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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

My last travel experience in 200 words – and in French

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on June 12, 2014

writing_hand_u270D_icon_256x256This was requested of me in one of my job applications: send along some examples of your translation work and “A short text in French (200 words max) describing your last travel experience”

Fair enough, and it has been a long time since anyone restricted my verbal diarrhea with a word count, so this was tough, but here goes, in an appropriately grumpy French style:


Auvergnate, j’ai cherché pendant des années le meilleur moyen de m’extirper du no man’s land du transport public que sont les alentours de Clermont-Ferrand. Aussi lors de mon dernier séjour à la maison, j’ai décidé dans un élan de décadence de remettre mon sort entre les mains d’une “vraie” compagnie aérienne, avec des collations à bord et des journaux à l’embarquement. AirFrance.

Seulement, après avoir enregistré les bagages et passé la sécurité, le vol AirFrance de 14h05 pour Paris, opéré par HopRégional, est retardé de 5 minutes, de deux heures, annulé. Un problème technique peut en cacher un autre, veuillez récupérer vos valises et attendre. L’avion suivant a tant de retard que le vol de 18h30 arrive avant lui – retardé également puisqu’il a fallu réquisitionner un appareil plus grand pour accomoder les passagers des deux autres vols. À Paris les automates indiquent que les connections ont été ratées, allez au guichet d’information.

Avec deux compagnons d’infortune écossais – que faisaient-ils en Auvergne? – je me rends au fameux guichet où trois employés nous montrent que l’imprimante de coupons pour une nuit d’hotel est cassée. Il l’ont pourtant éteinte et rallumée, rien n’y fait.

La prochaine fois j’essaie le stop.


So, what do you think?

 

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Cure for all ills

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 25, 2013

Some of you might have heard me say that carrot cake would cure anything, even political despair. Give them cake, right? Chocolate cake, Frau Boxler’s mocha cake, macaroons etc would take care of the rest. But recently I have driven around the countryside with my grandad in tow and now I know better. You see, although I still don’t have a driving licence (at 25; shocking I know), I can drive when accompanied by an adult who knows how to drive. Never mind that I feel safer with Papy sitting in the passenger seat where I can see him than if he were driving himself.

IMGP9282So anyway, in order for me to acquire experience of driving along narrow winding roads with a rockface on one side and a ravine on the other, we go together to visit his friends from way back when; old grannies and grandads who went to school with him, or sat next to him and my grandma on coach trips to Lourdes or somewhere. Nowadays they sit around their front rooms wrapped up in shawls and scarves, waiting for winter to be over. We have long conversations about the weather, the war, farming, and grandchildren like myself who should really be looking for a husband and produce offspring. Someone heats up coffee in a pan on a wood-burning stove, which we drink from worn out bowls or cups or glasses. As the conversation goes on, an old bottle is brought out of a dark cupboard and someone will ask, or rather state: “You’ll have a little drop, won’t you.” “Une goutte”, a drop, “of eau de vie” of course. My grandad chuckles and protests, just a bit.

The bottle itself if usually a little sticky and dusty; it has been kept in there for so long. The stopper never quite fits, so there’s an accumulation of “stuff” round the neck of the bottle – you don’t really want to know. Sometimes, as a conversation piece, there’s a pear floating around in there (my grandfather’s godfather put that in there), or a stick, an articulated wooden doll, or even a snake or two. Someone explains: it’s quince, pear, plums, marc de raisin or some other fruit, and you have to take their word for it because really, you could not tell the difference. Either it tastes like pure alcohol and will burn your tonsils off, or if you’re lucky, it tastes of sugar. If it has any flavour at all, it will be of coffee because it is poured straight into the warm cup or bowl you’ve been using, even if you have explained that you’re supposed to steer the car all the way home and it’s getting dark. “Come on. Just a drop. It can’t do you any harm.”

Because whatever the shape and size of the bottle, the percentage of alcohol or sugar and which members of the extended family were involved in the distilling process, it’s good for you. So far, it has been recommended to me as an aid to digestion, a cure for the runs, the solution to headaches (hair of the dog perhaps), and as a panacea for all coughs, sneezes, tickly throats and bad colds. For internal and external use. If you have a sore throat and a runny nose, imbibe cotton wool in eau de vie and tie it around your neck with a scarf. That should sort you out. And make you smell like an alcoholic.

