The Italian job

A classical... but still keeps me smiling. Enjoy if you don't know it yet.


People from the North

Liverpool Wall of Fame: sadly representative of the contrast between economics and cultural wealth.

Human warmth.

There is this weird thing about people coming from the North. I say "weird" because, the North of France is on the same parallel as the South of England, and yet inhabitants from Newcastle, Durham, etc. have more in common with French citizens of Arras or Lens than their cousins from Cornwall. I could have said "weird" because of their common use of strange language, not to say dialect, that puzzled the rest of their respective nations. It would seem that your relative geographical position instates some kind of cultural determinism.

Most of the time, people from these regions are mocked for their hearthy culture, their lack of sophistication, their pub crawling habits... But this year they had their revenge. On both sides of the Channel, the North stroke back.

There is a quote in French that says that "people from the North have in their heart the warmth they don't have outside". This year has proved to me that this adage was true, with two encounters with the bespoke cultures. On the one hand, Dany Boon's blockbuster "Welcome to the Sticks" (Bienvenue chez les Ch'ti), on the other hand "Billy Elliot" the musical.

Since both of them fully deserved it, I wanted to dedicate this article to them, and through these lines pay my tribute to these regions which deserve to be recognised for more than the stereotypes still associated to them.

Crying twice.

I will be brief with "Bienvenue chez les Ch'ti" because I have already written an extensive article about this film which is now the second best performing film ever in France: 20 329 376 tickets sold, 650 000 DVD only on the first day it was released. This represents just a few tickets less than Titanic, not bad for a local comedy with limited marketing firepower.

The pitch is the following: a post office manager from Marseille is transfered to the North because he tried to bribe a colleague to get a promotion. From his point of view, this is the worst punishment ever, until he discovers the truth behind the clichés. Up North, it may be wet and cold, people may speak with a strange accent, neverthless the encounters you make there will change your life for ever. A quote that illustrates this synospsis: "When coming to the North, people from other parts of the Hexagon cry twice: once when they arrive, once when they leave...".

This tremedous success has spread beyond French borders. The film was a hit in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland... The rights have been bought by Will Smith himself who wants to direct a remake, just like the Italians will do. That is the power of the North: making you weeping with laughter.

Striking the stage.

Same cardinal point, different country, different emotions. In Billy Elliot musical, you may laugh at times, but you cannot avoid being touched by the feelings conveyed by the story of this little boy fighting through tough times to make his way to become a ballet dancer. Although both regions share a lot, like their mining history and the social difficulties they went through when coal mines had to close one after the other, the musical decided to shade a different light on the events.

The Billy Elliot story is set against the background of the British miners' strike of 1984/85 and charts the fortunes of the striking men alongside Billy's personal struggle to become a dancer in a world of hard hats and boxing gloves:

I must admit that I was reluctant to pay my visit to the Victoria theatre. I saw the movie on TV once and was not specifically keen on seeing more of it. And yet, I walk pass the the theater everyday, so I dragged myself in one night to buy some tickets. Having resisted any further would have been a mistake. The show conveys political messages, social hopes, touching lyrics, astonishing decors, and brilliant on-stage performances by actors of all ages. It also allowed me to discover another part of the British modern history through the voices of these people on stage. This is really rich an experience that I strongly recommend to anybody reading these lines.

Be it through comedy or through touching musicals, people from the North do have something in common: they tell great stories. So next time I will be asked where the heck is the North, instead of pointing my forefinger in the right direction, I might be tempted to raise another finger, my thumb. Thanks for these great moments.


Merry Christmas (and don't forget to buy)

The moment of truth.

OK it's now almost Christmas and all the companies are holding their breath. The retail industry and all the analysts are set behind their reporting matrix, a cup of coffee in one hand, a minced pie in the other. At stake is the answer to the very current dilemma: will the Homo Consumeris celebrate Christmas just like every year, forgetting about the economical downturn and indulging in some seasonal shopping spree? If yes, then you can expect some light at the end of the tunnel, but if not... we are all doomed. Snow will fall in May, Brits will start eating meat with some dodgy mint sauce, Sunderland might even start winning games back to back... Brrrrr... Frightening!

Dried turkey: reheat 2 minutes and stir.

Anyhow, every one concur: we are at a milestone date and any effort to help the scale move in the right direction is welcome. Enters AKQA, the creative digital agency. To celebrate the holiday season, or Christmas as we dare to call it in provocative Europe, the creative team have shot a very compelling and consumerist season greeting video. Not really eco-friendly, but at least it remind us all that it does not matter if your bank has gone bankrupt, that you had to sell your villa in St Barth and your Ferrari's. If you cannot treat your City mistress with stuffed turkey this year, well you can always indulge yourself with Pot the Noodles. Merry Christmas to you all.


Watch your moves

Credit: picture by Piers Nye, PCGN7 on FLickr

It's Time.

It has been a while since I last focused my attention on a peculiar idiom of this brilliant Shakespearian language, but I think it is now about time to come back to my first loves and shade some light on why I am still taken aback when my colleagues use certain expressions.

Obviously, an idiom is "an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements" as dictionary.com puts it. Most of the time they use an image, a metaphor to deliver a message. So when a non-native has managed to identify that the words which were pronounced by their interlocutor were not the usual meanings of its constituent elements... this person will attempt to decipher the message by visualising the related image. And that is when things can get nasty.

