petite anglaise

October 25, 2004

wildlife special: paris

Filed under: city of light — bipolarinparis @ 11:40 am

I sometimes worry that Paris is not the best place for a Tadpole to grow up – polluted air, crotte covered pavements and the lack of a garden being my usual arguments in favour of a move to the countryside. But given the number of wild beasts we spotted together this morning, I’m not so sure she is missing out on too much…

First, when we turned on the light in the bathroom this morning, Tadpole and I disturbed a couple of slinky silverfish who darted without further ado to their diurnal hiding place where the water pipes disappear behind the bath. These shiny little apostrophes are thankfully the only fauna I have observed inside our flat, and I’m not too worried about them, even if they do seem to be resistant to bug spray. They remind me of a record I once owned called Silverfish and Scrambled Eggs, which is the only reason I know what a silverfish looks like.

Upon opening the shutters of the Tadpole’s bedroom, we marvelled at the sight of a common city pigeon in all its glory defecating on the balcony. Tadpole now thinks these birds are called ‘dirty buggers’. Note to self: must really make an effort to rein in my tongue as she now repeats everything I say.

During our walk to the childminder’s house, which involves cutting across the Buttes Chaumont park, we saw a crow (or possibly a raven, either way it was very sinister looking), some blackbirds, more pigeons, along with much greenish grey evidence of their presence, and some sparrows. Several different breeds of dogs out were also out walking their owners, prompting cries of ‘woof woof’ and ‘wee wee’ and ‘caca’ from the Tadpole.

As we neared the lake, brandishing a chunk of rather solid baguette left over from the previous day, we saw all manner of birds, geese and ducks. According to the park’s website these include black headed gulls, moorhens, black swans, green collared (?) ducks and ragtails. All I know is that some of the duck type things we encountered were rather large and not in the least bit shy, so the Tadpole remained in the safety of the pushchair while I attempted to break the bread into pieces and avoid being pecked to death by impatient and aggressive birds. One poor little duck had to keep dunking his head under the water to avoid a (sea?)gull who kept lunging down at him in an attempt to steal the bread from his beak. When we’d had as much excitement as we could handle, we left the park and cut across the front of the town hall to make our way to the childminder’s flat.

A black cat ran across the pavement in front of us as we neared the bakery. I stopped to contemplate buying a sinful pain aux raisins to combat that Monday feeling, but after seeing a cockroach take a leisurely stroll along the glass topped cake counter, I thought better of it. There’s no point eating one if you have to inspect every single sultana.

Finally, after dropping off Tadpole, out of the corner of my eye I saw a mouse streaking across the tracks as the metro approached. And to round things off nicely, I was bitten on the ankle by a pesky metro mosquito.

David Attenborough eat your heart out.

October 22, 2004

make mine a pint

Filed under: french touch — bipolarinparis @ 12:26 pm

I’ve got that Friday feeling. A British voice inside my head insists that Fridays are for going out after work and letting a couple of beers turn into a full-on night out (with compulsory junk food finale). Saturday nights are for getting on your glad rags and drinking too much again. Sundays should be spent nursing multiple hangovers and indulging in a curative cholestorol fest of English breakfast.

None of the above really work in Paris. First things first, the curative breakfast (because if you have been paying attention, you can’t fail to have noticed that I’m somewhat food-obsessed): what the French call ‘bacon’ is thinly cut round pieces of bacony ham which are not intended for cooking. And you can’t really make a good fry up with lardons (cubes of bacon). So a fry-up as an antidote to alcohol overindulgence is out.

As for Friday drinking with your work colleagues, there appears to be an unwritten rule of social etiquette in this country: thou shalt not mix thy social life with thy work life. I find this is a real pity, because alcohol (even in moderation) can break down so many barriers, and seeing your co-workers socially gives you a chance to get to know them as people. But unless there is an official company pot to celebrate someone’s promotion or give them a send off, it’s pretty hard to get the French involved in any after work drinking. This is one of the reasons why most of my friends tend to be anglo-saxons, with the odd French alcoholic thrown in.

