Friday, December 15, 2006

From Miserable Beginnings to the Top of the World

If what wikipedia reports is true, Ségolène Royal certainly had one of those childhoods straight out of Roald Dahl or Charles Dickens. Apparently, her father never wanted daughters and looked at them as slaves and baby machines. "I have five children and three girls." Ouch. She had to fight with him just to get the privilege of completing high school. I've come across men who had this type of attitude before - my husband's grandfather didn't see the point in schooling a woman past high school and fought tooth-and-nail with his eldest daughter before she finally was allowed to earn her teaching certification. But high school? Compulsory high school education was instituted by Napoleon--you'd think any conservative Gaul worth his salt would advocate it.

Rising above those sorts of horrible influences and experiences certainly qualifies Ségolène to be seen as a role model, particularly among the young Magrebine women that now live in virtually every city in France. As a pied noir herself, Ségolène has a unique angle on the current presidential race - she has witnessed colonialism firsthand and could quite possibly become a voice for the marginalized citizens of her country. She has already served as a voice for other marginalized groups, including women and the handicapped.

It would be such a great victory for women everywhere if Ségolène were elected to govern one of the world's major powers.

Photo: Ségolène Royal being greeted by a Tahitian during the France-Oceania Summit in June 2006. (courtesy Tahitipresse)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Rewards of Bureaucratic Inefficiency

I just finished reading in The Times (of London) about the continuing practice of granting "jackpot bonuses" to French civil servants who decide to retire to French Polynesia or an island in the Indian Ocean. The practice is trying to be stopped, but with elections coming up so soon, Chirac doesn't want to upset the old-timers that do so much of the voting...

I've always said that France had the best employment deals out of any country, period. No one minds about paying higher prices from everything from candy bars to gasoline if it means a living wage for all. Of course, this is above and beyond a "living wage", but it makes me want to move to France and become a civil servant, just so I can essentially get a paid permanent vacation to Taha'a someday!

Sure beats being a civil servant in the US...sure, some of the jobs might be a little more glamorous than others, but how'd you like to be stuck working in a mailroom in the basement of the Pentagon for 40 years, only to retire and not be able to afford the medication you need for the stress injuries you've acquired over years of repetitive motions? Seriously, I would be Chirac's personal ashtray valet any day...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Vote Early and Vote Before the First Course

Today, of course, is Election Day. In the time-honored tradition of the US of A, it is held on a business day - we wouldn't want civic duty interfering with the weekend free time the majority of 9-to-5ers enjoy. You've gotta pay us to exercise our rights! Not so for my beloved froggies across the pond:

The French wouldn't want to take any money out of the pockets of the businessmen whom, more often than not, they've had to subsidize. Not to mention the government workers--wouldn't want to swipe away any bureaucratic efficiency (the oxymoron to end all oxymorons) and waste thousands of euros worth of French tax money allowing employees to be late to work, leave early or have a break to go vote. No; it makes far more sense to interrupt a Frenchman's leisurely 5-hour Sunday lunch with civic duty. Yes, French election day takes place on a weekend - civic duties are on your own time, mon pôte!

It's a wonder anyone ever gets elected at all in France...maybe they rush out to the polls sometime between the main course and the cheese plate.

Friday, November 03, 2006

La Fête

Gee, during all that time I wasn't blogging, I missed my anniversary. Joyeux Anniversaire, Bouchers de la langue sacrée! Happy belated birthday to me.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I suppose it's all subjective...

The following just popped up at the top of my Gmail inbox:

Funny Quote of the Day - Jean Anouilh - "What you get free costs too much."

Now, from what I know of Anouilh's work, this quote really isn't funny. While his work is full of humor and amusing social commentary, I see this particular quote as more seriously philosophical than "funny".

