It was our intention to head up to Champ de Feu, the nearest ski station to Strasbourg, to go sledging on Boxing/St. Stephen's Day this year, however this plan seemed hard to justify when 40 cm of snow settled in the City itself on Christmas morning; and given the fact too that the council had failed to grit any roads that night, taking a Peugeot 107 up a twisting icy mountain route to 1100m was likely to have been a regretful episode. Despite my own disappointment, the tiny wee slope on the south side of Parc du Contades proved to be a worthy substitute for our nippers, who both being under five years probably wouldn't have appreciated the high octane delights of the 300m+ luge piste in the Vosges anyway. There are however a few minor niggles with the slope that is formed once the luges come out: the local kids opt to form the slope on the steepest side of the hill, which thus results in the shortest slide; (and as much as I keep pointing out to [...]
Political Correctness is a phenomenon that has yet to hit France and frankly I hope that it never does. One upside, for example, is that I can legitimately choose to watch the live coverage of the Miss France finals on TF1 tonight. Now admittedly, while the politically-correct indoctrinated side of me might be whispering to my subconscious: This is tacky, demeaning and frankly outmoded couch-potato television. ... there's a part of me that thinks it's refreshing top-drawer entertainment. ... though I may just be getting old.
I continue to be in a state of exasperation over the way the British media paint the Euro as a doomed currency, even though it is the world's largest and therefore most stable. As I have pointed out before it's future looks far more rosy than that of the pound. Today's hyperbole surrounds a slight slip in it's value following the Irish austerity cuts. This event in itself is hard to explain given that after Britain announced it's own cuts the pound actually strengthened. However this does not stop financial commentators spouting endless speculation in order to grab a few headlines. The fact is the Euro is still way, way above it's value of ten years ago against the dollar, and the pound has still not recovered to it's pre-VAT-cut 2008 levels. Which leads me to wonder whether the British financial media aren't taking back-handers from the US Federal Reserve? Stranger things have happened.
I have heard the phrase "mon tepee thon" (literally - my tuna teepee) on three separate occasions recently and frankly it left me somewhat baffled. Understandably I tried to make sense of this phrase as best I could, but under the circumstances all my brain could manage was to throw back a series of unanswerable questions: Are my ears deceiving me? Did he/she really just say something about a tunafish living in a wigwam? What is this obsession the French have for telling the English about their love of Native American homes for endangered fish? Why do they drop it into conversation? Am I supposed to be impressed? It is no coincidence though that every other Frenchman you meet will probably explain their love for 'mon tepee thon' to you at some point, not least because it's one of Britain's most famous and successful exports. Huh? Absolutely, but the reason for the linguistic impasse is that the French almost always neglect to pronounce it properly, leaving we foreigners to decipher the true meaning. Even though I now know what [...]
Not far from the Fischer brewery in Schiltigheim stands an unassuming building where great things are afoot in the world of architecture. It is here that I’ve had the privilege to be involved in the launch of a new product, which is set to take the 3D design world by storm. These are the headquarters of local company KA-RA Srl, which stands for Kinetic Arts and Research in Architecture. It’s headed by visionary architect Raphael Pierrat who, with the help of a team of talented software engineers, has created a software package that architects the world over have been waiting for. It’s called Twinmotion2 and is the result of ten years of field experience with firms like the famed Zaha Hadid Architects. In essence it is a 3D design and visualisation application that renders in real-time and is loaded with tools aimed at helping architects to visualise their ideas with incredible speed. What makes the product special is it foregoes the requirement for users to hit a ‘render’ button in order to see the final results. As any 3D [...]
It has been noted, on a number of occasions in the past, that my sense of humour often takes some getting used to. This is a fact that I'm neither proud nor ashamed of. However, over time I have come to realise that if I misjudge a new audience, and the delivery of a 'gag', it has the potential to result in giving entirely the wrong impression about me. All right, not necessarily 'wrong' but one which I'd rather not have them believe - straight away anyway. This 'first impressions' concept is something I am trying to impress upon my 3 year old son who, having recently started school, is making an effort to become popular with his mates by making them laugh. Nothing wrong with that, however his sense of humour is stuck somewhat in a scatological phase. That is, he thinks the word 'poo' is hilarious. So much so in fact, that he chortles to himself immediately after every time he says it. Now, let's be honest, the occasional, well placed 'poo' can be funny. Indeed, I [...]
For that is the day that free-parking ends in central Strasbourg. Admittedly it was something we rather enjoyed when we first arrived, being able to pull up outside your own house and park for an unlimited time for free was such a novelty, and it felt liberating almost, when compared with what we had to put up with in London (massive parking fees, bus-lane fines and the congestion charge). However, knowing the chaos that such freedom bestows upon the local community, I for one am glad to see the city take another step toward ending the car culture that so many of us are so addicted to. In the Contades area commuters have regularly treated the vicinity like a free park-and-ride zone six days a week, making it almost impossible for we residents to park anywhere near our respective abodes when we do have a car. In Strasbourg, like it or not, it's hard to argue against the introduction of such schemes when a big chunk of our local taxes go toward improving transport infrastructure. I'm not just [...]
Rarely am I struck by such euphoria when opening letters from the RSI, the Régime Sociale des Indépendants - otherwise known as my health assurance providers, however today was such a day - for today I recieved my new Carte Vitale! Whoohoo! If you've no idea what a Carte Vitale is - let's just say that when you get one it's like getting free flights to New Zealand for the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final - a rare, and often once in a lifetime experience.* The reason for this euphoria is partly because I have had to endure seven months of bureaucracy and incompetence by the local agency Mutuelle de l'Est, since Stephen Godfrey's details spontaneously appeared on my old card in place of mine, and partly because my wife has yet to receive her new Carte Vitale having lost it almost two years ago. (She blames our then 18 month old son for the episode, but only a fool would hand over their Carte Vitale to anyone but a doctor or health assurance professional - so she only [...]
There was a piece on TF1 news the other night that suggested a disproportional amount of foreign news coverage of French strike action abroad. In many cases this coverage paints the average French worker as stubborn, economically unrealistic if not downright lazy. I think the fact that most foreigners don't understand what the strikes are about is the problem. So let me spell it out: The issue is the minimum age for early retirement which currently stands at somewhere between 57 and 60 for most of Europe, except for Germany where it is 65. In the UK it is also 65, but if you have a private pension you can retire whenever you like. To get a full pension the French have to work for 41.5 years which is 11.5 years longer than the requirement for the British state pension. In France, retirement is about one of the few ways you can let go of your employees legitimately without going to tribunal. This explains why only 12% of those capable of work in the 60-64 age bracket remain employed [...]
You would be forgiven for thinking that this little phrase in France - travail au noir - refers to what the French are forced to do whenever the power generation workers go on strike, but it is in fact the vernacular for - Travail dissimulé - or 'dissimulated work'. Which basically means working illegally, usually for cash and paying no taxes. Of course no one in France would admit to doing as much, but my personal experience is that just about everyone who can do it - does. Cleaners, handymen, teachers, painters, drivers, hairdressers - you name it, if you hand over cash they'll give you an extra big smile - because the likelihood that they're going to give any of it to the state, as they should, is a million to one. There have been efforts made to eradicate the cash practices which are estimated to cost the country some 14 € bn in lost revenue. For example, being able to offset 50% of all childcare related expenditure against tax is intended as a way to get families [...]