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)

Posts Tagged ‘journal’

Learning key life skills in Germany

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on May 27, 2014

When navigating your way around a german kitchen, or indeed a german party, one of the most difficult things to find is a bottle opener. Surprising, is it not? When all your instincts, long nurtured clichés, and the physical evidence of empty Pfandflaschen (deposit bottles) piling up on every street corner/table/ledge tell you beer is indeed flowing. So a word of warning: when you, confused tourist in teutonic lands, ask for one, do not be surprised when someone hands you a lighter instead.

You see, a true German can open a beer bottle with just about anything, and not having a bottle opener leaves room in the kitchen drawer for other, more obscurely exotic kitchen essentials: your schnitzel hammer for example or this terrifying and dangerous cousin of the tin opener (you may actually need the schnitzel hammer to work it):

Having become used to this state of affairs, my policy has long been to find the nearest smoking german and ask them to open my beverages. If there are no smokers around, any german person will do the trick, the only condition being that there is in the vicinity an object with an edge. Not too difficult then. Do not judge me for taking the easy way out. Over the three and some years I have lived on this side of the Rhine, I have tried, usually ending up covering myself in beer and ridicule: at best I would manage to slightly bend one tiny bit of the beer cap and give up with a sore knuckle. Worst case scenario so far, I broke a lighter and dropped the bottle which smashed on a rock, spraying everyone with the foamy stuff. Maybe it is simply that my frenchness prevails when it comes to accessing alcoholic drinks. Certainly I may be rubbish at opening beers with an USB sitck, but I am very good at uncorking wine. It was even noticed by my colleagues when I was working in a posh-ish hotel in Kiel. Give me a wine bottle and a corkscrew and sit back and enjoy the show. I won’t need to lean on anything or squeeze the bottle between my thighs, no drop will be spilled, no loud popping noises and would Sir like to try a sip first?Scan0012

 

 

Maybe that was what my friend Jan picked up on last Sunday at the barbecue. Not that I did open any wine there – all screwtops there (BLASPHEMY), but there was a wine bottle lying around and that was what I was told to use, if I wanted to get to my beer. No I won’t open it for you, you need to do it yourself.

I failed miserably the first time around, but the second cap flew a metre or so away with a satisfying pop on my first try. I could have clapped, if I had not been holding a bottle of beer in my left hand and a bottle of wine in my right. Never mind, and hurray! I am now officially one step closer to being German, which considering the french results of the European elections, cannot be such a bad thing, surely.

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Posted in Germany, Life, Uncategorized, Wine | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Stasi, Surrealism and a random hypnotist: Lange Nacht der Museen

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on May 20, 2014

Saturday night was the “Lange Nacht der Museen”, the long night of museums, happening  apparently  in 33 european countries simultaneously. But as I learned today, it all started in Berlin, in 1997. You get a ticket for 18 euros and can get access to most museums in the city till 2am.

Whoever thought of opening museums all night long was a genius. I love museums, so how could I resist? Unlike people who grew up in towns, my school outings were more about nature and traditional craftmanship. Museums were something we visited as a family when we were on holiday abroad, something fun and enjoyable, full of man-made constructs and things that had nothing to do with everyday life. When you enter a museum, you enter a whole new world, with its own rules, where hopefully everything is thought out and serves a special informative purpose.

stasimuseum

The Stasi Museum – not particularly inviting but then again, should you be surprised?

In the real world, things are functional, and you don’t see them until you need them. Perfect examples of this are bins. And typography; you use them, walk past them all the time, put how often do you actually stop and think: now that is well thought out. Everything is supposed to be subdued, serving quietly its purpose without drawing attention to itself. Of course, nowadays there are so many things everywhere, objects have to be noisy and visible so people can notice them if they want them, but even when things cry out to us in vivid colours we just filter everything out which we don’t immediately need. A museum environment is the exact opposite. Things are put on pedestals and inside glass cases and call out for our attention. They were put on pedestals and inside glass cases, they must be important. And you go there to see things. I am never quite so aware as when I am in a museum. It’s a bit intense, a bit tiring, but it’s nice to be in a place where people don’t think you’re weird when you stare at every tiny detail.

First stop on my trip was the Stasi museum, just two U-Bahn stops away from my flat, on the outskirts of town. There’s nothing much else there. Lots of emptiness, old houses being pulled down, their ghost silhouette still hanging on walls, trees and piles of rubble everywhere. Of the great concrete complex that was the headquarters of the secret police in the GDR, only one building is now devoted to the museum. You walk all the way across a great blank courtyard, wondering if you’ve got it right – there was a sign at some point but you’re not sure anymore – and enter Haus N°1. And you step back in time. Seriously, they had to put in some fire doors, but apart from that, nothing has changed much since the seventies. Lots of brown, lots of drab, plastic telephones everywhere, five centimetre thick unmarked doors. It feels like a blend of Kafka, Bradbury and Orwell. Sounds like it too, when you listen to the tour guides: “So THIS entire building was devoted to hinder the social and professional progress of people who were deemed to be against the Party” –  “Everyone had to copy every word that was said, although everyone knew everything was scripted and they would get a printed copy after the meeting” – “No-one knew anything about anything going on outside their own work – or maybe their office, if they had responsibilites” – “There are rooms full of shredded, torn, mulched paperwork; when the wall came down they tried to destroy everything”.

