He is so French!

Social gathering.

The other week I introduced my son to colleagues during our Christmas lunch. He was not the only newborn in the room as our team seems to have undergone a baby boom lately, like most of the UK. There were three of them, plus a heavily pregnant colleague who could almost have delivered in front of our bemused eyes...

The debrief of that day was really insightful. Not only were my colleagues hypnotised by my son's charming smile, but they all reported an interesting fact: "he looks so French". That statement puzzled me. What does it mean? Obviously he has a French passport, two French parents, a lot of sex appeal, and he shrugs every now and then. But what would make him stand out as French from a crowd of three babies who, you would expect, looked like... well, babies?

Spot the difference.

I must admit that every now and then I play a similar game in public transportation. I spot an individual and try to identify its origin by the look, attitude, posture or body language. And I am pretty good at it. There are so many little hints here and there about where you are from. A little red mapple leaf flag sewed on your backpack, you are certainly Canadian. Waving hands, aren't you Italian? Too perfect a white smile and you are probably from the States, the West coast even. You wear flip-flops and a t-shirt whilst it is snowing outside, you are probably Australian, unless these are not flip-flops but sandals, then you may be from Newcastle.

My son does not walk around with a baguette under his arm yet. And his body language is pretty limited at his age, although he is very good with his hands which might make him a good footballer at some point. So it must be due to some of he dresses up. In France we have an idiom that says that the robe does not make the monk. But maybe the outfit makes the French...

We have indeed said a few times that our son wears "French baby clothes", as if that was a type of fashion. We struggled to get that point with my wife, until we looked at buying baby stuff in the UK. You must admit that the offering is quite limited once you have removed the cheezy, fluffy and over-functional clothes. For instance, I would probably not let my son wander around in a Manchester United red overall. If there is something I have learned it is that you must never compromise on style. So he will have to wear stuff I would be proud to wear myself. He is after all a little one, but a boy before all. So why put him through the pain of looking bad, when he could look good?

That might be the parents' attitude then that is at stake in the above-mentioned judgement. Maybe our son looks French, because we raise him as one despite our efforts to blend in. Arthur ought to be boy that values good-looking style, good food, good wine, good manners... And good company.

On that hereditary note, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and an Happy New Year. We are flying back to France to see if his cousins think that our son is "so British"!

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Quote of the day

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."
Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988)


Rotten apple on page 3

There are a few companies out there that would like to give a bite to the Cuppertino-based consumer electronics giant... Microsoft, HP, and the list goes on and on. When I saw the following ad it made me smile. I liked the deprecative tone against Apple's too patronising (though not assumed) expression mode.  I liked the ad, though I am still not convinced about the product itself. Which is the opposite of what an Apple ad does to me... Interesting consumer behaviour!

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Walk around the Loch, walk around the world

Loch me in the eye

Keen fan of Scotland whose surroundings amazed me when I toured it a few years back, I am always interested to see how the local breed promote their region and iconic products. To a certain extend, Whisky is the Scottish wine. You find the same kind of traditional, secretive techniques to ensure great, consistent quality of a product which is intrinsically subject to the unpredictable consequence of natural elements... It is also very easy to fall in the trap of the cliches: the bagpiper wearing a kilt with his face painted in blue... But it is also great to dig a little further in the ambitions of a nation that was too often discarded by the cousins of the South.

The following short film is a great story, told by a great actor. Robert Carlisle is not only a great stripper, he is also a good story-teller. So kudos to advertising agency BBH for the production of this one-take film depicting the story of Whisky brand Johnny Walker. The photography is great, the directing and acting too... But more importantly, the story line is insightful and great. Keep up the good work, and keep walking.

To read more:


We Feel Fine... Thank you!

Turning the page

A while back, the news were all doom and gloom. The economical downturn was all over: in the press, on TV, on the top of the alibi lists used by large corporations to legitimise redundancy plans... Back then, I wrote a note about the positive attitude that one can adopt to face this challenging situation.

A few months later, I have encountered the embodiment of my earlier thoughts in the form of Christmas lightings. As we get closer to the holidays period, positivism seems to take over. I was hence happily surprised to walk up Carnaby Street and to discover this year's variation of their much anticipated Christmas decorations:

Peace. Love. Joy... All good intentions materialised in gigantic balloons covered in rainbow colours, shining stars and other feel-good graphic designs. They hang over the crowd like oversized cartoon bubbles, as if to visualise the intimate thoughts of passers-bys.

Picture that emotion.

As you may remember from a previous post, I am keeping a close eye on Bing, Microsoft new search experience which aims at offering consumers an alternative to Google's 10 boring blue links. Bing just got out of its beta phase in the UK, and the British experience now integrates a brand new way to search: visual search. Don't get me wrong, this is not a new way to search for images. No, this is a visual way to search. It provides users with thumbnails around a given topic, each picture representing an intent. In this example, the images represent travel destinations which can be filtered out using options on the left. You can thus decide that in June, in France, Lyon and the French Alps are one of the ideal travel destinations... Hurray!

