The big news in France today is that Marina was knocked out of Star Academy last night. This is surprising because until recently it appearred that she was the only contestant on the show with any real talent. However last night the audience were given a choice between Marina and the dark, tatooed and far sexier Dominique, and the rest as they say is history. What's most surprising however is the fact that I even know this - given that I must watch less than four hours of TV per week! Incredibly 'Star Ac', which follows exactly the same format as Fame Academy in the UK, is now nearing the end of it's sixth season and shows no signs of letting up, already a seventh series is planned. Unlike in the UK where all the major channels have their own music talent shows jostling for viewing figures, in France it seems there simply is no competition. Star Academy is out there on it's own, the other channels don't even bother trying to compete anymore and simply slap on dreary [...]
I'm lucky that my immediate neighbours are students. No matter what time of the day or night it might be - they are always ready to answer the door. Why this might be is anyone's guess; perhaps it's something to do with being sociable ... or drugs? Anyway, there is a distinct advantage to having someone around all day who can pick up the intercom whenever the buzzer goes; because, without one of those rather ingenious 'letterboxes' on the outside of the building, anyone who wants to make a delivery - has to be let in to access the mailboxes in the vestibule. Which, in practice, can mean that the intercom of every flat in the block is routinely pressed every half hour or so by someone trying to deliver us something that we, in most cases, don't even want. Only the postman is able to deliver mail without leaning on the buzzer - but only because he has a key to our front door! I guess the logic is that the building is better insulated, and thus warmer [...]
Concerning my post about the quality of service provided by 'La Poste', the french post office, I am dissappointed to report that even though I 'touched-wood' one of my parcels went missing in late Ocotober and, two months later, has yet to surface at it's destination. Alas, my opinion of the French postal system dwindles every time I recieve a parcel from the UK too - particularly when it appears to have been opened en route. A tip for my friends and family: please use staples in future! On a happier note I can report that I was able to find something to use instead of raw kidney fat to bake my mince pies with. Auchan stock a cooking fat which is a part animal, part vegetable mixture - and perfect for mincemeat as well as pastry crust! In fact today my French teacher consumed half a pie without grimacing once!
The French have no sense of humour when it comes to self-ridicule; they just don't get it. Perhaps it's a form of humour exclusive to the British? Who knows. We Brits can get some serious chuckle mileage out of things that are, for all intents and purposes, 'crap'. Our politicians, our terrible public transport, our hopelessness at sport ... we love to laugh at it all (what else can we do?). The French however find the very idea insulting. I know this thanks to the frosty reception my comments regarding the humble 'kugelhopf' have gained on a number of occassions. So when I visited Strasbourg's Christmas MarchÃ© des Bredle (biscuit market) and beheld this years 'showpiece' installation intended to draw thousands of tourists, I nearly wet myself laughing - but alas I was the only one. Speaking for myself, I think a giant cake in the shape of a TGV train, poised delicately between two giant biscuits in the shape of the Eiffel Tower and Strasbourg Cathedral respectively, is so monumentally naff that it's blinking hilarious! It's a shame [...]
I pick up Metro, the freebie daily journal, from the stand on rue Austerlitz every morning - for two reasons: I'm a cheapskate Metro is an easy read for foreigners like me: containing short, succinct articles, written using relatively low-brow French, i.e. nothing too deep or philosophical I rarely read a whole article, usually just enough to get the gist of the story before moving on - with one exception. 'An American in Paris', the name of Seth Goldschlager's regular column, always holds my eye to the last punctuation mark. Not because it's particularly amusing or interesting mind you (sorry Seth!) but simply because it's in English. Yes an English column in a French Newspaper! I grant you - Metro is actually a Swedish-owned franchise; but with this and the recent launch of France 24, the multilingual newschannel, there is growing evidence that the old-world view of the French, as a deeply conservative inward-looking society, is starting to look like old-news. When was the last time you picked up an English Newspaper and found it contained a regular column [...]
Having been very rude about Chirac's concern over leaving a lasting legacy I have to admit that I am most impressed by France 24, the new french international news channel, one of Jacques' big ideas. Launched simultaneously in three languages (French, English & Arabic) over the internet last night, it is the only English Language station I am able to recieve in Strasbourg (without subscribing to a satellite broadcaster). While it may well be the poorer cousin to CNN and BBC World it is certianly no less informative, it appears to be the only international news channel you can watch live over the internet - gratis. What really sets the channel apart though is that the majority of reporters and newscasters are French - so you get a real sense that this is a French view of the world. Granted - you might not be able to understand a word half of them are saying ... but sometimes that's the price you have to pay for an exotic product.
Denzel Washington was on the news this evening. That is - he was in the TF1 newsroom sitting next to Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, for the entirety of the show, waiting for the opportunity to plug his latest film: "DÃ©jÃ vu" at the end of the program. But this is not unusual on TF1 - the news anchorman is usually given the task of doing the arts interview at the end of the program, think of it as the French equivalent of the "..and finally" bit they used to do on news at Ten. Only this - well it just doesn't feel right... Imagine: Patrick winds up the serious stuff: "..and fifty people were injured when a bus overturned in the Mont Blac tunnel." Then he switches to the role of arts luvvy: "Denzel darling, it's wonderful to have you with us ..." and winds up the show with: "..and you can pick up a copy of Denzel's autobiography in most good bookshops (holds up DW's book). That's the end of the news, goodnight." I just can't imagine John Humphrys [...]
Predictably it's at this time of year that conversation turns to 'what you do in your country' to celebrate Christmas; and this inevitably leads to some bright spark, in French class, suggesting that everyone bring in a little something to share and compare before the end of term. Thus I discovered that it is impossible to buy mince pies in Strasbourg! So I have been forced to attempt to cook them from scratch, that is - even starting with the mincemeat filling a fortnight before the rest of the pie, because you can't buy ready made mixture here either. And voila - I discovered exactly what constitutes 'mincemeat'; and to be frank - I'm not sure I ever want to consume a traditional mince pie again. I'm talking chiefly about 'suet'. That's the stuff you can usually find in a packet somewhere in the baking/puddings section of Tesco's, but in France you have to go to the butchers (oh yes) .. and ask for the "fat from around the kidneys of a cow" .. and if your stomach can [...]
Before I begin - I must apologise for the immature school-boy sense of humour of this post. At the supermarket yesterday I noticed a box of oranges in the fresh-fruit section that were carrying a rather unfortunate brand-name: 'FANNY'. Yes - Fanny oranges, all clearly labelled with individual Fanny stickers. So - I wondered whether it was possible to buy other types of Fanny fruit? Fanny Bananas maybe? (sorry - but I did warn you)
It is an unfortunate fact of life that when you relocate to somewhere far from 'home' - it isn't possible to take a circle of friends with you. You have to start from scratch - and forge friendships wherever and whenever you can, or face the very real prospect of becoming a neurotic billy-no-mates. Strasbourg is a particularly hard place to make and keep friends. Mainly because, for one reason or another very few people remain here for very long. The city's students come and go with the seasons, while many of the wider 'anglophone' community appear to only choose Strasbourg as a temporary home. So I've lost friends to Scotland, New Zealand, Poland and England in the past 12 months alone, which has been hard to take. One remedy of course is to make French friends rather than foreign ones, but that's a hard ask, particularly when your linguistic abilities are as dire as mine. An easier solution is to embrace the expratriate lifestyle and hang out in one of the Irish pubs every night. My fear with [...]