Post-Christmas dichotomy

A good thing about spending Christmas in the UK is that you benefit from an additional day off to recover from the stuffed turkey that tries to test the resistance of your belt. You don't have to pretend to have flue to cope with your dramatic hang-over. No. You are officially entitled to stay at home... And you'd better.

Boxing day or recovering day?

But we, daring French fellows, decided to face conventions... We left our flat to walk around London, and size the opportunity to discover the town which has been hosting us for a semester now. And what an experience this was. Now that the public transportation was back on, we headed up for Central London and more precisely for the City. The place were a handful of lucky cocaine-addicted brokers would share this year a nice and decent multi-billion bonus.

People say "money has no odour", we wanted to smell it by ourselves.

However we were not ready to face the post-apocalyptic experience we were about to live. Empty streets. Closed shops. Dark franchises. Switched-off signs. Not even cars were pacing through the streets. The only living soul we encountered was a fallen-asleep surveillance guy, apparently still struggling with the Christmas pudding slice he should not have had the night before.

This London district which is probably the most hectic on a regular Tuesday, was completely dead. Where were the traders? The brokers? The PA? The journalists? We could not fathom that such a buoyant city could suddenly be emptied overnight. And we were proven right.

Boxing day or surfing day?

Disappointed by boring City, we decided to go West. If the business district had nothing to offer, maybe the shopping streets would. Oxford Street here we come. And what a contrast!

The bus made a left at a corner, and the empty street we were in turned into a human wave. Millions of passers-by, shoulder on shoulder, trying to make their way on the two pavements. From the upper-deck of our bus, we had the feeling to surf on a sea of hats, scarves, steam and hair. It was as if the entire London population had decided to concentrate on a few square-kilometers...

We finally had our vivid image of Boxing Day. Every year French TV reports people rushing at dawn to grab price-cut goods from the British Department Stores shelves. And here they were. Interesting, but also quite repealing in a sense. In spite of the call for good deals, we were taken aback by the perspective to join this human flow. Everyone was queueing for some reason: to get in, to get out, to be able to queue...

Even at the bakery! It seems that on this specific day, not only the finance guys can make good dow...


Quote of the day

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. "
Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

Apologies if sometimes my English vocabulary is not rich enough to shed sufficient light on all these enlightening experiences... I try my best.

Best of two worlds

Recently my posts have been focusing quite a lot on food and advertising. This is probably because of the festive season: there is a lot of pressure on both my belt and my wallet. Anyway, here is a TV ad that unites my two current obsessions... And since there is a subtle hint of cultural differences too, I could not let it go.

Funny, this ad reminded me a strategic planner I used to work with, who was always challenging his ideas with an English quote: "Where's the beef". Well this time, I bet he would ask where the car is...


Number 118... BINGO!

Think Glocal.

One of the most common questions I am asked when I lecture at the University is: "What are the key factors of success of an international advertising campaign?". My answer is straight-forward: a creative idea is excellent when it can be consistently deployed globally while remaining sufficiently flexible to be adapted locally.

This could sound like a non-answer, but here is a great example of what I mean.

The Number is a brand which has been able to deliver the unique brand positioning (the non-sense) in very different markets, with consistent communication patterns but with a brilliant flair for local humour. A tricky performance.

Pick your own number.

In the UK, fatherland of advertising and trash press, the brand icons spoofed gossip newspapers with a micro-website and famous TV ads such as this Honda commercial:

In France, a brilliant teaser campaign announced the arrival of a new phenomenon in Paris following an intriguing tour across the country most "exciting" villages. Two guys, dressed up in flashy tights, were dancing on the market places on the rhythms of a fitness TV program soundtrack from the 80s (at that time hosted by two iconic girls: Véronique & Davina). Big fun about once famous celebrities who are trying by all means to come back in the spotlight thanks to reality-shows.

In winter, the two brand icons came up with a new kind of winter sport, the skirf, making fun this time of the French habit for adopting so-called "fun" sport activities:

Finally, in Switzerland, where the brand has been launched recently, The Number decided to make fun of national pride, competition skiing:

The outcome of such an approach is the feeling that the brand is local. The communication resonates with the customer personal references, and benefits are immediate. the brand recognition and top of mind are rocketing which is key in the case of a product launch; online films are viraled to a great extent hence gearing up communication budgets; people spoof the ads (just have a quick pick at YouTube when you enter "118218", the official productions are quickly outnumbered by the private videos)...
In other words, the brand is adopted by the local culture, and its origins are blurred.


Subtle differences among English speaking nations

While surfing the Internet, I found this very insightful description of the various nationalities to be found on the British soil... So true that I cannot resist to sharing it! Enjoy:

Aussies: Dislike being mistaken for Pommies (Brits) when abroad.
Canadians: Are rather indignant about being mistaken for Americans when abroad.
Americans: Encourage being mistaken for Canadians when abroad.
Brits: Can't possibly be mistaken for anyone else when abroad.

