Thinking out of the box, and the beach.

Break the rules.

The sky is blue, sun is hot, water wet and oranges... well orange.

There are some things that are established and have no real chance to change. However, there are some paradigms which can be challenged. I really value those who actually do. Some people can look at a existing fact and think that it can work differently, and achieve it. Those are for me geniuses, inspired minds... And you can find them pretty much everywhere.

Look at sports for instance. Who said that football was to be played on a green pitch? Who asserted that Frisbee was a beach entertainment? Well... these two videos are great examples of how some wicked souls break the moulds to bring their disciplines to new stages.

The first one is an excerpt from the video magazine published by French Urban Frisbee group, Spin Collectif. What they do with these little plastic discs in the street of Paris is simply outstanding...

And what to say with this Mexican lot who brings football to stratospheric heights...


A Brand new world

On your trade mark, get set, go.

Brands. It is a cliche to say that they rule the world... They are omnipresent, and some claim that they are also omnipotent. They infiltrate the communities, and become the icons of some cultures. What would be the US without Coke, McDonald's or Levi's for instance?

Interestingly enough, whilst some like
Naomi Klein would prefer a world with No Logo, some artists have decided to use them, to hack them. From dust to dust, from brands to art...

Shanghai-based artist Chen Hang Feng for instance. This creative dye-cutter makes intricate paper artworks which subtly blend traditional Chinese heritage and modern brand hijack. This video, found on inspiring website Cool Hunting, follows the Artist on a paper-finding walk while exchanging about his work:

The revenge of the copycat.

By mixing and manipulating corporate logos and traditional symbols, the artist is also casting a peculiar, and certainly ironic, look at his own country. As a matter of fact, Greater China has been for several years now the centre of gravity for counterfeiters. Before them, the Baby Tigers and their predecessors, the Dragons, were standing in the spotlight. And even before them Japan, which in the late 60s was renowned for the "tourist trips" in industrial countries during which the frantic photographers were bringing back more than simple post cards memories...

And yet, copying may lead you to success. Look at the above mentioned countries, they accelerated their growth and industrialisation thanks to the anticipated learning curve. You can indeed learn from your predecessors mistakes and glories... This is why art students are copying over and over classic master pieces.

A hint of Asian flavour in French design?

The French design scene has its own recent example on how breaking trademarks through creativity can help you raise your profile. Young designer tycoon, Ora-Ito, managed to break the mould and impose his name on the market via such practices. As you can read in this very well-documented article published in Business Week, the son of jewel designer Morabito is getting today's lion's share thanks to the Louis Vuitton fuzzball table or the camouflage iBook which were presented in international design magazines as if commissioned. They were not, but the generated interest from the public forced the hijacked brands to forget their plans of legal actions, and to have a look at the intrinsic talent of this gifted creative soul.
Inspired? Maybe after all there is something good in this counterfeiting. Obviously I am not directly encouraging corporation to disavow their intellectual properties, but in an era of Creative Commons, and consumer generated content would not it be interesting to channel this creativity, to encourage the crowd in owning their beloved brands and bringing them to new stages? To bind them to other alien culture without replicating existing patterns? In any case, this could mean surfing on a very strong and current trend... So as they say on the West Coast, hang loose dude!


Cross-words across the world


As a regular reader of this blog you are now probably familiar with this friend of mine, Flavien, who has a little bike in his head, a helpful hand, and a friendly face. For those who don't have the time to read the previous posts, Flavien is, in a nutshell, a university friend who decided to resign from his work as a sales rep to cycle around the Mediterranean sea, first from Paris to Jerusalem in 2006-07, and this year from Jerusalem to Paris via the Maghreb.

But to the above mentioned description, I should add that Flavien has a soul mate. Anne is one of his close friend with whom he enjoys travelling around the globe, discovering local cultures, meeting new people... The two fellows were in fact planning to head towards South-East Asia when a sad event stopped them. Anne was diagnosed with a lymphoma... and was forced to remain in Paris to get the relevant treatment for the next six months.

A new roadmap.

