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Entente Cordiale or, more realistically, to some sexual and moral evolutions, but the later expressions tend now to be outdated.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).