Aussies: Believe you should look out for your mates.
Brits: Believe that you should look out for those people who belong to your club.
Americans: Believe that people should look out for & take care of themselves.
Canadians: Believe that that's the government's job.

Aussies: Are extremely patriotic to their beer.
Americans: Are flag-waving, anthem-singing, and obsessively patriotic to the point of blindness.
Canadians: Can't agree on the words to their anthem, when they can be bothered to sing them.
Brits: Do not sing at all but prefer a large brass band to perform the anthem

More to be read here.

Live to eat, or eat to live.

A true Foodball fan.

If you are a frequent reader of this blog you might think that I have a one-track mind. We have an idiom for people whose main interest is food. We call them "un estomac sur pattes" (A stomach on feet). Their anatomy is in a sense reduced to its quintessence...

So you might call me so, but I have been willing to write this post for quite a while now. In fact, since I started working in this country. The reason of such a determination? A simple line in my contract stating that I would benefit from a 30 minute lunch break every day... But honestly, is eating a sandwich in front of your computer "a break", and even more "a lunch"?

French are said to overspend hours enjoying their meal with a bottle of red wine. And this caricature has probably some legitimacy. However, I am not one of those. On the contrary, I would probably compete for a place in the fast-track eater national team, should it exist. But still, the time I allocate to this subsistence need is valued. It might be short, but it is intense.

On the other hand, when my colleagues swallow beans on toast, jacket potato with beans or even beans à la beans... I am circumspect. They seem to be driven by a constant rush with no regard to the quality of what is ingested. Lunch is obviously considered from a physiological perspective, and a sandwich or a tin of bean as a convenience... There is no time to waste at appreciating the nutriments that are thrown in your throat, that is simply not the point.

Very Fast food.

But this goes beyond time saving. It reaches deeper considerations than simply "business first"... It is a major cultural difference. While Brits approach food as a mean to fulfill natural needs, we entitle it with more spiritual a value.

Let's take a real-life example: I invited some friends at home and cooked them a dinner. Same menu, different audiences. The reaction of the guests strongly differed depending on the cultural background. Most of locals would indeed welcome the food with fork and knife in hands, ready to tuck in. Eventually, if delighted, they will compliment the chef for the tasty meal. Eat first, appreciate then.

My compatriots tend to welcome the first dishes with its lot of congratulations and of impressed nods, especially if some efforts have been done to set the plate nicely... It is part of an unsaid protocol. More precisely a ritual with its codes. It aims at recognising the efforts of the host, even before having even gulp the first bite. There is probably a great dose of conventions (and hypocrisy) behind this, but still. Good or bad, there is a profound respect for the food, its preparation, its dressing and the moment implied by its tasting. The table is some kind of an altar to the god of food.

This later image is fully pondered. There is actually a quasi-religious relationship towards food. This T-Shirt is quite relevant in that sense (and can be bought here). Tartiflette is indeed a traditional dish from the French Alps... and is absolutely divine! Rich, but divine.

But back to the symbol. If Canadian sew their flag on their backpack, we prefer to refer to our food as an evidence of our origins. Food unite us all. I encourage the British readers of this post who have the "chance" to welcome several French elements in their company to study their behaviour at lunch time. You should see them like pilgrims heading in groups to their holy restaurant. They will call Christelle from finance, wait for Jean from logistics, investigate about Julien... But in no case one will be left behind.

And if one of them turns up at the next door sandwich store, on his own, you can be sure that he is an heretic. He must have been tempted by the dark side of this country, and tried
Marmite. They call it integration... And frankly, sometimes it's frightening!


The bank of difference

Advertising the difference.

I have already written, and hopefully demonstrated, that cultural disparities are creative superhighways that advertising agencies exploit to engage their audience. They basically emphasize the difference to create a difference.

The purpose of advertising is indeed to think beyond conventions, "out of the box". By tapping into other civilisation "boxes", they create the expected rupture. And trigger the expected effect: usually empathy, a smile, or even a good laughter.

This is a typical human reflex against alien elements. When the unknown disrupts your classical scheme of beliefs, your habits, etc. you tend to create a distance to protect the constitutive bricks of your self. A laughter (or a Parisian shrug) are simply physical expressions of a tension that one tends to dedramatize...

Cultural anxiety at the counter

HSBC has decided to capitalise on this phenomenon and to turn it into a brand positioning: the global bank which remains local.

Beyond the demonstration of my first point, these films literally reinforce my point on the fear of the unknown. They indeed sell the Bank understanding of local business/cultures in a very negative approach. Both executions deliver anxiogene visions of the other culture, and depict a lost customer gasping for air (and help). "If you don't know, we do. Trust us".