Obviously it was some sort of a chock for these two not-even-thirty-year old fellows. But as soon as the news was "digested", they started to look for the next stages, a new challenge. And as a matter of fact, they rapidly came up with the concept of a website, drôle2voyages (which is a play on word and could translate into "two amazing a journey"), where the two friends will dialogue, in spite of the geographical distance, about their own journey. Anne's will be an introspective trip in her path to recovery, whilst Flavien will report his encounters in Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Spain and France.

Agrandir le plan

The site has been live for a few months now, and is updated every day with some articles or photos from the two explorers. I therefore encourage any French-speaking reader of these lines to have read at their notes and to bookmark/RSS them (an English version is in the pipes, but not live yet). Not only do they require our support, but it is very interesting to read these insightful slices of life, and extremely enriching a reading. Both are very literate and knowledgeable. Their consequent visions of our world through their personal and special prism are an ode to more optimism, more solidarity, more passion...

The Union Jack as a checker flag?

Anne, good luck in your fight against the crab... The first news seem to be positive, and I am very happy for you. Keep the faith, your smile and desire to go forward. Flavien, you are a source of inspiration and a model on many levels. So keep it on too, and if you really want to close the loop you certainly remember that London was the first city on your initial roadmap even if it was not on the Mediterranean shores... So we are waiting for you. What about a visit with Anne?



Truth in the speech.

In French, Butchery is "Boucherie", both literally and in an allegoric way. This little video found on YouTube inspired me the pun of this post title. Sorry, bad taste!

Communicative happiness

An inspiring guy recently said to me: "happy are the people who are able to laugh about themselves, they are not close to get bored".

Well, if you like that kind of auto-derision, you will probably like this other excerpt from another American late show. It seems that our friends on the other side of the pond have at least that, a great sense of humour. Or as they would probably put it: they are "the world greatest humorists in the entire universe". But to be honest, in spite of their great use of superlative, you cannot contest their talent. And let's be frank, I cannot wait for the Hollywood writer strike to be over... I miss them all.

Emergency exits are located in the front, middle and back of the plane...

Here is a story that someone sent me through Facebook. Is it a true story? In any case, it is worth sharing:

In a plane, a woman keeps on pressing the assistance button until a member of the cabin crew finally arrives:
- What can I do for you, Madam? asks the hostess.
- Isn't it obvious? the lady answers. I am sitting right next to a Black. I cannot stand to stay next to that kind of disgusting kind. I want another seat!
- Please, calm down. I think that the flight is full, but let me see what I can do, there might be some spare seats.

The air hostess comes back a few minutes later.

- Madam, as feared, there is no more seats in the economy class. I have talked to the commandant who confirmed that there is indeed no available seats except in the first class.

And the hostess to continue:
- It is not a common practice to upgrade economy passenger to first class. But due to the exceptional circumstances, our commandant feels it is totally scandalous to force someone to sit next to such a disgusting person. So if you please... Sir, a seat is waiting for you in the front of the plane.

In France, in March, there will be a week of actions against racism. In Belgium the same type of activity will take place from the 13th to the 22nd. These are great initiatives as racism is a gangrene that needs to be eradicated. The following film from NGO Caritas Belgium is a very impacting execution:

Our wealth is diversity. Instead of rejecting it, we should hail it...


Quote of the day

"Humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue."
Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941)


How's your job?


Well, we all know that sex makes sell. So the guys from PublicisNet in Paris have decided to have a little round up on the various commercials and spoofs that are using Blow Jobs as a viral hook on the web. Here is an example, and there are many more here:

Re-routing from sex to culture.

Why am I talking about this in this blog about cultural differences? Because sex makes sell and apparently it makes also read. Many people arrive on this blog because of my kinky articles about "oral sex with a fork", "end of a myth", "insectophily" or "chopping your carrot"... You dirty perverts! But if you land on this site and decide to have a read through in spite of the deception to find no nude or free porn pictures in these pages, you might take away something from you readings... For instance, did you know that a blow job in German slang is said "Französich" (= French)? Of course, this can lead to some awkward situations when some fellow citizens ask German Frauleine if they like French, from a linguistic perspective of course.

So be aware... And work out your linguistic skills, they could be useful. Maybe even more than your mother (f**ker) tongue.


Sniff-Sniff vs. Miam-Miam.

I have already talked at length about the Axe/Lynx brand and their ability to engage their audience through a consistent proposition: seduction. Well the Unilever brand has just released a new TV commercial which capitalises on a consumer insight: women cannot resist to chocolate (this insight has been carefully researched at home by the way):

Is the global FMCG group about to start some cross-branding? What about an anti-perspirant flavoured after Wall's Vienneta? Or a grooming kit with Ben&Jerry's chocolate cream? Such products could sound appetizing, as long as they stay away from any joint-activity with... Marmite!

Hail to the chocolate.

Chocolate is critical, not only for women, but also for French men. It is as important to us as beer is to English males. As a matter of fact, we do not talk in France of a six-pack, but of a chocolate bar. So chocolate is not only about taste buds, it is also about appearance, and if you refer to some studies it would also have an influence on your Psyche. As you can read in this very well-documented site dedicated to chocolate:
Placebo-controlled trials suggest chocolate consumption may subtly enhance cognitive performance. As reported by Dr Bryan Raudenbush (2006), scores for verbal and visual memory are raised by eating chocolate. Impulse-control and reaction-time are also improved.
By adding some chocolate scents to their deodorant, does Unilever tries to create a new product category? I have already mentioned nutriceuticals, this combination of nutriment and medicine. Are we seeing the birth of Groomingurgitation? After all, so many things are becoming eatable those days: g-strings, cars, manga heroes, mobile phones... So why not grooming products?


The story of life

Sorry, but I could not resist to share this... puzzling vision of family happiness and joy. So if you are still looking at something to replace what you initially bought to your children for Christmas, this might just well be the right choice. And there are more on their website.

Beyond the gore and macabre teddy there is a story, like every toys convey. This time it is not about Winnie the Pooh and friendship, nor the story of Goldilocks and privacy, but it is the story of life... Certainly less cute than the Lion King's musical, but with the same moral: everyone, even the greatest predator, shall die one day, just try to avoid old ladies, they tend to accelerate the rotation of the circle of life.


Choose your language

An Alien in the UK
Bon anniversary

This January I am celebrating my 18th month in the UK, a year and a half living, breathing, working, speaking, writing, blogging and even dreaming in English. Of course before my arrival on the UK soil, I had already lived in English-speaking countries whilst studying or starting my career. And I had come and visited the British Isles many times as a tourist. However this is the first time that I am truly immersed in the British society (which since the fall of the Empire can no longer be a synonym to the previously evoked destinations).

My first reflex as an alien in London was to focus on the natives, eventually on their antipodean cousins, and to study their endogenous culture and differences. I wanted to acclimate and blend into the country that I had adopted, but before all to stay away from the French community. But as you can have read in one of my previous articles, avoiding French fellow citizens in London is as difficult as finding a flat-tummied pal in a pub.

But still, I think that I have managed to almost perfectly adapt and cope with the cultural choc that you might face when discovering this country. And, I am even trying my luck with the art of understatement... My immersion has been so efficient that it led me to experience some puzzling situations when having said something, I could not really tell whether I had spoken in English or French. Other example: whilst vaguely listening to some security instructions, I suddenly wondered why the loudspeaker was repeating itself, until I realised that it was just a French translation, and not an iteration of the initial English speech. My mind seems to have activated the English auto-pilot option, and this language as a second default mode.

Familiar foreign languages

The English language has never been a barrier to me. I even remember discovering some words at school for the first time, and immediately know what they meant... I tend to have a great affinity with foreign languages, but English has always outweighed the other. Maybe because it is so simple a language.

For us Latins, French, Spanish and Italian are so close that it is very easy to pick up. You can even kind of understand two Italian without having ever had a class of Italian. German on the contrary is completely different a language: different vocabulary, different syntax, different accentuation, different pronunciation, etc. And yet, I am tempted to say that German is even an easier language to learn... I can already see rolling eyes, and even some threatening fists from pupils struggling with Goethe's language. Blasphemy!!!

But think about it, this language is ideal to learn: little exceptions in the grammar, a consistent approach of the word constructions... Fair enough, it is a hell of a work to get a grip on the gender, even for us in Latin countries where we already play around with masculine and feminine. But then, once you have that in mind, and you know the few rules you are almost certain to avoid any mistake. Whereas in the Latin languages, the rule is that there are no rules... These are languages rich of their exceptions. In other words, German is hard to learn, easy to master, whilst Latin languages are easy to learn, impossible to master.