Ironic French sex?

Each culture has its own iconography or visual referential scheme. Let me take you through an example. In my previous life one of my clients had an idiom she kept on banging. She was in her late forties, not really attractive but not repulsive either. She was more like a school teacher than a Demi Moore if you see what I mean. And yet, I remember her looking me straight in the eyes and saying that she really likes "tongue in cheek".

Obviously her last three words do not mean what they usually mean in their literal context. I cannot see her wandering around with some chunks of tongue in her cheek. So there must be a hidden message. I blink. Red flashing light in my head. A drop of sweat goes down my neck. I find it hard to swallow... No, she cannot have meant that. No, no, no. Think again Cedric, think again. Another drop of sweat, colder this time. I blink once more with a nice commercial smile on my face to avoid showing my puzzled inner self. What the heck does she mean, in her very own language, because the images this idiom triggers in my home references is not appropriate either to the situation or to the person facing me. Is it?

I am conscious that I am surrounded by colleagues. My client is also aware that I am about to get married in the next months or so. And finally she did not whisper it but rather said it aloud, so my executive seated next to me should have clearly picked up her sexual harassment line. And yet he is not blushing like I would probably have if a client had overtly declared to my manager that she liked oral sex...

Tongue twister and twisted minds.

I already know a few of my English readers thinking "what are you saying you French perv'?". But let me inform you that if the literally translated idioms "tongue in cheek" has absolutely no meaning in French, the gesture in return has a meaning. And quite a dirty one. If one day you happen to put your tongue in your cheek in a French crowd, be aware that you are genuinely offering some "oral treats" to your audience. Why? Well look at yourself in a mirror when mimicking the idiom. Now mentally call to your mind the French meaning. Ah, ah... Suddenly who's blushing? Do you remember yourself in the bespoke situation and realise only now why you had suddenly so many friends in that Parisian bar?

The sexual connotation is obviously miles away from the English meaning of the expression. When you say something with "tongue in cheek", you say it ironically or mockingly. It's a form of humour, not a sexual position. It took me a while to really nail that one (I mean the expression not my client), but every now and then, when I hear that expression I cannot refrain myself from shivering. A memory from that painful moment of loneliness I assume.


Found it.

"Exciting!" - Graffiti by Eine
A passion for the hidden.

Like most people I enjoy to be in the know, to be aware of things people don't perceive and share this knowledge with others. Not only is that flattering for your own ego, but that is also good for the audience's ego who will then be able able to spread the word and get the fruits of their new knowledge. Such a psychological driver is the key to viral marketing, a buzz word that is regularly muttered by marketing crowds those days. Nevertheless, this is and has always been in the human nature to hide things to be unlocked by codes. Think of the templars and their rituals, of the Egyptians and their pyramid plans, think of the free massons and their rules of proportions, think of the persecuted Christians in antic polytheistic Rom who engraved a fish on their tombs because "ichthus" (fish in ancient greek) was the acronym of Jesus Christus, Son of God, our Saviour... Across the ages, each civilization has shared some knowledge through encryption.

Maybe because I am from Grenoble just like Jean-François Champollion, the scholar who deciphered the hieroglyphs using the Rosetta stone, now visible in the British Museum, but I nurture an interest for codes. That is also the reason why I like graffiti: I see them as a coded expression of an underground culture on the verge to blossom. They are right in your face. You may see them or sometimes skip them, but they are there. And they convey messages.

Find it.

As an echo for this personal enthusiasm, Ford is now deploying a European advertising campaign for the launch of the Ford Ka. This model is the best-selling car in the UK, you see it everywhere and yet every new launch brings some level of novelty that you might not pay attention to as you are so used to see these little cars driving around. The campaign is called "Find It" and it's all about encouraging people to look beyond the obvious and to discovering new things.

Their agencies, Wunderman and WeAreSocial, have decided to make a parallel between the car and the graffiti that surround us. They thus invited some UK bloggers for a private guided tour of Shoreditch between graffiti and social media enthusiasts. For the people who are not yet in the know (see it works... tomorrow at the watercooler you will be able to talk about a new London area and someone might even offer you a coffee to hear more about it), Shoreditch is a very hot place for street artists. With iconic Brick Lane and its Truman Brewery as the cornerstones, you can walk around the area and discover some pieces of contemporary shortlived art by international artists Banksy, JR, Eine, D*Face, Invader... to name a few.

It was really great to be able to exchange with other enthusiasts like Christian of Vandalog. Each of us had its own piece of knowledge about this or this artist, and the perspective to learn and share was another treat of the day. I really enjoyed myself and even managed to convert my reluctant and cold-sensitive wife who even points me to stencils I would have otherwise skipped.

To read further:
  • An article about JR, the engaged photographer and his installation in Gaza: Smile my brother. Smile.
  • An article about Space Invader, the mosaic which invades your street and TV adverts: Bunn-invasion.
  • An article about Banksy, the British artists who now sprays gold out of his cans: Spray the world.


Handy handbook

Are we really cousins?