Well I spent hours outside in the cold over the past few days, shovelling never-ending piles of snow from the yard, and although my many layers of clothes made me look like the Michelin man, I got the sniffles. Maybe I should try the “goutte” remedy. But Mam went to the chemists today and bought some Fervex. Just in case.

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Extreme flirting in Bavaria. Nope.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 14, 2013

This article has been trotting around my brain for the past 8 months.This delay means I can now pride myself that I am sitting on months of hard empirical study, interviews, and even on occasion things said by some highly respectable  and quotable people in lecture theatres.

Let’s start with a handful of stereotypes. One could say that Italians and Spaniards are very open with their flirting, especially when young, and very apt and swift at slipping their hands on people’s backside and their tongue down people’s throat. Blame it on the hot mediterranean sun and temperament. The British, in spite of their long reputation for being timid and prudish, have spent so much time baking on the white sandy beaches of Ibiza that they have adopted a similar way of flirting. A modern english damsel out on the town will typically not be wearing very much, and will not raise her eyebrows and say “Shocking!” if she should encounter an exposed pair of gentleman’s buttocks. On the other side of the channel, we French are under a lot of pressure. Over the course of my travels I have often heard the French were supposed to be good kissers, lords of the dance(floor), and queens of hearts. Paris is ze capital of romance, sacrebleu! On a more serious note, I think we lean towards the mediterranean style, only we spend more time on the preliminaries and start kissing a little later than our spanish and italian friends.

SAVE0002As a general rule, flirting has become very physical. Better people have written better texts, essays and books about this, so I’ll not gloss over the details, however, Germany seems to be an exception. Innocent flirting is much more rare, and if there are a few tigers out there on the prowl ready for action, the rest of the German population will need much beer and time before they can loosen up and start “making a move”, or at least one that a foreigner will notice. The Germans are the first to admit this as a nation: a song was even written about the bewilderment of a french girl Aurélie, when confronted with the “subtlety” of German flirting.

Aurélie so klappt das nie
Du erwartest viel zu viel
Die Deutschen flirten sehr subtil

Meaningful stolen glances, hints that don’t seem to be followed through, invitations for coffee that may or may not have a hidden meaning… Someone has yet to explain all these codes to me. With some friends, we went to serious lengths to try and understand. We pooled our experiences, we even interviewed handsome young men in Munich (whose excuses ranged from “being more career-orientated” to “intimidated by women”), but still couldn’t come up with an acceptable answer. The scientific, student-ish part of my brain reminds me: different cultures have different codes, different ways to react to different signals. But whatever  the German “signals” are, I (and a bunch of other french lasses of my acquaintance) simply cannot see them.

However, there is something unique about the politics of flirting in Bavaria. A tradition, which, according to my heated imagination, springs from the frustration caused by the local corseted rules of relationship-building. During the night before the 1st of May, young men in Bavarian villages secretly go and erect a long-stemmed tree festooned with paper garlands under their beloved’s windowsill. A sort of extreme, cumbersome Valentine card, if you will.

Trollops get a fir tree wrapped in toilet paper.

It’s all or nothing, innit?

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“Striking” a good joke.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 13, 2013

This is France, so it will come as no surprise that France Inter (Papa’s favourite radio) have been on strike for the last few days. Conversation at the dinner table has therefore not been punctuated with the usual titbits introduced by “ils ont dit dans le poste” (they said in the radio). Instead, we were treated to THIS joke:

A man drives home after celebrating New Year’s Eve with his friends, and has had a couple too many drinks. So when he encounters a policeman on the side of the road who asks him to take an breathalyzer test:

-erm… I’d rather not.. If I give you ten euros, will you just forget it and let me go? I promise it won’t happen again.

-no

-20 euros?

-OK then, but only because it’s the new year.

The man gives the agent 20 euros and drives along, only to find another policeman, 20 metres further along the road. Once more, the man refuses to submit to the breathalyzer test and offers a bribe:

-I’ll give you ten euros if you let me go

-no

-Twenty?

-Allright then.

He pays the bribe, drives another 20 metres, and once more, finds a policeman.

-Listen. I’ll guve you 20 euros, so please just let me drive on.

-No. You’ll have to give me a hundred.

-A hundred? What? Your colleagues only asked for 20!

-Yes, but if you give me a hundred, I’ll help you get off this roundabout.

Did I mention this was France?