Beyond the shameless promotion of my home region, why is that search marketing digression relevant to the current article? Visual search relies on a psychological fact: human beings process images 28% faster than text. This is probably why people like Jonathan Harris work tirelessly at visualising what cannot be materialised.

I refered to Harris' work a few times on this blog, because I just find it amazing. In 2005 for instance, Sep Kamvar and Jonathan Harris created the award-winning website wefeelfine.org, an exploration of human emotion that harvests human feelings from all over the internet. On that site, millions of bubbles are extracting from the blogosphere the words "I feel..." and then depending on the adjective that follows the verb the bubble gets coloured and clustered.

Log in to that site at any point of time and you get an instantaneous view of what people feel then. You can even filter out the results by gender, age groups, weather... Are men or women happier? Does rainy weather affect how we feel? Is beauty the bridge between happiness and negativity? How do our emotions change as we age? What causes depression? What's sexy? What's normal? What's human?

We feel fine finally provides a way to answer these questions that is both quantitative and anecdotal, putting individual stories into a larger context and showing the stories behind the statistics, or as the authors like to say, "bringing life to statistics and statistics to life."

If you want to learn more about this experiment on how to visualise feelings, the authors have published a book "We feel fine: an almanach of human emotion". Packed with personal photos, scientific observations, statistical infographics, and countless candid vignettes from ordinary people, We Feel Fine is "a visual, fiercely intelligent, endlessly engrossing crash course in the secrets of human emotion".

Now, that could be a great "Feel-Good Christmas Present", couldn't it?

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My name is not nobody

Promising start
The name of the doubt.

As you may have read in September, I am for a couple months the lucky dad of a young little fellow called Arthur.

Finding the name of your heir is probably one of the most complex tasks in early parenthood. You cannot afford to be wrong... (Un)fortunately the pregnancy lasts for nine months, which means that you have three quarter of a calendar year to make up your mind. But also as much time to hesitate.

Dilemma after dilemma, books after books, long list after long list, arguments after agreements... It is a never ending story. Well so to speak, because ultimately, one day the little one is here and you have to call him by something. On that note, it was interesting to discover that in the UK, your baby can remain unnamed for a couple weeks, so you can buy yourself some time (I love this expression).

The naming brief.

As a couple of migrating French, we had some kind of a brief for our child's name. First it had to be a boy's name... Probably too lazy to cope with the burden of stabbing in the dark, we had asked for the sex of our child and reduced the task by 50%. But then we wanted: a French name that was also international; a name that would be pronounced roughly the same way in the main European languages; a name that would not carry any chav connotation (I am sorry to say that English names have a negative connotation in France, due to the success of 90210 and the tsunami of Brandons and Dylans that followed); a name which would not create puzzling initial... And certainly a proper name, not a word turned into a name.

In the end, we opted for Arthur, a name which ticked all the above-mentioned boxes on top of having seduced us both. Our son is named after King Arthur, this Briton who successfully fought the Saxons in the 6th century. Being a French King seems to be a key factor of success to achieve great things on this side of the Channel. Think about William the Conqueror or, closer to us, Eric Cantona. French emperors are to that extend less likely to succeed...

Around the clock.

We were convinced that we had thought of everything. Acronyms, permutations, abbreviations... In French, in English, in Italian and Spanish. No flaws could be found. And yet, one of the first things our parents said to us after "oh my God, he is so cute" was "we hope he won't be too often called Arthur!". This was said with a smile, as if there was an intelligent pun or a spoonerism in the sentence. But we were completely missing the trick(another proof of our lack of intelligence it seemed).

At some point, we had to ask. It is painful to be parents and yet to have to admit your ignorance and go back to your own parents just like you were five again. My mother explained me that there was an idiom when she was younger: "se faire appeler Arthur" ("to be called Arthur") meant then "to be told of". She could not recall the origin of this expression though.

After a little investigation to crack the riddle, we finally identified the potential origin of this idiom. And I could not refrain to share it on this blog, since it is tightly connected to cultural difference...
So flash back. We are in the early 40's in France. The German army is occupying most of the territory. To prevent both the sabotage work of the Resistance and the night bombing from the Allys, the Wehrmacht has instored a national curfew. After 8 o'clock, no more light. And German troops patrolled to enforce this policy.

On the one hand, the traditional German uprightness, on the other a world famous habit to "interpret" the laws. You can easily imagine the German soldiers banging at the door of a café, pointing at their watch to explain to the locals that they ought to finish their Pernod in the dark. They would probably add to the pantomime some basic German orders to make their orders crystal clear, something like "8 o'clock!"... Eight o'clock, Acht Uhr in Goethe's language.