It is always fun to live in a foreign country using a foreign language, even when the later is English. Obviously, although Shakespeare's mother tongue is now widely recognised as THE universal language, outperforming Esperanto, there are still major vocabulary differences from one English-speaking country to the other. That for instance led George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) to claim about UK and US that they were ‘Two nations separated by a common language.’

Hang on to your haggis.

I often write in this blog about how languages can be fun for non native speakers (read here for a selection of articles) who discover that indigenous words might mean something quite different in their own language... Now imagine what it is if you are said to share the same language!

Chris Rae, a Scottish blogger and eventually colleague, writes “The Septic’s Companion” as a guide to British culture and slang. He once lived in the US and realised that his colloquial expressions were not receiving as expected. And that is an euphemism. You may smoke a fag in the UK, but don't you dare calling someone in the US that way, or you might end up with a punch in your face or with an date in the Village. Over there, their chavs have red necks. Their nosh is faster...

Loads of great fun reading Chris' book and blog, so a great Christmas present to anyone who has to deal with the other side of the pond (or a great "Holiday present" shall I say to remain PC):


London in Stop Motion

Moving images like no others.

Stop Motion is an animation technique which consists in collating still images to recreate a movement, frame by frame, until you achieve 24 or so images per second. Unlike video which captures an actual movement, stop motion fakes it. This technique used in animation-like films like Wallace & Gromit has become more and more appealing in the recent years, exploring new territory of expression like advertising (read here for the Sony Bravia ad "Bunny" shot in stop motion in NY streets) or music clips.

Framing London.

I recently came across the video below... A night portrait of London by multi-talented Canadian David Hubert whose background is a mix of graphic design, photography, video editing, music and animation. Working in Dreamworks Animation as a 3D animator during the day, he "explores the open space of artistic possibilities at night". I really enjoyed his recent exhilirating clip which strolls the London streets on a soundtrack by French electro-stars Daft Punk. Enjoy.

London (harder, better, faster, stronger) from David Hubert on Vimeo.


Japanese pictures

As promised earlier, here are a few pictures of my journey in Japan. Clearly a different country, at every levels:

White men can't jump

But they can make fun of themselves...

Some time ago I landed, a little bit by chance I dare say, on Canadian Christian Lander's website, a blog having, in his author's own words, "a scientific approach to highlight and explain stuff white people like". It is obviously controversial, but extremly witty and highly ironic.

Obviously, as someone interested in cultural differences, I had a go at "Stuff White People Like", going through some of the 100+ posts which highlights the clichés and absurd sides of life of the average white guys. Interesting also to go through the thousands of comments and rants that any entry generates... Just as if white men have no ability to take a step back and mock themselves.

This Blog reminded me of what a wise man told me one day:

Happy are people who can make fun of themselves, because they are not about to get bored.

Here are some of the recent entries of what White People seem to like:

#115 Promising to Learn a New Language

#108 Appearing to Enjoy Classical Music

#105 Unpaid Internships

#102 Children’s Games as Adults

#100 Bumper Stickers

#95 Rugby

Have also a go at the conference the author gave to Google on July 14th 2008 (on Bastille Day...) on how he went from an anonymous student to a viral icon. A bit long, but extremely insightful. Enjoy!


On your stoves, get set, ready?

M.O.T. for Mouthful Of Treats

A few months back, I wrote an article about a splendid restaurant in London called l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, literally Joel Robuchon's Workshop, named after the Michelin Star chef. This is a fantastic place where you eat seated on stools around the kitchen so you can appreciate your courses being prepared under your bemused eyes. A symphony of pans and knives, and trust me, not a single quote from UK favourite kitchen philosopher, Gordon Ramsay!
Nice, tidy, prestigious, quiet, delicious... And my latest encounter with the restaurant chain, back in Tokyo, did not undermine the reputation. I had had my lot of noodles, rice and noodles with rice, so for my last night in the Country of The Rising Sun, I decided to treat myself when I bumped into the local venture by accident (or chance my stomach might argue). Just to give you a flair of the menu, I shot this picture of the dessert: foamed and caramelised pear with bergamote ice cream on chocolate cookie. Delightful.

Hands on.

Well, as it happens, beyond Robuchon's, there is another French "Atelier" in London, and it is also a culinary workshop. This is called L'Atelier des Chefs. The France-originated concept is related to the above-mentioned, in the sense that it shifts cuisine from the secluded circles of French inns. But it goes one step further. You are no longer a close-up spectator, this time you are an active participant.

At L'Atelier des Chefs, Charly might make the cook, but then it's your turn to cook along. The resident chef demonstrates the recipe of the day, shares with you some tricks from the trade, showcases some of the kitchen utensils which happen to be for sale in the front of the shop... And off you go. Your turn to put your hands in the dough, to scramble the eggs, to scalp the radishes, etc. And guess what, you'd better get it right as you end up the session by eating what you baked minutes before. All that in less than an hour if you opt for the lunchtime "Cook, eat & run" session or a little more if you come later in the day.

Fight of the Chefs.

