A Sunday Morning in Asia.

Souvenirs, Souvenirs...

If you are a careful reader of this blog you are certainly aware that before my mountain dweller feet led me to the Thames Valley, I have wandered in South East Asia amongst other areas. And on this sunny Sunday, maybe inspired by the sudden burst of temperature (sic!), I remember two awkward experiences which happened to me back then under the Tropics. These two experiences took place on two different Sundays and are extremely relevant to this blog editorial line as they denote of cultural disparities induced by expatriation...

As a matter of fact, both surprises relied on the same trigger: globalisation has forced crowds to emigrate in order to find better-paid jobs, and to offer a better living to their families, families who most of the time stayed in the home country. I am sure that I don't teach you anything here about the drivers to people migrations. But it is one thing to read it and another to see it, en masse.

HK: the woman invasion.

Imagine. This is Sunday morning in Hong Kong, due to the time difference you get up early, at dawn and decide to make your way from Kowloon to the business district. You have probably read everything about the former English colony, but to be fair, nothing has prepared you to what you are about to experience. As you walk, a first group of darker-skinned women start to walk along. And then another one, and another one... To my French eyes, this looks very much like the preparation of a strike. Except that instead of revolutionary songs, the demonstrators are chanting gospels ; instead of baseball bats, they carry guitars...Hong Kong Invaded by WomenIn fact, who are these hordes of women? They are no strikers, but happen to be Philippine maids who have left their islands to come and work in the booming financial city of HK. They work here all year long and send their wages back to Manilla where their children and husband continue their life without them. Sunday is their day off and like any employee they leave their workplace for the day. Except that their workspace happens to be their home too. So what would you do if you were forced to go out, and had no where else to go. In the UK, you would probably head to a pub, but these Philippinas will decide to turn the streets into a fantastic social gathering.

Here seated on mere plastic tarpaulins they join in cheerful prayers and songs, they swap books, exchange about their lives and the difficulty they face to be separated from their beloved ones. The streets are literally paved with these working-class women and only women on Sunday.

Singapore, HK's negative.

Singapore, a male hint of IndiaInteresting enough, thousands miles South-West from Hong Kong, Singapore offers on week-ends the exact opposite vision in its own popular district. In this other rising country, the working class is nowadays mainly "imported" from abroad. The entrepreneurial structure in Singapore is the following: the top executives are mostly expatriates from Europe or the States, the middle management is handled by the locals whilst the work force of the country lays in the hand of men coming from the Indian Peninsula.

As a result, if you decide to hang around in the so-called Little India on week-ends, by entering the district, you actually travel from South East Asia to a Bombay street in no time. But not a street like others, one strolled only by males. Not a single woman in sari to be seen. Just like in the maids in Hong Kong, the Singaporean workforce is unisex, and far from home.

Same symptoms, same effects, different gender. This was my thought of the day, a Sunday on Earth. Have a nice week.


Summer time... Said the song!

I could not resist to take this picture this morning when walking down the street, my face buried in my coat and soaked to the bones... I was wondering, is this misleading advertising or sadly an omen of the upcoming summer in Great Britain? Note sure that the "chill out" expression will be much used by the London based Aussies in the later case...


Mountains on air

French Momentum.

If you live in the UK you could not escape it. It's as unmissable as a Jamie Oliver's merchandising item in a Sainsburry outlet... This week is France week in England. Our president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is visiting the British highest representatives in the person of Queen Elizabeth II, Gordon Brown and even Arsène Wenger. No one has been left aside on the agenda.

But it was not only about politics because obviously more superior matters were at stake this week when both England and France were facing each other for a football match in Stade de France. After all who cares about boycott threats for the China Olympic Games because of the critical situation in Tibet, who cares about the future of the Western military presence in Afghanistan, who cares about these minor events when David Beckham is about to celebrate his 100th cap?

Camera 1. Rolling.

Well, one TV channel did care: Sky News. Yesterday, on Wednesday 26th at 7:30pm, whilst Thuram, Ferdinand and other Gerrard were putting on their jersey, Martin Stanford was in front of his prompting roll, analysing this momentum. And guess what, I was sitting next to him. I had been contacted a few hours before and offered the chance (?) to take part in the programme as a French blogger based in the UK. Funny, scam, scary, new, intriguing... many words crossed my mind when I hung up the phone at the end of my conversation with the producer. I nevertheless decided to seize this opportunity to discover what live TV was and accepted.

But from the moment I said "yes" I started to freak out. It is one thing to write posts, and to try to be witty and interesting hidden behind my screen, now would I be able to do the same in front of a camera? Live? I started to think of all the intelligent things I could say. After all I was about to represent France's voice on UK television and there was no Laurent Blanc to kiss my bald head for good luck. So I was writing mental notes after mental notes. My brain turning yellow under the clutter of post-its about everything I should not forget to state. I was also trying hard to condition myself not to forget to stand straight, not to pick my nose or scratch my pants... France, home of Haute Couture and Savoir-Vivre. I had to be on par.

