Sunday, February 24, 2008

La Honte

I don't judge the contestant too harshly, it must be easy to blow it under pressure, but more than half of the studio audience thought the sun went around the earth.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Spelling and Pronunciation

Thanks to TBNIL for a heads up to a series of SNCF adverts. He said:
I loved those SNCF adverts last year .... they used traditional french village signs to advertise flights ot far off places - so for example, there was:

St Gapour - Singapore
Losse-en-Gellaisse - Los Angeles
Quancoune - Cancun

...and many more. Fabulous, and combined with great photography.

So I found some of the ads on DailyMotion. DailyMotion is used by the guys at the factory and seems much more well known here than YouTube

More info and pics from the guy who uploaded those vids Ulfalabla

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday's Favorite French Things


Back on the booze theme again.
Classed as a bitters, and containing extracts of gentiane (see my entry on Suze) quinine and orange bark, Picon was invented in 1873 by Gaétan Picon.
According to the French Wiki entry:
Born in 1809, he was apprenticed in distileries in Aix-en-Provence, Toulon et Marseille. In 1837, While serving in Algeria with the French army, he invented Picon.
Gaétan Picon created his first distillery to produce the African bitters in an Algerian village, he then followed with a number of others: Constantine, Bône and Algiers. In 1872, he returned to France, he created his first factory at Marseille. From this time on, the bitters were named Picon.
Since 1995, Picon has diversified and there are now 2 different types: The original, called Picon bière and Picon club, for mixing with white wine.
Originally at 21°, since 1989 it has been produced at 18° provoking the ire of its devoted fans.
In 2003, 70% of sales were in the North and East of France. Total production for that year was 4 million bottles.

I was introduced to Picon beer at our café when, getting bored of lager I asked Michel for something different. He served me a Picon beer, and the caramel flavours reminded me of English winter ales. It immediately made the blond lager more complex and refreshing.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Friday's Favorite French Things

This issue of Friday's Favorite French Things is something very simple: the end of town/end of village road signs.
It's all well and good to have a sign alerting you to the name of a town or village when you enter it, but when the village is very small, you may not have noticed the sign as you drive in.
Then you find the village is very pretty and you say "Hey, nice place, where are we again?"
Well in France they tell you as you leave.
A nice little touch and one I appreciate.
Here is the sign you see when leaving the village of Y in the Somme department. Y is the shortest named commune.
You are leaving Y
For the sake of pointless symmetry there are 3 communes that have the longest names - 38 letters each:


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Characters at the Factory #2 - Didier

I've just finished another shift cycle. - Six days of 2 morning shifts, 2 day shifts and 2 night shifts. The night shifts run from 8:00 at night till 4:00 in the morning. Which means I've just got out of bed, my eyes are like piss-holes in snow, and my head is thick and confused like I'm hungover. But now I'm off till the next morning shift - 4:00am on Monday.

But I must tell you about Didier.

Didier drives the Transbordeur. Transbo for short. This is a huge beast on rails that runs up and down the factory taking the tiles we've just made into one of the 28drying chambers and then delivering a stack of dry tiles so that they can be sent to the kiln and their chassis re-used for the tiles we're currently making. See?
Anyway, how the transbo works isn't important, but since, while driving it Didier delivers dry tiles to the press and takes away fresh tiles, it means he visits the press over 60 times during the shift.

And each time he comes there is some sort of weird interaction between us, that's become like a ritual.

He's fifty-something, small, a little chubby and shaves every 3-4 days, so most times he's stubbly. He's a kind man, and friendly. He normally wears two or three t-shirts or sweatshirts and only in the hottest summer wiill he get down to a single shirt. This is only amazing because when he drives his transbo into a drying chamber, hot air is pumped in there (diverted from the kiln) and the room can be over 50 degrees centigrade. You can't stay in there too long. He talks with his mouth full, smacks his lips while eating and never brushes his teeth, so the plaque on his teeth is of Guinness record book quality. He also never washes the armoured bassball cap we all have to wear. Sweat and clay dust has turned the band of his cap into bands of rainbow hue. When he's in a hurry, he doesn't run, he scuttles. As he drives his tansbo he thinks of things that have amused him and will then let out very loud laughter, which causes everyone to look at ech other and shake their heads and say things like "sacré Didier" or "completement cinglé"

So, I'll be at the press, catching tiles. See this post for a vid I took of our press in action. It will help explain why Didier's antics are so exasperating. Didier will come by on his transbo and call me. He's behind me so I have to turn around to see him. But I have to catch a tile and put it on a chassis every 4 seconds so that only leaves me about a second to see what he wants and have some kind of dialog. Shouted conversations conducted in 1 second bursts like a strobe effect in a disco is very difficult. So Didier does most of his side via gesture, and I do most of mine by smiling and nodding or shaking my head since my hands are full.

