La vie est ce qu’elle est

I think I might have to start a new collection: no longer French words for thingamajig, but what French people say when they find out I’m from Austria. My hairdresser remembered Austria from a skiing holiday he took “a long, long time ago”. He didn’t remember the name of the place, but he remembered that he still smoked at the time and that he bought cigarettes called Hobby while in Austria. I thought he was talking of the very Austrian drink Obi gespritzt, which is apple juice with fizzy water. The brand name of the juice is Obi and it kinda stuck.

But no, he was talking about cigarettes I barely remember. I think they were those that came in the practical soft pack. So I googled and of course there is an ancient website with a frame set detailing different cigarettes. And it includes the history of Hobby cigarettes including the above mentioned soft pack. Discontinued in 2006.

My doctor on the other hand wanted to talk about Kaiserschmarrn. Wikipedia translates it as shredded pancake but you should know it’s more an American style pancake than a crêpe we are talking about. He mentioned Kaiserschmarrn several times and I had no idea how to respond. Gergö’s dad asked my what I dislike most about France and I said that I hate that I can’t express myself very well and this includes all these situations where I just don’t have a comeback, witty or otherwise.

I’d like to claim I wouldn’t start small talk with a French person I meet somewhere outside of France mentioning food or cigarettes, but chances are pretty big I’d say something like “So, Viennoiserie, huh, what’s your favourite? I like pain au raisin.”

That wasn’t the weirdest part about the doctor’s visit though. I was there for my pap smear. (Yes, it will get a bit TMI, don’t read on if you are squeamish). After my visit I read up on what women who have visited French doctors wrote about their ob/gyn experience and apparently Americans are weirded out by the fact that there is no gown and no nurse present. It’s like that in Austria, too, so no surprises there. I find it much weirded that a lot of doctors here don’t have a receptionist and do all the money transactions themselves.

But what made me google French ob/gyns was the fact that he did the pap smear, put the little truc-machin in a plastic container. Back at the desk he put the plastic container in an envelope, handed me the envelope and told me to include a cheque over 24 € and put on two stamps and mail it to the laboratory. They will in turn send me the piece of paper that I will then have to send to my health insurance to get part of that 24 € back.

I took the plastic container and put it in my bag and wondered if I just went to the weirdest doctor ever or if it’s normally done like that in France. I thought of all the French women I know (not many) and wondered if I could ask them about this. I decided against it, simply because I was worried that it’s not the regular thing and they’d laugh at me agreeing to taking my pap smear home.

I ended up carrying the plastic container with a bit of cervix inside around in my bag for 36 hours until I went to the post office and got rid of it. Exactly two weeks later I got the results (everything’s fine) plus the brown form to send to my health insurance. I also got another letter from my health insurance rejecting the ob/gyn’s form because it isn’t readable. I guess this means I’ll have to see Kaiserschmarrn dude again.

In the meantime I’d seen my regular GP in order to get a certificate of health for my boxing class (YES, I started boxing!) and I figured I could ask her about the pap smear process. To my great relief she said that’s how it’s done in France. She also said the process really needs to be changed because people don’t understand it and forget about the cheque and it’s really inefficient. She also said it was probably fine that I didn’t refrigerate the container for the day I carried it around.

She also took my blood pressure and listened to my lungs, asked if I had any pain in my chest and that was pretty much all that was needed to get a signed piece of paper that says I can box.

The course is in military barracks on rue Babylone. The website is called or something like it and when I first got the link from a friend from work I thought she sent me the link to a strip club. (I should mention a famous nightclub/strip club in Vienna is called Babylon).

Turns out my colleague wanted to try out boxing and I figured why not. Boxing gloves are not very expensive but extremely sweaty. You also don’t buy them by size but by weight. So the salesperson at Decathlon asked me how much I weigh. I said I don’t want to talk about it and want to take the small gloves. He insisted that’s a bad idea, because they are all similarly big, the ones in a higher size just have more layers to protect my hands. So I thought long and hard about the French number I needed to say and rounded it a bit down. It took me so long to come up with the number, I’m fairly sure the salesperson thought I was lying :-D

Every Monday I leave 15 minutes early to go to boxing class. It’s extremely exhausting because other than yoga I don’t do any sport, especially nothing that could be called cardio and box training is only a little bit of punching and a lot of prancing and moving about holding up your arms and trying not to be touched. We learn the technique and won’t have any fights. It’s exhilarating though, to learn how to kick really hard. I don’t think anyone ever taught me how to throw a punch.