Personally I perceive this communication as eventually funny, but definitely peremptory. However, to be totally honest, it matches the attitude of the bank towards its prospects and customers. Ever entered an HSBC branch, let say on the Champs Elysees? That is a cultural experience, because we do not seem to live in the same world.


Liberté, égalité... FRATERNITY

Hug the world.

Usually, this blog tends to pinpoint at differences, to emphasise cultural disparities… but sometimes it is simply refreshing to salute also fraternal initiatives. “Some hints of tenderness in a world of brutality” as some advertiser wrote one day. I am even considering contributing personally to this Hugging movement. I just cannot wait for that upcoming photo-shooting with these famous top-models.

But beyond the pale joke, it is in fact quite an inspiring film. In an age of social disconnectivity, the effects depicted in this video are very representative of our society. People artificially create a distance to protect themselves against the toughness of their surrounding. In other words, they demonstrate a neutral or even negative behaviour as a response to a morally/socially aggressive environment. Nevertheless, they intrinsically remain good and are just hoping for opportunities to demonstrate their inner feelings.

Sympathetic birds

I had the chance to meet Dr. Xavier Emmanuelli, founder of Médecins Sans Frontières and SAMUsocial. During our conversation he depicted a similar phenomenon. Trolling down the streets of Paris he came across an inanimate homeless man who was completely ignored by passers-by. As if invisible on his pavement. The doctor had to stop to check the fellow up. And amazing enough, his reflex worked as a catalyst. People started to stop and offer their help, even suggesting to call... a doctor! A bubble of humanity was inflating around the body, until he woke up from his alcoholic sleep, grumbling. A sudden burst of aggressivity, and a survival reflex seized the crowd who immediately returned to its self-centred walk. Afraid like birds would be of a barking dog.

In a sense this is an evidence that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was right when he asserted that human beings were naturally good, but were corrupted by the society. Suddenly this hugging film is no longer an amusing, cute little video. It becomes a philosophical, humanist action we should pay tribute to. So Bravo.

And for once, I won't finish this post on a light tone, but with a reminder in the form of a TV commercial on which I worked. If a hug is sometimes too much, or too hard, remember that a smile is already a mark of consideration. An acknowledgment that the person facing you exists. And this means a lot for someone who doesn't have anything but his dignity left.

Strapline: Nobody is tough enough to live in the street.


Advent Calend'runk

If this is not a cultural difference, I don't know what is... Oh, and merry Christmas!


France 24, a different view on the news.

In the UK, this Sunday, thousands of people will buy their newspaper and read through the articles while sipping their tea. A cliche? Probably, but what is the cliche of France news consumption? A low-quality red wine glass, in a crowed and smoky cafe, discussing the Saturday night performance of the local football team...

Well, things are changing. These two TV commercials from creative hotshop Marcel announce the long expected French News channel,
France 24. A CNN with a French flair.

It will be interesting to see how the news will be treated, and how the cultural disparities will influence it. But on the other hand, will people care about what French-speaking people think of? Do we still have a word to say in a world dominated by a language (
English), a raising people (China), a controversial light-attracting civilisation (Muslims), etc.?

I am convinced that this channel has a role to play, as a counter-power to the above-mentioned television arms: CNN, Al Jazeera... And in the worst case, should no audience pay attention to what France24 has to say, they will always be able to reposition themselves as a channel airing Wine and Football reviews. They will have 60 million fans, or so. Cheers.


French letters from my windmill

Best Enemies. Worst Friends.

It is no secrecy that both sides of the Channel have for long developed an ambiguous relationship. "Entente Cordiale" came after years of tensions, be it on battlefields, rugby-fields, European politics fields... It is therefore amazing to see how this "Je t'aime, moi non plus" relationship (I love you, neither do I), has influenced both languages.

Shame on you.

If you have a close look at expressions using the word English in French, and vice versa, you realise that they tend to embed negative connotation, or even refer to shameful behaviours. For instance:
- "Excuse my French": French being used to refer to gross language
- "Filer a l'anglaise" (sneaking out the English way): cowardly fleeing
- etc.

Obviously, if you have to blame something or someone, you prefer to refer to your worst reference: your closest enemy.
An amazing point is that the word "Condoms", which has long been a shameful item in the modern societies, had once been nicknamed respectively "French Letters" in England and "Capotes Anglaises" (English Decks) in France...

Put it on.

But, mindsets evolve. I don't know if we should be thankful to Entente Cordiale or, more realistically, to some sexual and moral evolutions, but the later expressions tend now to be outdated. For years they were synonyms of fear. Nowadays condoms have made their way to the bright side of life. They are no longer shameful, they are even playful.
It is indeed interesting that almost at the same time, on both sides of the Channel, English and French marketers have launched communication campaigns to promote condom brands.

