No more season, ma'am

Here is a French cliche that you are very likely to hear across France market stalls after this dreadful week-end. A cliche that is however so up to date: "y'a plus de saison ma p'tite dame", literally "Ain't no more season ma'am"! Or how to complain about the fact that we are suffering from a November weather on the first of June.

And as a matter of fact, this morning, my beloved mountain was covered in a white mantel, although the snow has been lacking during the entire ski season. So what are you up to this August? Fancy some snowboarding?


OK, this is an old one, but with the recent end of the Football season in both the UK and France, I could not resist to share this classical TV commercial. It is also for me the opportunity to share my frustration. Having spent several evenings and Saturdays in the stadiums this season, I have not been able to see one of the most renowned football phenomenon. I am not referring to David Beckham, but to the famous streaker Mark Roberts.

Anyway, watching at this video is a little bit like Alice looking through the mirror... everything is inverted. Like people driving on the left side of the road;-)


The end of a myth

Pub talks.

After eleven months spent in London, and several more in other English speaking countries, I wondered what was the most common French sentence that I have heard when I announced that I was from the Hexagon. Without a doubt: "Aha... voulez-vous coucher avec moi?" with a wink, a tap on the shoulder, and another sip at their pint... And that, no matter the gender of my interlocutor.

Dictionary infiltrations.

The concept of "France" seems indeed to vehicle very interesting connotations in English-speaking countries, and in the UK in particular. I will not refer again to the ambiguous hate/love relationship between our two countries, but want to focus on how some awkward French words have infiltrated the Oxford dictionary. Think of expressions like voyeur, ménage à trois, Madame, French letters, libertine, French kiss... It sounds like my country is an intrinsic erotic nation to the point that its language becomes international norms.

Interesting indeed, because in spite of the numerous dodgy areas in the German harbours or the red light district in Amsterdam, can you think of any German or Dutch word that would be refer in English to sexual practices? No. Again, although Scandinavia is renowned for its liberal and frivolous mores, can you associate any terminology from these countries to any dubious practices? Still no.

Horny country.

The French population does have a sexual life. And quite an intensive one it seems if you refer to this research by IPSOS dated 2005 (sorry, in French and without pictures). But would that justify our intrusion in Shakespeare's vocabulary. I doubt it. I think this is more of an inherited stereotype, a long lasting myth.

And this remembers me my high-school years, when for the first time I was intended to cross the Channel for an exchange programme. I remember that many adults looked at us, winked, tapped our shoulders, and had another sip at their red wine glass (well, in France, you rarely drink pints of beer) after saying "A vous les petites Anglaises" (the frail English girls will be all yours).

A nous les petites AnglaisesThis was a reference to the, at that time, very successful film by Michel Lang dated 1975. "A nous les petites Anglaises" (English title: "Let's Get Those English Girls") tells the story of two French students who are going to England to improve their linguistic skills, and end up practicing tongue twisting. Literally... I think that this film did the best job ever for the British Tourist Board. All the French boys were looking forward to their next school trip to the land of easy-flirting.

Kill the myth.

So yes. In France, in the early 80s, the UK was also seen as a destination for sexual education. What has happen since? If there are still some background influences of the above-mentioned film, the perception has drastically evolved 20 years later. If Great Britain remains attractive to the younger generations, this is now for different reasons: music, fashion, football... To be totally honest, the overall mindsets have evolved since the 80s and sex has drifted out the main interests in any country.

But what is surprising is that the UK has in the meanwhile increased its sexual activity. Sadly, a recent UNICEF survey demonstrated that Britain's youth was leading the worldwide charts with 38.1% of its 11 to 15 year-olds having already had sexual intercourse (against an average of 23.6%, the runner-up being Sweden with "only" 28%).

There is a psychological expression which consists in "killing the myth". If you look at this UNICEF research about the state of the world's youth and pay attention to Britain's performances you can identify the weapons that have been used to slaughter the myth of the "frail English girl":
34.9% of the 11-15 year olds smoke cannabis (vs. a worldwide average of 21.4%)30.8% have been drunk at least twice (highest score in the world, vs. an average score of 15.4%, and only 8% in France!!!)
28 births out of 1000 are given by 15 to 19 year old girls (vs. a worldwide average of 16/000)
15.8% are over weighted (vs. an average of 12.9%)
No more fairy tales.
These horrible statistics remind me of a song by the French rock group Telephone. They interpreted in the 80s a modern version of Cinderella. If I were to roughly translate the lyrics, that would give something like this (sincere apologies to Jean-Louis Aubert and Co):
Cinderella for her 20th birthday
Is the most beautiful girl
Her awesome lover, the charming prince
Carries her on his white horse
She forgets how time goes
In her silvery palace
And to avoid seeing
The next day coming
She closes her eyes, and in her dreams
She goes away... Lovely little story.