If you visit the "Funny Quote of the Day" link, you'll be taken to a listing of Anouilh's other quotes - none of which seem to provoke any guffaws. This is more the sort of quote one could write a 10-page paper on, rather than get a cheap chuckle over. I wonder who is making the decision as to which quotes to feature on the Gmail crawl - maybe he/she was going more for funny=strange rather than funny=haha. Whatever the motivation, it is definitely bizarre.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

La politesse de la voile

I came across an excellent, enlightening point on l'affaire de la voile this morning in Slate. Here is an excerpt:

"Just as it is considered rude to enter a Balinese temple wearing shorts, so, too, is it considered rude, in a Western country, to hide one's face. We wear masks when we want to frighten, when we are in mourning, or when we want to conceal our identities. To a Western child—or even an adult—a woman clad from head to toe in black looks like a ghost. Thieves and actors hide their faces in the West; honest people look you straight in the eye.

Given that polite behavior is required of schoolteachers or civil servants in other facets of their jobs, it doesn't seem to me in the least offensive to ask them to show their faces when dealing with children or the public. If Western tourists can wear sarongs in Balinese temples to show respect for the locals, so, too, can religious Islamic women show respect for the children they teach and for the customers they serve by leaving their head scarves on but removing their full-face veils. " (full article)

Thank you, Anne Applebaum, for pulling this out of the context of racism or anti-Muslim sentiment. It makes perfect sense when explained in this light. It is striking how much the "customs" of Western culture are overlooked in these debates. We frequently make adjustments to what is acceptable or lawful in our culture, under the guise of the First Amendment or otherwise, without giving any thought to the fact that other cultures do not make the same adjustments - or, at least Westerners do not expect the adjustments to be made for them. I am by no means advocating the inflexibility of Western attitudes, but it is just refreshing to have an objective anthropological eye cast upon this particular issue.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Smoking Ban to End All Smoking Bans

I'm extremely sad to hear that France will soon be banning smoking in public places.

I'm no fan of cigarette smoke, but it's just so quintessentially French that I'm willing to put up with it for that sake. I lived with a Frenchman who chain smoked; when his chain-smoking friends would come over to shoot the breeze, smoke for hours and eat oysters, I'd hide up in my room. He'd also smoke at work even though he wasn't supposed to; he'd just open up his office window and hang the cigarette out of it. It all just seemed so normal that I never thought to complain to him or anyone else about it.

Gone will be the smoke-infused Paris that David Sedaris waxed so poetically about in Me Talk Pretty One Day. Maybe he'll just have to get an apartment in Romania. With this ban, France will no longer be the country of bon vivants; but at least it might create a job similar to that of the professional pooper-scooper guy for picking up the discarded butts that will litter French sidewalks more than ever before

It seems like the next thing they'll ban is public kissing. What will French teenagers do with all the extra free time that will create?

Monday, October 09, 2006


I actually liked this movie. It had just enough non-fight sequences to keep me interested in the plot. Particularly intruiguing was actress Jennifer Decker, who looks like she could be Emma Watson's older sister. She did a perfectly convincing job of being barely bilingual - nothing is more annoying than "foreigners" who suddenly speak fluent English after one scene of minced words. Kind of like Ginger Rogers trying to pretend she couldn't dance or the Von Trapp kids pretending they couldn't harmonize.

This movie (and it was clearly a movie rather than a film) was pretty much panned by the NY Times and other major newspapers, but I think they were missing the point. Perhaps the biggest such point was Jean Reno, who was labelled a walking stereotype - while I thought he displayed the least amount of cliché out of the entire cast of characters. Compared to Rawlings, the down-home country fried turkey and snooty Briggs Lowry, daddy's little dividend that just won't pay off, Reno did a fine job of playing M. le Capitaine Thénault.

Besides, who doesn't love to hate a swarthy German named "The Black Falcon"? Muwahaha!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Invitation to Embarrassment

As seen on a recently-received wedding invitation:

Réspondez, s'il vous plaît

...Only the verb répondre doesn't have an 's' in it as it does in English. That's what tipped me off to the fact that they were probably homemade invitations (and surprisingly well-done ones, at that). However, if it turns out that they were bought and paid for, well, she should demand her money back!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Lune de miel

I am taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks due to my upcoming wedding and honeymoon. I won't be back with you until the second or third week of July (depending on how long it takes me to get settled enough to sit down and write a post).