Now for the drinking part. Drinking is done differently in France. Most people don’t go out drinking with the sole aim of getting drunk. You might go to a bar for a couple of drinks and a chat, but as drinks are served at your table, you will drink less whether you like it or not as it’s impossible to get the skinny, aloof and overworked waitresses’ attention. Drinks are prohibitively expensive in bars and restaurants, which doesn’t help matters. You do tend to take your time over 25cl of lager when it has cost you four euros. In any event you are unlikely to spend a whole evening with French people just drinking. It is far more likely that you’ll have an apéro together before a meal, or a drink afterwards.

Turning to the glad rags, most of the bars I frequent(ed) are full of people dressed very casually. Before you don that cheeky little number from Miss Selfridge which shows swathes of bare flesh, note that the sleazy single men propping up the bar will treat you as if you have a ‘desperate to get laid’ sticker on your forehead and you will spend the evening fighting off their unwelcome advances (“tu as des beaux yeux, tu sais..”). Safer to stick with something understated, preferably in black.

Finally, if you are female then you should be aware that drinking to excess is considered very unfeminine in this country. I have, on occasion, mostly in situations where alcohol was flowing freely at a party in someone’s apartment, made something of a spectacle of myself by drinking like an English person and getting what I would describe as ‘moderately lairy’. The Frog promptly marched me off the premises and still refers to such episodes several years later. I’m not saying this is fair or right (it’s blatant sexism and makes my blood boil), but like it or not, that is the way things are here.

So, if I can’t shake this Friday feeling, I’ll have no option but to hop on a Eurostar after work. Anyone fancy a couple of pints?

October 21, 2004

guardian angel

Filed under: mills & boon — bipolarinparis @ 8:51 am

A recent post by Andre reminded me of my own brief encounter with an angel years ago.

The year was 1994. The third year of my modern language degree, which consisted of nine months employed as an assistante d’Anglais in a French lycée followed by a few months work in a posh Hotel in Lindau, as my German was a bit rusty.

Lindau was idyllic: a picture postcard town crammed onto a tiny peninsula jutting out onto Lake Constance on the German-Austrian-Swiss border. The Hotel was a 5* palace. Behind the scenes, a motley crew of former Yugoslavians and foreign students on seasonal contracts kept the place in business.

First, I worked on the ‘Band’. This was an ingenious implement of torture: wooden boxes suspended from the ceiling on a metal chain – an upside down conveyor belt – transported food from the kitchen in the next building to the restaurant. My job consisted of retrieving food orders from this fast moving production line without dropping them or burning myself too badly, while simultaneously baking bread rolls in a tiny oven. Kitchen staff barked incomprehensible orders in German at me through an intercom. I couldn’t hear them properly as the ‘Band’ made such a racket, so I never knew what was coming and missed things so that they went round and round getting cold(er). It was undoubtedly the worst job I have ever had.

After a particularly bad burn I was transferred to minibar duty. *hic* This was an improvement. It involved the use of a master key, entering people’s hotel rooms after knocking twice and often catching guests in compromising positions. When I shouted ‘minibar’ they tended to beckon me in regardless and I filled up the fridge while they clutched the bedclothes to themselves to preserve their modesty. Or not. My minibar stock was not checked very closely. It contained lots of alcohol and Ritter Sport chocolate bars. A much better job. Things were looking up.

Until one morning I awoke to a searing pain in my abdomen. It worsened, and my temperature rose. I realised that something was very wrong and called reception, begging them to send a doctor, as I couldn’t possibly move. A Dr Wurms arrived and diagnosed acute appendicitis. An ambulance was summoned. A rumour swept through the hotel: I’d been seen clutching my stomach and was in fact in labour. One of the porters was the father. They obviously didn’t teach biology in Yugoslavia as the one night stand with the porter had happened only 3 weeks previously.

As if by magic, an angel appeared, to save me from all of the above. I can’t remember his face clearly. Only that he was very beautiful, had lovely wavy, shoulder length hair and there was something indescribably ‘right’ about him. He was a student, serving his conscientious objection time working with the emergency services. I don’t remember anything else he said to me, just his soothing voice. I forgot all about the pain and wanted the ambulance journey to last as long as possible.

