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):