We are going to Tahiti for our honeymoon, though, and I am sure this will lead to all sorts of fascinating Frenchie encounters for me to write about. At the very least, I should have some nifty photos to share or an airport story or two (don't you just LOVE those?).

Au revoir!

Photo: The tiare, Tahiti's fragrant national flower.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Spelling Bee

Pittsburgh's representative in the National Spelling Bee was eliminated yesterday after misspelling the word chervil. Reading this story this morning led me on yet another excruciating trip down memory lane:

I was in one of the preliminary competitions for that very same spelling bee when I was in 6th grade. After informing me that I'd been chosen to participate, my teacher gave me a special vocabulary book that had lists of words arranged according to subject with which to practice. Some of them were doozies. I practiced for the bee the same way I practiced for spelling tests: I'd skim through the book when I didn't have anything better to do or when my cousins weren't using it to play impromptu games of Balderdash, but other than that I didn't really place much importance on it.

I can't even remember where the event took place; it was in some nameless, totally forgettable auditorium with a little stage set up in it. I was pretty nervous, especially after I spotted where my parents were sitting and my mom gave me one of those perpetually embarrassing "I'm so proud of you, my little girl!" looks.

I made it through several rounds. I wasn't totally embarrassed by the word that I missed until years later, when I decided what I would spend the rest of my life studying:

The word I missed was financier.

I'm so embarrassed by this now, but really, how is an 11-year-old girl who hates math supposed to know what a financier is? Even if I would've asked the proctor to use it in a sentence, I still would've been up shit crick without a paddle (yes, in this neck of the woods, it's "crick"!). I can't even honestly say that being exposed to French earlier in life would have helped me, considering that I had never seen the word in print nor heard it pronounced until that point. So I suppose I'm beating myself up for nothing...but it's still embarrassing. That's like telling someone you're a bestselling author but can't write a decent sentence to save your life. Oops.

[indiscriminate mumbling here]

I had all four of my wisdom teeth surgically extracted on Friday. Ouch.

My poor swollen jowls aren't too happy about speaking English, let alone French. As a matter of fact, I haven't even attempted to pronounce one word of French since Friday morning. I thought about it, but then decided that it would be disastrous to even try. Frenchies must just resort to sign language until the swelling goes down, because tensing the muscles around the lips to form such sounds as [y] and [u] is simply excruciating, not to mention trying to spread one's lips far enough to properly pronounce a sound like [i]. That's one good thing about English: it's an easily mumbled language. I can hold my cheeks in the same position and still manage to mumble a sentence that's somewhat intelligible. Maybe one of these days, I'll see someone come up to me on the metro and set a little card down on my seat. Instead of the card saying something to the effect of "I'm deaf and I sell pins for a living", it'll say "Take pity on me, I just had dental surgery and can't speak for the next two weeks. Your donation goes to feed my diet of chocolate mousse and flan." And I will gladly contribute to the cause.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mushrooms, Chocolates - Same Diff!

Last week, my employer sent me to a one-day conference with a coworker. It was great to get out of the office for a change and have some self-enrichment time.

During our lunch hour, she and I were joined by two other women, each from different companies. We made some pleasant small talk while picking through the offerings on the [rather pitiful] buffet.

When our check was delivered, my coworker asked the other women if they were being reimbursed by their respective companies for the meal. I commented, "Well, since we're eating on their dime, we should order the truffles!"

To which one of the other women at the table, a good 20 years older than me, replied, "Oh - I hadn't even thought about dessert."

I suppose I just have a totally different frame of reference than most people.

Monday, May 01, 2006

"Don't forget to dot your i's, cross your t's and accent your nasal consonants..."

