A few weeks ago I vowed to find us an escape from Strasbourg on the night of total madness - known to many as Saint Sylvester or New Year's Eve. Unfortunately it seems every hotel, hostel, campsite, chalet and guesthouse within a two hour radius of the city has been booked solid - with the last few remaining rooms demanding prices akin to Davos during billionaire season. Despite the lack of snow, any hideaway in the Black Forest, Vosges or Jura mountains remains elusive and thus it looks as though we will have to endure the worst night of the year in Strasbourg once again. Clearly we are not the only ones with a fear of New Year. Happy New Year! Why such dread? Well last year, to celebrate the passing of another calendar, the citizens of Alsace: set fire to 117 motor cars (61 in Strasbourg itself) held onto exploding fireworks (resulting in 17 people having their hands mutilated; 2 youths from Mulhouse lost their thumbs) smuggled over 2 tonnes of contraband fireworks into the region [...]
When I was about 13 years old our high-school English teacher asked us to write about something that we thought needed changing. As inspiration he gave us an example: Should First Division football clubs be allowed to replace the grass pitches with plastic/synthetic ones? The objective of the exercise was to express an opinion while understanding both sides of the argument. He was a little surprised therefore to read my essay entitled "Should the world ban religion?" The choice of subject matter was worrying, apparently, and I was asked to stay behind after class to explain myself. He was surprised to learn that, unlike many of my classmates, I did not spend my free time following a football team - but rather The News. I had been struck by the events in Northern Ireland, as seemingly a day didn't go by without another tit-for-tat killing in the province, and had come to the conclusion that the root cause of the problem was religion. The simplistic view of a teenager, yet, on reflection, not entirely inaccurate. I of course had [...]
If you've lived in France for any length of time you will be familiar with the frozen-foods store PICARD. If you've never heard of it - imagine something across between Marks and Spencer's and Iceland: rows of chest freezers brimming with top-quality, petrified nosh. To help customers identify what's in each freezer...
If my time as a freelancer in France has taught me anything - it's not to trust the French state when it comes to handling anything to do with, er, anything. This rule should be applied even when things appear to be going your way. Today, I'm faced with one of those situations which at first hand appears to be quite a stroke of luck: a 509 EURO tax rebate has magically appeared in my bank account! Now, if I had not been resident in France for as long as I have I'd already put on my dancing trousers and be planning on how to spend this sudden cash windfall, however, there are a few things to consider before ordering that new TV: I haven't paid any income tax for years (being below the threshold for a family of five) The taxman has rebated the money into an account that I haven't used since I was last self-employed under the EI (travailleur independent) statute. i.e. he shouldn't even know that the account exists! This has happened before and back [...]
I guess you might call it a case of mild reverse culture shock. Although I've returned to the UK regularly since emigrating, nearly ten years ago, each time I come back there is usually something about British Culture that feels somewhat alien to me. For example, this time around it's coffee. I'm amazed at how much coffee is consumed in Britain; there are now as many coffee shops as there were once pubs, where it's not unusual to see people drinking caffine-based beverages in quantities you'd once-upon-a-time have associated with beer. The average coffee cup seems big enough to hold a whole pint (500ml), and a "small" coffee equates to something half-pint sized. In France the biggest, or rather "longest", of coffees might come close to a small British one, but that's where the similarity ends. In France coffee is usually consumed in receptacles not much bigger than a shot glass. Quantity, in addition to quality I might add, is what seems to matter to the UK consumer. Having come accustomed to enjoying just two "petits noirs" per day [...]
We're on hols in the UK at the moment, our country of origin. As ever we've been soaking up the British weather (literally) and the culture (metaphorically). The kids were surprised and somewhat disappointed to learn, this time around, that NRJ Hit Music Radio is not actually available in England. Moreover that none of the UK stations we've managed to find play anything French. Although by 'French' our eldest's understanding is it means it can be heard in France - so we had to break it to him that Rihana was not in fact French! No, nor Katy Perry. Maroon 5? Nope not them neither. Indeed, if there's anything that helps you enjoy your time off it's a few of your favourite 'tubes' playing over the airwaves. However, the odds that we'll hear Louane, Kendji or Les Frèro Delavega, all authors of the current most toe-tapping-poppy numbers over in France, are slim to none. Indeed, I've felt the need to tune into Youtube (can I say that?) to download Maitre Gims's latest tour de force. All this, I suppose, [...]
There is a small red Smart car that has been parked down at the end of our road for the past two weeks. Emblazoned across it's side is the old English word for 'moreover' : Yea! (pronounced yay). Normally anyone who forgets to move their car from this particular spot, in less then three hours, would find themselves with a parking ticket; but this one seems to be immune...
Freelance in France 2015 When I moved to France in 2006 there was almost no advice or support for people who wanted to work as freelancers in La République. There seemed to be books aplenty for people wanting to convert a barn into a gite, run a ski chalet or retire to the Dordogne; but nothing, rien, for those of us who simply wanted to earn a living in our new home away from home. Upon arrival in France I was not short of information, though it was often of little use because almost no-one I met had actually had any first-hand experience of being self-employed themselves. Which meant most of the advice I received was either ill-informed or just plain wrong. Trial and error seemed to be the only way forward and I made my fair share of errors, which ultimately resulted in the demise of my first freelance business in France. Thankfully things have changed for the better since then. All the information you need is now freely available online and it’s possible to complete [...]
So satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo lives-on. It's mission to raise a chuckle from the absurdities of life and poke fun at hypocrites will continue unabated - and for this I am glad. No-one should be considered above criticism. Religions, politicians, businessmen, celebrities all deserve to have their words and influence deconstructed. And this is where the whole "Je suis Charlie" campaign falls down...
A bloke in a chasuble Frank was in town yesterday to nag the bureaucrats about their lack of enthusiasm for encouraging peace and cooperation between the peoples of Europe. He came, he spoke, he left. The only difference between him and the elected officials in the audience, as far as I can tell, is that he wasn't required to sign-in to claim his parliamentary attendance allowance. They came, they signed in, they sat, they politely applauded. It is unlikely however that a single MEP actually thought anything Frank said was going to make an iota of difference. Still, it was nice seeing his chasuble pass through town. His what? His chasuble - you know the thing football players wear on the training pitch? Now I'm confused - the Pope plays footie? Er, I doubt it. No - the word chasuble (which exists in French and English and means exactly the same thing: the outermost liturgical vestment) is used in sport to refer to the bib players wear when training. Why the French use the same word as [...]