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: