Tag Archives: french

I just couldn’t get ahead

1. An unusual number of idiomatic expressions are identical in French and English. I can’t figure out why this would be. English and French were pretty closely interrelated at one point, but they’ve been going their own ways for centuries now. Are the French adopting and translating English expressions because English is so internationally dominant? Here are a few I’ve come across so far:

    Le portrait craché – the spitting image
    Des bâtons dans les roues – stick in the spokes
    Dans les tuyeaux – in the pipeline
    Tout est bien qui finit bien – all’s well that ends well
    Au peigne fin – with a fine tooth comb
    Poigne de fer – iron fist
    Sonner creux – ringing hollow
    Souffler le chaud et le froid – blowing hot and cold
    Attrape-touristes – tourist trap
    Attraper la mort – catch your death
    Eu vent de – got wind of
    Profil bas – low profile
    Lune de miel – honeymoon
    Quand la poussière est retombée – when the dust settles
    Mordre la main qui nourrit – bite the hand that feeds you
    Marché aux puces – flea market

This seems weird to me. It’s weird, isn’t it? Fortunately there are still plenty of French idiomatic expressions that are pleasingly insane in English, like “gueule de bois” (“wooden face” – to have a hangover), “faire choux blanc” (“making white cabbage” – to come up empty or hit a dead end) and “tirez les vers du nez” (“pulling worms from the nose” – to get information out of someone).

2. About six months ago, my energy supplier increased my rates, so I went to a comparison website, found a quote for £20 less a month than what I’d been paying, and switched providers. BOOM. Get me, right? Like a proper thrifty grown-up!

Yeah. Last week my new energy providers asked for a meter reading, and then based on this reading decided they’d been CRAZY undercharging me and raised my bill by £100 a month. I’m not sure how this is possible since I live alone in a one-bedroom flat and don’t own a television or a stereo or a washing machine and haven’t been running a hydroponic growing operation on the sly. I’ve had to switch providers again because paying £146 for electricity every month would make it very difficult for me to also eat, but I’ll be stuck paying their exorbitant final bill and an extra fee to get out of contract. They got me pretty good there! Nice one guys! Hopefully this will teach me to read the small print in future, especially the bit where it says in tiny tiny letters “WE ARE GOING TO FUCK YOU”.

3. I’ve been reading a trashy true crime book called Blood on the Altar (insert heavy-metal guitar riff here). It is delightfully terrible. It’s about a murder that took place in Italy, and the author is a British guy who is such a slavish Italophile that you start feeling embarrassed for him. He goes on and on and on about the bravery and resilience and warmth of the people in this particular rural bit of Italy to the point where I get the feeling that these colourful rustic noble simple folk are probably rolling their eyes at him behind his back. He tries to tie the murder in with the overall history of the region, which I understand, as entrenched government corruption played a large part in botching the investigation and you’ve got to fill 200 pages somehow, but then he wanders off into just describing the local area, including cuisine and museums and landmarks. Certain parts of the book are a straight-up travel guide. Like, dude! Dead teenager, remember? Stop talking about salami and let’s try and focus here.

He also does that thing that true crime writers do where they try to convince us and themselves that they’re fulfilling some greater good instead of just pandering to bored women (hi!) who want to read gruesome details about murders. This dude apparently felt a “connection” with the murdered girl after seeing the news coverage and started feeling like he was “mourning her himself”. OK WOW, no you didn’t. This girl had parents, you presumptuous twat. You started feeling like you smelled a book deal.

When he does get around to talking about the murder and the investigation, he switches arbitrarily between past and present tense, sometimes in the same paragraph. I think this is meant to provide a sense of immediacy or to be artsy or some shit, but it comes across more like clumsy editing.

It’s truly, truly awful. I’m enjoying the fuck out of it.

4. I love it when The Kids in the Hall go Full Weird. I came across this sketch recently and scream-laughed all the way through.

WHAAAAAAAAT.

Animals strike curious poses

1. I was going through my GIF collection the other day (yeah I have a GIF collection. Do you not??) and found that it it includes
– 2 Carey Grant GIFs;
– 2 X-Files GIFs;
– 3 Stephen Fry GIFs;
– 3 Big Lebowski GIFs;
– 4 Star Trek GIFs;
– 8 GIFs of people rolling their eyes and/or giving the finger (for future use);
– and this masterpiece:

It gets funner the longer you look at it.