What about English in all that? Well, English is somewhere in between. So would you be ready to trade your mother tongue for an easier language like English? Jean-Claude Vandamme has been ridiculed in French-speaking Europe for the interview he gave once back in his native Belgium: he could no longer articulate proper sentences without adding some English in it (cocaine helped to refine the character of the now obsolete Hollywood icon). Ridiculous, but not that much when you have lived in a foreign country.

I am not there yet, however I realise every time that I go home that I suffer from a pauperisation of my vocabulary. If you don't use a language you will notice that you lose your ability. A language is like a muscle, it needs to be trained not to atrophy. Fortunately, my wife is French, and in her blood runs some family fluids that tend to ease the tongue... She speaks all the time, especially on the phone, and I benefit from it to a certain extend. She is my personal trainer, a coach who should avoid me to become a JCVD...

But I have some other back-ups in case she is away. During my Saturday class of photography, I realised that my camera was set in French. Having a look at it closely, I realised that my iPOD, my phone and my PS3 had been set to French too. This is quite interesting because, although I would be totally at ease to use these technical devices in English (it would even be more practical in some instances), I have configured the language setting to my mother tongue. Is this some kind of a reinsurance towards the potential frustration and difficulties of technology? I am not sure, but I have decided to turn the whole lot back to English, as a sign of my determination to embrace my host culture. Voilà! (Oups... sorry for this last French digression, I promise, I won't do it again).


Quote of the day

"If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity."
John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963)


Computer Generated Tourism

January is the month of yearly reviews, a month during which companies and journalists look back at the previous 12 months and consider the highlights of the year and try to isolate trend and learnings. Back in December I came across Allocine podcast, a website that provides everything about cinema, from trailers to schedules to forums and news. I immediately subscribed to both the British and French editions and have since been catching up with the latest movie gossips while in the tube.

One mouse-click to Paris

Last week, in its daily show,
Allocine was coming back on the 2007 box-office results. I then realised that the feature which outperformed all movies in France last year was Ratatouille, the CGI movie by Disney's Pixar. Beyond the cute little story about tolerance, self-confidence and culinary art, this animation has been doing a great job to rehabilitate long outcast rats (which became the #1 pets in 2007) and to promote Paris through magnificent scenes. I must admit that Pixar artists did really a great job to magnify the beauty of the City of Lights, and even managed to make me feel home-sick for a while...

But the little rat was not the only cartoon to make its way to the top of the charts: the yellow icons of the Generation X did a great job too. Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, a.k.a. the Simpsons, were not to be missed when they made their way from the TV screen to the cinemas. Some could argue that Hollywood did a little too much to promote this film with their advertising, experiential marketing, PR, digital communication... Did they overkill it? I don't think so, but you must acknowledge that they were everywhere. Even in Paris, for the Fashion Week.

The Yellow Wave

In 2007, The Devil could no longer wear Prada: it was so last year. So he must have read Harper’s Bazaar August 07 edition to renew his wardrobe. The magazine partnered with Matt Groening to promote the highlights of this year catwalks. And the results is fantastic: how does Homer look in Karl Lagerfeld? Does Jean-Paul Gaulthier suit Marge? And what about Lanvin necklaces on Lisa?

"The Simpsons Go to Paris with Linda Evangelista" from Harper's Bazaar
(more similar illustrations by Julius Preite
here, and real life collection here)

So it seems that 2007 was all about animation and being seen in Paris if you wanted to be a cinematographic success. And yet, another cartoon made a "carton" last year in France (sorry for the pun... "faire un carton", literally "hit the cardboard target" or be a smashing hit). But this one did not take place in Paris, nor was it yellow, and it was certainly not generated by thousands of rendering machine... It is a black and white animation describing the true story of an outspoken Iranian girl, Marjane Astrapi, forced to leave her country by the Islamic Revolution and the Iraq-Iran war.

Although more modest than the two American blockbusters', I think Persepolis success was a great performance... Not only was this film acclaimed by the industry with several awards in Cannes, Toronto, NY and possibly at the Academy Awards where it will represent France, but it also met a great response from the public. Politically-engaged, artistic independent films still have a word to say... And that is exciting.