Now you may think that you don't need the classes, that your spaghetti à la Tesco Sauce are the best ever. And you may be right. However, the best way to verify your talent is to test it against other wannabe cooks... That's what L'Atelier des Chefs is offering you to materialise by organising Cuisine Cup, the European Cup of amateur cooks. You simply have to register on their site by sending one of your favourite recipe, based around salmon this year, and if you are shortlisted, you will be invited to cook your recipe on premise to be evaluated against the other London contenders. At the same time, in Paris, Lyon, Brussels, Bordeaux, the qualification round are also taking place for a place in the semi in Paris. Fancy the challenge? Hurry up as the sign-up was due to close soon...
Cuisine Cup - Atelier des Chefs London
Alternatively you can always follow the competition online or pay a visit to the shop in Wigmore Street if you happen to be around on November 23rd. On your mark, get set, tuck in!!!


Back in the office.

Just came back from a three-week break in Japan, so expect a few upcoming posts about cultural differences in the coming weeks. That country is simply the paramount of cultural differences... More to come soon.

In the meanwhile I was sent this article from the BBC and thought that it was not only brilliantly suited for this blog, but also particularly time-sensitive... The English is clear enough to lorry drivers - but the Welsh reads "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated." The joy of auto-reply and foreign languages!


8 years later...

The original advertisement was an icon of a period of time... This sequels is about to become one. Enjoy and vote fellow American readers.


Life without walls, and clichés.

This blog is about cultural differences. It's also a cliché-buster. As a result, I welcome the new Microsoft campaign in the UK with some anticipation. It was released this week-end during the first break of X-Factor and I kind of like it.

Life without walls.

You might know the Get a Mac campaign where two people, one embodying a PC, the other representing a MAC are having a casual chat about the difference there are between each other. A great campaign that has contributed to reposition the Apple brand in the IT world instead of being cornered as a mere mp3 player manufacturer enable to last more than a year.

Such competitive ads are usually the lot of Coke vs Pepsi or Nike vs Reebok in the US, but the are rarely deployed globaly because of legislation constraints around copyrights and trade marks. Nevertheless the Mac campaign has made its way through the internet, and became cult to the point of being spoofed which as I wrote earlier a great indicator of a marketing break through. The thing though is that when such an aggressive reach is started, it is expected to see a response coming. But in the case of the Mac vs PC, no one picked up the glove. Why? Because too many should have, and nobody really did.

Mac is promoting both hardware and an operating system. It is therefore attacking the PC-manufacturers, i.e. the HP, Dell and other Lenovo, but also their operating system provided by Microsoft. HP had a try but avoided the direct confrontation with their campaign The Computer is Personal Again developed by Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, relayed by Publicis around the world. But let's face it this campaign is more about trying to bring some life into a cold conglomerate of transistors than responding to a direct attack from the competition...

Waiting for a sign.

I don't know you, but I have been using a PC for quite a while, since I got my first computer in fact. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had a go at MACs in my previous agency life, mostly because if you are a creative you have to hang around with a slick Apple laptop under your arm. That is as much part of the uniform as ironic T-Shirt or flashy sneakers. But I could not really find a reason to prefer them. And just like the vast majority of the world-wide population I was quite enjoying my windows-based PC.

So when I initially saw the MAC ads, they made me smile, but on the back of my mind, I was not very happy that a brand was taking the piss, and projecting an image of me as an overweighted nerd with heavy-glasses and perfect, though oily parting. I may be a PC-user, but my parting belongs to long forgotten memories and I have lost some weight recently (thanks for asking). I also droped my Kakis pants, so to speak, long ago and wear as often jeans as casual suits. I was really expecting someone to step in, someone who would give me a sign that my ordeal was over. And the sign came, well not really a sign but a jiggle, straight from Redmond, WA:

The empire strikes back.

The hell with the clichés, and thank you Bill for letting me know that you had heard my complaint, and something was coming. Even if I did not dare verbalising it earlier, I was frustrated and am now glad that Microsoft decide to fight back on my behalf.

Fair enough the response is not aggressive, but that was to be expected from a leader. It's the underdog's role to attempt to create empathy. The creative execution is not ground breaking either, even if produced by one of the most paradigm-shifting hotshop in the world, Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Nevertheless the consu,er insight is damn right: there are so many people using PCs around the world that you cannot confine them in a nerd costume. They are way more diverse than that:

So let's put it this way, I am a PC and I am open-minded and have convictions, different and similar to many at the same time. I am a PC and I wear suits and funky T-shirts (and sometimes both simultaneously). I am a PC and I write a blog on cultural differences. I am a PC and respect people who opted for MAC.

I'm a PC Large


Don't laugh for me Argentina.


It's quite difficult to escape such a news, but it seems that we are about to enter a dark period in our History. Tough times are ahead of us. All alarms are now in the red. Tension is at its maximum. If the magazines, newspaper, TV programmes are right, we are about to hit the bottom... That's now a fact, if Saturday the French football team does not win against Romania, then farewell to the 2010 World Cup!

What? Expecting something else? Something along the lines of the current economical downturn and its horrific impact on the Western civilization economies, or something about the years of financial depression, inflation, suppressions... Whatever in -ion that might sound scary enough?

