petite anglaise

April 25, 2005

relative motion

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:05 pm

Friday. There is a mysterious new billboard campaign in the metro. For now, only teaser images are on display: attractive men and women (pretend to) yawn in a very aesthetically pleasing manner, photographed in all-forgiving black and white. Not even the merest glimmer of a filling in the back of their wide-open mouths. It is very difficult, I note, to walk past these adverts without yawning back at them; regardless of the time of day.

I quiz Mr Frog to see if he knows what the campaign is for, being as he is an insider in this business, but he hasn’t the faintest idea.

* * * *

Sunday. We drive to Mailly Champagne in a borrowed car to visit Mr Frog’s cousin. If indeed ‘cousin’ is the right word to describe the relationship between Mr Frog and his father’s cousin’s daughter. Are they second cousins? First cousins once (or twice) removed? More complicated still, what exactly is Tadpole to this lady’s children?

To complicate matters further, Mr Frog’s grandparents, originally from Northern Italy, emigrated to France post WW2 with grandfather’s sister and grandmother’s brother, also married to one another. The brothers and sisters have lived in adjacent houses in a tiny village, an hour’s drive from Besançon, ever since. This tightly woven genetic heritage means that all their grandchildren were cousins to the power of two. A gang of assorted tanned children would spend idyllic summer holidays in the grandparents’ village, roaming wild in the fields around the (former farm)houses, playing hide and seek in haylofts and paddling in the village lavoir. Inevitably, as the second bottle of wine is uncorked, Mr Frog and his ‘cousin’ are overcome with nostalgia for their childhood escapades and I tend to tune out as familiar anecdotes are taken out and polished, and undoubtedly embellished, for the nth time.

But this was all yet to come. We had to actually get there first.

Mr Frog was instructed to print out directions to Mailly at work on Friday, as some time has elapsed since our last visit. I don’t bother with a printer at home, and as a no-car household we don’t even possess a road atlas. En route, hurtling along a rain-drenched Autoroute de l’Est, I examined Mr Frog’s itinerary, dismayed to see that all we had to work with, courtesy of Mappy, was:

quitter l’autoroute à la sortie n° 25
continuer sur la N51
entrer dans Reims
continuer sur la Route de Louvois (passer par un rond-point)
sortir de Reims et continuer sur la Route de Louvois
continuer sur la D9
prendre à gauche la D26

It was about as clear as our misted windscreen. Particularly without any sort of map to refer to (Mr Frog had omitted to print one), and given French road signs don’t generally indicate very clearly which ‘D’ or ‘N’ road you are driving along, or take it upon themselves to point out which road is referred to by the locals as la Route de Louvois. My boss’s mantra echoing in my head – “never assume anything” – I decided that it was the last time I would ask Mr Frog to take care of that kind of thing.

Suffice to say that we managed to add almost an hour onto our initial ninety minute journey, driving around in pointless loops, phoning relatives for garbled verbal directions and swearing not a little. On Tadpole duty, I had the pleasure of singing the theme tune to ‘Postman Pat’ approximately forty times, enthusiasm levels rapidly dwindling, to stave off an imminent toddler meltdown.

I think this may be my new definition of hell.

* * * *

On the way home to Paris, several hours later, after a very French afternoon spent entirely à table, feasting and knocking back champagne from cousin’s husband’s family vines, I plugged my trusty ipod into the car stereo and let it shuffle, only nudging it on a track if I judged the selection too chaotic or profanity filled for toddler’s ears. The car stereo was hardly top of the range, the road surface was noisy, and a piece of the rubber seal on Mr Frog’s window was coming away, the cumulative effect of which was a fearsome amount of background noise. I cranked the volume up one notch, then two, then three, straining to hear the lyrics. Tadpole was reading her books, seemingly in a world of her own.

We embarked on a magical musical tour: Suede chasing Electronic, hot on the heels of Duran Duran and Goldfrapp. I eased the volume up progressively. Tadpole still didn’t react. I only realised an hour later, when I clambered into the back of the car, that there were actually more speakers back there. Just behind her head. We spent the rest of the journey in a guilty silence, traumatised that instead of giving Tadpole an eclectic musical education, we might instead have robbed her of the faculty of hearing altogether.

* * * *

Monday. Feeling drained and listless after protracted car journey and champagne abuse. The posters in the metro still feature beautiful people yawning. Only now there is a tagline plastered over the top. “Re-Vittelisez-vous!”

