Posts Tagged ‘French culture’

Do You Hear the People Sing?

May 5, 2012

“Foreigners, don’t leave us alone with the French!” © 2010 Anne Petitfils
A strong opposition to immigration is one of the defining tenets of the Front National, the French far right,
a position which is met with much criticism from French socialists. Marine Le Pen, the party’s leader, sent shockwaves through the nation two weeks ago when she walked away with an unprecedented 17.9% of the national vote in the first round of this year’s presidential elections, although in the end it was
Nicolas Sarkozy (27.18%) and François Hollande (28.63%) who moved on to the second round.


une fête – a festival, a celebration, a party
un jour ferié – statutory holiday, civic holiday, public holiday, bank holiday
muguet – Lily of the Valley
faire le pont – literally “to make a bridge” (bridge a gap); an idiomatic expression used to describe the common French practice of taking a vacation day in between a statutory holiday and the weekend, thereby creating an extra-long weekend
le premier mai – the first of May
le syndicat – (trade) union
un ouvrier – a worker (historically, this term was used to refer to tradespeople or factory workers)
la classe ouvrière – the working class
une manifestation – a protest, a rally
le Palais d’Élysée – Élysée Palace, the official residence of the French president
Monsieur le Président – the proper way to address the French president, in the same way that English-speakers say “Mr. President”
le vrai travail – real work
la gauche – the left
un defilé – a parade, a march
le defilé syndical – the union parade
la crise – French shorthand for the current economic crisis or the recession
“travail, famille, patrie” – work, family, fatherland
l’extrême droite – the far right
le Front National – The National Front, the far-right political party in France. Their current leader is Marine Le Pen.
l’UMP – Union for a Popular Movement, the French political right. Nicolas Sarkozy, the current French president, is their leader.
le Parti Socialist – The Socialist Party, the French political left. François Hollande, current presidential contender, is their leader.

**********

“Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.”
                      – “Les Misérables”, The Musical, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg


This past Tuesday was May 1, otherwise known as La Fête du Travail (better known in English-speaking countries as “Labour Day” but literally translated as “The Festival of Work[ers]”). It’s hard to believe that it’s been two whole years since I first learned all about this nationwide jour ferié and its various traditions, like offering friends and family a small bouquet of muguet or taking an extra day off work to faire le pont. The last time I wrote about le premier mai, it seemed to me like just one of many random holidays that made the month of May in France seem like one long drawn-out vacation. What with it falling smack dab in between the two rounds of this year’s French presidential elections, however, the day took on a far more serious and political tone than many have seen in recent memory.

You see, in addition to being a great opportunity to take a long weekend trip somewhere, I’ve recently learned that, at its core, la Fête du Travail is meant to celebrate workers and workers’ rights. In Paris, the various big syndicats have a long-standing tradition of getting together to organize a big rally every year on this day, with the intention of uniting les ouvriers and reminding them of the importance of the holiday’s origins, of what their predecessors fought for, and of the fact that there are still battles that need to be fought today. It’s something of a sacred day to the unions, a day that has always traditionally belonged to la classe ouvrière. This year, as usual, the syndicats were on track to organize a giant manifestation at Denfert-Rochereau in the south of Paris, culminating in a grand march to La Bastille.

As a teenager, a high school field trip to watch the musical “Les Misérables” was my first introduction to French history, so it feels vaguely surreal to now be in Paris and witnessing strikes and marches happening along the very same city streets, carrying on the tradition of Victor Hugo’s famous unwashed poor.