I reckon I am no financial expert, was long convinced that FT was only the acronym for Full Time, and the only time I walked in Wall Street was to grab a coffee mug in the local Starbucks. As a result, I am not sure to understand the full scope of the current crisis that is supposedly impacting us. What I get though is that following the over-use of credits from our North American friends and the greedy and short-sighted views of bankers, a wave of discredit and doubts grows. And the media inflate this trend. I am not denying that there is something worrying happening in the financial spheres that might impact everyday people. Jobs and companies are at stake. And in a town like London where everything gravitates around finance, any hiccups resonates loudly. An entire ecosystem is shaking...

Back to reality.

Earlier this week, I read a series of emails exchanged by different colleagues across the globe. They were discussing the impact of the economical turmoil on our business, and how our customers might react in such critical conditions... And yet a reply struck my mind. A few lines written in all simplicity from Buenos Aires. This email was saying in a nutshell: "Guys, remember that Brazil and Argentina went through really tough a recession a few years ago, and trust me what you are going through now is peanuts".

Let's face it. For now the crisis is rather contained to the banks. So yes, some of the bankers who were parading a few months ago in there flashy Ferraris and pocketed astronomical bonuses last January, might need to find some occupations for their new spare time. But on the other hand, we have not yet to face uncontrolled inflation. Imagine going to bed eating an apple that cost you £1 and wake up the next morning to defecate an apple core that is now valued £10 on the market stalls.

That is the kind of ratio our Argentinean friends had to face... And trying to remember what was back then in the press, I cannot remember such an alarmist campaign. I do remember the metaphysical considerations about Lionel Messi and his footbalistic potential (is he the living reincarnation of El Pibe de Oro?), about the Tevez-Mascherano tickets and their probable transfers to other Premier Leagues clubs... On the planet, newspapers are more concerned about Argentinean or Brazilian fates on football pitches than on the economical scene. Who cares after all of what happens in the favellas as long as their jewels wears your favourite jersey and kicks the hell out of leather ball.

Let's face it, we are currently facing a problem indigestion problems, whilst we ignored starving people. And to boot, we are treated by the most qualified doctors, our governments, with the best equipment, our taxes. So let's stop complaining, look ahead, straighten up, stop complaining and learn from those who managed to overcome difficulties without too loud a word. Respect.


In Betty we trust.

The Empire Strikes Back.

Not so long ago I wrote a post about the future attempt by my fellow citizens to restore French royal heads in the UK. The Buckingham response was not long to come, and H.M. Elizabeth had the following email sent around earlier today:

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas,which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded.
A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect (You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary):

  1. Then look up aluminum, and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.
  2. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour', 'favour', 'labour' and
    'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut'without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be replaced by the suffix '-ise'. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up 'vocabulary').
  3. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as 'like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U.S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of -ize.
  4. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
  5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can't sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you're not ready to shoot grouse.
  6. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
  7. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
  8. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.
  9. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.
  10. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting Nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
  11. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.
  12. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body Armour like a bunch of nancies). Don't try Rugby - the South Africans and Kiwis will thrash you, like they regularly thrash us.
  13. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.
  14. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.
  15. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
  16. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 pm with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season!

God Save the Queen!


The dance of love

Credit: Marianne Rosenstiehl

Love conversations.

An orange square wall. Two chairs. That is the minimalist set for a touching ballet depicting the encounter of a Muslim and a romantic western woman. Love at the first site, at the first danse step I shall say... in-i drives the captivated audience through the triteness, the difficulties, the fun, the violence of love between a multicultural couple. Fantastic! Especially when you know who is on stage: two obviously talented artists share the limelight to engage the viewers in a threesome tango.

On one end, Akram Khan, a London-born dancer in his mid-thirties. He danses at incredible pace. His arms and feet defines circles as fast as an heart beats. Circumvolutions as allegories of the circles of life. On the other end, Academy-award winner Juliette Binoche! Yes, you read that right, the French actress who played in The English Patient, The Unbearable Lightness of Being or Caché, enchains summersaults, rolls and arabesques. The 44-year old comedian has definitely more than a string to her bow. And trust me she really delivers.

Both talents fusion in their dance and enroll you in their aventure. They invite you to peep into their intimacy: a beautiful entertainment, miles away from the glitters of the West End musicals, but also a sociological message delivered on drum beats and music steps. Thrilling.

Directed and performed by: Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan
Set Designer: Anish Kapoor
Lighting Designer: Michael Hulls
Music: Philip Sheppard
Sound Designer: Nicolas Faure
National Theatre until Monday Octobre 20th 2008


Mountain on the rock.

Those who know me personally might be surprised by the upcoming lines they are about to read. As a matter of fact, in spite of my citizenship, I am not an active contributor of the French paradox, this scientific observation which highlighted that the French tend to suffer less often from coronary diseases thanks to their regular consumption of wine... I indeed very rarely have a drink, mostly in very special occasions. This Tuesday was as a matter of fact a special one.
Special occasions.

Earlier this week London Blogger Meet Up was meeting again, but we benefited from a great host, in the person of Diageo, the holding company behind alcoholic beverages like Smirnoff, Bailey's, Guinness, etc. It is more and more regular that brands try to associate themselves with the social networks, trying to tie in with so-called digital influencers who might write one or two positive articles on their respective blogs, posts like this one read by a series of regular readers who trusts the source of their entertaining readings... (thanks by the way for your bespoke trust).