Cinderella for her 30th birthday
Is the saddest mother
Her awesome lover has left her
For the Sleeping Beauty
She saw hundreds of white horses
Taking her children away from her
So she started drinking, hanging in bars
Dressed up in a depressive mood
She now walks the pavement
She goes away... Lovely little story.

Ten years of such a life were enough
To turn her into a junkie
And in an endless sleep
Cinderella will finish her life
The lights start their dance
In the ambulance
But she kills her last chance
All this has no importance
She goes away...
The myth of the fragile, red-haired, white-skinned English girl looking for French romance has long-lived. She is now very aware, slightly over-weighed, drunk, a fag in the right hand, and beer in the other. So no wonder that the French youngsters are no longer fantasising about her.
But the remaining question is, how long it will take for the French lover myth to disappear? Well, as long as there are some story-tellers to maintain it alive! So, as a good patriot let me contribute to the protection of our cultural difference: "Once upon a time, there was in a not-so-far-away country, a young boy called Antoine. He..."


In slippery territory

On the right slope.

This is not new, and can even claim to be rated as a classical in France. But since the agency, Euro RSCG BETC, has gained a few more awards recently, I felt like sharing it with the non-French readers or advertising fans who end up on this blog.

As you already know I am very interested in the cultural disparities, be it between two countries, two cities, two families... So there was no reason why I should not relay this advert. It is indeed about the cultural difference between classical broadcasters and 13ème rue, the French Satelite channel dedicated to thrillers and other suspens films.

To give you a little more background on this, the commercial was aired during the latest Winter Olympic Games and claims: "if we were to broadcast a sport show, this is probably the way we would do it".



Dan Brown, PD James, my friend Jerome... and many others are fond of anagrams and word riddles. I have come across the following and found it quite interesting. They go beyond the simple reorganisation of the letters. The variation is not only accurate but also relevant. As a matter of fact, when when you rearrange the letters:



So if you want to play with words, have a look at this site. Loads of anagrams, palindromes, oxymorons and other tongue twisters are waiting for you. Enjoy! And remember: "Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus". So forget figures and focus on words if you are looking for an international exposure ;-)


Voting from abroad

When you are leaving abroad and are interested in cultural differences, then you cannot miss the opportunity to look at how a major domestic event is lived outside the frontiers of your country. It is indeed the opportunity to see if the expatriate citizens are a representative sample of their home culture, or if they are a cast of their own?

Brain drain?

There are indeed some concerns currently in France about national elites fleeing outside our country for greener pastures. The scientists would be better paid on American campus and science parks. Bankers and other finance people are attracted by London and its booming Stock Exchange. Chefs are hailed all around the world...

But being no chef or finance maestro, I wondered if my personal appeal for foreign cultures, was something shared throughout the different classes of the French society, or whether I was part of one of these elites. I therefore looked at the French presidential elections with an acute eye. I wanted to see whether there were through these results some obvious discrepancies that could, at least partially, contribute to answer my queries.

Average London...

Obviously I am no expert in political science, so I won't make projections and assumptions on the following scores which compare the results of the various candidates in London against France. I just think that they are of interest by themselves... Even if you are not really aware of the ideologies behind the candidates.

First round (London vs. France)
Turnout: 29.50% vs 83.77%
M. Nicolas Sarkozy: 40.85% vs 31.18%
Mme Segolene Royal: 30.61% vs 25.87%
M. Francois Bayrou: 21.30% vs 18.57%
Mme Dominique Voynet: 2.18% vs 1.57%
M. Jean-Marie Le Pen: 1.50% vs 10.44%
M. Jose Bove: 0.98% vs 1.32%
M. Olivier Besancenot: 0.88% vs 4.80%
M. Philippe De Villiers: 0.75% vs 2.23%
Mme Marie-George Buffet: 0.46% vs 1.93%
Mme Arlette Laguiller: 0.33% vs 1.33%
M. Gerard Schivardi: 0.10% vs 0.34%
M. Frederic Nihous: 0.07% vs 1.15%

Second round:
Turnout: 30,33% vs 83.97%
M. Nicolas Sarkozy: 54,09% vs 53.06%
Mme Sègolène Royal: 45,91% vs 46.94%
Source: Consulat Général de France à Londres (found here) and Ministère de l'Intérieur