I was wheeled into casualty, where several other people lay on stretchers in an open-plan area. There were no cubicles or curtains, but I wasn’t really aware of anyone else – I was burning up and the pain had intensified. As I lay on my back, a nurse took my temperature. The Angel turned to walk away, and I managed to prop myself up on one elbow, catch his eye and wave goodbye. He waved back. I think he winked, but I couldn’t be sure. And that, sadly, was the last I saw of him.

As I waved, I became aware of the fact that I was naked from the waist down. And that a thermometer was protruding from my rectum.

I can’t help thinking that I must have made a lasting impression on him too.

October 20, 2004

Pardon my French

Filed under: Uncategorized — bipolarinparis @ 10:40 am

If you look at the use of the word ‘French’ in the English language and likewise anglais(e) in French, the usage yields valuable clues as to how Brits have traditionally viewed the French, and vice versa.

Phrases in English using the word French are mostly related to food and sex. The French would argue they do both better.

Let’s start with food:
French toast – which you don’t see in Britain much, I think it’s more American. I have yet to sample any. Probably the equivalent of pain perdu in French, but I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t tried that either.
French fries (or Freedom Fries as they are sometimes known in the US) – just ‘fries’ in France.
French beans – these seem to be the only type of green beans the French eat, known to the French simply as ‘green beans’. My father, allotment enthusiast extraordinaire, doesn’t believe me when I say I am not aware of a word existing for broad bean or runner bean in French. Quite frankly I would rather broad beans did not exist full stop (that’s period to American folk).

And now for a bit of sex. It would appear that the following expressions stem from Anglo-Saxons equating Gallic culture with sexual sophistication. Whether or not this is still pertinent today is debatable. ‘French kiss’: a kiss with tongues. Following extensive research conducted on both sides of the English Channel, my humble opinion is that the Brits actually have the edge (Mr Frog being the exception, naturally). Then we have the ‘French letter’, disliked unanimously by both French and English gentlemen, which confusingly goes by the name of un préservatif in French, thereby belonging to the category of ‘false friends’. ‘Cette confiture contient-elle des préservatifs?’ I think not.

I am told that the verb ‘to French’ means to perform oral sex. Likewise the seemingly innocent manicure/furniture restoration terminology, to have a ‘French polish’. I do not intend to develop this paragraph any further as I wouldn’t want to give the worrying numbers of people who arrive on my site via the search terms ‘petite porn’ any reason to come back.

Swiftly moving on, the following are expressions using the word ‘English’ in the French language.

Culinary terms using the word ‘english’ are rather evocative of English cuisine as a whole, I think. Crème anglaise is what the French call custard, that staple of stodgy British puddings and trifles. The French version of this is thinner and served cold, a little more refined than warm, gloopy English custard. I like both and will not be made to choose. Cuit à l’anglaise means boiled. Several of my French acquaintances associate English cooking with overcooked boiled food, even going to far as to suggest that we boil most of our meat. I for one have never boiled a piece of meat, but I must admit that the French expression conjures up memories of soggy sprouts in the school canteen.

Les Anglais ont débarqué is a somewhat old-fashioned expression to describe the bane of every woman’s life, menstruation. Something to do with the Napoleonic wars and the undesirable arrival of the English who wore red uniforms. Prior to that, another phrase commonly used was recevoir un courrier de Rome, as Cardinals also wore red robes. So the idea behind the phrase would appear to be more about colour, and not derived from ‘English’ being synonymous with pain, PMT and hot water bottles.

Finally, there is an expression meaning to go AWOL which the French and English ascribe to each other. Filer à l’anglaise: ‘to take French leave’. The Germans are with the English on this one sich auf französisch verabschieden, but the Italians are with the French filarsela all’inglese. So opinions vary, but basically both the French and the English are associated with impolite behaviour.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to bugger off now and do some work. Pardon my French.

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