Anyway, some brands do this kind of approach poorly, but some excel at it. And I must admit that the Diageo team and their agency, Splendid, belong to the later category... Now imagine, you are exhausted from a long day at work trying to tackle the future of the Internet business model and you reluctantly balance the odds of having a social night out or heading home to turn yourself into a couch potato browsing the web to find out who is the greatest contender for this year Champion's League. Since Oxford Street is on your way, you are kind of forced to opt for the social route. You enter the Diageo headquarters, are kindly pointed to the hospitality room, and there a bar tender asks for your name and declares: "Cedric... You are French, come from the French Alps and write blog posts with a zest of humour and irony... Well, let's crack on YOUR cocktail then!"

"A poem, a poem..."

The scene that follows is simply stunning: this professional barman starts crushing some ice blocks, sizzling a few fruits, juggling with glasses, knives and Champagne bottles with a surprising dexterity...

And a couple minutes later: voilà! A Mountain Dweller cocktail, on the rock of course, to be drunk responsibly and moreover with a matching jumper.


Ghost train...

Insular realization.

Living nowadays in London with the Eurotunnel makes you sometimes forget that Great Britain is actually an island... French in London, a fellow citizen and blogger based in London - as it says on the tin, posted recently an article (in French sorry) about his own realization of this insular status: after the early September blaze led to condemn one of the two chunnels, everyone was trying to find alternative ways to leave or come to London and the only "viable" alternative to the overbooked flights were good old boats.

Before the Chunnel, you indeed had to enjoy the ferries ad nauseam (literally). 5-6 hours with on one side red-burnt English tourists returning from their week off on the French Riviera and indulging their greasy chips; and on the other side buses of drunk French pupils sizing the opportunity of a week away from their parents to experiment the impact of cheap beer on their bowels... Lovely. But what great memories! Engraved in your mind - and your nostrils- forever.

Now with the Eurostar you are a little more than 2h away from Paris, which means that you could even commute faster than some people actually in Paris...

All by myself.

The train is definitely a great alternative to travel to mainland Europe. Faster than the ferry, greener than planes (I must admit less green than the fellows bending overboard on ferries, but still not bad), extremely convenient as it picks you downtown and drops you downtown... Nothing to complain about, unless you end up in one of those coaches where you have to share your compartment with hords of toddlers and talkative Chinese tourists crossing the Channel to complete their round-Europe-in-32-hour tour.

But let's be fair, most of the time you can easily screen out these noisy parasits and enjoy a moment of relaxation. You just need to forget that the reason why your Blackberry is no longer synching is because a sea and some tons of rocks are hanging above your head.

Another option is to travel during these awkward times when the traffic is partially interupted... Most of the people decide to look for alternative routes (some even opt for a pilgrimage on a Ferry), which means that when you are lucky to come onboard the yellow and black train, you can sometime enjoy the following view:

I came back from Paris on Tuesday 16th September evening and had to share the whole carriage with noone but myself. These two hours might have been quite enjoyable as a result. But in all honesty, I am some kind of a social animal, and I almost came to miss the toddler who starts crying in Gare du Nord and finaly fall asleep in St Pancras. Almost.


Eat your Japanese carrots, Boy!

Your plate is your future.

When you are young and reluctant to eat what's in your plate, your parents always come back to you with some absurd rationals on why you should tuck in. They try to find in your plate some omens of your favourable future, just like Greeks were looking at the inners of a sacrificied animal for good auspices...

And the worst thing is that candid and credulous as a child can be, they tend to believe it all. Interestingly enough we even have a colloqual expression in French for "falling for a story": we say that someone "à gober l'histoire", literally "has swallowed the story".

The kind of lies or popular culinary legends argue that if you "Eat your soup and you will grow tall and strong", if you "Eat your spinach and you will be strong like Popeye"... And when it comes to carrots, well, there are two options:
  • first for naughty children : "eat your carrots, they'll make you kind and polite"
  • Alternatively, for organic and nutriceuticals friendly-parents: "eat your carrots, they'll make your bum skin soft and rosy"

Japanese loneliness.

These children stories came back to my mind when eating in a Japanese restaurant (to prepare myself for my upcoming trip to the country of the Rising Sun), I faced this bottle of still water. Now, I don't read ideograms, but I thought the imagery was quite explicit... It seemed that by hydrating myself I would improve the tonus of my bum. After all, we are made of more than 60% of water so that would make sense. And is the last ideogram just pointing at the areas where the benefits will be the most obvious???

As I said I am about to leave for a three-week journey in Japan, and I had a sudden flashback at Bill Murray in Lost in Translation when living this "experience". I will soon be the one hanging desperately around in Shibuya... Better go to my fridge and grab my last bunch of carrots to remain kind and polite during my whole stay.


The f word junior

Behind the stove.

In France we have big names like Bocuse, Ducasse, Veyrat, Robuchon... All grand Chefs who master the culinary art. The UK has their own chefs. They are also quite good behind their pans, but to my point of view they are way better than my fellow citizens when it comes to stand in front of the camera.

In front of the camera.

Jamie Oliver of course is great. He is THE nice guy who cooks, writes books, encourages you to by healthier food at Sainsburry, makes your mum ask you father to buy a new TV set for the kitchen... But then you have Gordon Ramsay, the strong character who haunts restaurant kitchens, like Freddy Krugger haunts your nights.

