When Nicolas Sarkozy introduced the new 'selective immigration' policy - it was done in the name of protecting French jobs. If jobs were the issue then students should have been exempt from any restrictions. However there is a stark contrast this year in Strasbourg compared with last. At UniversitÃ© Populaire student numbers have fallen significantly; primarily because people from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Far East have all been barred. It seems like a classic bit of French protectionism again - though Sarko might hail this one is protecting jobs - I would say it is designed to protect France from having to face up to the responsibilities that come with being a multi-cultural and multi-racial nation. (Ergo, this is all about avoiding more riots - in election year!) There is one upside from my perspective however: when I attend French class, I no longer have to deal with French spoken in a strong Chinese accent - which cuts out a whole level of translation. Bonrour, ye shwe shinra = Bonjour, je suis Chinois = Hello, I [...]
With next year's presidential elections pending, newspaper editorials have been pontificating over the Chirac years. Most seem to be in agreement: that Jacques has achieved little of note in his two tenures as president of the Republic. The only thing they seem to universally thank him for is not involving France in the Iraq conflict. But suddenly we see Chirac getting involved in Lebannon and North Korea; he's at the UN - negotiating peace and understanding; controversially launching a French international news-channel (in English); selling his wine collection... Perhaps JC was in agreement with those editorials .. or maybe he's finally realised that ex-Presidents are expected to have a few exciting things to talk about - especially if they're employed as a high-profile 'guest speaker' now and again. Because, needless to say, anecdotes about 'the time I sat on my fat arse for eight years' can be awfully tiresome.
That's the literal translation of 'haute couture' - which is a French term that we Anglophones use to refer to dead posh fashion design. The French too like to steal the odd bit of English to spice up their fashion lines. Here's a few I have spotted around Strasbourg: Narkotic Wear - for when you need to look like a drug dealer Mental Wear - for when you want to look erm ... mental? Anti flirt - for when erm... I've really no idea.
While on British television the hand-held microphone might be considered a thing of the distant past - the French seem to have a perpetual obsession with it. These somewhat phallic (yet colourful) objects feature most prominently during the coverage of live sporting events. Not just on the field of play though; if the coverage takes place in a studio at TV centre - handhelds are de rigeuer. During a variety show or cabaret, the same applies. In fact I can't think of many situations when a hand-held microphone is not the preferred option. But why? Are they just too cheap or too lazy to bother? A french friend told me it was because it made the show feel more 'dynamique'. Personally I suspect it might have something to do with the manufacterers of discreet radio microphones neglecting to provide instructions in French.
As much as we complain in the UK that the quality of television programming has declined beyond all recognition; in France the situation is far worse. Given that it is the only country in which French-speaking programmes are made - the channels have very little choice in what they air. So there is a heavy reliance on over-dubbed foreign imports, cabaret shows and commercial breaks to fill air-time. It is perhaps France 2 that resorts to scraping-the-barrel with cabaret shows the most often. What's scary about these - is that thet are not a million miles from their long-dead UK equivalents. i.e. if Jimmy Tarbuck were to be dragged out of retirement for a special French edition of 'Live from Her Majesty's' (cira 1986) - I guarantee you that it would be instantly snapped up by France 2 to fill a saturday night slot. Knife-throwers, magicians, jugglers, ventiloquists and mime artists are still regarded as top-quality entertainment, as are 'beautiful assistants'. Yes they still do the "...and will you please welcome my beautiful assistant Isla St-Clair." thing. Although to [...]
What makes acronyms even more confusing is the French's habit of referring to every internationally recognised acronym by it's French equivalent. [EG - in France the killer disease is not 'AIDS' - it's 'SIDA'.] So when referring to the European Union you have to remember to swap the letters around to UE for Lâ€™Union EuropÃ©en; because if you use EU - people will think you're referring to "Les Etats-Unis" (the United States). So if you should happen to say "I hate the EU - I think we should be more like the Americans" your audience might think that you're a tad schizophrenic!
While setting myself up in France I've had to deal with many things, one of which I am still getting to grips with: acronyms. Not only have I had to inform INSEE, CIPAV and URSSAF of my business practice, but also RSI and CAF for insurance and family allowance. I've now have SIRET, SIREN, TVA and APE numbers for when I fill out any form about ... anything, and if I want to set up a direct debit - I have to use an RIB. The reality is though - that for most of these - if you don't know what they stand for it won't affect your ability to slot into French society, as most French people have no idea what they stand for either.
I've noticed that you get a better class of vandal in France. While, I grant you that, most of the graffiti you'll see around Strasbourg is just mindless tagging, occassionally you see something that goes beyond simple defacement. "This is the death of art" - was one I saw recently, written by a narked art student during some arts related strike last year. [Thankfully they wrote it in chalk]. "Sarkozy or Le Penn - will be the death of France" - a bit of political forcasting there from someone who strolled along the canalside with a large permanent marker-pen one day. "Russian slut" - is my current favourite, scrawled across a picture of Kate Moss in her latest pose for Chanel. Clearly I'm not the only one who thinks that using a cocaine-sniffing middle-aged British mother, to advertise the fragrance 'Coco Mademoiselle' to the youth of France, is perhaps not the best bit of role model association that they could have come up with.
I've finally cracked how to ask for 'une baguette' without getting any comeback from the girl behind the counter. Okay it's taken me about six months to work it out - but building up confidence in your first foreign language takes time! The first lesson was that it's 'une' not 'un', and on the back of this revelation I thought my bread-buying troubles would be over. Not so. It seemed no matter how loudly or clearly I said 'une', nine times out of ten I'd still be met with perplexed expression. What was I doing so wrong that meant I had to resort to hand signals half the time? Then as I was ordering one day it hit me. Possibly due to a dry larynx I failed to pronounce the first syllable of my usual line, and I had simply said "baguette s'il vous plait" to the girl behind the counter. But, for the first ever time, she turned picked up ONE baguette, wrapped it and handed it to me without batting an eyelid or looking remotely confused. It [...]
I have theory which my local francophile compatriots may not appreciate. It concerns the naming of 'Petite France', the popular touristy area of Strasbourg. The guidebooks tell you that this beautiful quartier of sixteenth-century, wooden-framed, former tanning mills was named 'Little France' because it was remeniscient of France-in-a-nutshell. But to be frank there isn't a street in France, that I can think of, that remotely resembles 'Petite France' - so there has to be another explanation. Given that Alsace was inhabited predominantly by German speaking peoples, and that this area of tanning mills most likely smelled worse than a pungent abbattoir on a hot summers day, then I think the term of endearment, 'Petite France', was probably intended to refer to the parfum rather than the architecture. If you're French - I'm only joking! C'est un blague mon brave.