I'll hear a shouted "Hê!" It's like "Hey!" but different!) I turn around and there's Didier doing a gesture that imitates a cyclist pouring his water bidon over his head to cool down. (Because I sometimes cycle to work and I'm keen on cycle sport - the Spring classics, TdF, Giro Italia, Vuelto Espana etc) Didier has taken it on himself to be my personal cycling coach, giving me advice on diet, trainiing and abstinence from sex before racing. I don't race.
Also included in his cycling collection of gestures is the gear change gesture, since modified after I pointed out that my bike has the gear levers on the handle bars, not the frame, and so it's a subtle finger-thumb thing, not the hand wobble of the old style he has. There is also a two-hand circular hand crank thing to imitate pedals turning.
With these cycling gestures he is usually giving an indication of how hot it is and how hard he, or I, or both of us are working.
The valid response is a nod of the head, and, if he persists, repeat the gesture back to him. Then he can bugger off.

Five minutes later he's back.
I ignore him, I might be a second out of synch with the press because of a problem and will need to catch the next 4 tiles super quick to get back into an easy rythmn again.
Shit! I'll turn around and there he is, this time maybe holding up three fingers and pointing to himself.
It's an indication of how many times he shagged his wife between shifts. I nod.
I turn around. I know what's coming because it's a ritual that's been done over and over again. I can't ignore him because he'll just sit there going "Hê!".
I turn around. He does an exhausted forehead wipe to show how much hard work it is to shag your wife three times. I nod.
I turn around. He does a trembly hand gesture, acompanied by a wobbly leg mime to show how shagging his wife three times is killing him. I nod.
With one of his insane laughs he drives away on his transbo.

Nine times out of ten this little charade has me cackling in the same way that you laugh at the Little Britain sketches or the Fast Show even tho you know what the gag is going to be. "This week I have been mostly eating acorns" "Only meee!" "I'm the only gay in this village" etc.

One time out of ten I just wish he'd fuck off.

Sacré Didier

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cultural Differences

This is an advert on French telly at the moment. When we saw it we just sat there with our mouths hanging open in disbelief.

Here is the transcript:
No! That's for mummy.
Ah! You want to play?
One, two, scissors!
One, two, paper!
One, two, rock!
Ha ha, you're really a loser, like you're father.
(voice over) No point fighting against it. Daunat sandwiches, so generous that just one is enough

First the baby's hand morphing out of the stomach is horrible. Like a scene out of alien. Why isn't the woman screaming in terror? She should be grabbing the kitchen knife to cut the damn thing out. Nasty. Reminds me of a strap-on dildo, but that's probably down to the videos I've been watching.

And then ... the baby flips the mum the bird!! The middle finger! And she just laughs. She's got Damien inside her and she thinks it's funny. Comes time for childbirth a thing like that may well decide not to come out. She won't be laughing then.

And finally she calls the kid a loser.

I must question my french friends on their response to this ad, because if they think the ad is OK, or funny in a comedic sense rather than in the weird sense, then there must be more separating us than just the Channel.

And does the advert work? ie: will it sell Daunat sandwiches or will people associate Daunat with mutating, insolent, loser babies, and their mothers who pick losers for lovers?

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Come to France and get divorced

A strange phenomnenon.
I know of 5 couples that have emigrated to France only to have their marriage break down.
Two close friends of my wife have hqd their husbands leave them, and we have another aquaintance for whom this disaster has just struck last month. All 3 women now find themselves alone in France with young children.
Another couple in the next village had the reverse, the wife took the kids back to England leaving the husband behind in France.
Some other good friends had a split, the wife carrying on with someone else and the husband took the whole family back to Wales and they are still together, tho it's not happy.

I know of many, many UK men here who spend all their time in the "English" bars while their wives wait at home.

I think in many cases the "French Dream" is not shared by both partners. One or the other leaves their friends, family and job to follow their partner into rural France. There, they find themselves isolated, unable to speak the language, spending time watching Eastenders and Corrie on Sky.

There are many couples who have moved here and one partner has to commute weekly to the UK to keep earning. It's very hard on a family when dad is only seen 2 days in every 14. And when he gets back to the family he can't rest because there is a pile of repairs and DIY to be done.

Often, the project of renovating the ruin they have bought keeps them occupied. Once the last radiator is plumbed in, and the last window double-glazed, they find they have nothing in common and nothing more to do together.

There is a big difference between the France we know from holidays and the France we have to live in. The house renovation shields people from that difference.

I'd love to see figures for divorce rates for UK immigrants, to compare with the averages.

I'm a cheery chappie aren't I?


Friday, February 01, 2008

la Chandeleur

In England, Pancake Day içs Shrove Tuesday. (also known as Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday)

Here in France, tho, the 2nd of February is the big crepes day.
The feast is called la Chandeleur, from the word for Candle, symbolising light. It is nominally 40 days after Christmas and commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the temple.

Historically, it is a melding of Roman fertility and Celtic purification ceremonies before the onset of Spring.

In the church there is a procession of candles and a benediction, but the most common method of celebrating, and the method that seems to be the most enduring, is the cooking and eating of crêpes, their golden round shapes symbolising the sun that is starting to return after Winter.

If you make crêpes yourself on Chqndeleur, make sure you hold a coin in your free hand to invoke properity for the rest of the year


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