At the end of every course we do a few yoga exercises to unwind and the teacher is really fond of Kapalabathi. It’s the breathing exercise where you are basically panting like a woman about to give birth. I don’t like being told how to breathe and I hate it when the instructions come with claims that it will cleanse you of toxins. But I’m trying to be a good sport and sit there and breathe and instead of relaxation I feel irritation.

Tuesdays I go to my Ashtanga class. It’s really tough and there are very few people, so I get way too much of the teacher’s attention. He keeps telling me to breathe only through the mouth and not to drink water in order to keep the heat. So instead of relaxing I spend my minutes on the mat in corpse pose resenting being told how to breathe and dreading having to say “ommmm” together. And in this class it’s not just “ommmm” three times, it’s ommmm, ommmm, omm, shanti, shanti, shantiiii. The one thing worse than being told how to breathe is being made to sing.

malentendu, malexprimé

I collect the funny things I say or misunderstand by accident. Some of my favourites:

When you start a new CDI (a work contract of undetermined length) in France, you have to see a doctor. I found it odd when I received the invite, but I was assured that it’s standard in France. I was also warned that the doc who is assigned my company likes to hear himself talk, so I shouldn’t let myself get drawn into a conversation or I’d sit there for hours listen to him talk about his family.

I started off already confused, because the regular door to his office didn’t work and he led me through the changing room, waving at the clothes hook saying something about taking my coat off. For a moment I wondered if he wanted me to undress but decided that it’s unlikely that he’d need to see me naked to see if I can be a programmer. It all went downhill from there. He asked me about the balance right away. I thought he wanted me to stand on one foot, which was more likely than undressing, but still a strange start to an exam. When I said that I didn’t understand he pushed me in the direction of the scales (la balance) and glanced at my file asking if I’m Spanish.

He asked me to read out my weight, which leads to my next problem with French: I have a hard time with high numbers and I struggled to get the right one out. Once that was out of the way it was a pretty standard exam, I thought. He commented that I don’t seem to have any serious health issues and I agreed: Oui, je suis sainte.

That actually means “I’m holy”, healthy would have been saine.

A little later a colleague said “ma marraine” (my godmother) and I only caught marraine and for a very short time actually wondered if he said “ma reine” – my queen. I asked him to repeat what he said and he used tante (aunt) when I didn’t get it the second time either. That gave me an idea what to look up in the dictionary and so I found out about the word without having to ask questions about his monarch.

Another lovely moment resulted in a colleague saying soutien-gorge. He had paper clips (called trombone in French, by the way) that looked like what could have been glasses or also a bra. Just a few days earlier I had mentioned I had a sore throat and used the expression mal à la gorge. For a few minutes I was convinced I had talked about having aching boobs to my work colleagues and was mortified. Turns out gorge means throat, I had remembered it correctly. Soutien-gorge is just one of those weird words.

I also collect French words for thingy and my list is still expanding: I already knew truc, and I learned machin pretty early on in France. At work I also found out about schmilblick and trucmuche. Recently bidule got on my list. Trucmuche lead me down the wikihole – apparently it’s also used as a placeholder for a typical French person, the French John Doe / Jane Doe. And yes, there’s an extensive wikipedia article on that topic. My favourite quote: ” Drölf (fictional integer between 11 and 14)”. Toto is also used, apparently and it took me a while to understand it’s not a Wizard of Oz reference.

In news that don’t make me look like a moron, but possibly like a glutton, I enjoy my Parisian lunch rituals. Tuesday is pizza day. Whenever my colleagues got to McDo (often on Fridays, is my impression), I go to the bakery across the street and get a baguette and a tartelette. Tarte citron meringue is my 13th favourite thing in France (1 – 12 are all different types of cheese, obviously).