For the non-German-speaking, and probably inebriated, fellows on the other side of the machine gun though, Acht Uhr actually sounded pretty much like Arthur. So being summoned "Acht Uhr" was like being told of by your teacher. "Hey Paul, they called you Acht Uhr/Arthur, so you'd better swallow that last glass and head home before it gets worse".

Since the expression have survived, at least amongst the baby-boomers who were "called arthur" by their parents every time they burnt a bra or sprayed slogans on the walls. As a representative of the Generation X, I had never heard of it. My son is not even two month old and he teaches me some cultural insights. That is promising, a bit like that gesture he gave me the other day. No doubt about it Arthur is French, and that he will be called Acht Uhr in the next few years.

To read further:


Published. I am published.

A year ago (ok, a little bit more I must acknowledge) I added to my resolutions that I would write a novel... That might have been a bit ambitious from someone that comes from the same city as Stendhal, but I kind of made it. Kind of.

16 months later, "La Loi du Milieu" (The Law of the Underworld) has made its way from my head to the printer. So here is a self-promoting post to make the French-speaking readers of this blog aware that the bespoke short story is completed and is available for purchase on
blurb.com. Sorry for the English speakers but you will be missing out until Steven Spielberg decides to adapt it to the Big Screen.

The pitch? Well, I have spend so much time on the introduction wording that there is no need to paraphrase. It is best for you to read it by yourself by clicking on the below-stated "Book Preview" link (note: the preview application is a bit heavy, so you will have to wait a bit, sorry). It will give you a idea of the content, style and photographic illustration to expect, and hopefully interest you enough to click further:

And because I am a model of generosity, I am happy to send a signed copy to the first person who drops me a line... Cheap incentive today, but hey, maybe one day this will worth millions, who knows:).

Une nouvelle de Cedric Chambaz


Ménage à trois

Once upon a time.

French are said to have developed the concept of love affairs. Bill Maher highlights that as one our key trait in his excellent tirade about "being French". But what people may not necessarily be aware of is our fantastic story-telling capabilities. You really have to be good at it when living two parallel lives.

Here is an illustration from Canal+, the French TV channel which is also one of the main cinema producer around the globe. Canal+ is an iconic advertiser in France served by a great creative agency BETC Euro RSCG. They have come up over the last few years with some great advertisements including The March of the Emperor, Broke Back Mountain or Mafia. A saga that is creating much anticipation...

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French clichés... Frightening

Just came across this ad from Burger company Hardee's, and I must say that I really don't like. Too many clichés, not enough twists in it. And the product ultimately is nothing but a good representation of what French cuisine can and should be. Anyway they forgot the French beans, the French letters, the French windows, the French doctors... Merci quand même.

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Long live the King

A few months back, the Evening Standard published an feature what some people were referring to as a new Baby Boom in the UK. This time around, it was not platinum blond teenagers who were getting on the maternity row, it was rather the thirty-something year old middle class executives who were facing the economical downturn in their own way.

Redundancy plans, reduced bonuses... The middle class had to find something less expensive to entertain itself during last winter. And it seems that it got busy around Christmas.

A few months later, nine in fact, the aftermath of this cocooning plus cuddling phase definitely shows. Prams are now overcrowding the pavements of London, and bumps can be seen everywhere.

On our end, we jumped the gun: this morning my wife gave birth to our first baby, Arthur. Welcome my son.

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Language on a life line

I have already refered a few times to this series of humorous points of view shared by English comedian and actor David Mitchell on all things contemporary. I could do noting but point to this one, which touches base on a topic close to my heart: languages. Some great thinking included in this sketch, including the conclusion: languages follow natural selection.

To read further:
  • Victim of your origins, an article on the bias associated to cultural differences and Mitchell's point of view on generation clashes
  • Be Welsh! Mitchell's view on Wales and its green pastures


The cost of loving

More of these pictures on my Flickr account

The right agenda

If you are a re regular reader of this blog, you may recall that my wife and I are
expecting a newcomer in the coming days. This new addition leads me to think a bit more about cultural differences and oddities around families. So expect a few blog posts in this area in the next weeks... Yes, maybe I will find some time to write articles during some of these promised sleepless nights. Today, I wanted to draw your attention on how finance and tax influence private family lives.

There are indeed two key dates in the diaries of engaged couples: in France that is June 30th; in the UK, September 1st. Although love is a blinding exercise that drives you towards irrational acts, I have discovered that most of the above-mentioned couples are nevertheless very sensitive about their wallet, when they are about to tie the knot, or procreate.

Yes, I will... Save tax!

Let's take things in the "right" order. I will explain to the non-French readers why June is a key month for couples that are looking at getting married. But first I have to make a slight, though critical, digression on the French tax system. Unlike the UK where you are paying your income tax immediately, the French system waits for your fiscal year to end, consolidates all your incomes including wages, rents, share earnings, etc. and then apply a progressive taxation rates on the last 12 months. As a result the higher your total income, the higher the tax rate.