Continue reading »

Advertisements

Impasse Sarkozy

April 22, 2012
“Sarkozy Impasse, Former President of the French Republic, 2007 – 2012”
This clever mock street sign/political commentary blended in so well with the mise-en-scene
on a Saint-Germain street that we almost walked right by it without even noticing.


une impasse
– dead-end, cul-de-sac; also, a deadlock
le premier tour
 – the first round
la Présidentielle – short for “l’élection présidentielle”, the presidential election
les infos
– the news
un sondage – poll
le/la candidat(e) 
le deuxième tour – the second round
les élections – elections

le Front National – the name of the far-right political party in France
un étranger (une étrangère) – a foreigner
un pays
region (can also mean “country”); in France, people will refer to the region where they were born, grew up, or where their family comes from as their “pays”
un bulletin de vote – ballot
une soirée d’élection – election party
le mode de scrutin – electoral system 

******

Today is the premier tour* of la Présidentielle and all over France, people are heading to the ballot boxes to decide who will be the two main candidates battling it out for the presidency in the second (and final) round of voting on May 6th. For weeks now, les infos have been full of nothing but election talk and sondages, all trying to predict which candidat will come out on top. Political debates rage hotly over tables in cafés and brasseries around the city, and the streets are papered with paraphernalia, the unnerving eyes of far-right leader Marine Le Pen staring eerily out from campaign posters (when they haven’t been gouged out or defaced by those who take exception to her extreme anti-immigration stance, that is).  Not all the political posters come from “official” sources. Some politically-minded citizens have found creative ways to share their views, like this clever mock “street sign” I spotted in the Saint-Germain neighbourhood while walking one day with my friend Jean-Laurent.

For an expat, it’s a really interesting time to be in the city, watching all the various goings-on. At the moment, it looks as if current president Nicolas Sarkozy and left-wing candidate François Hollande are the favourites to move on to the deuxième tour of les élections, although some would say that it’s too early to discount Le Pen and the Front National, who have made somewhat worrying gains in popularity in the wake of the economic crisis. As an étrangère on French soil, I can only hope that this isn’t actually the case.

Paris itself feels strangely quiet and deserted this weekend. A large portion of my circle of friends has left the city, hopping on trains and heading back to their pays to do their civic duty and cast their bulletin de vote.**  Others are taking advantage of the occasion to throw a soirée d’élection, getting together with friends over a bottle of wine to watch the results come in.

What will be the final decision?  All of France waits with bated breath to find out.

* The Frenchmode de scrutin”, or electoral system, involves two rounds of voting to determine who will be president. In the first round, people choose from among several candidates. The two forerunners then move on to a second round of voting, where the people then vote on which of the two will be elected to presidential office.

** It’s not uncommon for people from other regions in France to move to Paris without officially changing their residence, as this involves a certain amount of paperwork and administrative red tape. As a result, when election time rolls around, they have to return to their “area of residence” in order to vote.

Going Once, Going Twice… Soldes!

July 24, 2011


un trois quart
a three-quarter (in this case, a three-quarter length coat)
la période de soldessales period
faire les magasins – to go shopping or tour the stores; literally translated: “to do the stores”
les soldes the sales
les soldes d’été – the summer sales
les soldes d’hiver – the winter sales
une foire d’empoigne – free-for-all
une bonne affaire – good deal
faire des folies dans les magasins – to go on a shopping spree
les riches – the rich, the wealthy
(la) première démarque – first markdown
(la) deuxième démarque – second markdown
(la) troisème démarque – third markdown
(la) dernière démarque
soldé(e)
– on sale
faire les soldes – to shop the sales
j’ai fait un peu les soldes – I shopped the sales a little
se faire plaisir – to treat oneself; (nous faire plaisir – to treat ourselves)
la crise
 – literally “the crisis”; French shorthand for the current economic crisis 

******

Last Saturday, the sales started,” my friend Julien wrote me last January. “I bought two suits, four shirts and ties, a coat (un trois quart) and a pair of shoes to be even more elegant than I was.”

J’ai besoin d’un nouveau paire de baskets et quelques trucs pour l’été,” my friend Anne mentioned to me last month, while we were waiting in line for an event at the Palais Brongniart. “Mais j’attends les soldes.” (“I need a new pair of sneakers and some things for the summer, but I’m waiting for the sales.”)