I just stumbled across a great blog on grammar & linguistics and wanted to share this particular gem of an article, as it illustrates something I try to explain to people quite often:

April 25, 2006
Full tilde
Jim Gordon recently complained about how the New York Times crossword puzzle elides diacritical marks from foreignisms even when this results in a different word in the relevant language. The most egregious example, Jim noted, is the use of "year, in Spanish" as a clue for ANO, even though ano differs crucially from año. Below the jump, a real-world example illustrating the perils of de-tildeing año(s), provided by Matthew Baldwin of The Morning News.

My friend Rebecca is a prosecutor and, whenever I see her, I insist she fill me in on her recent cases. Though most involve routine litigation, she occasionally tells a gem of a tale.

The last time I asked, she told me about the Anus Motion.

"This guy gets pulled over on suspicion of a DUI," she said, "And it turns out that he only speaks Spanish. So the cop radios for a Spanish-speaking colleague. A second officer shows up, reads the driver his rights in Spanish off of a little card that all cops carry, and they administer the breathalyzer test. Sure enough, the guy is soused.

"We figure this case is a slam dunk. But a few weeks later the driver's lawyer submits a motion to have the results of the breathalyzer voided, saying that the defendant didn't understand his rights before we gave him the test. And we're all, like, 'Nuh-uh! We read him his rights. In Spanish, even.'

"But the defense somehow got a copy of the Spanish language card that the officer read from, and noticed that the little squiggle was missing from above an 'n' in the sentence: '¿Tiene veinteuno años?' In English that literally translates to 'Do you have 21 years?' — in other words, this was just a routine question to make sure the guy was an adult. But without the tilde over the 'n', the word 'años' becomes 'anos' — Spanish for 'anus.' [sic: it's Spanish for 'anuses.']

"They're claiming that the driver thought the officer asked 'Do you have 21 anuses', despite the fact that the officer reading the card spoke fluent Spanish and would have pronounced it 'años' anyway. And the defendant said 'si.' We're supposed to believe that the guy genuinely thought he was being asked if he had multiple anuses and answered with an enthusiastic 'yes!' [read more]

This further supports my idea of having shock buzzers on students' desks that are wired to the teacher's wristwatch and every time he/she forgets an accent mark, a healthy buzz is administered. Getting a mild shock now is better than getting fired from the state police office later because of a lousy tilde or cedille, isn't it?

Monday, April 03, 2006

"Waiter, I'll have a dry white--hold the splinters."

The French are panicking. Their casual attitude toward marketing and product practicality has finally caught up with them. To bring production costs and, eventually, consumer retail prices down, the French government has approved a bill allowing vintners to flavor their wines with wood chips. This would replace the traditional usage of barrels to flavor and store wine.

Of course, all this means is that a market will eventually open up for artisanal wines, just as it has with artisanal cheeses and breads. The vineyards that go the cheaper route now will eventually bottom out, while those that remain true to tradition will have a niche market that will sustain them. The French have always valued quality over quantity in most aspects of their lives. (The only exception I can readily think of is that French kids can't get enough of American rap, hip-hop and R&B. Nothing against our home-grown musical genres, but a lot of the crap that we export is just despicable...try to imagine a 10-year-old French kid singing along with 'My Humps' or 'Hollaback Girl' - phonetically. 'Nuff said.)

My opinion is, French wine will always be French wine, and there is nothing that can replace it. I don't like looking at a restaurant menu and seeing "Sonoma" and "Napa" next to every bottle, but Americans have always been known to sacrifice quality for price. Not that California wines are inferior; they're just not French. (Yes, I'm a snob, but I promise I'm a friendly one.)

Photo: Chenin blanc, the grape used to make Vouvray, my favorite wine.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Tale of Two Embassies

The man to your left, Craig Roberts Stapleton, is one of the most important figures in Franco-American relations. He is currently serving as US Ambassador to France. One would imagine that a major prerequisite for having such a post would be the ability to speak and understand French.

He can't.

Well, OK. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's got another redeeming talent that earned him this position.