The second main difference is that the income is calculated by household, not by individual. Two singles leaving together are considered as two separate households with different sources of income, as they are not tied by an official, contractual binding. Marriage is the most common way to be seen, in light of the law, as a household. So from the day you say "yes" in front of the altar, the tax office starts looking at your two incomes as one, with its consecutive taxation rate implications.

If you followed me so far, keep the focus on, as this is the part that gets tricky (and you thought French were crooked).

When Mister A marries Miss B, Mister A as a standalone household stops existing. So is household B. And here comes household A+B. At the end of year, the tax office will look at all three households, and apply the appropriate yearly tax rate on each some income generated during the course of the fiscal year. Mister A's yearly revenue only totals up to 6 months of salary. So is Miss B's. And the couple will only pay taxes on six months of joint income.

This is a fantastic tax saver exercise, as you consequently "half" your income that year, and the tax that comes along. So let's be honest, couples are not getting married during the summer because they want a beautiful blue sky as the background of their wedding picture. They are simply trying to save on tax... probably to afford the expensive wedding anyway.

Give birth, save money.

The myth of the romantic French might have been damaged by the previous paragraph, but I am about to bring the Brits on par. We personally got married in October, because we had found the ideal location, and because we were paying our income tax in the UK anyway, so the above did not apply. During our preparation for the Big Day, we once met with a priest in London who reminded us, and the other couples in the room, that a child was an act of love, not a financial decision.

His sentence made me smile back then. As if everything in London was dictated by finance. As if I had to call an advisor in the City before getting romantic with my better half... Well, now that I have started piling up baby clothes, prams, toys, nappies for a couple months, it might well be the case.

I got struck by the fact that all the Brits around me where congratulating me for my "three-second contribution, life-long commitment", highlighting the fact that our child would be a September baby. At first I thought the entire nation was into astrology and that Virgo was the zodiacal sign to have... But no, their comments were triggered by another, more down-to-Earth consideration.

The British education system seems to have a few rules, including
a strict definition of the child's age to enter the system. The child must be 5 during the school year which is September 1st to August 31st. This means that a child born in August will start school just after turning 4. On the other end a child born in September will start school a year later. And it seems that this rule has different impact on who you are talking to. The mother usually feels great about September children, because that mean they can keep them close to their heart for one more year (the child is also likely to be more mature when confronting the harsh life of maths and grammar). On the other hand, some people realise that this additional year may translate into incremental costs: one more year at the nursery...

I pretty sure that some people may make procreation plans like they would manage a business plan. The famous, "not tonight I have migraine" might well be replaced by "not this month, my bonus is jeopardized".

Anyway, that is me being sarcastic. Love is beautiful, and all proof of its celebration, be it a wedding, children or even a small bunch of flowers handed over a departing train... are outcasting all financial considerations. After all, as John Lennon and the Beatles once said "All you need is love".

To read further:


A colourful digital crystal ball

Tell me your name...

I have recently stumbled upon
Steve Clayton's blog and my attention got attracted by this little experiment from the MIT. Some students from this university have developed a piece of software that browse the internet after you entered a name. It then associates the contextual information surrounding your name into pre-defined categories that should ultimately compose your personality.

In the words of its genitor,
Aaron Zinman, personas can be defined:

In a world where fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, the computer is our indispensable but far from infallible assistant. Personas demonstrates the computer's uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant.

I liked Zinman's approach, and accepted to test it against my own name, assuming that his alogorithm may find some qualifying stuff about me. And it did. This is who I am accordingly to Personas, pretty accurate I dare say:

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To Each Generation Its Own Branded Verbs

I wrote an article on another blog on how French and English differ in their language syntax, and how this can influence brand marketing. Here are the first few paragraphs:

As a non-native English speaker living in the UK, I am always amazed by how the locals manipulate Shakespeare's language. In spite of historical connections between French and English, inherited from years of reciprocal invasions, the two languages are significantly different in the way their syntax is constructed and evolves.

For instance, the French tend to turn everything into nouns. We don't "generalise", we make "generalisations". As a result, most additions to the French dictionary are nouns. In English, on the contrary, as soon as there is some level of interest in an action, people are likely to "verb" it.
And brands tend to trigger such interests.

It is therefore common to come across brand names in the English thesaurus. A British citizen is likely to say: "I'm going to hoover the carpets" because of the electrical appliance brand, Hoover, that has penetrated the collective unconsciousness after years of market domination.
Interesting enough, Hoover market share is now depleting in favour of Dyson, but the expression remains amongst older generations who had known its full glory. On the other hand, nowadays no teenagers would ever say "I will hoover my room" (assuming that a teenager knows what cleaning a room means). Note that they do not say that they will dyson either. They will come up with their own generational terminology once they will have figured out how dangerous for their health rotting pizzas can be.


To read the full article, simply click here.