2. I’ve stopped going to Lidl and started shopping at Sainsbury’s again. Lidl is much cheaper, and it’s directly on my route home from work, whereas Sainsbury’s is a few minutes out of my way. Lidl, however, doesn’t have automated checkouts. Turns out I will gladly pay for the luxury of not having to interact with other humans. (At Sainsbury’s, if there is a queue at the automated checkouts and a human cashier standing there doing nothing, I’ll still go for the automated checkouts.)

3. As part of my Personal Improvement Project to learn the fuck out of French, I signed up for a French pen pal (keyboard pal?), and connected with a lady in Strasbourg called Sylvie. Writing in French really is improving my skills by forcing me to apply all the grammatical rules I learned in school way back when, but Sylvie…is terrible. She’s condescending, didactic and has no discernable sense of humour. She sent me a list of more than a dozen songs (unprompted) and instructed me to “listen carefully to the lyrics – these songs are very beautiful”. They were all unbearably schmaltzy. I made it through about four. Don’t believe me?

BLARRRGHH. (If you want to learn French by listening to music, start with Jacques Brel.)

She gave me an overview of France (again, unprompted) that included such gems as the following:

“Au niveau gastronomique la France est très riche. Les vins, les fromages et les plats raffinés et régionaux sont très développés.” (On a culinary level, France is very rich. The wines, cheeses, refined dishes and regional specialties are highly developed.)

YOU DON’T SAY.

All this is just me being a jerk, of course, but the clincher came when I asked her who her favourite authors were and she said she didn’t have any. Sorry, Sylvie – somehow I don’t think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

4. Best thing to say in a Scottish accent: murder
Best thing to say in a Geordie accent: Kawasaki
Best thing to say in an Australian accent: 1999

And yet I carry on talking

1. Recent conversation with a colleague:

Her: I saw One Chance this weekend. The Paul Potts film?

Me: Pol Pot?

Her: No, Paul Potts. He won Britain’s Got Talent a few years ago?

Me: And they made a MOVIE about him? Why? Did he get cancer or something?

Her: Actually…yes.

Me: There you go. ADVERSITY.

(Oh, popular culture! You just never get any less depressingly predictable.)

2. Listening to Radio France has been very enlightening. Here are some things to know about the French:

They love philosophisin’. Regularly on France Culture they have serious, SERIOUS philosophical discussions. Is it possible to definitively prove any truth without recourse to axiomatic argument? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

They love a bit of civil disobedience. Every other day in the news there is a new strike or demonstration about something. It’s raining! We’re not going to stand for this! To the picket lines! Oh wait it’s raining never mind.

They love a cartoon. On France Info every morning they discuss the political cartoon of the day. AT LENGTH. Since it is radio, this involves an earnest description of the cartoon, which is entertaining. (“And the dog is peeing on the fire hydrant, which represents the EU.”) They also review graphic novels along with regular novels. I kind of love this.

3. I can’t be the only person to have a powerful urge to open the windows while going through the car wash. (…Right?) But common sense dictates that you STAY IN THE CAR. I guess some folks have to learn everything the hard way.

4. I watched A Field in England. Which is just about all I feel qualified to say on the subject. (And yet I carry on talking! Here I go!) I really really liked Kill List and Sightseers (which becomes almost unbearably funny if you watch it while concurrently running Natural Born Killers inside your head) and was totally willing to accept any weirdness Ben Wheatley felt like dishing out. And he was feeling pret-ty generous with the weirdness when he made A Field in England. It’s an experience. For me it was a positive experience, but I wouldn’t blame anyone who found it infuriating. It reminded me of Waiting For Godot, with the characters trying to locate a mysterious Device that is never fully explained and the focus being on their interactions along the way. Or something. The performances are great, anyway. It probably helps that I have a mild crush on Reece Shearsmith.