Sauf que voilà...

As my childhood hero, Hannibal, used to repeat: "I love it when a plan comes together". Except that in my episode, the only other member of the A-Team was behind the camera, and was Murdoch (sorry for the far-fetched pun!)... I have had some experiences behind the camera and one or two in front of it, but this was the first time that I would face the red-dotted Cyclops live. No room for errors, no editing to get rid of the hesitations. And in spite of the encouragements from the programme producer and Heckler Spray Stuart who was interviewed before me, I must admit that I was kind of afraid to fail matching the expectations. Especially since I had neither an idea of the questions which would be fired at me, nor am I a geopolitical expert nor a journalist.

Anyway suddenly everything paces up. A technician comes and picks me up, plugs a microphone in the back of my trousers, pushes me upstairs were a vacant stool is waiting for me. And here it goes.

When Andy Warhol mentioned the 15 minutes of fame, I had never realised how long this quarter of an hour could be. Overall, I think that it went well. Although my good intentions to shine vanished as soon as the light was on, I think that I have articulated some acceptable thoughts... But if you know me personally, you will acknowledge that I am a perfectionist and am seldom satisfied with myself.

France-England - Interview Take 2.

So instead of ruminating "I should have said that", I have decided to write the answers that I would have had the talent and inspiration to say on the spot. And you know what, do not hesitate to drop me your comments, I would love to get your thoughts on these topics.
  1. France-England, what do you think of the relationship between both countries?
    As mentioned during the programme, I think that Entente Cordiale has never been in a better state in 100 years. Nowadays, England has become one of the favourite destinations for French citizens and professionals. It might no longer be for the same
    sexy reasons as in the 80s, but nonetheless London is today the 7th French city in the world. We feel almost at home in this country and London is arguably closer to Paris than Nice or Bordeaux. As a result, more and more French artists include London in their Tour now and manage to get sold out performances. On the other hand, what to say about the hordes of English people investing in French cottages in Normandy and on the French Riviera... Nevertheless, like every passion there is a love-hate ambiguity, even if the later part belongs more to folklore than to a real resentment. It's is part of the custom that Frogs and Rosbiffs fake to hate each other. We are like to brothers who keep on teasing but cannot stand to be away one from the other.

  2. France-England football match, your prognostics?
    Easy one, I initially prognosticated a 2-1 win for France, hoping that Spice Boy would score on his 100th cap. That would have been a brilliant way to write History and build a myth. Zidane left the football scene on a head-butting, Beckham could have done the same on a free kick. It did not happened, maybe he will be granted another chance... Maybe.

  3. Sarkozy in England to gain gravitas?
    As a matter of fact, people criticized Sarko for his actions which were picked up by the people magazines rather than the political folds of highbrow newspapers... To a certain extend he is the Beckham of French politics. Whilst Beck combined football and glamour by turning into a fashion icon, Sarko is trying to rejuvenate the role of President. This kind of glamorisation has been initially well received but a certain backlash operates currently. As a result our president has lost some of his credit on the French soil (read here) and need to boost his image with some high level actions on both domestic and international grounds. This certainly explains his intervention for the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt in Columbia, his visit in the UK and the recent declarations about Tibet. Sarko the hyper-active president is back.

  4. Carla Bruni (read "Brun-ee" and not "Brun-eye" as Martin repeated during the show), does this glamorous character makes any change to the deal in France politics?
    Carla Bruni has more than one string at her bow (even if she happens to pose naked for some shots too): former model, singer, man-eater... She can certainly bring something to the table. I was amazed to see her coming out of the official plane in her grey vintage-like suit. It was not without remembering another first lady renowned for her stylish look and strong political influence: Jackie Kennedy. Carla is said to have a strong character too and to clearly know what she wants. So maybe her contribution will be more than revamping the dusty image of the presidential couple (sorry Bernadette but competition is tough nowadays). Look at Lady Di: her sex-appeal combined to her determination have contributed to make her a figure of XXth century. One more thing about this fascinating couple: an Italian woman who sings in French and have flirted with a Rolling Stone and now gets married to a French politician with Polish ancestors... Overall this seems to be an interesting Euro-Pudding, ideal for the international jostles.