I feel rather cheated that it is nothing more exciting than yet another incitement to drink bottled water.

I suspect it will take more than water to perk me up today, unless it is boiled and poured over powdered caffeine. With a crystal meth chaser.


  1. Gah, I’m glad we stayed indoors and watched twelve hours of Lord of the Rings, instead :P

    Comment by Mathieu — April 25, 2005 @ 1:54 pm

  2. French road signs are – how could I put it? – enigmatic and mysterious. If you’re driving on the motorway near Paris, Bordeaux (400 miles away) will be clearly signposted, but if you’re on a minor road near Bordeaux itself, there won’t be a sign for Bordeaux for miles around.

    And special mention should be made of my all-time favourite road sign: “Toutes Directions”. Helpful, yet not really…

    Comment by Iain — April 25, 2005 @ 1:58 pm

  3. Ok, Mappy is my absolute, ultimate enemy.

    Because of Mappy directions, Sylvain and I have had fights that have escalated into threats of divorce : the sorts of arguments that result in veering off the road, slamming on the brakes, removing the keys and storming off into the woods. No amount of pleading works.

    The last time this happened was on the way to a wedding, where Sylvain was supposed to be a witness for the bride. We got there after an extra hour of driving around in circles and just in the nick of time.

    The next day, we bought a Michelin road map and our marriage was saved.

    Comment by Katia — April 25, 2005 @ 2:10 pm

  4. Thanks, Petite! I now have the Postman Pat theme song stuck in my head!

    Comment by Oz — April 25, 2005 @ 2:31 pm

  5. Love your stories. Just to let you know, Mr. Frog and his father’s cousin are first cousins once removed. With Mr. Frog and the father’s cousin’s daughter, they are second cousins. With Tadpole and father’s cousin’s daughter, they are second cousins once removed. And, finally, with Tadpole and father’s cousin’s daughter’s children, they are all third cousins. My first cousin once removed once explained this to men, and I take great delight in sharing it with others!

    Comment by Kelly — April 25, 2005 @ 2:31 pm

  6. Iain – oh yes, who could forget “toutes directions” and possibly even more confusing: “autres directions”.

    Comment by petite — April 25, 2005 @ 2:33 pm

  7. Mr Frog and his father’s first cousin’s daughter would be first cousins, once removed. Tadpole would be second cousins with this lady’s children. Tadpole will be second cousins, once removed with this lady’s grandchildren.

    Mr Frog, I think, would be first cousins thrice removed with the lady’s grandchildren. I think.

    Comment by srah — April 25, 2005 @ 3:03 pm

  8. The bucolic childhood bit sounds just like an excerpt from a Joanne Harris book (eg. Chocolat).

    Comment by Lesley — April 25, 2005 @ 3:06 pm

  9. Wait, I’ve just reread the relationship and his FATHER’s first cousin’s daughter is his 2nd cousin. Tadpole and her kids would be 3rd cousins, Tadpole and her grandkids would be 3rd cousins 1x removed and Mr Frog and her grandkids would be 2nd cousins 2x removed.


    If the cousins are your generation, it’s first. If the cousins are in your dad’s generation it’s second. If the cousins are in your grandfather’s generation, it’s third.

    If the generations are off, you have to figure out the closest generation-cousin to you, then count up and down for “removed”. (i.e. Mr Frog is 2nd cousins with this woman, who I’ll call Sheila, and Sheila would be 2 generations up from her grandkids, so 2nd cousins twice removed.)

    I highly doubt this has cleared ANYTHING up.

    Comment by srah — April 25, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

  10. “Maaaybe,
    You can never be sure,
    There’ll be knock (knock knock),
    Ring (ding dong)
    Letters through your door….”

    Comment by petite — April 25, 2005 @ 3:14 pm

  11. possibly even more confusing: “autres directions”

    I deliberately didn’t mention that one, for fear of getting into the realm of existential road signs ;-)

    Comment by Iain — April 25, 2005 @ 3:16 pm

  12. Whew! Srah got it right in the end. I was lucky enough to knock out all the cousin stuff at a very early age, as I am very close to all my second cousins on my father’s side, and even know a couple of second cousins once removed. Family reunions, as I’m sure you can imagine, are insanely huge. :)

    Comment by ViVi — April 25, 2005 @ 3:24 pm

  13. Along with crazy road signs, they have insanely short slip roads on and off motorways, usually leading the unsuspecting driver into a sharp, hairpin bend.