In the UK, Durex is on the front page of all Marketing magazines with its "expected" and controversial TVC to be aired on December 1st. Here is what Campaign announces in its recent online edition:
Durex will become the first brand to advertise a sex toy on terrestrial TV when it launches an ad for a vibrating penis ring on 1 December.The 30-second ad, which can be broadcast only after 11pm following a ruling by the BACC, features a couple sitting in a restaurant. The woman is handed a ring box across the table, which she opens to find the Durex Play Vibrations inside. She immediately accepts her partner's proposal. The end shot shows Durex's entire sexual-enhancement range under the 'Durex Play' banner. The ad will be shown on Channel 4 and Five, as well as on satellite. A spokeswoman said Durex is lobbying the BACC, as it believes the 11pm restriction for the ad is too severe. The firm has sold 400,000 Durex Play Vibrations since its launch in July 2005. Creative agency: McCann Erickson Barcelona Media agency: Universal McCann Manchester.
In France, Manix is in the limelight. For the French speaking readers of this post, I strongly recommend this brilliant review by parcequemoiaussi . For the other, here is a quick digest of what to expect. First a a one-shot apocalyptic TVC: 90 seconds, 68 actors, 217 condoms and a single TV airing (November 26, 11pm on national channels). This film announcing the end of the world will be then viewable in cinemas in December. The strapline? "Are you ready for so much pleasure?"

But there is more to come... The micro website delivers the same consumer benefit in hilarious way. Amongst other, tips to really get it right (get rid of the kids, send the dog in pension...), a statistics on the cost of a child, a photo competition of sexually explicit objects...

Condom brands are even turning into real brand device with brand values, etc. They were cornered in a niche market? They have decided to expand beyond the simple rubber. Sex toys are already out. What next? Hand-cuffs? Soft wipe-outs? After all who better than condom brands can exploit what marketers call brand... stretching!

In the bike of my mind

Literally. Crazy.

Another French expression found its literal embodiment recently. To depict someone insane, French people sometimes use the idiom: "Avoir un petit velo dans la tete" (Having a little bicycle in the head).

This French guy has decided to take it personally. And literally.

A few months ago, he quited his job as a Regional Sales Manager for a Food & Beverage multinational, and decided to ride his bicycle from Paris to Jerusalem. He confesses this is no pilgrimage, just an opportunity to go through a personal introspection while getting across a great number of countries and populations along the road.

He has indeed decided to follow the Northern Mediterranean seashores. Around 10 countries, 15,000 km, 6 months, a bike, a tent, few clothes and a great amount of courage. His objective is to fully grasp the daily life of the different populations. He will therefore avoid hotels and try as much as possible to be hosted by locals...

So if you read these lines, and could give him some help: do not hesitate... All the best to him.


Mobile esperanto

Mobile phones replaced watches, calculators, alarm clocks, agenda, digital camera, radio, mp3 players... They have even become the traveller best friends by becoming a great thesaurus. They are now so universal that they not only pull down the technological boundaries, they reduce the cultural gaps.

What if they were the embodiment of the Adamic language, once lost when Human Beings tried to complete the Babel Tower? If you have a look at the penetration of mobile phones among builders, you are probably on the verge to validate this assertion...


Spike your monkey

A few weeks ago, I realised that Mark&Spencer was a lot hornier than I had ever thought when I discovered they were selling chocolate penis to our children.

This time my bewilderment came from Tesco.

Trolling down the fruit and vegetable aisle, my eyes got caught by these amazing bananas. Call it a vicious mind, maybe, but where is the fun in bananas? The graphic on the label tends to suggest some kind of a deviant usage: ride the banana is to enjoy them...

And remember, this is part of the five-a-day diet. After all, if you don't have a boyfriend, thanks to Tesco, every little helps!


Lost time is never found again

If you have travelled around, you must have realised that Time is a cultural-sensitive concept that evolves depending on the country you are. On the one hand, an appointment at 5 pm is meant to start at 5 o’clock sharp in Germany, while on the other hand in France, it would start between 5 and 5:15, allowing a "quart d'heure de courtoisie" (a courtesy quarter, during which you are considered on time). What about a drink tonight? An English person might come up to the bar at 7 pm, while his Spanish counterpart would pop up after 10, since “la noche” only starts then…

Faster, quicker, swifter.

So, when you land on the British soil, and to a greater extend in London, you are forced to acknowledge a time-scale different from other places. I have already mentioned the perception of Time as a valued asset in a previous post, but there is more to be said beyond its commercial relation. In this country, time is not only valuable, it is shorter. According to me, a “fast-paced city” is a synonym for London. Although most of the Capital cities would claim this description, it is truer in London than anywhere else. Not because of its nightlife, nor for the speed of its public transportation or its hectic business activity… but because of the local intrinsic approach of Time.

To explicit this, just ask a Brit what is a long term commitment?

A shorter long term.

