Maîtres mots

  • Il y a longtemps que notre pays est beau mais rude.

       --Newspaper editor Olivier Séguret, 25 January 2012

    The USA are entirely the creation of the accursed race, the French.

       --Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), writing to Nancy Mitford, 22 May 1957

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French Freedom of Speech

Today the cheminots are:

  • "À nous de vous faire préférer le train!"
    "Voyager autrement"
    "Avec le SNCF, tout est possible"
      --Former ad slogans of the SNCF (French national trains), each in turn quickly dropped

Fun French words

  • ouistiti

    (literally: marmoset)
    Etymology: onomatopoeia from the sound a marmoset makes. Actual meaning: this is what you say in France when you want people to smile for the camera.

    Selon une étude réalisée par le fabricant d’appareils photo Nikon, le « ouistiti » utilisé en France au moment de se faire prendre en photo est le petit mot le plus efficace pour s’assurer un joli sourire.

Who's en colère today?

  • Private sector

    First strike in 43 years at an aeronautics company in Toulouse, Latécoère

    Public sector

    The SNCF (toujours eux), regional train employees in the Lyons area guaranteeing unpleasant travel from the 17th-21st December
    Also yet another strike by Sud-Rail, a particularly truculent SNCF union in the south of France, this time five days in January: 6,7, 21, 22 and 23. "We have no choice." Right.

    Marseilles trams on strike until February

Go back to school in Paris!

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What a perfect portrait.

I taught English to French university students and was similarly bewildered to see them using a ruler and white-out on their hand-written in-class quizzes. Very few of them actually finished all the questions in time, but no amount of pleading from me could get them to abandon these tools.

I was trained as a literature prof in turn-of-the-millennium American academe, where there is no "right" or "wrong" answer.

My students are French, where I assume they were beaten with rulers unless they came up with the answer their CM2 teacher wanted.

It's a difficult combination.

I can see where this comes from. Even schools in India practise the same kind of rigidity. Little kids are chastised till they have very little originality left in them. Thankfully, most of us grow out of it when we reach high school.

Having taught primary school children all last year, I can confirm that this starts at a young age. Ask them to draw a square on a piece of paper, and you'll get:

what kind of paper?
with a pencil or a pen?
what color?
what size?
where on the paper?
and on and on and on

It used to drive me crazy, taking 10 minutes to set up a lesson that would've taken 30 seconds back home. I can't even count the number of times they would throw their ruler down in frustration, scrunch up the piece of paper and start ALL OVER AGAIN just because one little thing wasn't perfect.

Oh yes, yes. I saw this when I taught in French schools. It was very weird! The phrase "use your imagination" would strike fear in the hearts of the students. I thought they'd enjoy it but instead they were positively tortured by it. One student actually complained to the administration that I gave them lessons they couldn't prepare for! These poor kids. Learning can be fun but they may never know this.

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Today's quotation

  • In Paris, the purest virtue is the object of the filthiest slander.

      –Honoré Balzac (1799-1850), in Scènes de la vie privée

    À Paris, la vertu la plus pure est l'objet des plus sales calomnies.

Le petit aperçu d'Ailleurs

  • Annual Geminids meteor shower (shooting stars!) coming this weekend, if it's not too cloudy out at night.

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