The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Quote… unquote.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on February 6, 2012

There I was reading my book the other day when I saw this:

McLuhan, page 54 of Understanding media: “…as if the central nervous system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous mechanism.”

Did you see it? I saw it. Hurray!  I am an educated woman. The sort who can notice a reference to Shakespeare in a modern text without a literature teacher having to point a chalky finger over her shoulder and leaving a little white mark on the page. It felt so good! I basked for a little while in the glowing warmth of self-satisfaction before realising how pathetic I was. Not only was this a reference to the most famous speech in Shakespeare’s most famous work, but the only reason I knew it is because one day in school I just randomly decided to learn said speech off by heart. Did I do so in order to be a more refined, educated person? No. I wanted to show off. How unscholarly. What’s more, if McLuhan did just happily pepper his book with quotations, Shakespearian or otherwise, he surely hadn’t limited himself to one from Hamlet on page 54. I had spotted one; how many had I missed? It would seem after all I am not the sort of person capable of floating from one text to the next in what the French call transtextualité.

So I wonder: how do the other people do it? You know when you listen to the radio or watch politicians on TV. There they all are, debating away when all of a sudden it happens: one of them says something and pauses. Just a second. The rest nod with knowing glances and smile and you know. You just know you’ve missed out on something. You look around nervously. Did the other people in the room get it? Ears peeled you listen and hear a ripple flowing through the BBC radio 4 audience. Did they really get it? Or are they just trying to sound clever? It could just be some obscure reference but all of a sudden, doubt creeps in: could it have been obvious? Are you the only one who doesn’t know? Often a benevolent chairman will kindly clear things up as subtly as they can: “Mr. N., you were just quoting Voltaire I believe… would you say his opinions on Utopia are still…”. And they always get it right.

But HOW? I mean surely they can’t know ahead of time what their panel might come up with. How can they keep in mind everything every politician has said over the past eight years, and everything every second politician has said during the eight years before that? Not to mention every passage from every significant book and article ever written. Some even manage to fit in a couple of pop culture references in there too, before conjuring up musicians, artists, filmmakers and figures from greek and norse mythology. And this database grows daily; with the media capturing every minute of everything, everyone is given the chance to speak out and have their dose of nonsense filed into the global archive. How do chairmen and women keep up?

Do they have the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and the Oxford Companion to literature digitalized and saved in their brains in zeroes and ones, and maybe a live connection to ever-growing wikipedia, wikiquote, wiktionary etc?

Or maybe I’m just stupid.


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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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How career advice will precipitate you into existentialism.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 28, 2011

Indecision time.

What shall I do? I am now entering the final semester of my degree, and, to be quite honest, I’m terrified. This could be the end of all these years of general expansive studying: soon I will have to specialise. Dread. And simultaneously: excitement. I’m really looking forward to working, to finally putting my years of studying and wandering around Europe to some use, and at the same time I can’t help but worry: Am I good enough to do this? Should I study some more before I definitely enter into this? Have I even picked the right career? Would I really be satisfied with translating other people’s thoughts and words? What about my own thoughts? I have thoughts! (and judging by this blog, I have trouble keeping them to myself).

Strangely enough though, this wave of turmoil hit me only three weeks ago.  Well, it isn’t exactly as if previously I walked serenely through life, full of confidence, never troubled by thoughts about the future. I worry as much as anyone else, and then some. But what really got me started this time was a spoken exam a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty obvious I could do with improving my German (and yes I am talking about language skills, I do not carry a small german person in my pocket). So we concluded maybe I wasn’t ready to apply to that ESIT interpreting school I’ve been dreaming about for ages. And I was really looking forward to that! So that night I cried myself to sleep and the following day I started considering my options.

I could still try out for the ESIT, with English as my first language of tranlation and forget about the German for a while. But wouldn’t it be a shame after spending so many years learning German? Add to the equation the fact that any one person can only apply there twice… I don’t want take any chances. And yet if I don’t try, I can’t really know. On the other hand, I could go to Germany for another year: there’s this bi-national masters degree in cultural and media studies, one year in Regensburg, one year in Clermont. It actually sounds quite interesting, and I’m sure after a year studying in Germany, I should be fine for the ESIT exams. And this way I would also meet a lot of new people, and maybe get some ideas for an alternative career orientation if I am still not good enough for the ESIT…

And then since questions without answers bring on only more questions, I am ow starting to doubt everything: am I really meant to be an interpreter? And this masters degree in Regensburg, is it really a way to improve my german, or is it an escape route: am I running away from growing up? because that’s what the ESIT is, in a way. It’s the end of my being just a student. I’d be an interpreter in training, almost a grown up… I suppose maybe it’s time? Oooooooooh I don’t know… and I went to the careers’ advice office at Uni today, and came out with even more questions!

So I still don’t know what to do with my life.

Decision time?