I settled in London a few months ago, and went through the tiring, though enriching, flat-hunting process. I was then surprised by my colleague reaction when I proudly informed them that I had signed my two-year lease. It was as if I had committed to an everlasting pact with the devil (who, all Londoner knows, does not wear Prada, but drives stickered Minis). Most of them would have rather opted for a six-month contract instead, which is a standard contract length here.

While in France we are used to three-year lease contract to protect the tenant against uncertainty and inflation, on this side of the Channel, 6 months are already long. 12, an eternity. Protection does not matter as much, Brits need to feel free to change, and a contract appears to be a burden that endangers their freedom. They don’t mind to see their rent increase at each contract renewal. Freedom has a price.

What if ultimately I did not like the flat? Or my neighbours? What if my job implied to be relocated in a further borough? Another evidence of this fast-pace life is indeed the job market.

My current position implies to have in hands resumes, and I must confess I was puzzled by the careers which were lying in front of my foreigner eyes. 3 months in this agency, 7 months as a freelancer, 6 months in this international company, and so on. Where I reluctantly saw instability, my English colleagues were witnessing normality. The job market is indeed faster. Or flexible, as they say. Resigning, applying, recruiting, being fired… everything happens rapidly, and seems to ideally compensate. Liberals love that. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand must have worn a rushing watch!

Seize the day.

I am not personally convinced whether the advantages outnumber the drawbacks, or vice versa. I still want to allow me the time to experience it by myself. Nevertheless, I am sure that the truth lays in the Classics:

"Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus" (Time meanwhile flies, never to return), Virgil.

So let’s enjoy the little time we have, speed up the worse part, to focus on the better.


So British

For me this is the perfect example of English humor: non-sense, understatement... All the ingredients for a good laugh.

Yogurt singing...


We have an idiom in French that could translate in "yogourt singing". It refers to a person who does not know a song and simply produces gutural sounds or associates sound-alike English words to pretend he masters the lyrics. Obviously meaningless. Nevertheless, some singers in the 60s fooled their non-litterate audiences and made their way doing so. Just pretend.

Well, this classical TV commercial is to remind us that it is often worth knowing what we sing. Unless you like to be covered in yogourt (sorry for this bad taste conclusion).


French est mon Droit

(inter)national anthem

What is more national than a national Anthem? It is supposed to unify a nation behind shared values, to cheer every individual, to play the patriotic cord...

Well, I have just read an interesting bit of History which led me to reconsider the above. As a matter of fact, the British Anthem, «
God save the King (or Queen) », would be French! It would have been composed by Lully while the lyrics would be by Madame de Brinon. A collaboration which aimed at boosting the moral of a recovering Louis XIV, in a post-op down mood back in 1686. Seduced by the tune during his stay in Versailles, the German composer Haendel, wrote it down and had it translated, before offering it to George 1st, King of England. He even pretended it was from him...

Urban legend?

OK, this might well be a myth, just a legend to make us, the French, think that we have managed to infiltrate the British culture deeper than just with "Oh, Champs Elysees" and "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi". After all, we are constantly bombarded by tunes from this side of the Channel, so it could reinsure us, maybe a little bit, to know that we could bring back to balance.

After all, we had our word on the Royal Flag, why not on the National Anthem?



Idioms. There could be loads of posts in this blog about metaphors and other typical idioms that constitute and enrich our languages. There is one, though, that I have used recently in the office and which generated general amazement around me.

Frenglish or sexual harassment?

In an ambition to enlighten the conversation with striking images, I translated the French idiom "enculer les mouches", literally "Fly Fucking". My colleagues knew all about French people being renowned for their romantism, eventually their menage-a-trois... But they were suddenly afraid that a zoophile might be working next to them.

Facing bodging eyes, I had to explain the image, the metaphor. A fly-fucker is someone who likes to complicate things... If you think a moment of the abilities, skills and organs it would require to perform such a Kamasutra trick, you can easily understand the origin of this expression.

A fly in your life.

So yes, once in a while you can have an affair with one of these insects, just for the sake of making things more complicated. But no matter how complicated things could become, there is always an interesting outcome. Unless you try to hard, because then, the complexity overcome the mind twisting pleasure, and you end up with “une araignee au plafond” (“a spider on the ceiling”, or “mad”) like the beloved Nietzsche.

But to finish on this animal touch, I would like to leave you with a proverb created by Louis-Ferdinand Celine:
"Beaucoup de Vaseline, encore plus patience, Eléphant encugule fourmi"
(Loads of Vaseline, even more patience, and finally the Elephant manages to fuck the ant).
It takes what it takes... in the wild world of precision.


Yahoo United

An interesting thing with global brands is that they are global. But there two ways to handle this reach, either by encouraging diversity or by promoting unity. Well sometimes you can unite people with their diversity.

