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.

Le requin citron

It’s 2017 and I still want to write one final post about Guadeloupe. I saved the best for last: our trip to Petite Terre. When I heard about the island I was sold on turtles and lemon sharks. The young ones like to hang out in the shallow water of Petite Terre. They are small and harmless. Even the grown ones that don’t come close to the shore are not considered dangerous. The name comes from their colour – they blend in well with the sand.

As the name suggests Petite Terre is a very small island. Actually it’s two islands: Basse Terre and Haute Terre, again named not after their topography but their position relative to the wind. They have been declared a nature reserve and one of the islands is closed compeltely for visitors. Turtles lay their eggs on the beach and they understandably don’t want tourists walking all over them.

The second island can be visited by up to 200 people per day. Which tour operators go there is well regulated. We went by catamaran and snorkelled onto the island while the dinghi took our bags.

The island is uninhabited. There used to be lighthouse keepers, but that’s all automated now. With the supplies for the lighthouse rats were imported to the island. Other than that, there are no land mammals.

We also saw a big hermit crab, which I learned is called bernard l’hermite in French. And fish, or course, we saw lots of fish. After almost two weeks of avoiding it, I managed to get a sunburn. It was on the back of my legs of course and complemented my mosquito bite scratches nicely. After these two weeks I also finally got to grips with the mask and snorkel, just in time to forget again until the next holiday. Next time, I might just shell out for the full face mask we saw everywhere. It looks ridiculous but apparently it’s easier to deal with. A friend who knows France just nodded and said “Decathlon” knowingly. It’s the Intersport or France, I believe.

We went on the trip on Saturday. Suddenly it was only one day left before we had to return.

We spent our last day on the beach.

Last breakfast on the island. I loved the fresh fruit we got there everyday.

Guadeloupean street food called agoulou. It’s a bit like a burger, but the bun is toasted and crunchy. Plus it’s larger, so often cut into quarters. The other popular street food is called bokit. A bokit is a sandwich made with fried bread, a bit like a filled lángos.

bye bye sandals, hello foot prison

The little prince, the book I love to hate, in créole

I was surprised when I first saw boxed wines in France. It doesn’t have a bad reputation though, because bag within the box protects the wine from oxygen, so it keeps longer.
I see why someone would buy a box of wine. 5 litres of rum though…

Not to worry, you can also get 3 litre bags of rum.

The 9 hour flight certainly felt like pain progress.


Aux pays bas

Last Friday Gergö and I went to the Netherlands. He had a workshop and conference to attend in Eindhoven and I thought I’d come along for the week. Because I’m cheap, I took the bus to Rotterdam and then the train to Eindhoven while Gergö took the Thalys, the Belgian high speed train, first class. It’s really very cheap, so I didn’t even complain much when there was no WIFI on the bus, unlike they promised. At least there was an electrical outlet for every two seats.

Saturday Gergö was giving his talk, while I wandered about Eindhoven.

Because Gergö hadn’t seen much of the city yet, we had to do some more wandering around Eindhoven on Sunday.

The rest of the week I mostly managed to avoid culture in favour of coffee and cake as well.

More pictures next time.

Un week-end à Rennes

We took the TGV to Rennes on Saturday noon. Gergö pointed out that Rennes is not north of Paris at all – it’s west. As I said, my knowledge of geography of France is vague..

It takes about 2 very uneventful hours by train. Gergö excitedly showed me the train’s speed (calculated by his phone’s GPS) during the journey.

Rennes is beautiful. It’s also very young and lively. Lots of students here, three of which sold us toilet paper as a part of their semester “integration”. Shops don’t open before 10 and Many are closed on Monday or only open in the afternoon. Local specialities are galettes (buckwheat crêpes) and cidre. Beer is expensive and Belgian.

While Gergö is at his project meeting I’m in a café trinking chocolat chaud and typing away at my computer. I have just written my first application. I’m not sure i enjoy living the cliché. Then again, there are worse things than living the cliché next to a large selection of viennoiserie.