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Starting afresh: un-New-year’s resolutions for today (yes, again)

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 18, 2011

For those of you who were already aware of my blog’s existence, you may have noticed that this is somewhat of a repeat. For those who hadn’t a clue: well it’s pretty obvious in the title anyway, and I won’t be cross-referencing so you should be fine. The point is, I was having a bit of  a writer’s block today, and lists are always an easy thing. For example, here is a quick list of the things I could talk about today, but won’t: starting karate; changing my plans for the future; the constant litter on our front door; the gardening-inducing weather and the lack of garden on my top-floor flat; holiday plans… etc.

See: easy.

But anyways, revenons à nos moutons. Resolutions: I need to make some and write them down. Publishing them on this blog really helped the last time: exposing your failings to public scrutiny seems to be a good incentive. And also a good means of procrastinating: while I am writing those resolutions down, I am also postponing the fatidic moment when I will start living by them. Today is my making lists day: tomorrow will be the start of my new year. The Chinese, Christian Orthodox, Japanese, Tamil… have their own so why shouldn’t I? From now on, the 19th of January will be the first day of the AmphibianAlice calendar.

Seriously though, I need to make some improvements in the way I lead my life, and you will notice that unlike my previous new year (which started on the 9th of November), the following list includes a lot of habit-type resolutions. Things I will have to do on a regular basis. It just dawned on me during my exams that I simply didn’t work enough. Like my mam says: if I want to do something, I have to give myself the necessary means. This, it would seem involves a lot of studying.  I kinda knew I wasn’t working enough: I was bright-ish at school and never really needed to put in a terrible amount of personal effort into my studies; now’s the time to change that! So here goes:

– Every morning I will arrive at Uni before 9:15 or 8:30 am (having watched German channel arte on the telly) and open up the library where I will work and read german newspapers until my lessons start.

– Every week translate the headline articles of “die Zeit”

– As soon as I get paid, purchase a swimming pool card and go once or twice a week (do it girl, stop talking about it!)

– Always concentrate during trainings, even if/ especially when I am tired or in a bad mood

– Try not to leave my lessons till the very last minute. (try not to leave everything till the very last minute; and that includes administration)

– Either stop obsessing about being single or do it more scientifically and be funny about it, not sour or despondent (I know it may be weird, but I really like that word: despondent)

– Will keep to the strict-ish timetable I will set up tonight (and set myself exercices and everything…): let’s prove all of them wrong, who think all linguists are lazy. I know I am, but I’ll try and fight against it. You watch me…

-actually learn my Russian vocabulary

– Cook more / Eat less

– Of course at the back of my mind there are also the usual : lose weight, cycle more often, smile more, live more healthily, take more photos, be more artistic, etc, etc…

As you may have noticed, most of these have something to do with studying and improving my German. An lecturer let drop after one of my exams that I had really better spend another year in Germany before I even attempt applying to the ESIT translation school in Paris. I had a vague feeling my spoken german wasn’t good enough, but reality catches up with us all in the end. I guess next year’s destination will shift to Regensburg 430 km further away from Paris than I am now, and ever so slightly more to the east… Anyway, the bottom line of it all is that I need to improve: if I do end up in Regensburg in Bayern ( Ratisbon and Bavaria to you and me), I will have to attend proper university courses and lectures entirely in German, and I doubt the lecturers will stop and translate everything for me, so I’d better be up to it. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I’ll let you know if I’m sticking to my resolutions at all or if it’s just been a waste of an hour. I’ll come back to this post in one month and if I’ve kept any of my promises I’ll cross them out.

I think I’m starting to understand my aunt Hilary’s enthusiasm for lists.

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Mark Twain and truancy in the German department…?

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 17, 2011

Well today was the first of a shiny new semester, after two long weeks of exams, and what an impressive kickstart it was! For starters, there were only two lessons all day, adding up to a total of three and a half hours. Some cynics will say that’s because linguists have an easy life, and maybe that’s true: this semester I have four-day-long weekends (but just wait until wednesdays, when I have 7½ hours lessons with a just a 30min lunch break to run and find something to eat, closely followed by three hours training).

That not being my point however, I move swiftly on to discuss a serious attendance issue in my class. Indeed for the first lesson (translation), half the class was missing, then for linguistics, two thirds of the students simply didn’t turn up! So basically not only are we a bunch of lazy sloths, but we also have a serious truancy problem! And yet, you’d think it would be easy getting all three and a half of us together!

Yes, you heard me right: our university is strong of three, sometimes four final year german bachelor students. Obviously taking a literary, linguistic and cultural approach to German is not a very popular choice. There are way more lecturers in the department than there are students and -you may have guessed/calculated it by now- sometimes you end up getting private tuition. A bit of quick maths will tell you I spent two hours today faccing our linguistic teacher alone, while she grilled me. For example, please analyse this sentence:

Olaf steckt die Flöte in die Hosentasche und geht rülpsend und grinsend an der Jette vorbei, hinter der Mutter her, schön an der Hand.

