Archive for the ‘French Culture’ Category

C’est officiel ! Je suis un francophone.


This test was as official as you can get. I had to provide a government issued ID to take it. The document was sent to the Embassy in my country. Not to mention I had to actually sign for this even though the administrator (administratris?) knew me.


The neat thing is that it is another qualification for French citizenship that I have passed.

A reason I’m not very much “American”

I’m “multilingual”: Proficient in English, French, and German. I can get by in loads of other languages (e.g., Slavic). Let’s not forget I was taught Japanese when I was 10, but forgot most of it.

I was translating for my mother when she went to a conference at the Pasteur Institute in 1980. The director’s secretary told me that there the director would present a very interesting paper: which happened to be the first mention of what would become HIV/AIDS.

Yeah, but did it help me get a job?

Seriously, it’s useful for me. But the reason I mention it is that I have been communicating with people in Russia and Ukraine. Yeah, the usual switch to English (phew!!!), but it gets to one thing I’ve learned in my travels:

Learn a few basic phrases: “Hello”, “how are you”, “do you have a room for the night?”, “Can I see the room?”, “where is the toilet?”, etc. and you are good to go. The conversation may switch to very basic English or French (or sign language), but you can still get along.

Or as a friend use to say: “all you need to know in German is ‘Zwei bier, bitte!” You will make friends if you are willing to make an effort.

Eugène Delacroix: Liberty Leading the People

Liberty Leading the People. 1830. Oil on canvas, 260 x 325 cm.

Despite what a lot of people think, this picture represents a later revolt against the French Monarchy, which went into hibernation for a while after the first French Revolution of 1789. Instead, this painting commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X of France, the last Bourbon King of France. Charles was replaced by King Louis-Phillipe, the “citizen king”, which is a bit deceptive since Louis-Phillipe was the Duke of Chartes.

So, another factoid: Not all the nobles lost their heads during the terror.

King Louis-Phillipe rules through what I call the “Les Mis” period of French History, but is really called the July Monarchy in French History. That is a subset of something called the Age of Revolution. This is where you have a lot of different groups fighting it out over which direction the France would take, which is another fun post. It also comprises the fact that Europe was a real mess during the first part of the 19th Century. The upshot for people in the US is that one can change the form of the government while keeping a constitution.

Somewhere in here, there’s a Second Republic and the restoration of the French Empire under Napoleon III, or Louis-Napoleon. Actually, that is a great segue in French history since Louis-Napoleon was elected to the presidency of the Second Republic in 1848, he seized power by force in 1851, when he could not constitutionally be reelected; he later proclaimed himself Emperor of the French. Louis-Napoleon was given the boot after the Franco-Prussian War which led to the Communes and the Third Republic. Actually, the Franco-Prussian War led to a lot more events than just those, but that’s another story.


And Napoleon XIV had nothing to do with any of this.

You’re gonna be REALLY disappointed if you see this film expecting something romantic…

Cos the widow (la veuve) in question happens to be the guillotine. And at least one person “épouser la veuve” (married the widow, or was executed) in the actual event. That was where a couple of fishermen, Auguste Néel and Louis Ollivier, killed their boss in 1888. They were sentenced to death, but there was a problem.

Still more false advertising!

There wasn’t a guillotine in St. Pierre and Miquelon.

Which is where the tale sort of begins. They have to get a guillotine shipped in from Martinique in the real story. The upshot is that Néel is executed. And it was the only execution ever in St. Pierre and Miquelon.

In the film, the events are moved forward in time to 1849, which surprised me when I wrote this post since I thought the story was sort of close to actual events. The reality is that the book and movie made the event a bit sexier than it may have actually been.

In the fictional versions, the murder happens in the autumn, or early winter. There isn’t a guillotine, so there is a lot of wrangling until one is sent up from Martinique. In the mean time, Néel proves that the incident may have been an aberration by doing all sorts of good deads. Juliette Binoche plays Madame « La », which is most likely another addition to the story. But I didn’t see a lot of sparks flying between Madame « La » and Néel (Emir Kusturica) in the film. It definitely didn’t save Néel in the end since he ends up “marrying the widow”.

I would love to say the film was the origin of Rue Auteuil in Quebec’s Old City, but that is probably as accurate a statement as the fictional versions of this event.

See also:

Il y a 130 ans, un meurtre sordide sur l’Île-aux-Chiens a marqué l’histoire de l’archipel au point de devenir “l’affaire Néel”. Retour sur l’unique exécution capitale ayant eu lieu à Saint-Pierre et Miquelon.

Yet another reason I don’t really fit in the US.

Besides being multilingual. Tant pis pour toi si tu n’es pas bilingue.

My politics are pretty far left in the US, but pretty centre/centre-left in Europe. Case in point, I’m enjoying reading a couple of interesting stories in L’Express: “Se focaliser sur la race et le sexe a réveillé les furies et les furieux” and “Identité, “racisé”, universalisme… Rokhaya Diallo-Yascha Mounk, l’étonnante rencontre“. OK, L’Express is at the Centre of the French political spectrum, but one of the things I enjoy about French culture is the openness of the debate without the ad-hominems found in US politics. For example, “Trump supporter” or “Bernie Bro” being used to shut down the debate. With both sides being guilty.

The first article is a great discussion of that phenomenon. Although it’s hard to summarise, but I find the sentiment about identity politics very welcome. But identity politics doesn’t just include race, gender, or sexual preference–it also includes political and religious affiliations. As critical theory pointed out, the bottom line is power: whether it is racial, sexual, doctrinal, or relating to philately. Keeping people from talking to each other is the perfect means to preserve power. Things get dangerous when people start talking to each other.

The things you miss when you are stuck in one language.


You can use a translator such as Deepl, but it will miss properly translating this comment about reparations:

Réparateur de tort, s’inventant des ennemis de vent, vivant dans le passé, Don Quichotte est le premier woke de la littérature ! 

Best translated as “Reparations make enemies of windmills by living in the past, Don Quixote is the first “woke” in literature”.

Jean-Claude Mézières est mort.

Je suis desolé pour ça car Valérian et Laureline est un de mes B-Ds favoris, plue que Asterix ou Tintin.

Valérian et Laureline was influential to a lot of Sci-Fi, in particular star wars.

Anyway. I would add the picture of me with Valérian at Angoulême for good measure, but WordPress really stinks for that these days. The picture above takes up the whole page. And also messes up the caption.

I am well aware of his other work besides Valérian et Laureline, but that series is definitely my favourite. I hinted at it in an earlier post, but I put the Shingouz on my Facebook page once in regard to Russiagate. The Shingouz would be the perfect candidates for that: much better than the Russians. The Shingouz are especially adept in trading important and sensitive information to interested parties.

As for his influence on sci-fi (this was supposed to be a formatted quote):

Several commentators, such as Kim Thompson of The Comics Journal, film critic Jean-Philippe Guerand and the newspaper Libération, have noted certain similarities between the Valérian albums and the Star Wars film series. Both series are noted for the “lived-in” look given to their various settings and for the diverse alien creatures they feature. Mézières’ response upon seeing Star Wars was that he was “dazzled, jealous… and furious!”. As a riposte, Mézières produced an illustration for Pilote magazine in 1983 depicting the Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa meeting Valérian and Laureline in a bar surrounded by a bestiary of alien creatures typical of that seen in both series. “Fancy meeting you here!” says Leia. “Oh, we’ve been hanging around here for a long time!” retorts Laureline. Mézières has since been informed that Doug Chiang, design director on The Phantom Menace, kept a set of Valérian albums in his library.

But that is only one of many and the most well known example. An amusing story from Mézières’ life:

Arriving in Salt Lake City, Utah with no money, he sought out Pierre Christin, who was living there while teaching at the University of Utah, and turned up on his doorstep asking him if he could sleep on his settee.To make ends meet, Mézières produced some illustrations for a small advertising agency in Salt Lake City and for a Mormon children’s magazine called Children’s Friend as well as selling some photographs he had taken while working on the ranch in Montana. After a few months, he found work on a ranch in Utah: this time succeeding in his aspiration of living the life of a cowboy, an experience he described as “better than in my dreams”.

I wonder how many of those people realise who lived in their community. I also wonder if any of that work exists (it probably does: the Mormons can be packrats).

I’d like to say it would be neat to meet Luc Besson, but I think he would be like the kids I grew up with who were more than happy to practise English with me. My French would be much better had I insisted on speaking French back then. Mais on parle français toujours maintenant.

Mes condoléances à la famille. C’est une grande perte sur le plan culturel.

More tips on improving your French.

Get Antidote,, it’s the best resource available for the French language. It’s very comprehensive and does Quebecois. It also catches all the slang used in Frantastique’s questions (e.g., “Sélectionnez des synonymes familiers de soûl. Plusieurs bonnes réponses possibles.”). While Quebecois isn’t on the DELF, it is nice to know. For people who aren’t familiar, Quebecois is like listening to someone with a thick Southern US or Australian accent.

Having internet access is really good as well. You can listen to Radio France International, That’s very useful if you are preparing for the DELF since the listening exercises are culled from RFI stories. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,, also has internet service. You are listening to the regular CBC programming as opposed to something geared for external listeners, which means you will get a good idea of Quebecois. There are a lot of French internet radio stations.