  5. Sarkozy being the first politics to take position about Tibet against China, a will to bring France back in the debate?
    Whether a fan or a detractor, you can only acknowledge that Sarkozy has been making things move. He is young and determined. He too reminds the 60s political rising star, JFK. As a matter of fact, he is shifting paradigms: for instance he broke the classical divide between Right and Left wings whilst on-boarding member of the Opposition in his government; he takes position on topics where the classical French diplomacy would have encouraged the right of reserve... He is energetic, frank, demagogue, outspoken (to the point of insulting a farmer in a fair). To be fair, he has made a statement in France, that needs to rapidly materialise now by real efficient actions, otherwise it will be a tribute to Shakespeare's "A lot of noise for nothing". But he is ambitious and he certainly does not want to stop at the domestic borders. I am sure that he will a source of fresh air in our policy which was tending to get rusted. And this will imply ups and downs, but overall I am indeed convinced that his ambition is to bring back France (and himself) in the spotlight. He one day claimed that he was thinking of becoming President every morning when shaving. And he is still impeccably shaved, so he must have something in the back of his mind...

The moral of this experience is that I am definitely not a journalist, but I remain highly interested in the media and its special prism on cultures. I hope you too enjoyed this post, so feel free to share your thoughts. And Allez les Bleus!


Fishy future?

Hot topic.

Obviously I am a bit early for April fools' day but nonetheless I found that this advert was a nice attempt to raise awareness about the hot topic of the moment (sorry for the pun): Global Warming.

In France on April 1st it is tradition to trick your friends by sticking paper fishes in their back without them noticing. Why? No idea, but certainly because someone walking with a fish on his or her back really looks like a fool.

Now, if we don't pay attention, with floods and melting poles, the joke will soon be on us... Fishes will stick paper men on their pal back fins.


Quote of the day

"Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it."
Christopher Morley (1890 - 1957)


Oh my Guinness!

Just pour in.

I have already touched base on the fact that a proof of success of an advert is its propensity to be spoofed. The Guinness "domino" being an iconic ad of last year does not escape this rules, and as a matter of fact, I have just found this English variation, which is typical of how this country values the food: a lot of noise for nothing...

Fortunately, the French has invaded the UK so their is a potential salvation in sight. In the meanwhile, tuck in!



"Apply your French lessons to the most French place in Prague" Belécole School of Language.
Advertising Agency: Euro RSCG, Prague, Czech Republic


Tattling ta-ta!

Bold reality.

Each nation has its history and consequently its own reference scheme. As you might have noticed on my new profile picture, I am not the hairiest people in the world and to be frank I have never been. When during a biology class in high school we learned about heredity, it became clear to me that it was no point getting into heavy metal as my head-banging would become everyday less spectacular anyway.

As a result, I have always worn short hair. And one day when I got fed up with both gravity and biological determinism, I decided to shave my head for good. I was in my late 20s, shaved heads have become more common with some iconic figures like Fabulous Fab.

Barthez, the Divine BaldNowadays the traditional pejorative nickname "Crâne d'Oeuf" (literally Egg head) has more or less disappeared, as there would be more than a dozen to mock. On the contrary, I remember people flattering with favourable comparisons to Zidane, Bruce Willis, Hitman or other iconic bald heads. It has become kind of fashionable or at least acceptable to walk bear head. After all, weren't some of the most admirable people like us? Think Gandhi, think Dalai Lama and his cohorts of bonzes... Not pretending to be on par with them anywhere else than on capillary topics though.

Impact of the past

In fact the only person who had a negative reaction was my grandma. When discovering my new hairstyle, she welcomed me in a shivering "Hmmmm... Frightening!". She never expanded on her reaction, and like any grandma she has since decided to ignore it. However, I might have my idea on why she reacted like that. As I said in introduction every country has its history, and let's face it our elderly people are living witnesses of these previous times. Their references are therefore exacerbated as historical facts are for them memories, not words on school books.

My Grandmother is now in her 80s, and she was living in the French Alps during the second world war. The region around Grenoble has been renowned for its active contribution to the Resistance against German Occupation. And my family took part in it, nothing outstanding but still enough to have their hotel burnt by the German troops like many other. Do I have to remind you that the Waffen-SS were not specifically famous for their grungy hair style? First trauma certainly.
Resistance - Aux armes citoyens!I will fast-forward to mention some events that occurred right after the end of the war in 1945. In such circumstances, people tend to have short-lived memories and to ignore their own transgressions. The result is that witch hunts are common practice after years of war. You need to find some scapegoats to expiate the sins of a nation. In France, some shameful demonstrations happened straight after the liberation. Women who had "close relationships" with the enemy had their head shaved in public, hence losing their womanhood, the face and their honour all at once. Although some women took actively part in this witch hunt, I imagine that most projected themselves in their victims. Is not that the purpose of an expiatory victim? So that is probably a second negative iconography associated to my hairstyle. And you could also think of the concentration camps and the tragic images that spring to mind... Anyhow, I think you got my point here: it becomes more understandable that some people could associate negative images to certain symbols, especially when they lived the bespoke events.

Common unconsciousness.

