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 [...]
Today I recieved some interesting mail. The first item, from DFS, told me that if I got my butt down to Sidcup this weekend I could well save a ton on a new sofa. The second, from Majestic's, was offering me a seasonal discount on selected French wines. Tempting but ...
The so-called 'socialist' government in the UK have often been accused of using 'tax by stealth' in order to fund their 'socialist agenda'. (stop laughing) It is entirely possible that New Labour learned this neat little trick from another socialist-run state, but if that's so - it certainly wasn't the French that inspired them. But if ever you thought that income tax in France was extortionate you'd be wrong. Instead, they tax you in other ways. For example - I recieved a few 'bills' this week: 2nd semestre's Social Security contributions - ouch! 3rd trimestre's Health Insurance - double ouch! Annual habitation tax - eeeeh! I think you'd have to call it 'tax by bitch-slap'?
When Chris Tarrant gave up his breakfast slot on Capital Radio it was a sad day for listeners across London's airwaves. Not only did his departure prove that his successors: Neil "Foxy / Doctor" Fox and then Johnny Vaughan were pretty lame by comparison; but it also proved how fundamental a good DJ is to a UK radio station. Because, to be frank, that's the only thing that sets them apart these days. It only takes a quick flick across the dials to discover that more or less every major commercial station in London plays more or less the same thing. At certain times of day - you can switch between Heart, Capital, Kiss, Virgin, Radio 1, Magic and Smooth and hear the very same song being played. Caring for little more than listening figures the UK airwaves are now jam-packed with main-stream stations all jostling for the same audience. So moving to France was like a breath of fresh air to my ears (can I say that?). Not only was I hearing a whole new world of music [...]
I was molested today. There I was minding my own business, cycling along the route to Kehl (Germany) and without a by-your-leave a Christmas tree suddenly leaps out and slaps me around the chops with a beneedled bow. Or at least - that's how it felt. While one week earlier the chances of colliding with an over-sized christmas decoration was slim to none, now they're almost impossible to avoid. And that will remain the case until the Strasbourg Christmas Markets close in early January 2007. Christmas in Strasbourg is indeed something special - if only for the fact that it lasts six weeks and starts in November!
I learned a new French verb this week: 'zapper'. This means 'to zap', and is conjugated in the usual way to all regular 'er' verbs. But when this was imparted to me this week by my conversation group teacher - I had to ask "Er ... what does it mean?". Rather perplexed she replied : "It means the same as in English". Me: "Oh, right ... so what does it mean in English?" Her: "It's the same: zapping, when you change channels with a remote control you say you are zapping the channels." Me: "Do I? Well I've never said it before. It sounds like an Americanism." Her: "What do you say then?" Me: "I flick channels, hop channels, switch channels, flip, scan, but I don't zap them." She, and all my classmates, gave me a wry smile as if to say "pedantic git". Clearly no-one believed me. So I looked it up and damn-it they were right! 'Zap' has several meanings, all of which are classed as 'slang' (so it probably is an Americanism) and "to change channels" [...]
Just got back from a short weekend (i.e. one night) in Paris. However with Strasbourg being 4 hours away by train* making a trip to the capital is rarely stress-free particularly if you're travelling with children. However I discovered, purely by accident, that some trains have a 'family carriage', which eases the pain considerably, not just for the parents, but for the kids and all the other non-parental passengers too. Don't confuse this with the UK's idea of a 'family carriage' which is just a regular carriage with 'family carriage' written on the windows. A french family carriage has space for 18 adults, 6 toddlers, 8 wheelchair users and about 6 bicycles, it also has a play area and a vast toilet with baby changing facilities. Problems do arise however when someone who is travelling without children books themselves into the family carriage. This can be done simply by fibbing to the booking agent that you will be bringing an infant with you - who travels for free so there's no extra charge. While most people are honest (or [...]
It is a little known fact that the world-famous French beer Kronenbourg is brewed in Strasbourg, taking it's name from the city's western suburb - Cronenbourg - where the brewery is located. (But it's only French in name now - as the breweries were bought by Scottish & Newcastle in 2000.) Strasbourg is in fact the beer capital of France with around half of all French beer being produced in the region. Consider this, and the fact that Alsace's leading export is actually wine, it is a constant surprise to me that most British ex-pats would prefer to live in the Dordogne or Provence! Wake up people - there's some serious drinking to be done here!
One of the marvellous things about Strasbourg's location is it's proximity to some of the most beautiful countryside in Europe. To the east: the Black Forest, to the north and west: the Vosges mountains - to the south: the Swiss Alps. The closest real nature comes to the centre of Strasbourg however is the Robertsau Forest, which lies just to the northeast of Strasbourg (somewhere along the number 72 bus route), where you can cycle, stroll or pony-trek through a scenic landscape of woodlands, water-meadows and lakes. Be warned though, Robertsau Forest also happens to house Strasbourg's only naturist reserve, so don't stray from the path unless you can handle naked german pensioners (not literally of course).
When I called the dentists to make an appointment I expected to have to take an hour out of the working day in order to reveal my molars to the man in white. Not so. Okay so they take two and a half hour lunch-breaks, close at 5.30pm on the nose, and bunk off on Friday afternoons (thanks to the 35 hour week) - but the French compensate for these little inconveniences by starting early. So your morning could run like this - 7.30am wake up - 8am bundle kids into school - 8.15am DENTIST'S APPOINTMENT!! - 8.45am quick breakfast at a nice bistro (espresso & croissant) - 9.00am arrive for work. What's more - by the time your UK colleagues have managed to switch their computers on - you've already done an hours work (i.e. read the newspaper).