It just so happens that not only did he give the GOP mountains of cash, but he also is related to Dubya.

The immediate past ambassador wasn't much better (although, having been no relation of Dubya's, I'm more inclined to be kinder to him) - Howard Leach. What a descriptive last name! Though he was born in Salinas, California, the setting for so many of John Steinbeck's great novels chronicling the trials and tribulations of the downtrodden, he never looked back. After giving $399,359 to the GOP from 1999 to 2000, he managed to buy himself perhaps the cushiest job in the world. A friend of mine had the opportunity to attend an event in Paris at which Mr. Leach was present. She said he was like a child, nodding and smiling, but saying nothing - because he simply couldn't. What a wonderful face to show to the world.

It's absolutely pathetic that these men who aren't even remotely qualified to hold these positions were given them simply based on the money they were able to contribute (or the family secrets they're using as blackmail...). There are thousands of people in this country who have devoted their lives to the study of foreign languages, and the stiff we have over there can't even buy himself a sandwich at McDo.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Jean-David Levitte, the French Ambassador to the US. Besides being generally better looking and probably in far better health, this man has impressive credentials, including fluency in several Asian languages. I have no doubt that he also speaks English. What a novel idea - an ambassador actually speaking the native language of his post!

What will they think of next?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

'Arrie Poterre...Partie Deux

I have recently begun re-reading the Harry Potter series in French. I had planned to do this during my time in France--my little charge had even lent me his books--but I just never got around to it. I find that they are just as absorbing in French as in English; I had a very difficult time setting the book aside at the end of my lunch break today.

What fascinates me the most about reading these books in translation is that the invented words have a counterpart in French. For instance, "Muggle" comes out as "Moldu" in the French version. This makes me wonder whether or not J.K. Rowling came up with these words herself, or if the French translator did this. My instinctive guess would be that it is Rowling's doing, since she is a former French teacher. As it is, she's already based many of the existing characters' names on French words, most notably that of Lord Voldemort.

I wonder if I could get an answer to my question if I sent a letter to the publisher...

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

America's Linguistic Empire

During my linguistic studies, I came to understand the plight of lesser-spoken languages. I just heard about an ongoing program, The Rosetta Project, that is attempting to catalog the world's languages and provide a means of resurrecting them when nearing, or after the point of, extinction.

Unfortunately, American English is quickly becoming the world's lingua franca, and I'm not too pleased. News like this only makes American schoolchildren more adamant that they do not need to learn a second language because "everybody speaks English".

The thing to remember in all of this is that every dominant language eventually falls. Look at Ancient Greek & Latin. French is gradually declining as a dominant language, although this does not mean that its study should be forsaken. It takes many generations of increasingly declining usage to lessen the dominance of a language.

In short, the Anglo invasion of the world will eventually become a fallen empire, leaving room for a new language to usurp it. I'm betting on one of the Asian languages (Chinese? Japanese?).

English is now dominant, but it will not remain so. I am reminded of Thomas Cole's series of paintings entitled The Course of Empire that shows the path that all empires take, from pastoral beginnings to fire-and-brimstone decimation and back to nature once again. This, too, shall pass.

Photo: Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Desolation 1836. From his series The Course of Empire

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Great Moments in Linguistic Confusion

In my never-ending quest to stave off worktime boredom, I came across a website that truly lives up to its name: Damn Interesting. They posted a story on the Halifax Disaster a few days ago. This piqued my interest for two reasons: 1) Who doesn't love an exciting story involving two captains staring each other down, men jumping overboard, and exploding chemicals? and 2) Lack of bilingualism resulted in higher casualties:

"As [the crew] rowed to shore they cried warnings at the people gathered there to watch the bright flames and oily black smoke erupting from the Mont-Blanc. But none of the Frenchmen spoke English, so their warnings were not understood."