Santa’s not the only one who’s making his list and checking it twice. Parisians do it too and not just at Christmas. That’s because twice a year, every January and June, it’s the période de soldes in France and all over Paris, savvy shoppers in search of a bargain get out their wish lists, put on their comfiest shoes and brave the crowds to faire les magasins.

Unlike in North America, sales in France are strictly legislated. (For a culture known for its love of flaunting the rules, I am discovering, the French sure have a lot of them.)  Stores in France are not allowed to hold sales anytime they want. Instead, they are limited to two annual designated “sales periods” that are known as les soldes: five weeks beginning the last Wednesday in June for the soldes d’été, and five weeks beginning the second Wednesday in January for the soldes d’hiver.* If you’re Canadian, it’s the equivalent of five solid weeks of Boxing Day sales. If you’re American, it’s like five weeks of Black Friday.

Continue reading »

Et si on faisait le trajet ensemble ?

July 15, 2011

Concorde métro station


le trajet
– commute
ensemble – together
Et si on faisait le trajet ensemble ? – What if we made the commute together?

******

I’m in love with this little film, posted in the Francophilia Gazette yesterday, which simultaneously depicts a commute happening in Paris with one happening in New York. The fact that Tolbiac, the first métro station that appears in the Paris “half”, is right in my neighbourhood makes it seem even more special.


Whether you’re waking up on this side of the ocean to a café crème and a fresh croissant, or on the other side of the Atlantic to a cup of Timmy’s and a toasted bagel with cream cheese, it’s somehow comforting to know that morning commutes remain universal.

Et si on faisait le trajet ensemble ?  I’ll be thinking of all of you back home when I make mine on Monday morning!

Happy Fête Nationale!

July 14, 2011


la fête nationale – the national celebration, France’s “Independence Day”; known in the English-speaking world as “Bastille Day”
le 14 juillet
 – the 14th of July (the French national holiday)
les soldes – the sales
je pars en week-end – I’m going away for the weekend

******

Happy 14 juillet everybody!  I’m currently working on a new post about the summer soldes that I’ll be publishing soon, but for those of you who are new to The Vanishing Point and interested in learning more about this French national holiday, be sure to check out last year’s posts, Le Bal des pompiers and La Fête nationale.

I’ll be catching the fireworks display tonight at the Eiffel Tower, one of my favourite summer events in this beautiful city, then je pars en week-end to the seaside town of Deauville. I can’t wait to hit the beach!

Hope you all have a great weekend!

See you in September

September 30, 2010
September can be like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.

rentrer – to come back, to go back, to return home
la rentrée“the re-entry”; refers to the period in September when everybody is coming back from vacation and returning to work or school
les vacances – vacation; also refers to the month-long holiday break that many French people take in the summer
l’energie (féminin) energy
le farniente – an Italian word that has been adopted by the French, the art of lazing about and doing nothing
un projet project, endeavour, undertaking
un défi a challenge
une boulangerie – a bakery
une boîte (familiar) – firm/company, office
rouler – to run (as in function)
Allez, c’est parti ! – All right, and we’re off/here we go!
une chambre de bonne – a “maid’s room”; many old residential buildings in Paris have what used to be servants’ quarters converted into low-cost one-room rental units (often for students)
une plaque – an electric stovetop burner; a hot plate
faire du lèche-vitrine – window-shopping (literally “window-licking”)
Je faisais du lèche-vitrine… – I was window shopping…
une nouvelle robe pour la rentrée – a new dress for la rentrée

******

“The year does not begin in January. Every French person knows that. Only awkward English-speakers think it starts in January. The year really begins on the first Monday of September.”
Stephen Clarke, A Year in the Merde


There’s something about the arrival of September that always makes me want run out and buy myself a brand-new box of pencil crayons. This impulse doesn’t actually make any sense, as it’s been years since I’ve taken an art class, and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a sketchbook. Yet for some reason, without fail, every September I am struck with the overwhelming urge to run to the local art supply store and buy myself a pretty new set of coloured pencils, preferably in a shiny tin case like the one I used to carry back in grade school.  Something about the sight of them, pristine, freshly sharpened, and lined up neatly in a row like an obedient regiment of soldiers, has become inexplicably linked in my mind with the idea of fresh starts and possibility…  a perfect metaphor for my feelings about September.