It is interesting to see that, during the first round, the "little" candidates have scored really lower than on their home ground. Even lower, should I say, since this was a major element of the first round: most of the votes were converging towards the three main candidates. Any rational for this? They are representing minor political parties and promote specific positioning, sometimes very local, and which lose their appeal with the distance. "Loins des yeux, loins du coeur" (Far from the eyes, far from the heart): since they do not get as much exposure as the more prominent candidate they tend to be neglected by the voters based abroad who do not recognise them. Worth noting the very low score of nationalist, Jean-Marie LePen, in London. Living abroad seems to open your mind on other cultures apparently... Good news then ;-)

Otherwise the end results seem to plead in favour of the representativeness of the expatriates. There is a slight bias towards the right wing but it was to be expected in the European capital of liberalism. But still, the gap between the local and domestic scores remain minor.

Honestly, I would have bet on a much greater disparity... Finally, I might be victim of stereotypes!


Political consciousness

Like many of the fellow-citizens of my age, I am quite cynical about politics... So I was therefore very concerned with the second round turnout of the presidential elections which occurred this Sunday.

As a matter of fact, after the first round, two weeks ago, the British journalists were praising France rejuvenated democratic engagement. Over 83% of the French voting population had indeed participated in the selection of the two finalists. And everyone was expecting similar figures for the second round.

Personally I would have bet on the contrary.

Shame on your ballot

First, because the reason why people turned up en masse for the first round was not due to a great passion for politics, but to shame. Five years ago, for the previous presidential elections, people decided not to vote. They were fed up with politics, always the same rivalries and fruitless debates... Only a fringe of the population stayed loyal to their political engagement: the nationalists. The same number of pro Jean-Mare LePen dropped their ballot in the box, while the other democratic counter-powers did not manage to create sufficient enthusiasm. And as a result, LePen made his way to the second round, with a proportionally greater-than-ever score. Mass demonstrations occurred to back democracy and the values of the République, and Chirac gathered over 80% of the so call "republican" votes during the second round.

Like the raven in LaFontaine's fable, the French population, "A bit too late, swore, The rogue should never cheat him more". Voters remembered the 2002 events and managed to relegate LePen in the lower part of the tables (still managing to a worrying 10% score). But with a more classical, an politically-correct, second round opposing La Droite to La Gauche (The Right to the Left), would people turn up now that they eased their conscious?

On the beach or in the voting offices?

As mentioned earlier, I sincerely doubted, especially since this week-end is the ideal period to practice your "bridging" skills. Tuesday being a public holiday, people could have been tempted to enjoy a 4-day week-end. But in fact, this Sunday turnout has been quite a surprise to me: almost 84% of the voters dropped their envelope in the transparent box. So, no matter how cynical I can be, I am glad that the trend got confirmed. There might be something happening at last in our country. And for once, that is not related to some outstanding sport performance... Although as you may have read in this blog, voting can be quite a physical challenge.

So let's wait and see. Don't worry, not too long. We are indeed like that in France, when we enjoy something, we just take it until the end: early June we are back in the queues to drop another lot of ballots. This time we will be electing our representatives at the Assemblée Nationale (French parliament)... And so goes the political life in the Hexagon.



I recently wrote about the French ability to play around with their RTT in order to get the most out of the national labour legislation. Well if you are lucky enough to be based in France at that time, May is THE month to practice your skills.
As a matter of fact, the month of May is critical for two reasons in my home country:
  1. On the contrary to the UK, every company has the same holiday year. I mean that any employee needs to spend his 5-week holidays within the June 1st-May 31st period. And you know how things go... You always wait for the last minute to get rid of your allowance, especially with the lovely sunny spring days coming up. This means that early May every worker realizes that he still have a few days off to take before the end of the month if he does not want to lose them... And so start the optimization.
  2. There are in May a series of really appreciable public holidays: May 1st is off, so is May 8th... And suddenly the optimization becomes even more thrilling.

bridging in London, here in Putney There is a even a specific terminology for these optimised holidays: we call that "Faire le pont" (literally, to do the bridge, to bridge). The concept is in fact very visual. Picture yourself in front of your calendar. Thursday is a public holiday. Saturday is the beginning of week-end. Great, you have two pillars to build your bridge. You just have to take your Friday off to enjoy a 4 day-week-end.

A viaduct? Well, as you may know a viaduct is a long bridge, so this is the same kind of holiday building skills that you need to action, except that you are forced to spend two days to link you Wednesday to your Saturday.

If you bear in mind these national skills and our competencies to demonstrate against any reconsideration of our existing public holidays, you suddenly understand why there is no point trying to get hold of someone in Paris in May: he is very likely to be off. Probably bridging in Normandy.