When someone suggests Japanese, then I know at least one of my colleagues will get the cheesy menu, which I think is the most French thing you can get at a Japanese restaurant: It contains maki filled with cream cheese. The crêpe place down the road offers a selection of 4 different cheeses, by the way. I think the only place without a cheese option was the Moroccan restaurant we went to for a monthly team lunch last week. They did servce the most delicious couscous accompanied by bread, so it was French enough. Couscous in France is the whole meal with veggies and meat. What we call couscous in Austria is just referred to as semoule / semolina / Grieß in French. And it’s definitely better here. I think that’s because it’s made in a couscousière. That’s a two storey pot – the vegetables / meat stew in the bottom part and the steam from that cooks the semolina in the second part. Delicious!

La vie en rose

People keep giving me advice on how to improve my French. I guess it’s because I speak like a Spanish cow. A colleague tried to suggest French music to me, where the enunciation is clear. I am really picky with my music, though. I mostly worship at the altar of Amanda Palmer. For the first 4 weeks of my commute I have been listening to the same 5 albums over and over again – because they were on my phone and the phone was almost full. After the 4 weeks I dug out my ancient external hard disk where I put the content of my old computer before the move and found maybe 7 more albums by Amanda Palmer, Zoe Boekbinder, Regina Spektor – and that’s all I’ll need for the next 4 weeks, I suppose.

The French food blog I like published a playlist of Paris songs, that I might listen to. It’s just that when I think about it for too long, then I wonder if that’s like someone listening to a playlist of Austrian music like “Schifoarn” and “I am from Austria” and then I want to wash my ears out with soap and return to my usual suspects.

Instead of listening to actual French people speaking/singing French, I watched the video of Iggy Pop singing “La vie en rose” three times today. The tweet called it an “Artfully Animated Video”, but I think he looks like Prince Charming from Shrek 20 years later. I am considering sharing the video with my colleagues as a little troll, because I suspect they’d be horrified by the pronunciation.

Their pronunciation of English isn’t much better, for the most part. But Americans pronouncing French badly is simply a lot less charming than French people insisting on putting the accent of every word on the last syllable, no matter what language.

Anglicisms in French are a story unto itself and really well explained in this video by Sebastian Marx:

It’s not an exaggeration – people at work usually don’t understand me, if I pronounce an English word like I usually would. I’ve actually started pronouncing English words their way and have mostly stopped feeling weird about it.

The rules are a bit random, though: When a colleague brought a comic book to work the other day I learned that it’s batman, pronounced with an /ɑː/ (and not homme chauve-souris), but les Tortues Ninja, and, what surprised me most spider man, pronounced speeder man. Conversely it’s not speeder pig, but speeder cochon. All my colleagues know the text of speeder cochon (“Spider cochon, spider cochon, il peut marcher au plafond.”).

Every two weeks there’s a meeting where we discuss how the last two weeks went. You can write little post-it notes and drop them into a box and during the review everyone draws from the box and reads one. This week somebody drew spider pig and wrote down the lyrics and the person who drew the post it, sang the little song to us without a moment of hesitation. The other post-its were more work related.

The presidential elections are getting closer and the political discussion is heating up in France and even at work, where it’s usually more about football and nerdy stuff. There are even two (!) browser games: one published by camp Mélenchon, called Fiscal Kombat. You have to pick up people in suits and shake them until money falls out of their pocket. The other one is a troll directed at Fillon. It’s called Sauvons Fillon (Let’s save Fillon) and the goal is to help Fillon escaping justice by jumping over judges in his path.

On Friday morning I arrived at the office to find a colleague’s desk wrapped in shrink wrap.

The phone and the keyboard were wrapped individually and a mention of spider man was attached to it all. I was really surprised – it wasn’t any of my colleagues but rather a few people from upstairs.

This weekend is a long one – I don’t have to work on Easter Monday. Then Monday May 1 will be a holiday as well, as is May 8.