Continue reading »

How Beyoncé saved me from French assimilation disaster

September 13, 2010

faire la bise – how the French greet each other; involves a sort of “air kiss” on both cheeks (depending on the region in France, this can involve two, three or even four kisses)
à la européen – in the European fashion
une salle de bain – the room in the house with the bathtub in it, not to be confused with “les toilettes” (“la toilette” in French Canada), which is a separate room with a toilet in it.  I’m not sure why the French use the plural form for the toilet, even when there is only one.  Maybe an extra one miraculously appears in times of great need?
On fait la bise… – One exchanges kisses…
dans la merde – up the creek without a paddle
à la canadien – in the Canadian fashion

******

Have you ever done the awkward sidewalk dance?  You know the one – you’re motoring down the sidewalk, minding your own business, when suddenly you realize that you are nearly face-to-face with someone headed in the opposite direction.  You obligingly step to the right to let them pass, which would normally work, except that they have the exact same idea and step to their left at the same time, which means that you are still face-to-face.  You both then move simultaneously in the opposite direction, with the same result.  You, struck with a flash of brilliance, decide you’ll take the initiative and dart quickly to the other side before the other person can move – and they do the same, causing a near-miss (or sometimes not-so-near-missed) full-body collision.  It’s all very awkward, especially considering you barely know the person you are dancing with.  Finally, somebody half-laughs, throws up their hands in surrender and stays put, while the other person walks around them.

Well, welcome to my first few weeks in Paris.

Continue reading »

La Fête nationale

July 22, 2010
“My “14 juillet” souvenirs


la fête nationale – national celebration
le 14 juillet – the 14th of July
le bal des pompiers – fireman’s ball
un pompier – fireman
un defilé – parade
le parfum
– flavour
une gueule de bois
– hangover (familiar)
un bonnet – bonnet, cap, head covering
une bavette – flank (steak)
papoter – to chatter
le feu d’artifice
– fireworks


******

A mere four hours after getting home from the July 13 pre-fête nationale Bal des pompiers, just as I was finally drifting off to sleep, my phone rang. It was my friend Floriane, with the wake-up call I had requested. She had received a V.I.P. invitation to watch the big defilé along the Champs-Elysées at a very special reception being held in one of the offices above the grand boulevard, and she had invited me to be her guest. “Coucou Darlene, tu viens de te reveiller ? ” (“Hi Darlene, did you just wake up?”) she asked me sweetly, obviously bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, having had the good sense to skip the bal the night before. “Euh… non…” I fibbed. “J’arrive…” (“I’m coming.”)

I dragged myself, slowly, painfully, out of bed, cursing military parades and their early start times. Why? Why start a parade at 9:00 a.m.? What was wrong with a 1:00 p.m. parade? Or even better, a 4:00 p.m. parade?

Thirty minutes and two large cups of caffeine later, I left to meet Floriane. Having consulted Google Maps the night before, I knew that the address was a fifteen-minute walk or a mere five-minute Métro ride away. I had also checked the RATP (the Paris métro) site the night before and knew that my nearest subway station wasn’t closed, so I was all good. Or so I thought.

Continue reading »

The Quick Experience

June 20, 2010


hôtel de ville
– city hall
un centre d’animation – community centre
la vraie gastronomie française – real French gastronomy
A votre santé ! – Cheers!  (Literally, “To your health!”)
haute cuisine
– literally, “high cooking”; elaborate or skillfully prepared food (especially that of France); artful or elaborate cuisine
manger sur le pouce – to have a quick bite to eat
une crêpe salée – a savoury crepe, sometimes sold wrapped in wax paper “to go” at little stands and shops around Paris
à emporter – to go

********

“Alors je m’étais lancé, je l’avais invitée
Dans le meilleur Quick de la région
A boire en grand seigneur un milk shake à la banane
Dans des grands verres en carton”*

– From the song Carpe Diem by Aldebert



One of the cool things about living in Paris is that, since it is one of the most touristed cities in the world, at any given time there’s almost always bound to be a friend passing through on vacation to keep me from getting too homesick.  This week my friend and former chiropractor Sarah was in town, so I did my best to show her a good time.  Wednesday, we spent the morning window shopping in the Marais and then I took her to Montmartre and Sacre Cœur, which, much to my amazement and despite her many visits to Paris, Sarah had never seen before.