 

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Killing pigs and other stories

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 17, 2012

I live in the countryside. As does my grandfather. I tend to move around quite a lot, travelling to and from town, in and out of the country, using an armada of busses, trains, planes and cars. My grandad is not quite so mobile. So when I am around for a couple of day, I drive him around to visit his friends. Emile, Marius, Hélène, Dauphin… all the people who have known him since the good old days. I love it. I love meeting these people and listening to their stories, sitting in their dark kitchens with cast-iron wood-burning stoves, hand-painted tiles and various other compound adjectives.

These sparsely toothed men and women bring out cake and tiny glasses of red wine or sweet coffee and start lisping stories of days gone by. About being a mischief at catechism and locking up the altar boy in a wardrobe “accidentally”, while fathers were protesting against boring sermons by leaving church halfway through to have a canon of rouge at the bistrot. Striking, some things don’t change. Or a few years later as young adults, cycling 23 kilometres downhill on a summer night to go dancing in Issoire and then drinking too much and having to carry the bicycles back up the mountain, sometimes spending the night on a haystack. Have you ever tried drunk cycling? I have. Thankfully in well lit, reasonably flat streets. And even then I did not get very far before dismounting and pushing the bike in front of me like a walker.

The most interesting topic hat afternoon was certainly 90-year-old Marius’ recollection of the pig-killing season. You see, November was the time of year those things were done. Maybe because that’s when apples are ripe and apples and black pudding are a match made in heaven. The more rational explanation is probably that people would want to stock up the larder before winter. Marius was, and still is, an expert at pork slaughtering. Even non-farming families sometimes fattened a pig, so he showed them how to go about killing it when the time came, and how to make boudin and chops and hams and dried sausage… He also explained when the factory opened, how people started killing their swine only on saturdays so he sometimes would have to “do” three pigs in one day. We were treated to a few details about  blood and guts and unpleasantness, about the thickness of  the layer of fat on the back of certain pigs’ neck and about how everything was kept and used, except perhaps the tail. It may not be very P.C. but in spite of the goriness  and the acrid smell of burning hairs, I would still love to see it done; not because I like the idea of killing animals, but because I don’t think that sort of knowledge should just disappears when Marius dies.

The last story of the day was  that of a man loading a sow in the back of his van. He drove all the way to his house and never noticed that the door was open and the pig had walked of. He got back to his farm and his wife said… something. Marius unfortunately delivered the punchline in patois, the local dialect. My grandad found it hilarious.

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Units, conversions. How big is the Great North Run?

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on September 14, 2012

Now I am no mathematician, figures and numbers always take for ever to register in my mind. So usually in order to comprehend any statistic that gets thrown my way, I bring it back to something I know. Growing up between French and English culture, I have had to do this all my life. 1 mile is 1,6 kilometres. £1 equals approximately ten francs. Or 1,65 euros. Ounces and pounds to grammes, yards to metres,  Fahrenheit to Celcius…

It is the same thing when it comes to demographics. I was raised in a very small village in the middle of nowhere. Growing up, I moved from village to town to city, from school to high school to Uni, moving to ever bigger places, groups and communities. Inevitably, every time you get to a new place, someone will helpfully bombard you with information and tell you how many people live, learn or work there.  Now like I said, numbers are not my forte. I have as much difficulty picturing a population in millions as you would a travel distance in bolts, cubits, furlongs or megalithic yards.

So I bring those figures back to my village-girl level. I have my own special demographics unit: the Chaméane. How many times would my village population have to be duplicated to make as many people. A Fokker airplane would fit most of my disgruntled village neighbours. My high school in Clermont was about 16 Chaméanes. The total number of people working and studying at the University of Regensburg last year was 165 and a bit Chaméanes, you could fit 10 times my village in the biggest lecture theatre.

And in three, no, two days, I’ll be taking part in the Great North Run. 54 to 55 thousand people. Have not tried converting that into Chaméanes yet, but it will be so many I might have to find another, better unit… 2,5 Universität Regensburg? 25 or 26 times my high school? I have seen pictures of the startline, crowd stretching as far as the eye can see.  It will be massive I can’t wait.

PS: I am running for Alzheimer’s SOciety. Sponsor me here

PPS: Great North Run ≈ 3,2 x Chaméane2

Posted in England, France, Great North Run, Life, Sports, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

French girl in a german sauna… the joys of FKK.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 27, 2012

FKK stands for FreiKörperKultur (free body culture…) Any idea what this might entail? No?