Here is an interesting initiative launched by Yahoo! It offers a tribune to every individual on the planet in order to express itself, share its point of view on different concepts such as love, anger, etc. A brief note, a picture, some tags... and here you go, you have contributed to an ecumenical operation to celebrate mankind and its enriching diversity.

Here is a review from weareideas about this Time Capsule project. It helped me temper my own enthusiasm. After all, the WWW is indeed not completely worldwide, not yet...

However, browsing through the different submissions gives you an interesting snapshot of the global mood. It is interesting to see disenchantment shared by young people in the US and their Taiwanese counter-parts, or, on a more optimistic angle, that family reveals to be the greatest source of love among our fellow citizens, be it on the Mediterranean Sea or in the Rocky Mountains.

So drop your own message to the future. I am sure your heirs will be delighted to discover how good looking was Granny back in 2006.


The colour that makes the difference

For the launch of its recent adicolor range, Adidas came up with a series of creative films for each colour. I especially liked Red, directed by Andy Bruntel and Roman Coppola. Nicely done, from a technical point of view, and meaningful. The others are a little bit lenghty or too conceptual or too aesthetic. This one is simply brilliant, snappy... more appealing in a word. I let you enjoy this edit...


Don't lose your head, or your temper(ature).

Home sweet Lab.

We had some friends from France at home this week-end. It was interesting to see how my fellow-citizens evolved in a British house. As a matter of fact I start to get used to my new environment and new laboratory rats were welcome. I watched them carefully. I looked at them engaging their feet in the same paths I walked through earlier, facing the same questions or astonishment... It was rejuvenating and rich in new learnings.

A window to our past.

If you are a regular reader you might think I am some kind of a window-fetishist, but trust me, I am not. You must nevertheless acknowledge that they do play an important role in our houses. And to be totally transparent... they are interesting.

For instance, British homes enjoy numerous
sash windows, this typical two-panel frame that you only see on this side of the Channel. They are typical and they are practical. But it is intriguing to see how the French cope with them.

We slide them up. Close them down. And finally stare at them with dubious looks. As a Latin people we enjoy appearing at our window and look at the outside life. But amazing enough, we tend to avoid this habit in England and so were our friends this Sunday. Why? We seem not to trust the way sash windows hang on their own, waiting for someone to get his neck through to finally fall... It is probably part of our collective unconscious, subtly referring to our "glorious" past of beheaders.

Binary decision in front of a mirror.

Talking about (headless) kings... the other puzzling element of the British homes happens to locate in the Throne Room. When facing the sink to wash my hands, I feel the urgent need to curse this country. And by the blasphemy I heard through the door, my opinion is shared by some of my fellow-citizens.

Most sinks actually feature two taps: one for cold water, one for hot water. That leaves you the choice between burning your hands or freezing them... How come this country has not adopted mixing taps by now? Why cannot we enjoy mild temperatures on our skin?

The heat of love.

I know that French language and culture cultivates nuances, and I expected the Brits to do so. In a sense, their plumbing system reminds me the way Germans tackle love. And I am not referring to some debatable metaphor for pipes and holes…

When we pull out the petals of a daisy, we accompany each leaf with a litany that translates into: "she likes me, fancies me, loves me, is passionate about me, is crazy about me, she isn't, she likes me...". Hence covering the entire spectrum of love. On the other hand Germans approach love in a binary way, and sing: "Sie lieb mich, sie lieb mich nicht, sie lieb mich..." ("She loves me, she doesn't, she loves me...").

Water and love are the like... You have to choose the exact degree to fully enjoy it. Maybe this is a tip to understand why French are said to be great lovers. Using the right word, the right nuance can make your partner lose her head. And trust me no sash window is needed to achieve this.


Quote of the day

"People seem to divide the world into two camps, the camp of the normal and that of the abnormal. Our experiences and beliefs are liable frequently to be dismissed with quizzical, slightly alarmed, 'really? How weird!', accompanied by a raised eyebrow, amounting in a small way of our legitimacy and humanity".
Alain de Botton, The consolation of Philosophy

Hopefully these articles will help open minds and relieve eyebrows...


Ich bin ein Berliner

German Panzer have always been the best (think) tanks, haven't they?


Look at the neighbour in the window...

An open window to UK privacy.

One thing is really typical of the UK: the streets and their identical side-by-side houses. Boring redundancy or architectural perfection, I let you judge. But something puzzled me when I walked through the neighbourhoods on the search of my next flat: the large windows that let you peep into one's privacy.

My stereotype of British people was that they were very cautious about their public image, trying to hide away their feelings and intimate thoughts, and eventually release them in the very deepest secrecy of their cosy homes. However a glance at the drying panties and other tongues was enough to scramble any conviction. Where was the secrecy gone?

24/7 entertainment.