What I think this should have said was, "None of the Nova Scotians spoke French, so the crew's warnings were not understood." I think there is just no excuse for that--a Canadian province's residents not being able to understand basic communications in one of their country's official languages! If I saw a sailor abandoning ship and then coming ashore screaming Spanish at me, I would probably get the hint. I don't understand Spanish, but I would think the body language would give itself away. Maybe the fumes from the burning benzol rendered these people temporarily unable to save themselves. I guess we'll never know.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion: it's the American Way

Sometimes, I just can't help it: At the end of the day, I'm still American. I'm also an extrovert, which means I thoroughly enjoy making a fool of myself in front of others. I relish every letter I have published in the paper, every time I'm singled out at the piano bar and every time I get up to sing karaoke. So, it goes without saying that I'm very proud of having managed to get through to David Lee Roth this morning on his new syndicated radio show. (I was on at the top of the 7:00 hour.) I even got a mention in the show's corresponding blog: (The topic of discussion was band members touring under their original names despite having broken up. PA has a new piece of legislation called the "Truth in Music Advertising Act", and I called in to bring it up.)

"Another caller says that in Pennsylvania, there is a bill that states that bands can only be called their original name, if the original members still have a stake in the claim."

The only way this could have been better is if I would have gotten a chance to try to convince Dave to have the G-Bros. on his show when he broadcasts in the 'Burgh.

Too bad he doesn't speak French...

Cherchez la femme...

Where has La Dauphine gone?? I can't find your blog and Neillou doesn't link to you anymore. Boohoo! If you're reading this, let me know where I can find you!! I don't like to lose track of blogs I like...that almost happened with Librarian Extraordinaire (now Happy Villain).

[Sniff] 'suis triste sans toi...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Taisez-vous, already!

The stories are true: Pittsburgh's famous three rivers have started running black and gold, replacing their usual hue of brownish-blue. The entire city has caught Steeler Fever, and, despite the ubiquitous UPMC, there is no vaccine in sight.

All this craziness over the Steelers going to the Super Bowl this year makes me think back to January 2004, when I was living in France and missed perhaps the biggest Super Bowl uproar ever: I missed the whole of America not-quite-witnessing Janet Jackson's nipple. That's ok, because there are plenty of real nipples floating around the French media...just pick up a 3 Suisses catalog or tune in to a bath soap commercial. Maxim in France is no different than's a wonder the two are able to coexist in the newsstands.

...but I digress. France is a nice respite from sports talk. I never had to listen to anyone talking about touchdowns, boneheaded refs or their weird sports superstitions. Even during soccer conversations, I was able to stop the gabbers right in their tracks when I'd announce that the only thing I know about French soccer is that Bernard Tapie tried to fix the World Cup one year.

I'm getting sick of the talk already...actually, I've been sick of it since we won the first playoff game. People seem to think that the entire fate of our city is irreversably linked to the success or failure of the Steelers: when they lose, our city is terrible: horrible at retaining young people, lousy tax structure, too many bad neighborhoods, numbskull politicians...the list goes on. But when the Steelers win, suddenly everyone is SO proud to be from Western PA: There's so much to do here! Look at all we have to boast about! We have George Romero! And Donnie Iris! And Andy Warhol! And great sammiches! And we have a great regional accent, yinz guys n'at!

And I'm not exaggerating the exclamation points, here, folks. I just want us to win the Super Bowl so everyone will just SHUT UP. I'm always proud to be from Pittsburgh, whether the Stillers are good or lousy...the city itself has more "fair-weather fans" than the Seattle Seahawks. Sheesh.

Photo: A friend of mine posing with the indispensable Terrible Towel. Yes, we were scathingly drunk at the time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dirty Little Secrets, Part I

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I think of my French as a chore. I've always hated reading French...the occasional newspaper article doesn't bother me; neither do poems, modern plays or children's books, but I've always hated reading classic French literature. This creates a problem, because the thing about admitting to people that you've got a degree in French is that they then expect you to have an extensive knowledge of Guy de Maupassant or Baudelaire.