The interesting thing is that those influences have the ability to travel across generations. I am two generations away from these events, I love Germany where I have lived some marvellous moments, and it's even my Grandma who encouraged me to learn German... But there are some feelings and learnings from those years that still impact our living modes nowadays. And these became particularly obvious to me when I arrived in the UK and heard some adverts on the radio...

One of the key collective trauma at that time has been denouncement: the fact that some citizens delivered information to the enemy against a reward (money, privileges or sometimes a jail release). The type of information is obvious: who is Jewish? who is taking part in the resistance? where are they? etc. The moral issue around this phenomenon was even more critical that it has been encouraged by French officials who had rallied the German interests and wilfully collaborated.

Since then, it has become a very dubious behaviour to encourage such practices... So you can imagine what kind of feelings on my chest when I hear radio spots or billboards about Tax Fraud asking British citizens to report any people who they think is dishonestly acting against the tax law. And there is a whole lot of services to proceed: a 24/7 hotline, a website... Everything you need to alert the institutions.

The informer.

On the one hand I can understand such liberal an approach: these people are evil as they benefit illegally from the government and indirectly from us, so by denouncing them we are defending ourselves. But on the other hand, the French one, asking me to report a misbehaviour from someone else makes me feel really uneasy. Having written that I realise that it might seem absurd, but I cannot even rationalise it. It is a feeling that is deeply embedded in me. And this is why I introduced this article with this notion of common unconsciousness and history-inspired culture.

As a matter of fact, I assume that the same issue would be tackled differently in France due to our background. The communication would ask directly the defrauder to wilfully pay their toll and remember them that they risk an investigation and legal actions. The State against the crooks. The other civilians are not to be personally engaged in this, as the State is their representatives. You cannot ask and of course force someone to incriminate another person. Any action in that sense is heavily disregarded by anyone in France. For example, an hoax site has been created to laugh at the authoritarian actions of current President Sarkozy at that time in charge of the national security...

I agree this sounds a bit utopian to even think that under the moral pressure the wolves will turn into sheeps. But after all maybe was Thomas More a little bit French?


Horny groceries

It has been a while since I had a look at the correlation between food and kinky practices... So for the foodophilists reading these lines, you can catch up on this whilst reading my previous notes here, here or here. But I have recently bumped into two commercials which happen to illustrate even further the awkward relationship between the two capital sins, gluttony and lust.

Some finesse first...

And then some more gross execution, with a pseudo film reference... As Marmite says you either love it or hate it:

British people seem indeed to have every controversial approach of their fridge... Anyway, enjoy and bon appetite!


Back to school... and to the future!

Time to go.

Some (and probably my better half in first instance) would argue that it was about time, but on Monday I will start my new job. After 6 months during which I had the chance to be able to take some time off for me and to do things that were really great like: getting married, lecturing at a university, taking photo classes, going skiing, visiting a few places and even blogging heavily.

As a result of this new agenda, I will probably reduce my PPW statistics. PPW? Post per week... I indeed realised that what was initially an hygienic hobby to empty my mind from thoughts which were keeping me awake has turned into a quite active a pastime. Overall, that are more than 150 articles which have been written for the above 10,000 visitors who have landed by more or less chance on this page. To be frank, I have never written with the intention to generate traffic, it was more a personal approach. So first I am surprised but also really enthusiatic about the interest people can find in my random thoughts. So thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed and will keep on doing so in the coming months or so.

Personal archeology.

There is something though that I find sorry about blogging is the fact that some great ideas are burried in the archives of blogs and whilst dust is settling down, these ideas are getting lost. I am the first when landing on a blog to read the only first or maybe first two pages. Let's be frank, there is little chance that I would go deeper, even on blogs that I have subscribed to.

So since I find this matter of fact damageable, here are my favourite articles written over the last two years. Some happen to be the readers' favourite, so you might have aleady bumped into them, but otherwise, the following reflect in my mind the philosophy of this humble blog:

  1. Shiny happy people, or how depression seems to be as trendy as Baudelaire's spleen was
  2. Oral sex with a fork: you'll never look at M&S chocolates the same way
  3. End of a myth, or how British girls have lost their legendary appeal to French teenagers
  4. French letters from my windmill: sexual shame across the borders
  5. Don't lose your head or your temper(ature): housing non sense in the UK
  6. Eat to live or live to eat, and some Brits call it food...
  7. Yogurt singing, the French trick to be multilingual
  8. Computer generated tourism: how film animation can help a tourism board boost his activity
  9. Forbidding is forbiden, what remains from May 68 revolution
  10. Urban nature or natural city, the paradox of green movement
And to wrap up eveything, two articles which will lead you to reconsider everything that you have read or watched so far on this blog, but most likely everywhere:

"Bonne lecture" as we say in French, and please comment on these articles, I would be delighted to hear your own thoughts!