So boys and girls, let’s talk about nudity. Because you see, comparative cultural studies are a very fine thing indeed, but quite often restrict themselves to a very narrow range of rather dull subjects (such as education, economics and politics) that often turn out to be of very little use when dealing with “real life”. And so it happened that after thirteen or fourteen lessons about franco-teutonic differences I found myself cluelessly entering a unisex sauna wearing a bathing costume.

Unaware of my crime, I was happily sitting on the top shelf, completely alone in this dark damp hot hole of a room, looking through the tinted window into the corridor and waiting for S. and L. to come in from the men’s changing room so we could discuss badminton. I saw them coming, let out a mental “ooooops”, rolled onto my back and spent the next 30 minutes staring at the ceiling. I was also vaguely very aware three minutes later of three portly, balding middle-aged men coming in to join the fun and sitting themselves around me, blocking all escape routes. It felt very hot in there – but maybe that was just the sauna.


I know that nudity in saunas has less to do with naturism and the FKK than with sanitation and hygiene but the truth remains: Germans are far more willing to get their kit off in public than either the French or certainly the British. I have been scouring the internet for facts to throw at this article and found out that Berlin for example, with its 24 open-air nudist areas listed on http://www.nacktbaden.de is internationally recognised as naturist heaven. Can you imagine Central Park in New York or London’s Hyde Park having a naturist corner? Any person attempting anything like this in another country would surely end up arrested, unless Spencer Tunick were involved. And the Germans don’t restrict themselves to designated areas either, even on “normal” beaches it isn’t really frowned upon to sunbathe in the nude. You might want to draw a line at that though and not try anyone’s patience by running around starkers.

It may seem strange perhaps that residents of Germany, a country stereotypically cast as very strict and severe should so easily strip down to their bare skin. For once I will have to give credit to and agree with my lecturers at Uni. Social barriers in Germany are not as fixed ad they are elsewhere, and if that is probably not the only cause for this exhibitionist streak, at least I think it is not completely irrelevant. There is a very different concept of privacy here, a different way of dealing with public and private matters.

However being myself French and British and therefore uptight and self-conscious (you’ll never catch me condoning stereotypes. Never!), I might give the sauna a miss next time and spend those thirty minutes wondering about highly important universal questions. One example: Why is it that whenever it comes down to nudity, portly balding middle-aged men always seem to be on the front lines?

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Chronicles of a French Bistro, part 2: I am NOT single

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on June 7, 2011

Well ok, I am, but don’t breathe a word of it to all the fat smelly old pervs who sometimes (regularly) come and have a drink in my bar. They do not need to know. If telling them I’m… married can in any way deter them from further flirtation, then that will be my official line.

Let me explain the why and wherefore of today’s rant. My boss, expecting it to be a quiet shift, booked an appointment at the hairdresser’s and left me in charge (I feel so grown up when I say that hihihi). It was very quiet though. I had only served a couple of coffees when two men came in. They were obviously father and son, and quite probably came from the gipsy camp down the road. They had a martini and a glass of white wine. They were sitting at the bar, so what with it being so veeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry very quiet, I couldn’t escape talking to them. So. The son asked me – like many other people do (it’s such a wonderful, imaginative way to start a conversation) – whether I had a boyfriend or not. I’m afraid I confessed to being single, which caused a glint to spark up in the (hairy smelly old) father’s eye. Euuuugh! I immediatly knew I’d made a mistake.

And when the son when out for a fag, the dad started advertising to me the health benefits of having sex on a regular basis, and how nice it can be to do it with random strangers. After all, the luuurve is a part of life is it not? One simply needs to have intercourse every now and again…it’s only natural, isn’t it? Eeeeek! All the while I was trying to –well– get him to shut up, basically, but he had an answer to every thing; when I said my life was fine as it was, and none of his business by the way, he just said that you know, there’s life, and rrrrrrrr sex life. Ooooooooooow, I have already mentioned that I am no fan of text speech, but …*shaky panicky voice* OMG !

I could go on for a while about the specifics of today’s encounter, but I’ll spare you the details. Sufficient to say it made me both want to be safely married, and avoid all contact with males. However I might shift my marital status back to “single” the next time a handsome, well behaved, interesting young man comes through the door, perhaps. We’ll see.

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Chronicles of a French Bistro, part 1: new job

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on June 6, 2011

Well, I am glad to announce the underwater hockey tournament is finally over, and the pool and pertaining sunbathing grounds are once more open to the general public. So I spent a few hours there swimming and preparing my next post: after all, is there anything more agreeable than to lie in the sun complaining on paper in the hopes of attracting some online commiseration.