Pentecost, on the other hand, is a holiday, but we will be working. I was informed that it’s a day of solidarity for retired people. According to this article it all started in 2003, when a lot of people died in a unprecedented heat wave, most of them senior or handicapped. Since then people work on this day and their income for this day goes to the Caisse nationale de solidarité pour l’autonomie. The money is used to benefit retired and handicapped people. We still get a lot of bank holidays, so I’m not complaining.

France has pretty good social security, I think, but there are things that baffle me: I work 39 hours per week, not 35 and not 40 with 5 additional weeks of comp time, like Gergö does. I get paid for those 4 extra hours every week, though, and I’ve worked 40 hours before. What surprised me though is that in my first year of work I won’t get paid for any sick days if the sick leave is under a week (I think). I didn’t quite understand why at the time it was explained to me. I might still find out, should I catch anything worse than a cold.

I am entitled to 5 weeks of holidays, like in Austria. But two of those weeks will be in August when the whole company shuts down for two weeks. Since I acquire days off at a rate of 2 per month, I can’t take any time off until then – or I won’t have enough holidays for August. In theory I can take unpaid leave, but it’s not recommended. Because if I take unpaid leave I’m not actually employed and in the month concerned I would be employed fewer days and would only be entitled to holidays pro-rata, so fewer than 2 days. And I don’t even want to know what would happen to my insurance.

The company shutting down in August seems to annoy a lot of people, at least 3 people told me when I started letting me know how annoying that is. It doesn’t really bother me – Gergö can take time off whenever he wants. But I haven’t taken a holiday in high season in a long time. I might start complaining once I’ve seen the flight prices for August or when I have to wrestle German tourists for beach chairs.

Croissants et Bonbons

Soon after I started my new job, I was reminded to always lock my computer screen when I walk away from my desk. I used to be in the habit, but for the last few years I only ever used my macbook, which I simply close when I take a  break. The desktop computer runs on Linux, so my tried and tested Windows shortcut ctrl + alt + del didn’t work. It didn’t take long for me to forgot about locking the computer.

My colleagues were making jokes about the dangers of leaving the computer unlocked. And I promptly forgot again when I got up to make tea. I returned to my colleagues giggling about something when I noticed I hadn’t locked the screen. I sat down at my computer to find a croissant as a background image and giggles all around. I put a post it note with the correct shortcut (ctrl + alt + l) on my screen, and I haven’t had a second croissant. Yet.

The croissant is not some sort of hazing ritual for the newest team member, by the way. It’s a team tradition to put a croissant on unlocked computers. Depending on time and circumstances this can be the background image, or like it was for a colleague a little later, an email going out to the entire team. He had just turned away from his desk to help someone when another colleague snuck up and sent the one word message.

I still don’t know why it’s a Kipferl but now I know what my colleagues mean when they say croissant :-)

The other food frequently referred to at work are schokobons. There’s usually a bag of them around somewhere and they exist as emojis in the internal chat. When you mess up, then you caused a schokobon and you are supposed to supply them. I once misunderstood a colleague’s comment and deleted some code instead of deleting the comments that surrounded it – “careful, or you will have to get schokobons soon!” was the reply.

I ended up getting a bag of them not much later when I messed up in a time consuming and embarassing manner that required somebody who knew what he was doing to unmerge and rebase and do other things I don’t really know how to handle yet.

They take it all with a lot of humour and I like it. I like a company culture where saying you made a mistake is accepted and accompanied by chocolate and support. When I once finally got something to work I said “Juhuuuu! Endlich!” in German, more to myself than to anyone else. The immediate reaction of a colleague was: “Is everything okay? Did a schokobon happen?”.

The internal chat is also very educative – I learn a lot more colloquialisms than during French class. And with written information, I can at least look it up. I have a browser window with the dictionary, google translate and wiktionary open at all times. My favourite words so far have been: saperlipopette (Sapperlot), trombinoscope (an employee directory with photos, not a trombone shaped microscope!), and schmilblick (thingy).

When people talk I ask a lot of questions, but sometimes I give up and let it all just wash over me. The moment I get completely lost is when numbers are mentioned. I’m a little better with quatre-vingt-dix-neuf than I used to be, but it just takes so long for me to parse a number that’s higher than 60 that I usually lose the plot on account of still calculating “soixante quinze, that’s 60 plus 15…”, when the conversation is already much further.