I could probably name a few things each of these men have written, but I couldn't tell you much beyond that. There are a few French authors I enjoy, namely Victor Hugo, Sébastien Japrisot and Marcel Pagnol...and from the African set, Ousmane Sembène, but for the most part, I regard having to read French books as a bothersome chore. I'd much prefer to listen to a radio broadcast or converse with actual Francophones than bury my nose in a book (actually two books, since frequent trips to the dictionary keep me hopping back and forth, especially for Japrisot).

It's not that the stories are bad; on the contrary, French literature is home to some of the most engaging, exciting stories ever written. I guess I've just always had a deep suspicion and dislike of so-called "classics". My mother has an extensive library of books from her teenage years, the likes of which I don't think I'll ever pick up. I can't believe she was reading Ivanhoe at 14...voluntarily. I never understood what led one book to be labeled a "classic" and another to be cast aside. Surely this was the brainchild of some marketing dope somewhere down the line. Well, I didn't fall for it! I've never read a book simply because it was a "classic"...I have, however, read books that happened to be classics because I was curious about them, like East of Eden. And, just for the record, my curiosity has absolutely nothing to do with Oprah Winfrey and her stupid club. I've already read Night, thank you very much! (Excellent book, by the way.)

I think that what I've written above wrongly paints me as a "non-reader" of those "I don't know art, but I know what I like"-types. I'm actually quite the opposite: I love to read, and spent many hours of my childhood collecting and reading books by Beverly Cleary, Lynne Reid Banks and Roald Dahl. I sought out books by these authors based purely on the fact that I had enjoyed the book read immediately prior; there was no idiot from the New York Times writing up lists and telling me which books to read.

...but I digress. I never really had a desire to read classic English literature, let alone classic French literature. Perhaps this is why graduate school didn't really appeal to me. There is far too much emphasis in foreign language departments at American universities these days on literature, and not enough emphasis on language. Many of my classmates graduated with a French degree on paper, but they wouldn't be able to wash their socks in France. I guess what really bothers me is that studying literature alone has no basis in practicality; being able to recite Racine won't get you fed and clothed in a foreign country.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ceci n'est pas un urinoir

There is something to be said for participatory art, but this is just ridiculous:

PARIS - A French performance artist was arrested for taking a small hammer to Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain," the factory-made urinal that is considered the cornerstone of conceptual art.

The porcelain urinal was slightly chipped in the hammering, which took place Wednesday during the final days of a Dada exhibition at the Pompidou Center. [full article]

The article goes on to report that at least three of the other "original replicas" of this piece have been urinated on by men over the years. I wouldn't even give them credit for "making an artistic statement"; I'd just attribute the whole thing to laziness. Walk a few extra feet to the sink, buddy. Let's face it: after one person's done it, it's no longer an "artistic statement", it's just copycatting.

Photo: My photo of "Fountain", pre-vandalism, taken in 2002.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Decorative Accents: First in a series

Pardonnez-moi for being really French about this blog lately...and by "really French" I mean "taking a long-ass break during which I did not give one thought to my poor neglected blog".

So, Happy New Year...Bonne Année.

I received a pre-printed Christmas card from some friends a few weeks ago. Below the usual cutesy greeting inside, it had the family's names neatly typed in all caps (another pet peeve of mine):


Note the misplaced accent on "Desirée". This is a major pet peeve of mine. Americans have, for the most part, realized that there is an accent in the name Desirée. They cannot, for the life of them, seem to figure out exactly where it goes. At least the accent was over an actual letter and not as I usually see this girl's name spelled:


I have seen this mistake countless times, and every time it never ceases to annoy me. You've probably seen hundreds of instances of this on everyday signs:

Rhythm House Cafe'
Cafe' Paris

I wouldn't even go so far as to give these people credit for confusing their Italian with their French; this is just pure uneducated stupidity. I wish Lynne Truss would find a French alter-ego to write a book as filled with rage about French punctuation errors as she did about English ones. She's sort of the Lewis Black of grammarians, if you know what I mean. Needless to say, I greatly admire her approach to the subject...