5. Such a simple riff. And yet it kicks so much ass.

Foreign profanity and Hollywood head-splatter

1. Lately I’ve been trying to improve my French. I blame Kristen Scott Thomas. I’ve now seen three of her French films, where on top of being supremely chic and talented she’s rattling on in perfect French, all showoffy. (I did have an issue with I’ve Loved You So Long, where they cast her as actually being French, and explained the fact that she speaks French with an English accent by the fact that the character had spent a long time in England. Um, that’s not how that works. If you are a native French speaker and live in England you will learn to speak ENGLISH with an English accent, not French. You might forget some vocabulary, but your accent in French wouldn’t change. But whatever. Good film.) I spent a total of nine years in French immersion at school, but despite that it’s amazing how well I don’t speak French. I can make myself understood, but only haltingly (actually I can rattle on pretty well with a couple of drinks in me, but that’s not an option anymore), and because I learned in school I don’t have a good grasp of idiom or slang, and the slang I do know is Québecois and therefore causes real French people to laugh at me. Caliss!

So I’ve been listening to Radio France online in the mornings and evenings while I’m in the kitchen and keeping an Evernote list of definitions, reminding myself of fun-to-say words like “désormais” (henceforth) and “néanmoins” (nevertheless). I also read a detective novel in French last week. I had to refer to this very helpful website A LOT but I didn’t have any trouble getting the general gist of things and I’ve learned that I can detect bad writing even in French. (SO BAD, this novel was. So much pointless background detail to cover up the threadbare plot.) Fortunately it was meant to be quite gritty and there were tons of swear words to add to my list so now I know how to get myself punched in the face in French (which would make a “paff!” sound I reckon).

2. My trip back from Canada was amayyyyyzingly horrendous and I need to tell you all about it so that you know how I SUFFER. It was even worse than the overnight coach trip I took once from Ottawa to Boston to Maine, and I didn’t think anything could be worse than that. It started first thing in the morning with a drive to the ferry, then an hour’s wait to board, then an hour-and-a-half ferry ride, then a four-hour wait at Vancouver airport. Then came the overnight flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt. If I could sleep in any sort of moving conveyance I swear to God I’d be a much nicer person. But I can’t. I cannot sleep in a car. I cannot sleep on a train. I cannot sleep on a bus. I cannot sleep on a plane. I cannot sleep there, Sam-I-Am! I have tried and tried and tried and tried. I even bought one of those dorky travel neck-pillow things, thinking it might help? IT DID NOT HELP. Not one single minute of sleep was had by me.

I got to Frankfurt feeling grubby and spaced out and then had to hike about ten miles to my connecting flight because Frankfurt airport is sodding enormous. Then a couple more hours of waiting, and then getting on the plane, and more waiting, and then the flight, during which I kept allllllllmost nodding off and then jerking back awake because my brain hates me, then land, then wait, then off the plane, then Heathrow Customs – hell on wheels at the best of times, hooray! – then wait for my luggage, then tuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuube all the way through London to Kings Cross, then hooray hooray a whole hour’s wait for my train in jam-packed Kings Cross with not a single place to sit. And THEN, for the first time in my entire life, I got on the wrong train. Fortunately it was a wrong train that stopped at Peterborough so I could jump on a connecting train back to Huntingdon without too much fuss, but still. Then I got to haul my luggage back to my flat on foot. Weirdly, at that point I felt fine, albeit filthy, and when I got home I was actually kind of hyper. I had a shower, which was the best shower of my entire life, and watched some telly, and when I went to bed I thought, “Hmm, I hope I can actually get to–ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ” and then I slept for twelve hours. The whole experience has put me right off travelling for a while. Just as well because I won’t be able to afford another holiday until I get a better job or win the lottery and there are no jobs and I don’t even play the lottery.

3. Have you all seen The Mist? I was actually really impressed with it, particularly because the focus of the film is more on the human drama as the group of survivors descends into anarchy than on the death-tentacle monsters. But also, death-tentacle monsters yay! What I really wanted to talk about though SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER is the ENDING. Holy. Cow. That. That? Was possibly the grimmest ending of any film I’ve ever seen. That was Lars Von Trier-level grim. How…how did that get past the test screening?? “Well, Frank, the focus group was totally on board, uh, right up until, you know, dude shoots his own son in the head? Two minutes before the rescue crew rocks up? Yeah. We might need to tweak that a bit.” Kudos for sticking with it, Hollywood. I was expecting the usual huggy reunion with Mom. Not Thomas Jane on his knees howling in anguish, covered in his son’s head-splatter. THUMBS UP!