Without digging a peeping hole through the wall, you actually discover intimate information about your neighbours just by walking down the street. Everything is exposed in the lounge of these apparently harmless homes. The fine lingerie lover from house number 223. The Australian and his flagged bathing suits from house number 236. The couch potato from garden flat 68. The beer drinkers from houses 123, 124, 125, 127...

Not that I care. On the contrary, it is amusing to realise that the boring-looking clerk is not the one she pretends to be. I can even be quite funny to imagine what can be the existence of these people from which you capture a slice of life. Why this guy across the street lives 24/7 with his backpack on? Why the girl on the opposite building is posing in underwear in front of her laptop webcam every night, answering calls on her mobile every three minutes? Why this French Blog-writer keeps on looking at passers-by from his window?

Maybe it’s about time to get some curtains to my French-windows... And to go back to a "safer" Windows, one Mr. Gates sold me so expensively.


Swim the dump.

We are all potential Mountain Dwellers.

Last night I was heading up to my welcoming bed after a harassing 15 hour-work day when I stopped on my way home. I was standing on this bridge over the Thames and decided to glance down at the water turbulences. Yes, it is possible to leave in a Valley, and still to be able to look down to look at a different perspective...

I find it quite relaxing and it actually helps me clear my mind.

I was thus looking at the waves, the swans, the swirls, the foam, the wood pieces, the plastic bags, the floating tyre... Realising suddenly the value for money the people who pay a premium price to live with a Thames view are getting. I was suddenly picturing the flat adverts on the Foxtons' website: "stunning penthouse flat with view on London's floating litter".

The fool on the stream.

I smiled at this sudden burst of honesty from the Real Estate agents. And a second later I remembered that a few weeks from that I had seen someone actually swimming his way through the waters of the UK most famous river. A fool I thought at that time. A hero I should say now.

Father of three children, Andy Nation, 55, has swum an epic 13-day journey to cover the 236.5 km that separate the source of the Thames in Lechlade, Gloucestershire, from Teddington Lock in West London. Reporting his ups-and-downs, the HEN News mentioned:

A pleasure boat went past too quickly and Andy swallowed quite a bit of
water. He was very ill the next day and, in fact, he was so ill that we
thought at one point we might have to abandon the whole thing.

Surprising? You must admit that it would have been a pity. Andy was indeed hoping to raise £150,000 for the Anthony Nolan Trust.

Swimming Chirac.

Back in France we have our own Andy Nation. Nowadays he is even our President. At that time Mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac promised that, as a proof of his commitment against La Seine pollution, he would have swum in the river before the end of his term.

As far as I remember, the only time I have seen our President wearing a bathing suit was during his vacations in the West Indies... His current successor at the City Hall, Mr. Bertrand Delanoe, found a way around it with his now famous Paris Plage event (Paris Beach), he decided to host some swimming pools by the Seine. It thus gives you the impression to bath among the Bateaux Mouche, a few strokes from Notre Dame.

By the way, funny name they have these boats. "Bateaux Mouche" litteraly translates in "Fly Boats", as if the tourists were a swarm of flies trying to escape from drawning on a floating excrement... Suddenly Paris favourite cruises become less romantic, doesn't they?

Anyway, this comparison between the two sides of the Channel led me to wonder: would our politicians be less daring than the British? I am to say that it is very likely...

But on the other hand, if you remember this analogy from Johnny Clegg's song: "you have to swim with sharks in the sea, you have to live with the crooked politicians", do we really want to come across any politicians while fishing in your favourite river?


Grass Matinee

Latin sleeper.

It is a hobby, a lifestyle, a hope, a vague souvenir, an achievement... "la Grasse Matinée". For once, this post initiates with a French expression. Literally this translates into "fat morning", and depicts the situation when you stay in bed, most likely on Sundays, for lengthy hours, with ceiling-staring for only occupation.

Waste of time? Life indulging? It is a matter of perspective. It is also a cultural difference. Latin people tend to appreciate those periods of inactivity more than others. Farniente, repos, siesta, grasse matinée, somme... These too many idioms for a simple nap testify.

British gardener.

Since I moved to London, I must confess I have left behind some of my French habits. For instance I sleep less. But I have started enjoying different pleasures. Like my daily walk through the leafy park around the corner, on my way to work. I am indeed lucky enough to walk to my office, and to avoid commuting in the lovely, packed public transportations.

As a matter of fact I do appreciate strolling across this nicely cut grass. Still wet from the night drizzle. Without a single flower to disrupt the perfection of the lawn. Just a pure, green surface. A natural pool table on which I roll from one gate to the other. This is my parenthesis between the hectic high times of my professional life. My pleasure of the day.

It is amazingly perfect. And so British too.

Instead of wasting their time under blankets on Sundays, the locals prefer to enjoy themselves in their gardens, refining the cut of their edge, the alignment of their rose trees, and the height of their grass. More than a hobby, it is a philosophy and even a national

Talking about philosophy, Voltaire finishes "Candide" by an image: cultivate your own garden to find the route to happiness. Will do, just after my 2 o'clock nap.