No vacancy in the city

Languages and travel books

Some people pretend to master foreign languages because they can articulate two pseudo-sentences. Be careful if that is your case, as this can easily backfire. I have indeed come across this article from the BBC that describes the foolish adventures of a British tourist in Eastern France.

The first mistake might have been to visit the North-Eastern part of France... What was she doing there in the summer, seriously?

But the most hilarious part of the story lays in the fact that this modern Phileas Fogg was to learn that you should never extrapolate what's said on the tin. She indeed got locked in the Town Hall where she thought she could rent a room for the night.

This tourist should have known that in formal French a hotel refers to a large public or private house, the equivalent of a mansion if you want. When wandering in a city, you can thus come across "hotels particuliers" which are bourgeois private houses but also the "hotel des impots" (the tax office) or in our specific instance the "hotel de ville" (the city hall). Hotels -those were you can rent a room- are only called so by extension in reference to the fact that they are huge places owned by one landlord. They are certainly the most common hotels and refered as such by every living soul. Nonetheless you still ought to be careful when looking at a map, or you might have some unconfortable experiences...

To read further:



Originally uploaded by Cedric_MountainDwellerViews.

Walking around London can make you bump into awkward shopping experiences like this one.

On the left hand side, a wine bar hailing the large portfolio of their beverage list and pretends that it "attracts bands of connoisseurs". On the right hand side, another sinfull location. Lust after glutonery. And one common need: to screw (sorry for the pun).

To read further:

  • British heights. Another round of (usually poor) puns about English cities
  • Good signs or how each country voices its specifities on the street signs


As it says on the tin!

Cheap flights, cheap cheats.

I am a citizen of the world and as a result I tend to travel quite a bit. Eurostar is my favourite transportation mean for Paris and some areas of my home country that are well connected by the French railways. Going from city centre to city centre without the hassle of commuting is just perfect for me as I don't have a car. But over the last few years, low-cost airlines have offered me new opportunities and I can now hop on to different cities in no time, and at very affordable prices.

Or at least that is what it says on the tin, or in this specific instance on the billboard displayed in my tube station.

Because everyone that has used the like of Ryanair or Easyjet know that the announced prices are hiding some further costs that make the final bill a "bit" more salty than expected. And that is what really made me smile on this promotional billboard. It is neither a fantastic creative nor a piece of art, but at least it cannot be condemned for being misleading...

The last city Monarch can fly you to for a mere £63 is Larnaca, in Greece. This sunny destination, once read with a French eye, suddenly reveals another truth: for £63, you could fly to the French equivalent of the "TheScama" or the "TheSwindlinga"...

Private joke or revelation... Maybe just a communication mishap, but in any case a grin on my face. And if that is not enough for you, here is a little video that will certainly touch most of you who have read about the intention of the above-mentioned airlines to make you pay for using their toilet, their seats...

To read further:


The feet in the dish

Cop and Truth by Cedric_MountainDwellerViews

Nothing but the truth.

I have seen a billboard tonight and it triggered a question in the back of my mind. After years spent on school benches being asked to translate circumvoluted English texts into French, and vice versa, I cannot avoid to continue this exercise, even nowadays. As a result, everytime that I encounter an idiom or an expression I immediatly try to find out what is the equivalent in the other language. Have we got the exact same expression? Have we got a similar idiom but with slightly different words? Why are these words different? Etc.

The above-mentioned billboard promotes a film currently on the screens called "Ugly truth". In French, the equivalent of this expression would be "La triste vérité" (i.e. "the sad truth"). I have been thinking about the discrepency in the chosen adjectives to fulfill the same intention: depreciate life by adding a negative attribute to the noun. In the UK, the truth could be unsightly and not beautiful as one could expect; in France, truth would be at times synonym of sorrow... Two negative concepts that are however by no mean correlated. You can obviously be beautiful and happy, sad and ugly, ugly and happy and beautiful and sad (I let you categorise yourself in the appropriate cluster).

I cannot figure out why such a difference. There must be a cultural element to it, but I cannot put my finger on it. There is no particular evidence that one country would be more incline to favour the "intellect" to "appearance", the "inside" to the "outside". In fact, if I had to bet on such a taxonomy I would have probably associated France to appearance rather than the UK, but that is probably a personal bias. So if someone has a lead on that oddity, I would welcome it with great pleasure.

Culinary art.

In fact, it has been a while since I shared another of these awkward French idioms with my readers. But I seems that I got inspired tonight. So let me give you an odd one: "Mettre les pieds dans le plat" translates literally into "to put both feet in the dish" or "to step into the dish". This has obviously nothing to do with the reputable odour of French cheeses that are widely used in our recipes. No, this expression relates to a situation when someone would clumsily speak the truth whilst the social conventions would have expected more tact.