And it just so happens I have recently found a new source of inspiration: my job. I believe I mentioned in a previous blog just how important it was in the scheme of things that I find a job without delay. I need money to finance my driving licence &c. And also, wouldn’t things be dull if you could do what you want when you want to? (and for those of you not familiar with the concept of irony, please follow this link.)

Anyway, after looking far and wide and not finding anything, in spite of what I thought was a good CV, I finally stumbled upon an announcement in the local jobs-for-young-people centre. I called the number, went to visit the place on the next day, had a try-out a few days later, and a first shift on Saturday night. The job is waitressing : so far so good, I have experience in that. However the context, a small café in a french medieval town centre, is about as far as you can get from the 4star hotels I am used to. I know it sounds slightly pedantic, but there it is. There’ll be some things I’ll miss, but also some I really look forward to. Working as a part of a large team, that I will certainly miss, but the client/waitress dynamic will be completely different, and that is something to look forward to, along with all the necessary associated crispy froggy anecdotes.

It’ll probably take me a little while to get the right balance between detachment and friendliness; I was never very good at the PR stuff. I just hope in the meantime the regulars don’t think I have “a broomstick stuck up my backside”, as the french saying goes. On my very first shift, I was flirted “at” by three different guys with various degrees of drunkenness, age and general desirability. One of them even asked the landlady if he could chat with me (chat me up?) for five minutes while I was doing the dishes. Very sweet.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted if anything entertainingly french happens, in a new series: “Chronicles of a French Bistro”.

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“Tous en cuisine”: converting the french to britishness…

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on June 3, 2011

Well, I was going to go swimming this morning, but it turns out the pool is closed for a major underwater hockey tournament. I am not one for text speech, but my initial (and still current) reaction was simple: WTF. I apologize to all practitioners of this noblest of sports (is it?) but I just wanted a swim, sob. SO I wrote yet another blog about food instead. I do believe in yesterday’s post I mentioned a cooking competition, and promised to say more about it, so here goes:

Have you heard of “Tous en Cuisine avec Alain Ducasse”? If you are an English-speaker, probably not because it’s French, and his year will be the first series. However, I believe it to be pretty much the same as the ITV programme“The Best British Dish”, where amateur cooks compete in front of TV cameras to create a typical “national” dish. In order to apply, you had to send in a recipe inspired by local cuisine, but adapted to your taste and personality, either by using unusual ingredients, or putting them together in an unexpected way.

Like I mentioned in yesterday’s article, I have never been able to keep to recipe instructions. The very first thing my mam taught me to cook was bolognese sauce, and very soon after that, I started adding herbs and chilli to it, much to the despair of my little sister’s over-sensitive tastebuds. I suppose this habit could be a problem if I one day decided to go into gastronomy, where you have to have standards, and recipes have to be the same from one day to the next, but for a competition like this, where you need creativity and inventiveness, it’s just what I need! So anyway, I had to come up with a savoury recipe for four people. Personally I’m more of a dessert-person, but this is what I turned up with, my take on “Potée au choux”: the crumble anglo’vergnat———>

Potée is in my opinion one of the most typical specialities in the Auvergne. Basically, it’s a big old soup: you take salted pork, cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes and turnips and boil them in water for EVER with salt, pepper, garlic, cloves and a bouquet garni. Then as it often happens for this sort of dish, on the first meal you eat the meat and veg, and on the following day, or in the evening, you have the soup with croutons, or more traditionally, poured over bread and cheese.

Like many of these traditional hearty country soups, it can be a bit blobby, and there’s plenty of room for improvement if you want to make it look more fancy and posh. In a bold move I decided to turn it into a crumble and by thus adding a lovely crumbly crunchy topping of rye bread and cheese, both personalize my dish and solve the blobbiness in one fell swoop.

I thought it was bold and inventive, but when I told my french friends about it, I only had to say the words crumble and english for them to start laughing and sneering and saying “what a waste of perfectly good ingredients”. Whoever you are and wherever you come from, you will be aware that british cuisine does not have the best reputation, and nowhere does this prejudice go deeper than in France. As a matter of fact the French are very intolerant to any sort of foreign food or flavours, but the relationship between France and English being what it is, the indigenous on both sides have difficulties seeing past the frogs legs and snails, or the jelly and SPAM. I could go on forever about culinary racism, but this blog is already way too long. My point is, if I do get through to the next round, I’ll carry on putting britishness into my recipes to prove my point to these miscreants!

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