Tutti-Frutti à la English sauce

Hot potato.

When they try to teach their pupils how to speak Shakespeare's language, French teachers have a trick. There are indeed many sounds and pronunciations in English that are alien to my fellow-citizens. That is natural, just like it is natural for a Brit to be enable to roll the Spanish R for instance. No matter whether you are young and motivated, it is still not that easy to pick up new sounds unless someone guides you, gives a known reference. As a result, to get an approximate Englishesque accent when talking about "Bob being my Uncle", we are said by our teachers to imagine that we speak with a mouthful of hot potatoes.

This has nothing to do with the passion of the Brits for Jacket Potatoes. It is just that the burning pain that you can easily imagine (or replicate at home if tempted) forces you to articulate words differently. And it kind of work. Kind of. It just gets very unhealthy to do your homework, that's all (too much carbs).

With that context in mind, you can certainly imagine the smile on my face when I saw this billboard. The Times is currently running a massive advertising campaign to raise awareness on its different domains of expertise: politics, sports, finance... Usually it is simply a visual and their logo, but this specific advert really stood out for me. It is simply very well written.

5-a-day and pronunciation

The reason why I really liked this ad is because it speaks to me. English is not that easy a language to master. And it is full of weird pronunciation and spelling tricks that continue to amaze me even today. Why don't you pronounce the W in Greenwich? Why does Gloucester sound like Glouster? And, like the little chap points out in the advert, why not spell Potato GHOUGHPHTEIGHTTEEAU instead? Seriously there are many reasons for foreigners to go bananas...

Bananas? Yes, I too was surprised the first time I heard this idiom. I rapidly realised what my interlocutor meant, i.e. getting crazy, but I did not understand why. In French we have also an expression referring to that fruit: we say of someone smiling that "he has the banana". This is a visual analogy in which the shape of the grin refers to the shape of the fruit. Easy to understand. But the English expression still puzzles me. Has this anything to do with Cockney rhyming slang? If you read these lines and have the clue to the riddle, feel free to share.

Having said that, I also realise that my native language is packed with idioms which refer to other fruits and vegetables. Not all are straight forward. For instance, your five-a-day French diet could follow this menu: to faint is "falling in the apples" (tomber dans les pommes) ; to mock someone is "paying one's pear" (se payer sa poire); to get fined is "getting a plum" (se prendre une prune); to wait for somebody for a long time is "doing the leek" (faire le poireau); to punch somebody is "giving a chestnut" (mettre un marron); to stick one's nose is "bringing my strawberry back" (ramener sa fraise); to speed is "pushing the mushroom" (appuyer sur le champignon); to stress someone out is "squeezing the lemon" (presser le citron)...

Reading these lines, I could suddenly understand that such a fruit salad could make an English pupils go bananas when learning French. Especially without a jacket potato in his lunch box!

To read further:



Seen in the press... Sometimes advertising can really be time-sensitive.


Now this is a downturn.

Edge funds, or edge of the cliff.

OK, everyone is banging the drum on the so-called economical downturn, and I have already expressed
my view on the role of the media in the amplification of the situation. So this time, I wanted to share with you a real visualisation of what is a downturn.

As a mountain dweller, I am always keen on discovering how to go upwards, but also how to get down. I have tried pretty much everything on snow, from snowboarding to monosking, from blades to snowscoot or telemark. I also tried rafting, rock climbing, canyoning, via-ferrata... But that I have not tried yet and to be fair, I am not sure that I will:

Exhilirating. For sure. Inspiring? Maybe...

Just cannot wait to see some bozzos trying it out from the top of their skyscrapper in the City after they discovered that their junk bonds were really a piece of junk. Can you imagine them gliding over their fellow traders who would have prefered a more traditional defenestration?


You are the one-day queen...

Monarchistic fate.

A couple years ago, when I came to the the UK, I looked back at my personal interests in sport, cultural differences and other funny oddities, and I realised one little thing that could be turned into a mantra. If you happen to be French, you can one day conquer Great Britain, but to do so you have to be a King, not an Emperor. Think of King William or King Eric. Think also of the Napoleon's mishaps... These three examples conquer the hypothesis, if I may say.

So the UK can be a blossoming country for French monarchs with great ambitions. Except that you are probably aware that King and Queen stories in France tend to be cut short. Let's say a head shorter than on this side of the Channel. Would that mean that our good fortune in England is now over? That our chances to succeed in this country have been beheaded? You wish...

We have a plan. We always have.

It is not a novelty to say the French are an arrogant lot. Yes, we are indeed. We are the best arrogant people in the entire world, I dare say, not to mention the Universe!!! We stand by our beliefs whatever it takes, and don't really bother about our own contradictions. Our national team emblem is a rooster, and that is for a good reason. The legend says that it has been selected as our mascot because it is "the only animal that continues singing even with both feet in the shit". I know, I know, I know... France, the country of the Enlightment, of the Human Rights, of the great Philosophers... Always up for a good old metaphor.

Anyway, you can imagine that if our fellow citizens have managed to invade the UK, pulling London to the top of the charts as the 6th French city in the world, they would not surrender their chances to conquer the whole country. But how to ensure that the French monarchistic lineage is maintained? Fortunately, we have in France an old tradition that can reveal quite useful for that matter.

As a matter of fact, every year, France celebrates Epiphany with a "Galette des Rois", or a King Cake. This is a cake in which a trinket, usually a porcelain figurine of a king or more traditionally a bean, is hidden when prepared. When desert comes, the youngest member of the assembly, and I assume the purest, will allocate randomly each slice of the cake to the attendees. If you happen to be the lucky person to break a tooth on the figurine, you will officially become king for the day.

Drawing the Queens & Kings

This is an ancient custom and it would find its roots in the early days of our civilisation. Not sure how popular it had been across the ages though. Imagine for instance a medieval king accepting to capitulate (for one day) in favour of his buffoon because the later found a bean in his cake. Not sure that the monarch's ego necessarily fully appreciated the situation and a few of the "lucky" winners must have lost their life for claiming the throne. I can even picture a few of them swallowing the bean to keep their head on, running the risk to choke in the process.

Nowadays, the tradition perpetuates with less risks, except for your newly whitened teeth maybe. The old-fashion bean has been replaced by marketing figurines of the latest Disney feature, pagan golden coins or some porcelain figurines from the crib... But the coronations persists. Cohorts of French children (and older gluttons) wear proudly their crown for the day.

So beware British citizens, on January 6th, French Kings and Queens might populate your streets on a quest for glory and conquest.