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 ‘lifestyle’

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.


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

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!

Posted in Germany, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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 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?

Posted in France, Germany, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Lovely Mousse au Chocolat

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on June 9, 2011

A couple of days ago, or maybe it was last week, somewhen I wrote an article about cooking, and included quite a few photos of what my friend Jan calls food-porn. Don’t worry, nothing X-rated, just the kind of photos that make you drool, head for the fridge, and then hang your head in disappointment because there isn’t in there anything quite so good looking… aaaaand you have to prepare something and wait until it is cooked, baked, cooled, set, ready to eat. Anyway amongst these photos, said Jan noticed a picture of chocolate mousse and asked for the recipe, so here goes:

I found this (or at least the basic concept of it) in a book quite simply called “130 recettes au chocolat”. To whom it may concern, this book was published in 1986, so we’re not dealing with modern cuisine; it’s good old traditional stuff, full of sugarrrrrrrrrr and creeeeeeeeeam and CHOCOLATE! Perfect chocolatey perfection in a wine glass.

For four people: 25cl double cream; 100g milk chocolate + 25g cocoa powder (the original recipe asks for 125g of ordinary chocolate, but I think it tastes better my way, HA!); 5–10cl milk; 4 egg whites; 200g sugar; a little water.

1. Whip the cream until stiff and leave in the fridge.

2. Gently melt the chocolate over a low heat with the cocoa powder. When smooth, add a bit of milk to make a thick chocolate sauce and leave to cool

3. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Heat the sugar and water together in a pan. In the unlikely event that you have a sugar thermometer boil until the sugar reaches 118 degrees, or count 13 seconds after the sugar starts to boil. Then slowly pour into the egg whites while beating continuously until the mixture cools down.

4. Gently fold the chocolate sauce and half the cream into the egg mix.

5. Pour the preparation into 4 wineglasses and leave to set in the refrigerator for a few hours. Decorate with the remainder of the cream ( you may notice on the pictures that I ran out) and some chocolate sauce, or chocolate flakes

Posted in Food | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Sports: as fit as a cello

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on May 24, 2011

I am lazy: those of you who know me personally will be keenly aware of this, and the rest should catch on pretty quickly. One of my favourite things in the world is going to bed to sleep, or staying IN bed in the morning, just lying there knowing you could get up, but deciding to stay there “just five more minutes”. And up until very recently most of my other favourite things were food related, with one notable exception: reading. None of these passtimes can really be described as physically challenging, unless you count climbing over rocks and into trees in order to find the best reading spots.

As a matter of fact, I hated sports and exercising in general, I couldn’t stand it and I couldn’t see the point of it. Admittedly when I was in school I was a bit of a lump, to the point that running was just a long wobbly ordeal, and the tought of me jumping high or low was a joke. Being a lump also meant I was very very aware of the way I looked (not in a good way), and I didn’t want the aggravation of being viscid and smelly. It just so happened unfortunately that my PE teacher at the time was very fond of running, or rather: making us poor pupils run, while he bounced pebbles off a wall. I grew (or rather did not but stayed short and chubby) to hate the track around which we ran and ran. It was a relief when I changed schools and got to try out new varieties of physical exertion, but alas, hopeless: it was ruled out I had no aptitude for table tennis and someone dropped me while lowering me down from a climbing wall.

I am glad to say though, this sad state of affairs is now happily over. Two years ago I started learning karate, and it’s brilliant! I’m won’t write a whole tribute to karate right now, but sufficient to say it’s reconciled me with sports. Now if I don’t exercise, I end up feeling restless and a bit guilty. It’s just become something to enjoy alongside cooking and sleeping and reading. I actually enjoy those things more now I know I won’t turn back into a lump even if I indulge in a couple of patisseries or spend an extra five minutes (to an hour) asleep.

OK, perhaps I’m not exactly as fit as a fiddle, I’ll never be a major athlete, and I know even the local newspaper’s sports supplement won’t come knocking at my door for an interview any time soon, but I certainly intend to continue karate and to take up running more seriously. My mam bought me a pair of running shoes on friday (the highlight of my weekend), and someday in the far distant future, maybe I could do the Great North Run. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

In the meantime, at least the sticky horrid wobbliness has mostly gone. As I was making my way back from training yesterday, some guys drove by and whistled and whooped at me. I know my feminist side should be horrified and outraged at that blatant lack of respect for me as a woman, but I can’t say I didn’t smile a little.

Anyway: pancakes tonight!

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