A few examples? "How you are not coming with your boyfriend John tonight? - No, he ditched me yesterday", "Congratulations on the future baby! - Actually, I need to get on a diet", "Oh, you are enjoying your holidays? Well, I was made redundant a month back!", etc. Got the idea? You probably remember one or more situations when you felt yourself with both feet deep-sunk in the dish, don't you? With the macaroni and cheese keeping you still in front of your unfortunate victim... Unable to make the next move being afraid to make another blunder.

The sole desire.

Well, truth is not always beautiful and that is sad. But sometimes people decide to step forward, put both feet in the dish voluntarily, so that the bold reality can no longer be ignored by others. Last week I have had the chance to listen to one of them, Blake Mycoskie.

As the following video explains it very well, Blake is the founder of TOMS Shoes, a company that sells one for one fashionable shoes: for any TOMS shoes that you buy, the company gives away one pair to a child in need somewhere around the planet. Blake was on a sabbatical in Argentina when he met with an association which was doing a shoe drops in the country to help young children attend school. That was a revelation to him. He decided to change his life, and create a business to help others:

The reason why I really liked this idea is because Blake's approach is genuine. He has identified a need, developed a business model to address that needs in a sustainable way. He does not rely on charity but on fashion, goodwill, solidarity, world-citizenship... He has created a different path to NGOs. I would not rate one against the other. I just acknowledge the fact that both are valuable, and help make progresses.

So thanks Blake for sharing this great idea. Truth is not always beautiful, but by putting both Toms shoes in the dish of poverty, you have removed sadness from a few children faces. And this is grand.

To read further:


Mad Men, for Mad Times

I often write about the cultural differences between two countries, two nations, two languages... But sometimes you can look back and consider the disparities between two ages. This came to my mind the other day when watching the last episode of the brilliant TV series Mad Men on BBC iPlayer.

The time difference.

This award-winning drama depicts the life of Don Draper, an advertising agency creative director in the 60s. Back then JFK was president, Cuba the devil, TV sets were in black and white, and so was the American society. Each episode is shot with great level of accuracy and realism, and can thus be watched from a sociological angle. For instance, I was amazed by how looking back in a mirror can be disturbing. Our society is evolving at fast pace, but as long as you live the change, you do not realise it. It is therefore good to step back and seize these opportunities to appreciate the progresses made.

In Mad Men, the hero smokes cigaret after cigaret, he drinks in his office too. Every man in the company has overtly affairs and nobody cares, as long as they are males. Homosexuals are bullied and seen as satanists, so are Jews. Women are discarded and can only be seen as mere complacent secretaries... Smoking, drinking, adultery, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and racism, in the very first minutes of the series you had it all. You are unsettled, because all that seems so different from today's values. And none of these today's sins seems to be seen as negative. This NY Times article sums it all, I must say.

Things change, for the better.

OK, there are still some legacies of this conservative mindset nowadays, but overall, when watching the first episodes, it stroke me how uneasy I was by seeing this guy light his cigaret in front of his children (not to mention the rest). That was only 40 years ago, two generations away, but so alien already.

The scene that struck me most was a family picnic. The couple and their two chilren seem to be the perfect imagery from glossy magazines from the fifties. He stands by the flamboyant cadillac, she sits with their children on a blanket, smiling. You can almost hear the Coca-Cola music in the background. And then it is time to leave. Don finishes his can of bier... and through it away in a bush. The mother collates the cuttlery and shakes off the rest on the ground leaving behind them a mayhem of dirty papers, platisc plates and rubbish. Shoking? Probably by our current standards, but so the norm back then. Who cared about the environment? About the greenhouse effect?

And then when you think hard about it, when I was younger, back in the 70s, did we care much either? We probably started to have some ecological consciousness. But let's face it, ecology, sexual preferences, gender equalities, etc. were still no primary concerns despite pockets of protest and progresses. We have seen these cause cut through only recently, in the last ten to fifteen years. That is not much in light of our history.

TV series are rarely more than entertainment. Mad Menwas an eye-opener to me and for that specific reason, and also because it is simply a thrilling drama, I would strongly recommend it to anybody. Even if you don't care about these guys who tried to rule the world from Madison Avenue.

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Quote of the day

"The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."
Plato (427 BC - 347 BC)


The kingdom strikes back

First I was afraid...

I made it! I have witnessed my first ever British strike... For a French expatriate, it's like realising that there are Paul bakeries in Great Britain. It's like the first time you discover a bunch of Baby Bel in dairy aisle of your local Tesco. It feels a little bit like home.

We are so used to facing strikes in France that I was starting to feel slightly unsettled after three years in this country. Where were the Unions? No sign of angry Students willing to recall their parents' revolutionary protests. No burning tires or anti-CAP farmers uloading tons of sheep dungs in front of the Parliament. London was a quite place, the capitale of the Kingdom of social piece. Was until this week.

London was pretrified.

For two days, the main Union of Transport for London has imposed a strike to gain a salary increase for their members. Almost no tube were consequently navigating in the London underground. You had to opt for alternative transportation modes: buses, car, bike, your good old feet or for the lasiest, to work from home. Like every former Parisian I had also pulled my old roller-blades out the attic, just in case. As a matter of fact, in Paris, when TfL-equivalent RATP is on strike, there is no public transportation at all. So having the luxury to enjoy double-decker buses in sunny London was almost a treat. Almost.

Having to live without you by my strike

But these two days were also an experience. The opportunity to discover some new insights about the locals.

First, strikes are qualified as "industrial movements". I found this choice of vocabulary very interesting. Why "industrial"? By definition it would imply that the movement was produced by the industry, and yet public transportation is not an industry but a service. If I look further down the dictionary I can read that industrial is relating to a noisy, experimental genre of music that originated in the 1970s... Unless this refers to the noise of the vindicative crowd of underpaid tube staffs, I am not sure that I found a proper rational.

In France, we call these protests "mouvements sociaux", social movements. The reason is obviously that the protest are intended to ask for social benefits: pay rises, shorter weeks, subventions, more paid holidays, more bank holidays, more holidays, etc. Maybe it is in the History of each country that lays the solution of my riddle. France is the country of human rights. It is a democracy (from ancient Greek "dēmos" = "common people" and "kratos" = "rule, strength"). It gives the power to common people who can and should voice their opinion. On the other hand, the UK is the home of the successive industrial revolutions. Here lays its history, its own past glory... So that is maybe the reason these movements are refered to as "industrial": they remind the hard working people that we think we nowadays are that our ancestors have suffered for us. It may be some kind of a tribute?

The second learning is that in such abnormal conditions, the average Brit remains an average Brit. Although the BBC called these two days chaos or mayhem... Compared to past experiences, I can confirm that this was pure fun. The locals were waiting dilligently their bus, in well-ordered queues. The only people trying to sneak in were tourists and foreigners. And when the bus driver was announcing that there was too many people in the bus to take more on, the next people in the queue accepted the statement without shouting or insulting anybody. The only complaint I heard was about a football fan who would not be able to get to Wembley to see the national team slash Andora 4-0 that night. A well-ordered turmoil, as usual on this side of the Channel.

Every good thing has an end.

But tomorrow, Friday, business as usual. The tubes will be transporting their lot of workers across its underground network. "Mind the Gap" and "Keep your belongings at all time" will be repeated thousands of times to fellow travelers... I don't even know if the TfL staff got what they were protesting for. That is also the charm of such an amateur action: in France, were striking is a national sport, you would protest until you get what you want or at least part of it. And that means that a strike has a start but no set end... That is not the case here. We knew we were up for two days strikes, and we got two days, on the dot. As I said, a well-ordered turmoil.

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Slick chop-stick-style.


Just bumped into this vlog (video blog) about an American in Tokyo. Kevin Cooney is a writer, comedian and performer born and raised in New York but currently residing in Japan. His approach is somehow aligned with my own take on life that I try to capture in my own blog: cultural differences are interesting, even if they can make you smile at times.

Since I have myself walked the streets of Tokyo and Japan, his stand-up resonates to me. But I guess it would to anyone genuinely open-minded about what is available out there. What I liked about Japan was that the cultural choc is not biased by a so-call difference of economic development. This country is as advanced if not more than most of the Western countries. They have simply adopted a different route which drove them in a different place. Not better, not less enticing. Simply different.

Here is episode #1 of the series of mini-clips, shot in 2006:

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Cliffhanger, search to the top

Lost in procrastination

First I wanted to apologise for my less frequent postings. I have been very, very busy these days at work and consequently have not had the time to properly blog about the things that I have in mind. So please bear with me, there are a few thoughts around cultural differences, across countries and across generations, coming soon.

But as I said I have been busy working on a very secretive project that has finally come to the open today. As you may have heard through the press, social media, etc. Microsoft has decided to launch a new search experience, under a new brand: Bing! I have long thought about whether it would make sense for me talk about that in this blog as I tend to dissociate office and home, chore and leisure... But this has taken so much of my time lately that the limit between both spheres has blurred. I have been thinking a lot about it and then here was today's homepage, a mountain dweller... So I could not resist any longer.

Bing, a new search experience
Bing, a new search experience

I will not resist any longer because I genuinely think that the search experience is something new and different from the other engines available out there. As you may have noted the service in the UK is in Beta: Microsoft has something like 60 engineers based in London dedicated to localise the global experience to the very specific needs of the British surfers. They work on the algorithm, the front and the back end to lift the Beta tag in a few months time... To know more about the UK features, have a tour of the already-available features at http://www.discoverbing.co.uk/.

But in the meanwhile if you would like to get a better sense of what is coming, have a play with the US product which is available in its full feature set. How to do so? On the top right corner of http://www.bing.com/ you can select your contry. Simply click there and select the relevant destination.