Sarah and I on the steps of Sacre Cœur


Now, I realize that hanging out with your chiropractor is not really something that everyone does, but sometimes life brings you friends in unexpected places and you just have to roll with it.  It no longer seems strange to me, but it can occasionally be a bit weird to explain to people at first.  Sometimes I get tired of the usual awkward: “Uhhhh, she was my chiropractor…  and we really got along, so…” and am tempted to mix things up with a bit of humour.  On the steps of Sacre Cœur, when two friendly tourists struck up a conversation and asked us how we knew each other, it took all my willpower not to listen to the mischievous imp on my shoulder and answer cheekily, “I was once half-naked on her table. There was oil involved.”  For some reason, I felt that response might be misconstrued. Continue reading »

A Month of Sundays

June 7, 2010
In France, the first of May goes by a few names: the Fête du Travail (Labour Day), the Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day) and even the Fête du premier mai (First of May/May Day).  On this day, it is traditional to offer friends and family a sprig of lily of the valley, symbol of spring and good luck, especially if the sprig has 13 bellflowers.  As an extra bonus, on May 1st florists are allowed to sell their bouquets of muguet tax-free.

 

un jour férié – statutory holiday; bank holiday

faire le pont – literally “to make a bridge” (bridge a gap); an idiomatic expression used to describe the common French practice of taking a vacation day in between a statutory holiday and the weekend, thereby creating an extra-long weekend

les ponts de mai – “the May bridges” (essentially, the May long weekends)

******

Like most Canadians, by the time winter is drawing to a close, I have had it up to here with short days and long nights, face-numbing winds that make it difficult to breathe, cumbersome winter layers and sub-zero temperatures.  Nothing lifts my spirits quite like the early signs of spring and summer.  Those first few days when the temperature creeps above ten degrees, I love watching as my fellow citizens emerge from their various hiding places like so many human moles, blinking, into the sun, pasty faces turned up eagerly towards the sky, even pastier legs liberated (in our eagerness to believe that the worst is over, sometimes prematurely) from their winter-long incarceration in tights. There are always those few enthusiastic crazies who go so far as to bust out the shorts and flip flops, covered in goose bumps and shivering determinedly in defiance of what the thermometer actually reads.  It’s April dammit, and if you build it, spring will come. The advent of spring means that our precious two months of summer aren’t far off.  And nothing marks the beginning of summer in Canada like the revered “May 2-4”, otherwise known as Queen Victoria Day.

As long as I can remember, the sacred May 24 long weekend (dubbed “May two-four” in honour of the many flats of “two-fours” [24 beers] that are sure to be consumed on decks, patios and cottages across the country) has kicked off the beginning of one of the best seasons of the year. Best, of course, because the weather gets warmer, the sun comes out, all my favourite fruits are in season, and the days are long, languid and lazy. But also best because May 24 marks the beginning of long weekend season – a long weekend a month for several months to come, with the exception of June.  It’s an abundance of plenty!

Or so I used to think.

In Canada, we get really excited about the fact that we have that long weekend in May.  We’re so excited, in fact, that we’re more than happy to celebrate the birthday of a dead monarch who ruled a country that isn’t actually ours – and doesn’t even celebrate her birthday themselves – because doing so means that we get that magical day off.

However, I have recently discovered that, at least as far as public holidays go, May in France kind of, well, kicks May in Canada’s ass. Continue reading »

%d bloggers like this: