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 ‘random’

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 »

A year ago today: Getting to Berlin

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on March 24, 2014

p to b

Ok my Eiffel Tower looks more like that of Blackpool… but you get the gist.

It is a year today since I first set off on my Berlin venture, and to mark the occasion, I decided to get started on this long promised blow by blow account of what has happened since then (I also resigned from my job as a waitress – the 24th of March is a good day for a fresh start). So here goes.

I set off for Berlin on a premeditated whim. I had been mulling things over for a while and the absence of any culture-related internship in my 140-strong village seemed a good indication that I should be looking elsewhere. London kept sending me rejection emails and Berlin seemed appealingly alternative so I found a flatshare on the internet, booked a night-time carpooling to from Paris to the German  capital and hopped onto a train with as much luggage as I could carry. The deal was: I had two months to set myself up, find a job and an internship, or  I would have to go home.

The trip to Paris was more or less uneventful. The SNCF train was punctual apart from a smelly Yorkshire terrier in a basket which didn’t seem to be enjoying the trip. The carshare was allright too, at first. It was a big old Renault van, which meant a lot of leg room and luggage space. One by one, the other passengers arrived and started piling their stuff into the boot. Travelling me with me were five people and a dog. That worried me a little at first; having spent the previous 4 hours in the same cart as a barking vomiting hairy fiend had somewhat reduced my affection for the canine species. This apprehension was soon replaced by another however, as the driver started handing out blankets, two each. It’s quite an old vehicle, and it gets draughty, especially at night – he said. I remembered the weather forecast for that day: although spring had finally come to France and daffodils were popping up everywhere, the temperature in Berlin had been stuck at minus 10 Celcius for the past week or so. The next few hours promised to be interesting.

And indeed, after the first two hours of an elated “I’m-setting-off-on-an-adventure-hi-Im-Alice-where-are-you-from-what-do.you-study?” giddiness, I spent most of the trip looking down at the road rushing by through a gap between the door and the floor of  the van. The driver hadn’t lied, it was draughty. It didn’t seem to disturb my fellow passengers though, who slept throughout, only waking when we stopped for cigarette breaks on the way. The dog was very good too, and nowhere near as loud as the one on the train, or as the snoring of its master.

The journey lasted 12 long hours and we were dropped off in icy Tempelhof, which meant I had to travel all the way across town to meet my new and very intriguing flatmate (but he deserves a post all to himself)

Anyway. I survived a year in Berlin!

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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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Exaggeramazing

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on October 5, 2012

Looking elegant at the finish line.

Am I simply a moaner, do I always have to be ill in some way to find something to write? I hope not. It is just a coincidence I tell you. Or, well, maybe it also has to do with bedrest boredom. Anyway, my annual bout of bad cough has arrived, so: time to write! And since I am stuck at home and cannot currently do physical exercice, I will just have to write about it. And it occurs to me I still have not had the time to tell you about the Great North Run

It was, to use my lately discovered new adjective, amazeballs. I could also use stupendous, overwhelming, flabbergasting… but I like to use new words for new experiences, and I had a very emphatic and verbose teacher at school. Mind you, a typing glitch has just handily created exaggeramazing. That works.

And it was, it really was.  Even at mile 11 when I got a jelly-baby induced stitch. People were shouting at me to carry on. “Go Chef, nearly there!” And then the Red arrows to greet us as we all ran down lizard lane. Finding out I could hobble just that little bit faster than poor brave amazeballs Tony the Fridge could run with all these people talking to him (check him out). Ice pops and orange slices and even a beer stand. All the multicoloured charity T-shirts, wigs, baloons and yes, Oompa-Loompa costumes. A banana flying overhead and nearly hitting a passer by on the Tyne bridge. So many little big things adding up to bigger big things adding up to my oddly mathematical GNR.

And also, because I will never be able to say it enough, thanks to all the amazing people who helped me raise more than £650 for Alzheimer’s Society. It really means so much to me and to Chef, although she doesn’t really know it.

I cannot wait to do it again! But in the meantime, cows and pigs and tractors and lots and lots of farmers to look forward to.

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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 »

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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Regensburg retrospectives

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on July 29, 2012

I am told the word “so” should never be used to start off a sentence, let alone an entire text. Having reached this point however I think it has the right feel and conclusiveness. Sticklers will just have to get over it.

So. My stay in Regensburg has finally reached its conclusion, although my brain is still having difficulties registering it. I know my writing habits have been less than satisfactory lately but I will not apologise. It was perfectly justified: I was far too busy rocking the student life in what was ultimately one of the best years of my existence. Certainly, it has been a bumpy ride, with soaring, glorious ups and grey mopey downs, and I have much to tell. And when I say much, I mean much much more than you think. Mad, random adventures, administrative challenges and casual observations of teutonic idiosyncracies. And I have more than half a mind to tell you all about it. It will help me organise my thoughts and stories before Christmas comes with the roast ham, Christmas pudding and compulsory tales and anecdotes.

In the meantime: Regensburg, I miss you already.

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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.

Posted in Family, Food, Germany, Great North Run, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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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