I hope you’re not actually expecting me to analyse this for you now, I just did it in French; no way I’m going through this again especially since I have no idea how stuff like anaphore, ellision, le plan morphosyntaxique translates into English! Have fun analysing this yourselves!

I also learned today that Mark Twain knew German, and that he hated it! I had no idea! Here is something he wrote about parenthesis in a text about “the awful German language” as he calls it:

The Germans have another kind of parenthesis, which they make by splitting a verb in two and putting half of it at the beginning of an exciting chapter and the other half at the end of it. Can any one conceive of anything more confusing than that? These things are called “separable verbs.” The German grammar is blistered all over with separable verbs; and the wider the two portions of one of them are spread apart, the better the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. A favorite one is reiste ab — which means departed. Here is an example which I culled from a novel and reduced to English:

“The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED.”

However, it is not well to dwell too much on the separable verbs. One is sure to lose his temper early; and if he sticks to the subject, and will not be warned, it will at last either soften his brain or petrify it.

And it’s so true…

Anyway, I need to go shopping if I want food when I return from training tonight! TTYL

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Of thieving buggers and broken bones (completely unrelated to one another)

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 2, 2010

I have not been very good recently. As a matter of fact I have not even logged onto since at least friday, and once more dear reader, I have to beg for forgiveness on your part. Events have happened which have kept me busy and bothered and this means keeping a blog has gone down a few entries on my list of priorities.

Now, shall I tell you my (and other people’s) woes chronologically or ranked according to their importance? I think I’ll do the former. Well then,  I have refrained from mentioning it so far, but during the summer I was working in a hotel in Kiel (the name of which I shall not mention for fear of reprisals), working my arse off every day for 9 to 13 hour a day with no breaks whatsoever. And there were some nice people, admittedly, but as ever there were also a few absolute gits. The type that makes you lose faith in mankind. I know: it was hotel work. Deep down I know I can only blame myself. The job was all right, really, but it was just too much of it. I had originally signed up for a 20hrs a week contract, with the possibility of doing a couple of extra hours every now and then. Just during my first week there I did 56 hours. (and yes, that first week was representative of the rest of the summer).

Had I been a work maniac, that would have been ok, but I am not. I am also not interested in pursuing a waitressing career. I just wanted a summer job. But then I thought: never mind. I’ll live through it and come out a stronger,  more grown-up person. What I certainly did not expect was for it to haunt me all the way back to France! The hotel has decided I owed them money. Now I would not mind a bit sending them back some money if there had been a mistake, but it turns out they have been editing my time sheets, adding break-times when I did not have any and therefore robbing me of about 15 or 16 hours. I know in the scheme of things and proportionately to the total number of hours I worked over the summer, but let me say this: the thieving bastards. Anyways, they say they’ll be taking arbeitsrechtliche Schritte if I don’t send them the money… pfff.


lucile playing rugby

And then, and most importantly, my sister had a stupid accident on saturday and is now lyingin a hospital bed, in pain. And when I say stupid accident, I mean reaaaaaly stupid. She fell backwards off a bar stool. That isn’t too bad, I hear you say. But let me tell you the consequences of this fall. Both her wrists are broken and are now full of bits of metal to hold them together. She will be setting off metal detectors all over the place, should she decide to air-travel any time soon. What’s more, her left hand basically popped out of its socket and had to be replaced and now all her ligaments around that area are a mess. She will be wearing casts for at least six weeks.

I suppose she tried to break the fall with her hands, but even though her wrists took a lot of damage, it didn’t really help that much. As she landed the shockthat went through her spine fractured one of her vertebrae (number 12). Although she can still move the lower part of her body, the pain is excruciating. Yesterday she was going through phases: either she was drugged up to the eyes and was sleeping, or she was panting and moaning, repeating the same words over and over again (“it hurts”). And believe me, watching someone you love suffering like that and knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do to make them feel better is unbearable. Just to make it worse, her timing was most unfortunate. Yesterday was a bank holiday and the neurologist thought he/she would have a long weekend break, meaning Lucile has not yet seen a specialist and has had to lay completely still for three-and-a-half days. She has had lots of visitors; half her rugby team has already come to see her and have left a pack of coloured felt-tip pens (there is after all a large surface to scribble over), and Lucile says it helps her not think about the pain for a while, but on the other hand the worried sister in me is afraid she might over-exert herself, or move too much, or so many other things. I love my little sister very much, I hope she feels better soon and that she will manage to bear all this. It won’t be easy, and she will have to put on hold some things which feel like they are essential to her life (like rugby). Well at least she has a good role model: Jonny Wilkinson, god of Rugby and prone to injuries… (very handosme too, I wouldn’t mind him coming to my sister’s hospital room to give her a pep-talk – and I don’t think she would either). The chances of his reading my blog are very slim though. Are they?

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