I used to not understand why people don’t simply ask, when they don’t understand something. And now I get it. Oh I get it so well. Sometimes I have already asked so many questions that there comes a point where I don’t want to ask anymore. Sometimes I didn’t understand the first and second time and when it would be time to ask a third time, I decide that it’s probably not that important anyway.

My colleagues are not the clearest enunciators. These days I atone daily for all the times my mum told me I mumble and talk so fast and low and I didn’t slow down or spoke up for longer than a phrase or two.

Nous nous excusons pour la gêne occasionnée

My first week of work is over and I’m tired. I’m not used to getting up early (and not taking afternoon naps). And I’m definitely not used to squeezing into a very full Métro every morning. I work on the outskirts of Paris, St Ouen. It’s technically not Paris, but northwest of it, but it’s so close that you don’t notice. St Ouen is also home to the giant flea market I visited two or three times.

I was warned about Métro line 13 has a terrible reputation, but I thought it will be okay. I’m leaving town and not going into the center, after all. But it’s too full in both directions. I’m slowly getting accustomed to it: every morning I wait a little less, before I decide to get in on the big group cuddle. What surprised me is, that when I hesitate and look at the people standing in the door questioningly they mostly nod encouraingly. “sure, what’s one more!”.

Friday afternoon at 5 I walked into the station and just heard the last part of the sentence in the title “sorry for the inconvenience!”. The trains were delayed in both directions and the platform was filling up. I let three or four trains go, before I took heart and squeezed in. It was very uncomfortable, standing in a train so full I was sqished up to the person behind me and I could feel his breath on my neck everytime he softly swore “Putain!” when nobody got off on the next three stops so the train didn’t get any emptier.

I am already dreading the summer months – the same squeeze but in 28+ degrees!

Other than the commute, I really enjoy the work. My colleagues are all very friendly and patient. They talk too fast, of course, for my French skills, but I already picked up a lot of tech vocabulary. I work from 9 to 6, with an hour lunch break, and they make an effort to include me in their acitivities. So far I didn’t join in playing the ps4. I’m not into racing games or shooting, but I spotted worms, so I might change my mind. And we played a board game for a few breaks and successfully escaped the zombies.

I dreaded working with a French AZERTY keyboard layout, and now I know why: It’s impossible. It’s not just the A, Q and W that are in the wrong place, but also the M isn’t next to the comma, but where the ö is on a QWERTZ keyboard. And to top it all off, all the punctuation marks are in different places and when you want to write a number you have to use shift.

I work in a linux environment now and it’s heavy on Terminal commands and while people tell me what to do, I hover over the keyboard (or as I like to call it now kewboqd) and look for the -,/ etc. So it’s challenging, but the work is interesting, and I enjoy it, and I already ordered a QWERTZ keyboard, which will make me about 30% more productive.

Gergö wanted me to call the blog post “Blois will be Blois” because we went to the town called Blois and the chateau Chambord on the weekend. Blois is a lovely little town in the Loire valley. It has an old city with timbered houses and a great market that we rushed through to see three or four hôtel particuliers. Blois is famous in France because from King Louis XII it was seat of the French Kings for a few hundred years.

The weather was foul. It was grey and rained, on and off. Just not a great day for an excursion. And the tour guide kept saying she will keep it short on account of the bad weather, but she didn’t. It was interesting, too, I just couldn’t appreciate it as much as I would have in sunshine.

After Blois we went to the chateau of Chambord. It was build by François I. It is famous for its double helix staircase and for the fact that it is neither a chateau to live in (too small, only 27 apartments and difficult to heat in winter!), nor to hunt at, nor a church, though it has ecclesiastical features. Simply put, it’s a work of art. Quite unique for its time: Every side of the façade is decorated differently, while it’s rather simple on the inside.