Great museum. Lots of blunt information, unembellished by interactive whatnots: you are allowed to try and reassemble photocopies of torn documents if you fancy, but that’s it.  Good for school groups, if a little dry.

My next stop was the Museum für Kommunikation in the  town centre. It made sense when I organised my trip: after learning about the orwellian GDR, a special exhibit entitled “Out of control: living in a world under surveillance. Brilliant, I like logical connections. Continuity! Well… to a certain degree anyway. After the
straight up information provided in the unnerving quiet of the Stasi museum’s decrepit building with beige lacy curtains, it was strange arriving in the town centre, with its colourfully illuminated glass facades, cars rushing by, and in the midst of it all the museum, shining neon-blue, marble staircases and columns, a DJ and a hypnosis show vying for attention, games, gadgets, a robot hovering in the foyer, and people on sewing machines making personalised mobile phone pouches. There was a lot going on.

Aliceinwonderland rabbit

Down the rabbit hole – Dalí, of course.

The museum itself was… well, fun. There is no other word to describe it. It was obviously designed with a younger, holidaying audience in mind, with games and buttons to press, magnifying glasses and pretty displays. It is very attractive and colourful, and a good way of introduction to communication technologies – actually combining these two specific museums wasn’t necessarily a bad plan, but would have benefited from being swapped around: after the seriousness of Haus N°1, the Museum für Kommunikation seemed a little childish, the information it provided, somewhat incidental. And seriously: a hypnotist?

Finally, I went to see the new permanent Dalí exhibit near Potsdamer Platz. Well, what can I say: it’s Dalí.  “Come into my brain” say the posters: an enticing, if slightly scary prospect. And the exhibit doesn’t disappoint. It’s brilliant and overwhelming and terrifying all at once. N0ne of the artist’s biggest (scale-wise) works are there, but series upon series of lithographies, silk-screens, etchings and, woodcuts, with a couple of photo-collages thrown in. As well as finally seeing some of the classics “for real”, like the series of illustrations of Don Quichote, I really loved discovering his take on Alice in Wonderland, which makes complete sense by the way. Who better than Dalí to show giant smoking catterpillars, rabbit burrows, watches and decapitated card figures?

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Incy wincy spider

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on September 4, 2013

Some people have a monster on their shoulder, skeletons in the closet or a beast on their back. I have a big fat gluttonous spider inside my chest. It moves around with its long, hairy, spiky legs, nestles in my ribcage, somewhere between my heart, lungs, guts, and pulls strings and feeds all day. Its massive appetite carves out hollow spaces inside me, and my organs sometimes feel like they need to bloat out to fill in the gaps, getting entangled into the cobwebs as they stretch and expand.

The first thing that disappeared into the gigantic black hole of my arachnid’s stomach was my sense of perspective, years ago. Since then everything in my life has been either a miracle or a catastrophe, and every time my spider eats a new bit of me, I start blowing everything out of proportion. In my defence, it has got a very big appetite, and like a troubled teenager, when it does start feeding, it does not just eat, it binges. It does not just nibble at my self confidence. If I leave any lying around, it all gets sucked away. Of course it goes both ways, anything can disappear down my large black hairy, leggy pe(s)t’s oesophagus. Like any spider it can prove useful and eats away at all the useless flies. Sometimes it will spot my fears and doubts and anxiousness cluttering around and sucks them in like a vacuum till they’re all gone. These are good days: I feel big and roomy inside; I want to reach out to the stars and swallow the whole world in my embrace. I could breathe in and in and in and never be full.

It never lasts; my hungry spider is not picky with its food, and never satiated. After sucking in all the darkness it then goes for all the bright butterflies of stars and the night air and all my ambitions, gobbles the lot and spins its web tighter around itself so they can’t get back out. No more dark, no brightness, no nothing, just a spider resting and digesting, waiting for me to build up some more emotions for it to gorge upon.

I don’t like spiders much.

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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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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

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Regensburg retrospectives – part 1 : Ahne Brreeeeeze?

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on August 1, 2012

I promised some german reminiscences, so let’s start at the very beginning; when after a 13 hour and 1250 kilometre train journey carrying what felt like my own weight in luggage, I arrived in Munich central station (Hauptbahnhof) to find out my train was delayed indefinitely. Yay!

