondecopine chaufferconduire
chumcopain charvoiture
braillerpleurer tantôttout à l’heure
souperdîner bouetteboue
mauditespèce de quétaineringard
frencherrouler une pelle vidangesordures
pis?alors? trippercraquer
scrapperdétruire partyfête
niaiserieconnerie gazessence
cruiserdraguer lavagelinge
laisserquitter balayeuseaspirateur

Of course, there were some words that I could not understand at all (and neither could David). But sometimes I understand more than he does because of the North American cultural references!

Réaffirmer la fierté d’être français

By   October 27, 2009

Eric Besson, France’s Minister of Immigration, said in an interview yesterday that he wants French people to be  proud of their country and their nationality. He wants young people to sing La Marseillaise at least once per year and he wants adults to take civic instruction classes. He’s going to conduct a two month national debate on what it means to be French today and will present his findings in January. This is part of Sarkozy’s plan to bring back “La Douce France” and to increase patriotism and nationalism because he also believes that the French are not patriotic enough.

Sarkozy always seems to bring up these questions of national identity before elections though, so some people think it’s just a ploy to get more votes for the conservative UMP party from the Front National (racist/anti-immigration party) supporters.  La Douce France usually refers to the early part of the 20th century when the majority of French people lived in the countryside, and before France had a large immigrant population (especially of Muslims) and before globalization added English words to the French language. But modern France is nothing like that.  Three times as many people live in cities than in the countryside in the 21st century. There are more than 5 million Muslims (more than any other Western European country). And French has definitely borrowed a lot of English words. How many “French” words end in -ing nowadays?

I see nothing wrong with patriotism as long as its sincere and it’s not a disguise for racism or intolerance. You can love your country and be proud of your nationality and/or government. I don’t necessarily like when people take it to the extreme though and plaster their houses or cars or clothes with flags. And I especially do not like when people define nationalities based on their racist ideals (i.e. all Americans must be white Christians who speak English as a native language).

But I also see nothing wrong with a lack of a patriotism. It’s fine to not love your country, especially the one to which you belong by birth, because you never had a choice regarding your nationality. Just because you were born in a certain place doesn’t mean you have to love it. If I had had a choice, I would have loved to have been born with two nationalities. But I wasn’t. And now I’m working towards gaining French citizenship by naturalization, but does that make me any less patriotic concerning France? I have equal feelings for the US and France (though I suppose it leans a little more toward France at the moment because of health care…) and I really can’t picture myself ever choosing one over the other.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing more French flags flown (especially on July 14) and hearing La Marseillaise at more than just football matches. I’m just afraid that the UMP is starting this “debate” for ulterior motives because they’ve been getting harsher on immigration (evacuating Calais and sending war refugees back to Afghanistan) and Muslim garments (the burka “runs counter to national values”).  Or perhaps I’m just letting my personal feelings for Sarkozy and his huge ego and Besson and his selfish crassness cloud my judgment.  Nevertheless, I am a liberal through and through and slightly for socialism in certain cases, which is not a bad thing even if American conservatives compare it to Nazi Germany (because they really are that stupid. Talking about you, Glenn Beck.)

Luckily Besson doesn’t have power to change rules on gaining nationality through naturalization, or I might really have to sing La Marseillaise to a fonctionnaire to prove my worth. That’s Brice Hortefeux’s job (Minister of Interior) and considering that he’s just as loyal to Sarkozy – he’s even godfather to one of his sons – and just as prone to making possibly racist remarks against immigrants, I’m a little worried. Or perhaps I’m just annoyed with Western politicians in general because they’re all rich white guys with questionable values and morals?


♫  Allons enfants de la Patrie ! Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la tyrannie, l’étendard sanglant est levé,
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes mugir ces féroces soldats ?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras égorger vos fils, vos compagnes !
Aux armes, citoyens, formez vos bataillons, marchons, marchons !
Qu’un sang impur abreuve nos sillons !

(Just practicing!)

Zoom sur Annecy

By   October 25, 2009

TF1 just did a reportage on Annecy, the lake and the possible Winter Olympics in 2018. You can watch the video at their site. It’s about 15 minutes long and even if you don’t understand French, it’s still worth it to look at all the pretty scenery.

“Le 13 heures vous emmène en balade aux bords du lac d’Annecy, la “Venise des Alpes”, comme on a coutume de la surnommer.”

Talk Out Loud!

By   October 22, 2009

It’s vacation time already! I have 11 days off thanks to Toussaint. Then there are only 7 weeks left of the semester (one of which is shortened by the jour férié on November 11) after that. Time flies when you’re having fun, eh? I wish I could do this job forever. I know my next job (whatever it will be…) will not give me nearly as many days off and the possibility of sleeping in almost everyday. But it hopefully will involve more French and less English and a higher paycheck, though I’m not too optimistic about that in the land of low salaries.

But back to my current job. At the beginning of the semester, I like to torture encourage my first year students by forcing asking them to speak spontaneously in English for a whole 60 seconds on a subject that we have already covered in class. Considering they have been learning English for 7-9 years already, this should be rather easy. However, by the looks on their faces and the dead silence that lasts for 5 minutes before one of them is brave enough to start talking into their microphone makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s as if no one has ever asked them to SPEAK in English before and considering France’s current system of teaching languages, that may very well be the case.

So I will be spending my vacation listening to and grading some 50 recordings of these timid students who are afraid to talk in the language that they are majoring in. Few of them seem to understand the importance of speaking out loud when learning a new language. Not just for pronunciation, but to remember the correct phrases and to train the muscles in the mouth to get used to a new way of forming sounds and words and sentences.

Ok, they record themselves speaking English once, but then they think it ends there. No no no! You must listen to yourself speaking. Does your pronunciation sound good? Can you spot some mistakes in grammar? Are there a lot of hesitations and unclear utterances? What do you need to improve on?  Try another recording and listen again. Then do it again. And again. None of this “once is enough” attitude and doing it just for the sake of getting it done.

And the whole point is to get them speaking spontaneously, without any written preparation beforehand. They are so used to writing everything first, and then reading it. But that’s not real life. I seriously wonder how some students think they will be able to work for an Anglophone company in 3 years when they won’t even try to speak in English in class, where there is a native speaker to help them and it’s ok if they make mistakes because I will correct them. What are they going to do in the real world when they’re asked to talk to Anglophone clients or interpret at meetings or (worst of all!) answer the phone in English?