Edited to add: There was an elaborate ceiling at the chateau. A coffered ceiling (Kassettendecke) and as we gazed up, I heard Gergö say “mmm, Linzer Torte.” The layout reminded him of the grid of dough on that cake. Naturally I thought he was joking, but on our ride home he looked for a recipe and later actually bought all the ingredients for Linzer Torte. His comment on the blog post was: “You left out the cake!”.

Devenir français pendant une heure

Last Saturday we went to Paris for what the French call a “One Man Show”. It’s called “How to become Parisian in one hour” and is entirely in English by a French man with a lovely accent. French have a reputation of not speaking English very well, but those who do have this clichéd accent, just like I’d imagine a guy with a moustache, wearing a stripey shirt while carring a baguette would sound. I was a little surprised how many French people were in the show as well.

The show touches on the main situations we étrangers have problems with: while shopping, in the restaurant, in the taxi, relationships. About half of the jokes are really about American tourists’ behaviour in Paris and not really about Parisians. Some of them pretty crude. The terrible service you can expect in Paris was spot on, though. However, it never shocks me, being Austrian and all.

He also covered how to swear in French, when and in how many ways you can say “oh lala!” and what expression to make when you say “ffff”.

We had four tickets but a friend couldn’t make it after all, so I asked around in my French class and Gergö in his. But everyone had either already seen it (and liked it!) or didn’t have time or had already left for vacation (or didn’t want to see it, I suppose). So we showed up there with an extra ticket and I didn’t want to waste it. So I informed the lady at the ticket desk that we had one ticket left without any idea what she’d do with the info. Right at this moment her colleague told a tourist that she only has a single ticket left and not the two he asked for.

So I could actually sell the ticket at last minute to someone who really wanted it. He was sceptic at first, because he wanted to sit next to his wife, obviously, but the tickets aren’t numbered, so we could convince him. I get a huge kick out of coincidences like that.

Gergö now wants to talk me into seeing a play that doesn’t have any dialogue at all. I’m still sceptical because I’m a little worried it’s like Mr Bean. Which is fun in 5 minute installments but not for an entire play.

In completely different news I have started to play Pokémon Go. It’s not yet available in France, so I downloaded a German copy that seemed to be somewhat trustworthy. It’s ridiculous how much fun it can be to throw little balls at monsters. Today I found an egg and managed to put it in the incubator. Now I have to walk two kilometers for it to hatch. I still haven’t figured out any of the details, like fighting and gyms, and I suspect I haven’t even chosen a team yet, but I’ll get to it.

It’s everywhere on Twitter right now, and I already get a bit anxious I won’t be able to play as much as everyone else seems to play and will be left behind with weakling pokemons. But collecting them is pretty fun in itself and any excuse for a walk seems nice.

Because it uses *a lot* of battery and mine is already pretty crap, I ordered an external battery from amazon. A minute ago, sitting in the café, I got a call from a French number. I picked up very sceptically “‘allo?”. I hate phone calls by unknown numbers, but I’m ultimately too curious to ignore the call. It was the delivery guy asking where to leave the package since I wasn’t home. I asked him to leave it with the gardien. The gardien wasn’t home, though, so he called back. At this point I figured it was too late to ignore the call. It was easier the second time around, though: he’d leave a piece of paper with a URL where I can arrange a delivery time when I’m home.

Sans frontières

My french course has some really great moments.

In my Friday conversation class we recently had a librarian visit and read a story to us, just like they do to kindergarten kids. The story itself was a strange little fairy tale by a Swiss woman. A little man with a glass violin brings feelings to a village where everyone had been bland and same and boring.

From the vocabulary we started a dicussion about wrinkles. “Ride du lion” apparently refers to the wrinkles on your forehead that come from frowning. The fact that there’s a word for that, led me to ask what they call crow’s feet. In french they are goose feet / pattes d’oie. My chinese colleague added that in they are fishtails in Chinese. And it makes sense, these words all perfectly describe the shape of these wrinkels.

And I love these little differences and similarities. When our teacher asked the librarian what she thought of the story, the librarian explained that she often visits Germany and Switzerland, and the story reminded her of these countries. Everyone following the rules she said, and gave “not crossing the red light, even if there’s no car” as an example. I laughed and agreed. In Germany and Austria you don’t cross a red light, just because there’s no car. I mean, sure, people do it, but as a rule, you wait.