It was high time for some sustenance so I headed for the bakery stand (miraculously still open at half past ten). My german was a bit rusty after the summer holidays, so I had carefully prepared a sentence (Bretzel finishes with a “-el” diminutive… surely that makes it neuter…?). What is a Bretzel? Google it and find out. It is a type of bread bun I suppose, only not shaped like a bun. It is typically german and covered in salt. Unhealthy enough, but perfect to get into German mood and cheer up. Comfort food incarnate.  So I smiled up at the lady in a striped apron and carefully said in the most polite way I could think of: “Ich hätte gern ein Bretzel, bitte.” (I would like a Bretzel, please.)

She peered at me through my luggage and blurted : Was woin Sie hobn?

Oh dear; what? I could not understand the woman! My German had obviously become a lot worse than I had thought.  But I had noticed somewhat of an inquisitive tone, and – yes! – her eyebrows were raised quizzically. I pointed to the bretzels hanging off a hook on the counter.

Aaaaah! Ahne Brrreeeeeze woin Sie? I once again failed to understand the sentence, but did I spot one word. Brrreeeze / Bretzel… close enough. I nodded hopefully and she handed me one. Yes! I was in possession of my baked goods. However, I was starting to feel somewhat daunted by the prospect of discussing ticket swapping at the information desk.

Because you see, Munich – and indeed Regensburg – are in Bayern (Bavaria). Not just Germany, Bayern. They do things differently there. First of all: they talk funny, but there’s a lot lot more to it than just dialect. They eat bretzels and sauerkraut and strings of sausages, boiled, broiled, grilled, baked, or even cold. And they wash all this down with litres of beer which, by the way,  they produce by the ton. Women wear dirndls that make their boobs pop up and breathing difficult whilst the guys walk around in checkered shirts and knee-length leather breeches with braces (suspenders, if you are american). The very height of fashion.

Does that sound german to you? Probably. Because you see, that german stereotype that goes around is not exactly relevant to most of Germany. It is like picturing all british people wearing kilts and washing down copious amounts of haggis with hearty swigs of whiskey all day to the sound of bagpipes playing Auld lang Syne. Like the Scots, the Bavarians are quite proud of their local heritage and often call the rest of Germany and indeed, the rest of the world : “Saubreissen” (Prussian swines). You don’t want to start mixing the two.

My mind had been purged of sausage-eating, leather-pant clad stereotypes after spending a year in the North of Germany where I had been fed slimy fish as a local delicacy and not seen a single dirndl in twelve months, so it was a surprise arriving in Regensburg to find out I had to make readjustments. I had effectively arrived the land of stereotypes everyone had told me about. I cannot wait to tell you more about it!

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Granny recipes against alzheimer.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on March 2, 2012

My old friend insomnia is back! It is now half past five in the morning and I have been staring at this very uninteresting ceiling for the past seven hours. Silent sleep has deserted me and in its place, ideas and thoughts bouncing off the walls like pin balls and hitting me regularly with a loud clanging ping sound. How am I supposed to sleep with all that racket? I try counting enough sheep to muffle up the noise but some ideas just ram through (he he) and get me anyway. Most of them are useless (doing push ups until it tires me out –  I don’t think so) so I send them back on their merry way until the next time they fly by. Other ideas I keep and let roll about in my head for a while until I can make sense of them. One of those tonight has turned out to be a gem.

Because you see, I have got a charity place in the Great North Run. It is now official: on the 16th of September I will be running 13 miles wearing an Alzheimer’s Society T-shirt and that not only involves some training and running shoes, but also a fair amount of fundraising (a minimum of £375 to be exact). I was mulling this over when a series of notions zoomed my way:

ߛ The solution to most of life’s challenges is cake ===> ie: bake sale.

ߛ Fact: grannies make the best cakes. There always used to be a tart, clafoutis or cake on my Grandma’s kitchen table in the good old days when she could still tell the difference between lemon and washing liquid. It was systematically a little burnt around the edges but no one cared, it tasted delish.

 ߛ I have been meaning to meet little german grannies ever since I got here. One of the point of coming to Germany was to meet the locals, and grandmas have been around for a while, they should have a lot to tell. I also of course always intended to ask them about their favourite typical recipes ; food tends to be a good starting point for any conversation.

ߛ My very good friend Steph mentioned something about old people’s homes…

PING

I have already drawn up a list of old people’s homes to get in touch with to see if I could come in and chat with the residents about cake. The security levels surrounding grannies’ kitchen secrets are normally extremely high, but with a bit of luck I might be able to coax out one or two recipes, round up a couple of friends and organise a bake sale at university. I like the idea of getting grandmas involved. It’s such a shame I did not get to know mine better before Alzheimer’s disease caught up with her. Hopefully this whole thing might also encourage other people to get in touch with their grans and get them baking…(and send me the recipes?)

However before I call all these people it would probably be a good thing to get some sleep. Night-o.

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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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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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