Let me draw your attention to some features that I personally find great:

  • The rich image homepage: when connecting to http://www.bing.com/ you will notice that the search box is embedded in a vibrant image. It changes daily, and is country-dependant. So this enables to have pictures that reflect what is happening near you. You will notice on the US site that you have hotspots on the image, providing with some information about the bespoke image and its subject. For someone like me, a photo-enthusiast keen on learning new things every day, this feature touches me straight in the heart. I have my new home page!
  • The categories to refine my search: I guess I am just like you all, I have learned to work my way through the search engines. I typed a keyword, get some results, click through the first ones and realise that that is not exactly what I am after. So I refine my query using more keywords, some quotation marks and & signs... Ultimately I make my way through. But on Bing you can see that on the left hand side the engine is offering you a series of option to refine automatically your search, stripping out irrelevant results. I am not talking about the usual 'image', ' video', 'news' categories that you can find on most of the engine no matter what you are after. I am refering to tabs that are dynamically populated depending on what you look for. Type Wimbledon, and you get 'tickets', 'video', 'results'... Type MP3 player and you are prompted a whole new set of refinments like 'Brand', 'Accesories', etc. Ultimately it helps you click on the right link first time, instead of going through the pain of the try-and-miss process.
  • Save and share your search: Bing saves your search history so that no matter your series of searches you can always come back to what you previously looked for. Even better, you can share this history through social media (Facebook, Windows Live...). Helpful when you plan your next trip with your wife...
  • Travel-planning becomes a no brainer: talking about travels, Microsoft has integrated a series of new technologies in its new experience, from mapping solutions to restaurant reviews. Farecast for instance is just brilliant. If you search, let's say, a flight between NY City and Atlanta, the engine will provide you with some price comparisons and tell you, based on statistics, if the price is likely to go up or down. You can then make your purchase decision without the pain of discovering that you could have saved 15% by waiting an extra week.

The freedom of choice

I have picked up just a few of the innovations that are available or about to be launched. There are a lot more in the pipeline, and even more in the sleeves of the developers. But what I like most about this experience is the fact that Bing does not try to be like Google. I have come across a brilliant quote by this reknown philosoph called Homer Simpson (1987-): "Kids, you have tried your best and you've failed... The lesson is clear: do not try!" Well, Microsoft has stopped trying to be like Google and started offering a radically different approach.

By reading this blog you must have probably realised that I see in cultural differences a source of enrichment, of dynamism, of enthusiasm. I despise what we call in French "Pensée Unique" (uniform thinking). I hail the difference of point of view. I therefore like that from now on, I have a choice between two search engines offering me different experience. Choice is a key element of freedom, isn't it?

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Victim of your origins

French lover.

Sorry about that, but yes, I am French. Nothing I can do about it: it is my nationality and I don't intend to reject my history. The problem is that with a nationality comes some stereotypes. Got the demonstration of that a few months back.

As a matter of fact my wife and I are expecting an happy event for September. As a wired urban I had to share the news with my network, using the social media and other technologies. However, when it comes to such statement, everyone recommends you to be cautious. Especially in the early months when shit can happen (well actually, shit can happen at that time, but no matter what, it will come any time soon anyway, literally).

You are then torn apart between your desire to share the news and the rational part of your soul encouraging you to play it safe. So ultimately you opt for the intermediary solution: you reveal the information in some cryptic way so that only the people in the know will get it. That is why I updated my status on
Windows Live Messenger by stating "3.1496063 inches of happiness". I was indeed just back from our first scan and had seen the face of the baby to be for the first time ever. And the Choosen One was no bigger than 8cm back then... The problem arose when three of my colleagues, who are connected to me through this instant messenger service, picked up on that status and made some questionnable inquiries. "You perv'...", "Stop boasting...", etc. So I wondered: is that me or is that just because I am French and that we have a reputation to focus most our interests around baguette and sex? And since everyone knows a baguette is longer than 8cm, the shortcut was easy.

Face your future.

Anyway, this was making me laugh because I like creating discussion. And as a matter of fact, people started talking about that. They were sharing assumptions. Some clever managed to decyphere the riddle, and did not stop at the obvious dodgy cliché. Other had to wait for the reveal that came after the third full month.

But the initial reactions remain engraved in my mind. Because with the realisation that I will soon be a dad came the first thoughts around the legacy. With two French parents, our toddler will most certainly inherit from our cultural influence. He will be expected to be a great cook, a charismatic doctor, a talented lover... But he will be born in the UK, so fellow pupils might not bully his predictable red hair as much as if he was born on the other side of the Channel. He might end up being a diplomat, or an over-paid football player. No pressure Junior...

And yet, the later might simply turn back and blame us for all that. That is double dose of expectations. So he might just look at us and say: "les parents, allez vous faire fuck yourself". Bloody youth, no respect for their ancestors. But after all, as David Mitchell says it in the following video, that might simply be well-deserved!

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