    Do they still have priorité à droite in small towns?

    Petite – how did you connect your iPod to the car stereo? Have you got an iTrip or one of those cassette adaptors? I’ve got the latter and the sound quality is not great…

    Comment by witho — April 25, 2005 @ 3:56 pm

  14. Cassette adaptor, and power line to allume cigarette.

    The quality was okay when the car was stationery though. In any case, I think ipod quality is basically good enough for earbuds and less clever as soon as speakers are involved (I rip CD’s to 192 mp3s so Mr Frog can use them on his non Apple player though, maybe AAC format is superior?)

    Comment by petite — April 25, 2005 @ 4:00 pm

  15. My favourite French road signs are the ones you get on the way out of villages, where they have the name of the place rather brusquely crossed out in red. What are these for? Is the replacement of roadside buildings with fields and trees is not enough of a clue to tell you that you’ve left town?

    In their defence they are very forthright signs, much less open to interpretation than the ubiquitous ‘toutes directions’. ‘Don’t think you’re in Lassay-les-Châteaux any more’, they seem to be warning, ‘because you’re not!’

    Comment by jonathan — April 25, 2005 @ 4:13 pm

  16. For the yawnign advertisment campaign, if you carefully look at the left side of an ad, it’s written Nestlé Waters…
    But I don’t understand the link between drinking Nestlé water and waking up.

    Comment by Julia — April 25, 2005 @ 4:29 pm

  17. You better believe all the poor ogilvy (the campaign’s agency) stagiaires have just discovered your blog as they trawl the web for reactions to the campaign. Lucky them! They found petite!

    Comment by EasyJetsetter — April 25, 2005 @ 5:18 pm

  18. Sounds like the adverts are interactive and being directed just at you – telling you what you should have drunk.

    Comment by Watski — April 25, 2005 @ 5:51 pm

  19. When I was a kid on holidays in France I used to think that the crossed out signs were because they had put the sign in the wrong place and just hadn’t taken it down yet. It was only when I was given an ‘eye-spy France’ book and had to tick off the leaving signs that I realised my error. I was either a stupid kid or must have thought the French were really bad at georgaphy.

    Comment by Lucy — April 25, 2005 @ 7:04 pm

  20. Champagne abuse…it would be worth the trip to suffer in that way!

    Comment by Bob — April 25, 2005 @ 7:30 pm

  21. Great blog – discovered it last week and have been sitting at my PC guffawing ever since – much to the annoyance of my kids – coz I won’t tell them why I’m laughing.

    Jonathon – I use those little signs at the exit of a village as the go-ahead to (thankfully) stop crawling at 50km/h and leap forward to 90km/h.

    Comment by Sea Urchin — April 25, 2005 @ 8:04 pm

  22. How’s it goin for you? About those confusing ‘yawning’ signs, well…join the club! I did see the Nestle Waters written in the left margin, but haven’t figured out the relation between that and yawning!

    In the beginning, I assumed that it could a ‘You are on Candid-Camera’ sorta prank, but they won’t go to such heights, would they! I yawn shamelessly, looking around for a hidden camera!

    Comment by brad — April 25, 2005 @ 8:05 pm

  23. Crystal meth? Suede?
    Jaysus, you do have a past life woman!
    Nice to hear you havin’ some good times with the Frog in person, instead of having him referred to as absent.

    Comment by nardac — April 25, 2005 @ 9:14 pm

  24. The ‘removal’ question with cousins can only be satisfactorily resolved by tracing back to the ‘commion progentitor’, i.e. the most recent ancestor from whom the relevant people are all descended. Mr Frog’s father and Mr. Frog’s father’s cousin have a common ancestor (i.e. their grandfather) and the two are first cousins.

    This means that Mr Frog and his father’s cousin’s daughter are second cousins, and their respective children are therefore third cousins.

    When the word “removed” is used to describe a relationship, it indicates that the two people are from different generations.

    The words “once removed” mean that there is a difference of one generation. Twice removed means that there is a two-generation difference, and so on.

    There’s a useful chart that explains all this at: – best of luck!

    Comment by David H — April 26, 2005 @ 1:07 am

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