Archive for January 2010

The trouble with Sarkozy

January 29, 2010

Anecdotal evidence suggests no one French voted for Sarko

What is interesting about Sarkozy, or ‘Sarko’ as his name is usually spat, is that you will never find a French person who admits to voting for him.

“Pas moi”, is the usual response, or sometimes “Mais les Français regrettent leur décision”. I tend to think that “Les Français” means “I” in the latter case. However, to admit to liking Sarkozy is about as socially acceptable as being vegetarian. If I ever mention the hated name of Sarkozy in the salle des profs (admittedly a left-wing bunch), people practically hiss, as though there is some kind of bad spirit in the room.

So what’s the problem? Well, Sarko’s outlook is not French at all. He loves business, is fond of money, and thinks that if people want to work hard and become filthy rich as a result they should be able to do so. Essentially, he should have been born British or American.



Amazing 80s French pop videos (i.e. hilariously bad)

January 22, 2010

In the gym today, I saw a sample of some of the best French 80s pop videos on ‘NRG’, the French version of MTV. This was my favourite, Etienne Daho’s ‘Week-end à Rome’. The budget is around zero, the acting hilarious, the storyline nonexistent. There is a long shot of a woman with a gigantic red bow on her head repeatedly smiling. Enjoy.


How Bad Can it Get UPDATE

January 20, 2010

My friend, who we shall call ‘Brian’ to protect his identity in any future police investigations, today told me a story. A boy in his collège (therefore younger than 14) took another boy hostage with a hunting knife, and the police had to be called to release him. Verily, my last post on this topic (see previous) pales rapidly into insignificance. Talk about la campagne sauvage

The madness of French bureaucracy, extended edition

January 20, 2010

Yesterday, something incredible happened. A woman turned to me in an office, nodded, looked into my eyes and said “ça marche. Quinze jours”. She gave me a look of intense respect, something like an acknowledgement of a cultural coming of age. I had just achieved the impossible. I had just managed to get French social security.

I have been trying to get the ‘aide du logement’ (help with rent) since I arrived in France in October. I had given them:

– a passport copy
– a ‘RIB’, a sheet containing bank details
– an ‘attestation du travail’, confirming I had a job
– an application form with my salary details, income for 2008, name, age etc
– a form from my landlady specifying the exact size, facilities, and location of my flat.

This did not suffice.


Mallarmé #2

January 20, 2010

A Mallarmé poem with my own translation.

Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui
Va-t-il nous déchirer avec un coup d’aile ivre
Ce lac dur oublié que hante sous le givre
Le transparent glacier des vols qui n’ont pas fui !

Un cygne d’autrefois se souvient que c’est lui
Magnifique mais qui sans espoir se délivre
Pour n’avoir pas chanté la région où vivre
Quand du stérile hiver a resplendi l’ennui.

Tout son col secouera cette blanche agonie
Par l’espace infligée à l’oiseau qui le nie,
Mais non l’horreur du sol où le plumage est pris.

Fantôme qu’à ce lieu son pur éclat assigne,
Il s’immobilise au songe froid de mépris
Que vêt parmi l’exil inutile le Cygne.



January 20, 2010

If you don’t know French, and even if you do, you might not know Mallarmé. He isn’t a Proust or a Molière or a Rimbaud, a towering figure with bus stops and schools named after him, but he expresses one thing extremely well: doubt. This is his poem ‘Brise Marine’:

La chair est triste, hélas! et j’ai lu tous les livres.
Fuir! là-bas fuir! Je sens que des oiseaux sont ivres
D’être parmi l’écume inconnue et les cieux!
Rien, ni les vieux jardins reflétés par les yeux
Ne retiendra ce coeur qui dans la mer se trempe
O nuits! ni la clarté déserte de ma lampe
Sur le vide papier que la blancheur défend
Et ni la jeune femme allaitant son enfant.
Je partirai! Steamer balançant ta mâture,
Lève l’ancre pour une exotique nature!
Un Ennui, désolé par les cruels espoirs,
Croit encore à l’adieu suprême des mouchoirs!
Et, peut-être, les mâts, invitant les orages
Sont-ils de ceux qu’un vent penche sur les naufrages
Perdus, sans mâts, sans mâts, ni fertiles îlots…
Mais, ô mon coeur, entends le chant des matelots!



January 20, 2010

Since returning from the Christmas holidays, I have felt ever more settled into the French way of life. I refuse to become angry when shops don’t open, when people shout at me in the street, and when people sneer at my accent. I feel that passive-aggressive politeness will win them over eventually.

Of course not all French people are like this. As soon as you manage to break through the tough Gallic exterior and befriend a French person, the best will be funny, loyal, and interesting people who make great conversation. Take my colleagues for example. Given the size of my lycée (around 1200 pupils), there are close on 100 teachers, though many of them are never seen or heard of in the salle des profs (staff room). On Monday we all shared a very French tradition together, the gallette des rois. Originally intended to mark Epiphany, it has now become a social occasion to see in the new year with family, friends, and colleagues. The week around the 6th of January becomes 7 days of traipsing between gallette parties, each more deliciously pastry based than the next. (more…)