Radio Canada may feature Quebecois accents, but it also has things such as la météo and le rapport de trafic. Nice day to day features to know and use.

I find Spotify is the best for listening to music since you can narrow your playlists down to language. Also, a lot of artists use it to promote their work. So, not only do you get to listen to French, you can discover new artists. It expands your world in more than one way.

Likewise, you can watch French and foreign TV on Netflix. I think DIx Pour Cent (“Call my Agent”) is a Netflix exclusive as is Au Service de la France (“A Very Secret Service”). There is also MHz Choice and a few other French services that “broadcast” to the US. France 24 and TV5 have contracts with some service providers for live feeds (cynicism from working in Telecom law comes in here). I prefer to be my own service provider.

If you haven’t bought a MAC or Apple OS computer, you will want to do so since they make it really easy to work in other languages. I have the French and French dictionaries in my dictionary file. Although, the Dictionary in Antidote is well worth the price.

I’m sorry that all these technological things came late for me because it would have made it easier for me to be a Francophone. French has always been a part of my life, but it has become a necessity post-Brexit.

OK, French TV is usually bad, but

When they do something well–they do it really well. This is from a series called “La Classe américaine“. It’s funny as heck.

This does have subtitles:

St. Pierre et Miquelon

I’m really surprised that my only marked post on this topic happens to be from 10 August 2014 and relates to Alternative history. Although, that is probably the most appropriate since St. Pierre and Miquelon Islands happen to be two small islands off of Newfoundland which are still part of France. It went back and forth between Britain and France during the 18th and 19th Centuries. However, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which put an end to the Seven Years’ War, France ceded all its North American possessions, but Britain granted fishing rights to France along the Newfoundland coast, and as part of that arrangement returned Saint-Pierre and Miquelon to France. It became and overseas Territory of France in 1945.

It’s sort of like the line from Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier

That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

In this case, it’s still part of France.

I did make a hint about these Islands in a post at MikeB’s. The hint related to:

Law enforcement in Saint Pierre and Miquelon is the responsibility of a branch of the French Gendarmerie Nationale; there are two police stations in the archipelago.

The islands were resettled by France in 1816 mostly with Basques, Bretons and Normans. It feels a bit like Brittany, as does the Gaspe. Unlike the Gaspe, you really ARE in France when you are here.

Le Dictionnaire des francophones

This came to my attention since I have subscriptions to a few francophone newsletters. It’s an online collaborative dictionary for the French language. What makes it different is that it contains “non-traditional” French. For example, this defintion:

prendre un chimin chien Définition: Locution verbale(Guyane): Prendre un itinéraire différent du trajet classique, en passant par des raccourcis ou des chemins accidentés.

It might be useful to someone.

More French in jokes

It’s like the New York Herald-Tribune comment in my last post.

A visit to the brasserie

OK, a defintion for some of you:

In France, Flanders, and the Francophone world, a brasserie (pronounced [bʁas.ʁi]) is a type of French restaurant with a relaxed setting, which serves single dishes and other meals. The word brasserie is also French for “brewery” and, by extension, “the brewing business”. A brasserie can be expected to have professional service, printed menus, and, traditionally, white linen—unlike a bistro which may have none of these.

Technically, a bistro is the original fast food. The story is that Russian soldiers would scream “Быстро” wanting the service quickly after Napoleon’s defeat in the east led to their occupying Paris. Not sure how true that story is, but “bistro” is indeed “fast” or “quickly” in Russian.

Oh, and a cafe is where you get coffee and maybe an alcoholic drink. They generally serve not much more than a “Snack” menu, if they serve food at all: platters of cheese and/or charcuterie, maybe a couple of sandwiches like the famous croque monsieur and madame and some meal-sized salads complete with ham, cheese and vegetables. Cafés are also often home of Tabacs, selling cigarettes and lotto tickets, and tend to be the meeting point of older French gentlemen at midday. That’s what was in Amélie (or Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain).

There are a at least a couple of brasseries within walking distance of me. Not to mention one dedicated boulangerie, which specialises in bread. Pâtisserie, on the other hand, refers to pastries and where they are sold. Law restricts its use to bakeries who employ licensed maître pâtissier (master pastry chefs) in France and Belgium. Viennoiserie is the ‘bridge’ between pâtisserie and bread. These goods are typically made with white flour and active yeast cultures, which cause the dough to rise quickly and achieve the perfect flakiness. Many are made using an enriched puff pastry. Think the gooey, flakey pastries and you have Viennoiserie.

The brasserie I went to is the Rolls Royce of the lot in that it has a boulangerie-patisserie: as opposed to the patisserie nearby. That meant I was able to have bouche de noël a little late in the season. A galette des rois would have been more fun, but those you have to order: unless you want the cheapo store jobs. and

The bouche was nice and fresh. I may order one for next years réveillon, but we still have some left over in the freezer.