I vividly remember being shouted at by a German woman in Munich as I crossed the red light one Sunday morning about 5 seconds before it turned green, because there was no car in sight and I could see that the light would change very soon. Unlike shouting at strangers, you just don’t cross the street at a red light in front of little children. That story pretty much sums up my six months in Munich for me.

People are fined sometimes for crossing, my teacher interjected – I agreed. I know of at least two people who were fined for something ridiculous like crossing at a red light. My colleague said that’s completely unthinkable in Portgual. In Japan, apparently, and Hong Kong, fines are a possibility as well.

There is a five way crossing on my way home from the train station and you can’t really see well into one of the streets. So sometimes, I wait, because I’m not sure if there’s a car that will come around the far corner. And I can sometimes see the drivers waiting at the red light right next to me and look exasperated, not understanding, what I’m DOING HERE, when I have to wait as well. It’s pretty funny for my Austrian brain to see that happen.

The week after that the vocabulary discussion lead to our teacher listing body parts and I actually forgot a perfectly normal German word. I just couldn’t for the life of me remember the word for “la plante du pied“.  I knew what the word referred to, I just couldn’t find the right German word for it. All I could think of was Fußfläche. But that didn’t seem right. We don’t call it that, do we? Via the English word sole I finally arrived at Sohle, but that was a weird couple of minutes. And I mean, it’s Handfläche and Handgelenk, why isn’t it Fußfläche? (That train of thought reminded me of my Pilates teacher in Linz who kept saying Fußsäulen and Schulterplatten. I still understood her, so it won’t bother me too much, should I forget plante).

thierrytheprickAnd à propos the cover photo: In March, I posted this on facebook:
“I found Thierry and Emilie. The morning after writing about them (, I woke up remembering the name of my French book: Espaces. You can browse the first pages on Amazon, but only in an edition from 2005. They updated the storyline, but not the drawings. Thierry is smug as ever, wearing a sweater vest. Now I’m contemplating ordering the book, just for hate reading.”


On my way to class this week, I walked past an unofficial bookswapping shelf and two of the books offered were German school books. It turns out their school book graphics were just as terrible as ours:






Une oie m’attaquée

Last week, as I was walking to the supermarket, I came past the geese who live by the Yvette. Normally they are by or in the little creek, but on that day they were grazing in the park on the other side. I was walking in their direction when one got curious and came in my directin. I thought it expected to be fed – a lot of people bring old baguette and lettuce to them.

I held out my hand to show the goose that I didn’t have any food. Turns out it didn’t want food. Instead it attacked me. I had no idea they are as aggressive as swans. Luckily, they are smaller than swans, so when the goose came at me, it only pecked my foot and bit my ankle. I was wearing my Waldviertler boots, so I barely felt it. It was scary and funny at the same time. I retreated and took a different path through the park, while the goose waddled back to its grazing place, hissing. I didn’t even think I was close to them, but apparently the goose didn’t share my assessment.

On another day this week, my upstairs neighbour had locked himself out of his apartment. When I got home he and his mum were standing by the entrance and asking me if I knew if the gardien (janitor) could help. I didn’t know, but at least I could tell them his name and phone number. A few minutes later I was sitting on my couch, probably on my computer, when I heard a noise from outside. As I looked out the balcony window I saw the janitor climb up and past my apartment. Good to know, that unlike janitors in American cop shows, our janitor apparently doesn’t have keys to the apartments. But he is a good climber, and pretty helpful at that. And now I also know how loud it is if someone climbs up the façade of our building.

In class this week we talked about Easter traditions. My teacher said that she heard that in Austria and Germany the Easter Bunny brings the eggs. “Of course it does! Who else would?”, I said, because I wasn’t aware that it doesn’t in France. It’s not that they don’t have an Easter Bunny, but apparently it (he?) doesn’t bring the eggs in France.