So if you could not see the film in cinema, you will soon be able get the DVD or if you prefer to read the original comic novel it is available on Amazon (sorry, I literally read it in a night, not having time to add it to the "On my bedside table" section of this blog):


The choc of the words

For decades French magazine Paris-Match has been known for its slogan: "the weight of words, the choc of pictures", a motto depicting its editorial philosophy. Since I arrived in the UK, I am everyday stunned by the journalistic choices of British newspapers, in particular their terminology (I will ignore Page 3 for the time being).

Worded to choc.

In local papers, words seem not to be weighed, but rather outweighed, so to say. There is a constant dramatization of the facts in order to exaggerate their importance and create an impact. This "superlativization", if I may use this neologism, tends also to be Manichean, with a strong tendency to darken the picture. Everything is either white or black, and there is always little room for nuances. In that instance, finding the right word is not finding the most accurate to describe a specific situation, but the most impactful. And often the more sordid the better.

I played a little game the other day, and highlighted in one of these newspapers all the words that were out of proportion. When I was done, I flipped again through the pages and realised that most pages were marked. Slaughter, terror, blaze, horror, etc... were only a few example of the sensational vocabulary used to depict unfortunately ordinary events like a car accident or a domestic fire.

This shades an interesting light on the British culture, and by consequence on the cultural disparities between our two countries.

Black and White, and everything in between.

First, there is this Saxon addiction for binary. I already wrote a note on that topic when I realised that the local plumbing remembered me of how German tackle love... French uses the expression "le sens des demi-mesures" (the sense of half-measures). This relates to one's ability to adapt one's behaviour or vocabulary to the situation. To come back to the above-mentioned colourful analogy, it is about using a great diversity of grey shades between the black and the white. To that extend, British journalism provides to the readership what it is receptive to: clear statements about good and evil.

Second insight is about the need for emotions. To that extend the British people is not only Saxon, it is Anglo-Saxon. While German readers expect newspapers to relate facts and only facts, British readers expect more from these sheets of paper. They want to find content that engages their heart, and not only their head. As a consequence, the use of polarised language is the insurance to trigger a consensual, emotional response. Strong words generate a common feeling amongst the entire readership, whilst nuances are a source of complexity. They create divergence: everyone agrees on what black or white is, but when you start referring to light dark grey, everyone has a different perception. So journalists tend to level their discourse to address the larger audience and rallying them under a common set of basic emotions. Some could argue that these words are used to engage, to attract the attention, to get the reader involved... No body bother about tempered water, but freezing or boiling water provoke a reaction. Ultimately I think that this leads to the trivialization of words which are losing their primary sense. Can we really harness under the same word of "Horror" what happens in Iraq and a dog being ran over in Yorkshire by a truck. No offence to the widowing bitch.

This simplification of the message is not only visible in the press. It is also present in advertising, and in fact highly valued. Many advertising experts actually claim that American and British advertising are the best in the world because they deliver a simplistic message with no frills (whilst other countries tend to express more circumvolutory, tortuous though equivalent messages). Funny enough, some British creatives even complain that their domestic approach is sometimes too complex or sophisticated compared to the US... But after all this is the aim of advertising conveying a simple message, "buy it", in an appealing way.

So what should we say back in France? Maybe that our detractors are right, that we are intellectualising too much. That the Age of Enlightenment is way behind us and that we should stop philosophising about everything from the cost of a baguette to the number of taps on a sink... And yet if I was stopping to think about what is going on around me, you would not be reading these lines ;-)


2008: Tribute to 2007

For me 2007 has been influenced by several colours:

  • Orange who takes a lot of my private time in the shape of a traveling wife.
  • Black&Magenta which was in fact the colour combination which ruled the day when the above mentioned lady became indeed my "wife".
  • And finally Blue, White and Red of both the tricolor French flag and the Union Jack whose nations have been a constant source of inspiration for this blog

As a result, when it came to welcome the new year, I felt I had to pay tribute to these polychromatic symphony. And voila:

Thanks to advertising agency Fallon, for their inspiring campaign for Orange.