With him, nothing but perfection is acceptable, and you better get your fingers out of your a** if you don't want him to shout f**king insanities to your f**king face. But guess what, Gordon too has a vocational inspiration to the younger ones. Enjoy:


Grand tour in your living room

Social warmth.

As part of their '
I Am Everyone' campaign, Orange has decided to endorse a neat initiative. I have already touch base on this guy who decided to hug random people in the streets of Australia, or this American around-the-world traveler who films himself repeating the same dance steps in the most remote parts of the globe. And this time it's all about music and conviviality.

A concert from your couch.

Jont is an accoustic guitare player who, with the help of Dave, is the genitor of and active contributor to Unlit, a series of home gigs. He is literally going from home to home, across the world, to perform mini concerts in people's flat, house, garden... Places where people invited him and organised this micro-social event by opening their homes to total strangers.

And guess what, he is now coming to the UK, so if you are interested in hosting such a concert and playing along, just register at:
www.i-am-everyone.co.uk. Here is what you could expect:


Tribute to my Grandmother

This blog is usually written on a light-hearted tone of voice, but for once, it will embed some sorrow.

This morning I indeed received a call from home informing me that my grandmother passed away in the night. I therefore wanted to dedicate these lines to her, her who was a true mountain dweller. She was born in a remote village in the French Alps from where she was leading cattle to higher pastures before she decided to move to Grenoble with her husband.

Her humility certainly transpires in my own approach of life, and I will forever keep her words in mind:

"The main thing is that you are and remain happy".
Fernande Chambaz (1921-2008).

Rest in Peace. Je t'aime.


The wheel of the good fortune

© James F. Perry

As the Olympics has recently started I wanted to introduce to the readers of these lines another Mountain Dweller who is just a sport phenomenon. Originated from the French Alps, Jeannie Longo is part of the contingency of French athlets who will compete in the coming days for a medal... But Jeannie has already a few tinting in her bag, 4 in fact (1 gold, two silver and a bronze). What so special about her then? Well, the main reason according to me is that she is attending this yeqr her seventh olympic games... Yes, you have read correctly: seventh. 7 times 4 equals 28 years, almost three decades at the very top.

And guess what? At almost 50, Jeannie still kicks ass on her bike! She has a few records in her bags as her personal website lists (sorry if this list is no longer exhaustive, but she is really very fast and it seems that she is faster than her webmaster):

1034 victoiries
38 world records
Olympic champion
106 medals in Olympics, World and French Championships
3 Tours de France
13 times World Champion
55 times France Champion
World Record for the 1 hour run with 45,094 Km (Mexico 2000)
World record of number of victories in a year (both gender considered)

Not bad for someone who initially considered a ski career (earning a few titles in that discipline too before her future husband suggested to swap the skis for a bicycle). And of course such a record of achievment comes along with a temper and she had avery polarising effect on the French sport scene. She is a sport phenomenon, an ecologist activist, an organic fan... So of course she attracts attention as the NY Times spotted it in its recent article.

But I tend to keep on looking at the sport results and can only say: kudos. Go on Jeannie, we are behind you.

(Edit: Jeannie ends up her Olympic career with no medal. She finished 4th of the Individual Time Trial at only 2" of the Bronze Medal. Not bad but damn close)


The nation excuses...

The Canadian alibi.

A colleague of mine just returned from her holidays in Canada. She went back late to the office, one day after her planned return date and simply pretended that she got stuck in a chalet after some
rocks fell on the road and blocked the traffic up and downhill for several days.

Credit: JONATHAN HAYWARD / AP on Seattle Times site

Rocks? Well, back home, we call that pebbles or possibly stones, but rocks? That must be this classical North American enthusiasm for superlatives, I guess.

Cultural story-telling.

Anyway, I could not stop thinking that the rock slide story was probably one of the greatest excuses I have heard for long. That and its contender "I could not finish my paper yesterday because my parents were kidnapped by extra-terrestrials" are certainly amongst my favourites. But you must acknowledge that the advantage with Canada is that it makes the excuse plausible. Where else on earth could you pretend to be isolated in a mountain resort due to a rock slide?

Now that raises an interesting question: are there any cultural bias in alibi and excuses? If you live close to Roswell maybe the above-mentioned claim becomes credible. If you are a French citizen, you can always claim to have been stuck due to unforeseen strikes. And again it is a very probable story. As a matter of fact during one of my last trip back home I almost missed my late night Eurostar connection after some Britons decided to blow up train voltage transformer to protest against some random political decision around closing a hospital (what would have happened if they got injured doing so? Where would they have gone to?).

Up to you.

The thing is, I am a traveler and tend to move from country to country. As a result, I need to enrich my portfolio of excuses in case one day I oversleep with locally suitable alibis.

This leads me to the following question to you: Wherever you are from, can you share with us the most probable excuse you have or would use to explain a delay?

I am looking forward to reading you, and remember: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)


On the road to Beijing

Getting closer to the Olympic Games, the IOC is seeding the web with some inspiring videos which hail sport as a culture of respect, differences, etc. Enjoy!

Best of us
by brutosaure


Good signs

Road signs.