Generation X treasured time

A generation focus point.

This might well be linked to me working in client-servicing, but there is a buzz word, or buzz expression should I say, that keeps on being proclaimed around me: "buy some time!".

I like this expression. Not only because you cannot translate into my mother-tongue without being stared at. Not only because I do need to buy some time for my numerous projects... But because of all these generational values it conveys.

I have just turned 30, and I have realised that my relationship to Time has evolved over the years. I start looking backward with nostalgia, looking forward with interrogation... And I don't feel alone on this path. If money was the key in the 80s, I have the feeling that Time has replaced it today, becoming even more valuable for our generation, the
Generation X.

Time is today's ultimate luxury.

We live in a fast-pace environment. Everything is instantaneous, or is expected to be. So why are we running after the time to the point that we are even ready to "buy" it? For a new kind of freedom maybe. The Generation X has challenged the ideals our parents were ready to
fight for. We have blended their will for another consumption society into their own parent's "work for subsistence".

We now work for our "time subsistence": we work to consume our time as we want.

The consequence is that Time has become a good. And the vocabulary if full of commercial expressions to illustrate this situation: time can be wasted, offered... bought! Free time has a cost. It needs to be earned with painful efforts. However we are no longer ready to work an entire life to finally indulge ourselves in retirement. Remember we are a fast-pace generation. We want to benefit from it now.

In France with the 35 working-hour week, this trend is even more obvious. People cannot wait until the traditional summer holidays. They want to spend their well-deserved free time. No time-savings. And the vacations become more numerous, though shorter. The generation X life becomes a necklace of small precious free moments.

Time is Generation X best friend. Time is a diamond that nevertheless does not last forever.


Oral sex... With a fork!

XXX-rated candies?

When I came across these sweets on the shelves of my Mark&Spencer next door, I just found myself stunned with dropped jaws (and watering mouth). These might well be some great chocolate cakes, but the packaging rang another bell, a good meter above my empty stomach.

I was indeed certain that these treats would perform extremely well among the hordes of French pre-pubescent pupils who cross the Channel for school exchanges. Not that my fellow citizen have a sweeter tooth, but simply for the good laugh... As a matter of fact, in French, "Mini Bites" reads literally "Mini Dicks".

Stop F**king, tuck in.

Beyond the stupid teen joke, or brilliant marketing trick (after all sex does make sell), I wondered: if food keeps on infiltrating the sexual world, would gluttony soon outweighed lust for good? Would the capital sins be reduced to six?

In Dionysus' honour, Ancient Romans were already blending the best of two worlds into Bacchanalia. These orgies were at length depicted in Fellini’s controversial
Satyricon. More recently, Mickey Rourke explored Kim Basinger's body while proceeding to a complete grocery check in her fridge... This now cult scene from "9 1/2 weeks" has even been ranked 6th in the recent Channel 4 survey on the 100 greatest sexy moments in cinema.

So yes, Sex and Food have always been an intimate couple. But what if they divorced? What if Food was allocated the house, the car, the children, the goldfish and all the savings from the Venice-based bank accounts? What if broken Sex was to finally disappear?

To be honest, Sex's fate seems to be sealed. Sex, a.k.a Love, tends already to be compensated by chocolate bites. Call them forerunner or trend makers, but Marketers have already started to bury physical amusements. Have a look at this really well-done
micro-site from United Biscuits. It was developed to celebrate a new confection by Marcel Republique, a creative hot shop from the so-called "romantic city of Paris". Treason! But I must admit it is well-designed, interactive, entertaining… In a word, fun. Well, as fun as funerals could be.


Down in the valley of the blogs

Don't dream it, be it.

I assumed it is quite common to want to write, to leave a trail... Our society is full of frustrated novelists. It might well be the second best-shared frustration behind not being this over-paid football player unable to push a 30 cm ball in an empty goal. Remember hearing that "Gimme half his pay-check and I would score with my nose, both arms tighten in the back... Jane, another round!"

Now with blogs it has just amazing how easy it becomes. Everyone can (try to) challenge Mary Higgins Clark or Stendhal in two clicks. So yes, frustration is about to vanish. And yes it has become trendy to have a blog. But why not follow the trend for once. Enough with studying them, let's live them.

Set up. It is all set up.

So I have now my very own blog and I will be able to put down all these things which have kept on jamming my mind for years. My ambition is to write hopefully interesting articles about these little things that occur around me and just puzzle me. I am an alien in London, just as I was in Montreal, Berlin or Singapore. From these international experiences I have inherited an eye for these cultural disparities.

As said, when you are living high in the mountains, and that you peer downhill at what is going on in the valley, you tend to have a very different perspective. Enjoy these mountain dweller's views...