There are many words in the French vocabulary that sound a bit like another. Hence the French are rather fond of the odd pun, as a double-hearing (or double entendre if you prefer), can lead to much mirth. But in day-to-day communication it can make things quite infurating, if you're not quite used to the double-hearing thing in given situations. One that always seems to catch me out is whenever someone asks me my weight. (e.g. at the chemist when collecting a prescription) "Combien de poids avez-vous?" sounds exactly like "Combien de pois avez-vous?" There is usually this confused silence and look (from my direction) while my brain computes this bizarre request. "Did she just ask me how many peas I've got? She did. I'm sure she did. My god she's as mad as a brush! ... oh, hang on ..." "69 kilos"
So went the question punted my way by a Frenchman standing in front of a bonfire last Saturday night. How to answer? At school we're taught the 'official' version of the origins of the celebration, which recounts how a group of bad men plotted to blow up the houses of parliament but failed. However, even when you're only five years old - you have to ask what on earth the bonfire, effigy burning and fireworks are all about then? Indeed, there are many theories behind that one, as an Irish friend put to me once "It's all about burning Catholics". In Lewes in Surrey they also celebrate the 'glorious revolution' on Guy Fawkes night (when William of Orange invaded and sent the last Catholic heir to the English throne packing) by, amongst other things, burning effigies of Pope Paul V. So it would seem that there might be a modicum of truth in the whole anti-catholic thing? And it does seem that many Catholics, and Irish in particular, take offence at the very idea of Guy Fawkes night. But [...]
My naivety knows no bounds. The very same day as I was hopping on a train to London, another social security bill dropped through the door* asking for an amount that made my knees buckle under me, and collapse, sobbing, to the floor. Taking into account the bill from my accountant, health insurance, social security, income tax, pension, council tax and TV license - I am seeing some 45+% of my income fly out the door in the last 12 weeks of the year (while I'm preparing my accounts for next year). Needless to say, much of that 45% has already been spent on boring things like rent and food, so I'm now facing the prospect of having to borrow money to pay the government. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the fact of having to pay - there has to be a bit of give and take when you're on the receiving end of world class healthcare, public transport, municipal libraries etc.. what makes me angry is that I had precisely no warning. Without warning, [...]
Every time I take a trip over to the UK I usually take the opportunity to bring myself up to speed with current affairs. After all, what we hear in France of Britain is usually little more than politics or a little bit of European social commentary. It says a lot about Britain then, when there is war in DR Congo, financial meltdown across the planet, bombings in the middle east and the US presidential election - that the lead story for the entire three days of my visit should be taken up with celebrity scandal. It was only recently that I noted the home nation's obsession with celebrity, but nothing demonstrated it more aptly than the events last week. Even the BBC were guilty of giving in to tabloid pressure and saturating their own broadcasts with 'giving the people what they want'. In a nutshell this is the story:Two celebrities are a bit rude to another celebrity on a national radio show. Insulted celebrity complains to radio channel, sparking off a media storm braying for the blood of [...]