Back online after being on the road for both personal and professional reasons. During the last few days I have travelled in Italy, the UK, the US and had the opportunity to experience some cultural shocks like I appreciate... In this post, I wanted to share with you a few signs I have bumped into, and which made me smile...

An eye on your pockets

In London, first, when walking up the street, I came across this first sign by Buckingham Palace. Having lived in several major cities, I am used to that kind of inconvenient side-effects that are called pickpockets. I touch wood, but so far my shaved and somehow tough-looking head (not to mention my prominent muscles) have managed to keep these nuisances away. Nevertheless my hears are now used the usual warning messages such as "watch your belongings", "thieves are operating in this station", etc. However, I had never come across such a sign:

Beware Where else than in the UK could you have the humour to reverse the proposition: instead of protecting the potential victims, let's remind the criminals of their own risks... "Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do, when they'll come for you" says the song.

The Italian job.

Next stop, Rome where I was visiting some friends who got married in the Eternal City (some pictures here). The Italian capital is not only renown for its ancient stones, its Vespas and other Fiat 500, but also for their relaxed interpretations of regulations... Note that Vespas and Fiat 500 are themselves loose interpretations of what a car and a scooter can or should be.

Anyway, walking in the narrow streets of Trastevere, a group of friends and I entered a Moroccan style shop where Shishas were at the customer's disposal on every single table. Nicely seated on cushions, you had the leisure to appreciate the subtle scents of exotic tobaccos, here with melon flavours, there with caramel hints... Comfortably installed, you could let your spirit wander alongside the smoke curls, until your eyes get in contact with the following scene:

No Smoking Right above the central centre of interest of the venue, a strange sign is stuck to the wall... Just like in the UK in July 2006 it is now "vietato fumare" in every public places in Italy: smoking is prohibited. I remember reading about a French paradox, but this example triggered another great smile on my face. Latin style baby, Latin style!

2 years later. Same story.

And finally the US... Georgia state and its big city Atlanta, or Fatlanta as some nicknamed it. A rejuvenating trip to their conference centre during which I had the chance to attend the largest employee meeting in the world with 13,500 attendees (MGX for the ones in the know). Rejuvenating because alongside the visionary presentations and inspiring speeches, we were invited to some social events which brought me back in time. I had not been in the US since 1999 and a student trip with some mates. I had not stepped in roller coasters for even longer, etc.

But what was awkward was that two years after writing my first blog post, I was facing the exact same situation which made me start this blog on the cultural differences and the funny misinterpretations that can be generated by foreign words read in your own language.

If you are a regular reader of these lines, or a French fellow-citizen, you will certainly get it at the sight of the advert below:Perfect Bite

Well, the US are so keen on superlatives. Everything is "the best", "the greatest", "the world #1"... that they could not avoid doing better than Marks&Spencers. The British chocolate was mini. In the US, the bite had to be perfect. Don't get it? Have a read here, but beware, you might never enjoy your chocolate sweets the same way.


The number 8

Pick your number.

Every nation has its cherished numbers. Christianity has a very peculiar relationship to 13 as it was the number of guests at the last supper of Christ. Satanists hail the triple 6. Sport fans will associate 23 to a flying deity and the 10 to either a headbutting crane, samba dancing feet or a divine arm extension. Chinese despise the number 4 but love 8. The earlier is indeed sign of bad luck, whilst the second is about abundance and prosperity. It is interesting that from an arithmetical perspective twice the evil equals happiness...

Photo by Claude

Want some funny implications of those believes? In Europe, hotels will never have a room 13 or a 13th floor to avoid any disturbance amongst the most pious customers. In Chinese countries (i.e. countries where the Chinese diaspora has a strong influence like Singapore, Taiwan, etc.) a lift would bring you straight from the 3rd to the 5th floor. No intermediary stop. And guess what? When are the Beijing Olympic Games starting? On August 8th, 08.08.08! Will they push that principle to its very limit and ignite the torch at 08:08 pm, I can only assume so.

My own 8.

Recently, I have been tagged by Laurence who asked me to take part in one of these blogger chains and to answer the question: what are 8 ways in which you’ve used social media? So here is my contribution, I have used social media to...

  1. make my career evolve. First it led me to resign from my previous role as an Sr. Account Director in a web-agency by nourrishing my professional frustrations, and then it fulfilled my personal ambitions. I was indeed recruited for my current job thanks to a headhunter who found my profile on... Facebook.
  2. keep in touch with friends on the other side of the world, of the Channel or even of the city. RSS feeds are simply one of the greatest inventions to save time... Well yes, I am busy because of point 1.
  3. be live on a national TV channel in prime time for 15 minutes. A TV Producer found this blog and liked my thoughts on the Entente Cordiale and asked me pay him a visit on Sky News.
  4. share my "art". One of my flickr pictures has been selected to be published in a photo book to be released in September
  5. keep track of my running performances in a constant effort to regain my former fitness.
  6. bring virtuality into reality by meeting people from very diverse horizons
  7. watch reality becoming an astonishing virtuality through fantastic initiatives like wefeelfine.org by Jonathan Harris.
  8. enrich my marketing classes with videos in a vain effort to shine in front of final year business school students.

Apparently the Chinese are right, 8 is quite fulfilling... What do you think? What are your 8 digital achievments?