They were playing jazz. I thought I should be reading Le Monde, and could have been if I had my portable with me (left at home). Then, it hit me that the New York Herald-Tribune would have been more appropriate. Oh, and you can buy those T-shirts at redbubble.

BTW, I had to show ID and my vaccination certificate to get in.

One gripe I have with the US is that this kind of baked goods are hard to find. The US has a real problem with baguettes, but that’s another post.

A shout out for a French tutorial site.

HelloFrench and her youtube site: Learn French with Elisabeth – HelloFrench. The HelloFrench website is the better choice since she does a rundown of news stories. The downside is that she doesn’s use videos, but she does review current events. She also provides the vocabulary.

The excerpts aren’t as hard as the ones you hear on the B2, but they are good for getting used to the news on the radio. RFI or one of the broadcast services is better for more advanced French learners. Given that using the News was one of the techniques used in my intensive french course back in the day, I recommend checking out this site.

I just learned Elisabeth is from Belgium (as is Dylane, French with Dylane). My opinion is that you want to listen to as many different French accents for the DELF. Well, and I did live in Belgium.

Meet Abbé Grégoire

Henri Jean-Baptiste Grégoire, otherwise known as the Abbé Grégoire, was a French Catholic priest, Constitutional bishop of Blois and a leader during the French Revolution. His good points are that he was an ardent slavery abolitionist and supporter of universal suffrage. He believed in equality.

On the other hand, this is his major flaw IMO:

The Abbé Grégoire is also known for advocating a unified French national language, and for writing the Rapport sur la Nécessité et les Moyens d’anéantir les Patois et d’universaliser l’Usage de la Langue française (Report on the necessity and means to annihilate the patois and to universalise the use of the French language), which he presented on 4 June 1794 to the National Convention. According to his own research, a vast majority of people in France spoke one of thirty-three dialects or patois and he argued that French had to be imposed on the population and all other dialects eradicated. This conclusion came from a common view at the time within Jacobin circles that the linguistic diversity of France had been purposely used by the nobility of France to keep the various linguistic groups of France separated from each other and from the political institutions, which primarily spoke French. Because of this Grégoire saw the various patois as limiting to the ability of French citizens to practice their individual rights.However, his work was still influenced by the rising sense of French linguistic superiority that had been started by Bertrand Barère with Rapport du Comité de salut public sur les idiomes (1794). Due to this he classified, Corsican and Alsatian as “highly degenerate” (très-dégénérés) forms respectively of Italian and German, while Occitan was decomposed into a variety of syntactically loose local remnants of the language of troubadours, mutually unintelligible, and should be abandoned in favour of the language of the capital. This began a process, expanded dramatically by the policies of Jules Ferry a century later, that led to increasing disuse of the regional parlances of France.

Alsatian is pretty much the language of my ancestors with the exception of my Great-grandfather who came from Saxony. Anyway, I sort of agree with the idea that the language should be unified, but I am not of the opinion that is should be petrified. In fact, the quote above links to language policy in France.

Of course, it makes sense to have one standard language than 75 different dialects, or even speaking other languages, in a nation. Some countries require immigrants to demonstrate some proficiency in the official language for residency and citizenship. I understand this.

Being multilingual isn’t as problematic as is having multiple, competitive, monolingual cultures.

See also:

So you want to take the DELF

My best advice is to go to somewhere French is spoken and live there for a few months speaking French. Geraldine at Comme une Française has this useful video on stopping people from switching to English But you wouldn’t be here if you are in a position to use French on a daily basis.

There are a lot of really good French learning sites on the internet these days that I found helpful. Check out them out and see what helps you most. I have a love-hate relationship with Frantastique, but I am getting to like it more after having passed the DELF. I find Frantastique is a better review than something that will help you pass the DELF. I plan on keeping up with it since you never give up learning French.

I’ve found that using some of the translators can be helpful since you can take a piece of text and have them read it to you. It’s not a person, but it beats having to guess the pronounciation. But the best resource is Antidote: One teacher suggested using the Bescherelle Book series. Bescherelle also has a website. Both Bescherelle and Antidote are comprehensive reference material for the French language.

I would also suggest buying a Mac since the Mac allows you to type accented characters. You can also get great French and French-English dictionaries you can use. I find being able to use the computer for grammar and definitions is really helpful. Although, beware of what Antidote calls “Locutions” which is something French is full of them. They are idiomatic phrases which can change the word meaning. For example, “accuser réception de” means to confirm that you received something.

Good luck, but it isn’t really all that hard.