I also learned that France also has Easter fires, but they happen in front of churches, and are not a thing people do in their own yards. On Sunday we were invited to a meal at Gergö’s colleague’s. They live in the west of Paris, close to the bois de bologne. We had a little walk in the park after lunch but got caught in the rain that we waited out under a canopy with some German tourists.

The Bois de Bologne also reminded me of my first French lesson. I remember that in chapter one of our book, Emily (?) and Thierry meet and talk. The first sentence is “Il y a une grève!”, which means “There is a strike!”. At the age of 15 I couldn’t appreciate how very French this sentence is. I vaguely remember the story being about Emily being stranded because of the Metro strike, seeing Thierry and they talk. He is on a bike and a smug prick about it and he says he likes to cycle in the bois du bologne. She likes to dance. I disliked Thierry from the beginning. He was a condescending twat in bicycle gear.

I’m always surprised about the things I remember and not remember about my French class. I have a vague memory of a chapter being about a VHS recorder and how the different parts are called, which I found bizarre, even in 1996. Another one was about a girl wanting to be a mannequin. It all seems to weird. I’d really like to know how much of my memory is accurate. (And if it’s inaccurate, how the false memories end up being so weird). But I can’t for the life of me remember what the book was called or what it looked like. I just googled and looked on amazon, but none of the covers that come up ring a bell. I think maybe my sister had the same book and remembers the title.

Utilise l’imperatif!

We learned about the imperatif this week. It’s what you use to request, order or invite someone to do something. Eat! Come in! Don’t go there!

The rules started out simple enough: You can only use it with second person singular (tu / du / you), second person plural (vous / ihr / you) and first person plural (nous / wir / we) and you use the same declination as for the present tense. Only the position of pronouns are different.

Then it started getting weird. The second person singluar has an -s at the end in (almost? you never know with French) all cases. For imperatif there’s a special rule for the verbs of the premier groupe, these are all regular verbs ending in -er (i.e. a lot). According to this rule, you leave off the -s when using the second person singluar imperatif for these verbs. The second person singular -s remains for all other verbs.

Then it got weird: you put the -s back, in those cases, where you need it for pronounciation.

So it’s correct to write:

N’en mange pas / Don’t eat of it
Manges en / Eat of it
Mange la / Eat it

I think this is the most specific, bizarre and difficult to accept rule (or possibly exception) I’ve learned so far. But we’ll learn about subjonctif next week, so who knows what’s going to happen.

We also talked a bit about tutoyer. That’s the word for the German “duzen”. According to the dictionary in English that translates to being on a first name basis with someone. But I’m not so sure if this also applies to French. The rules are similar to German, but I do get the impression that vouvoyer (“Siezen”) and using the first name is more common here. Then again, maybe that’s just my teachers.

Anyway, there’s a sentence that’s apparently used when somebody addresses you with tu and you think that’s inappropriate: On n’a pas gardé les cochons ensemble.

We didn’t guard pigs together. Much more colourful than “Mir san ned per du!”

répondre / repondre

The other part of my French course story I forgot about yesterday:

I really didn’t like my French teacher at school. I thought she was a mean person, a bully. She always was at her meanest returning failed tests.

And one thing she tried to impress on us was that répondre (to answer) needs an accent aigu ´. She claimed that otherwise it would mean laying eggs. I looked up the word repondre in the dictionary and couldn’t find it, so I concluded she made it up. It kind of fit in with my opinion of her.

This week we talked about accents in French course. They are in the news right now, because changes that were made in the 1990s are finally put into practise by school book publishers. Some accents circonflexes ^ can be left out, if they don’t serve to differentiate the meaning of the word. Sûr = sure, sur = on top of, for example. Or if they change pronounciation like in même or tête. Mayhem and anarchy are the consequences of this change, as you can imagine.

I remembered the répondre/repondre story and asked my teacher if it’s true that repondre means to lay eggs. It turns out it’s a bit more complicated than that: pondre means to lay eggs. Repondre means to lay eggs again. So my mean French teacher who enjoyed humiliating bad students was actually right, in a way. huh.

I find the whole hand wringing with regards to accents or no accents pretty funny. When you learn French there are so many words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same, having an accent circonflexe or aigu or not is the least of my concerns.