Saturday, December 13, 2014

Pas de ketchup?

Readers of my books and this blog know that I love France and all things French (including French mustard, which I go through a lot of), but even I have my limits.

And those limits have been tested with the new Maille mustard bar that just opened in New York. Modeled on the nearly-as-silly olive oil tasting bars, they have some 20 varieties of Maille mustard on tap. You can taste as many varieties as you can stand, guided by, yes, a mustard sommelier to give your tasting notes, and then have a ceramic crock filled up with the condiment of your choice, which will set you back a whopping 25 bucks for a mere 4.4 ounces!

Meanwhile, an 8-oz. jar of Maille in your grocery store costs about $5. But of course, you can't get the blue cheese or cognac flavor there.

Only explanation I can come up: this is revenge for us sending the French the hot dog.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Does language affect how we think?

Nice op-ed in today's New York Times that is on the larger issue of "why save a dying language" touches on the question of whether language affects how we think.

In Flirting with French I discuss this topic in much more depth, especially as it applies to gender. Gender is often said to be arbitrary, and with good reason, given that in French a beard is feminine a vagina is masculine. But in a research project, when subjects were told they were selecting a cartoon voice for a inanimate objects (the objects chosen had different genders in French and Spanish), the test subjects nearly always choose the voice the matched the gender of the object in their language. Thus French speakers wanted a woman to be the voice of a fork -- la forchette -- while Spanish speakers wanted a male to be un tenador.

The one exception was a peanut, which, despite being feminine in French, was assigned a masculine voice by the majority of subjects. I'm no scientist, but I think I detect some investigational interference -- in the guise of that international figure, Mr. Peanut.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cyber Monday language program deals

Just because so-called Cyber Monday is ridiculous doesn't mean you shouldn't take advantage of it to get a good deal on language-learning software - but which one to choose. Click here to see my full, unbiased reviews of the leading products, but here's a quick summary of some of the sales you'll find today:
  • Rosetta Stone is selling their full, 5-unit software for just $189 today. That's the lowest I've ever seen it. I pains me to say that I paid $600(on sale)  just a few years ago. You choose between the traditional desktop version and the 3-year tablet subscription (the same price). The CDs you have forever; the subscription works beautifully on a tablet, and you probably won't be using it 3 years from now anyway. [Full review]
  • Fluenz is selling their 5-unit software today for $268. A hundred bucks more than Rosetta? Hmm. Two major differences between Rosetta and Fluenz: 1) Rosetta Stone has speech recognition software, which Fluenz does not, meaning that you do a lot of typing in Fluenz. 2) Fluenz has explanations, where Rosetta is supposedly intuitive. Supposedly. [Full review]
  • Rocket Languages is the dark horse in this race and worth a look and selling for $179 today. Less organized their either of the others, Rocket is a good deal when Rosetta is full price and may be attractive to those who tire of the Rosetta's sameness and Sonia Gill's (of Fluenz) vanity. [Full review]
Whatever you choose, bonne chance  (and bon courage!)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Flirting with French makes New York Times bestseller list!

I'll get back to French and France in a moment, but first I want to share the exciting news that Flirting with French, written by the same idiot who authors this blog, has debuted on the New York Times bestseller list for Travel books at #11. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that I've stopped promoting it entirely. Buy your holiday gift copies now, and maybe we can nudge it up to #10, so I get the listing with the capsule description, instead of just the title in the Sunday Times Book Review! Let me help you out.

Click here to buy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Oeil of the tiger

We take a break this morning from my French language and culture discussions to report on a breaking news story from France: what was first reported to be a tiger is stalking the outskirts of Paris -- and no one knows where it came from.

Sighted first near Disneyland Paris, sending cat bait Mickey and Minnie scurrying for cover, Inspector Clouseau has been tracking it westward, meaning that by the time you read this, it could be climbing the Eiffel Tower.

The BBC is now saying it's not a tiger at all, but some other grand chat, although Le Monde is still calling it un tigre, perhaps to avoid using the unfortunate phrase grande chatte. (And if I have to explain that to not to ask.)

In any event, it's a welcome diversion from France's other problems: the re-emergence of Sarkozy, crippling unemployment, and the ability of the dough-faced president to attract glamorous women. Bonne chance avec votre tigre, mes amis!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Win a copy of "Flirting with French"

The French Word-a-Day website is offering a free copy of Flirting with French to the reader who wins the "name your favorite food" contest. In that spirit, I'm repeating my recipe for Pommes Anna, a fantastic and easy potato dish, which deserves to be better known (and more widely eaten) in this country:

Pommes Anna

4 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes (approx 1-1/2 pounds or slightly less)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, clarified*
Salt (coarse Kosher or sea) and freshly ground pepper to taste (about ¾ teas salt and ½ teas pepper in all)

1.     Preheat oven to 450 F and start the clarified butter, as below.
2.     Peel potatoes and slice thinly (the thinner the better – no more than 1/16 inch) on a mandolin or V-slicer.
3.     Spray the bottom of a 6-inch, nonstick sauté pan with cooking spray, then spoon in 2 teaspoons of the clarified butter, and swirl to coat.
4.     Place a layer of potatoes slices in the pan, overlapping the edges by a third to a half, so that no pan surface is showing. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle on about a teaspoon of the butter.
5.     Repeat building layers in the same manner until you’ve run out of potatoes, then drizzle with any remaining butter.
6.     Cover pan tightly with foil, sear on high heat (that’s on an electric burner; for gas you may need to dial it back a notch) for 90 seconds. No more, no less.
7.     Place in center of oven, and bake for 35 minutes.
8.     Remove foil, reduce oven temperature to 400, and bake about another 15 minutes. The potatoes are done when pierced easily with a knife, and edges are brown and pulling away from the pan.
9.     Remove from oven and invert onto a platter (like an upside-down cake)
10.  Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving. (Do not omit this step – the flavors develop and the texture improves as it sits).
11.  Cut into wedges, like a pie, and serve.

* To clarify butter, melt in smallest saucepan you have, and allow to simmer gently for a couple of minutes until white solids form on surface. Remove from heat, let sit for a few minutes, then, using a teaspoon, skim off and discard the solids.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

French non-Cultural minister outdoes Palin

If you haven't heard, France is abuzz over this past weekend's admission by the French Minister of Culture, one Fleur Pellerin, that she hasn't read a book in two years. What's more, she seemed totally unfamiliar with Patrick Modiano, the French author who recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

"Barbarism is here," declared one French writer, joining a chorus of voices for her resignation.

My thoughts immediately went (unfortunately) to Sarah Palin, who was similarly caught with her pantalons down, so to speak, when she couldn't name, well, anything, including the name of a newspaper she reads. At least Pellerin didn't try to deflect the embarrassment with charges of "gotcha journalism." (Hmm, how do you say that in French?)

It's temping to poke fun at the French for this indignation, but the real point is that the bumbling President Holland has named a mere bureaucrat who has risen through the ranks of French bureaucracy (starting with university)  to  an office charged with the nation's culture. Judging by the photo above, perhaps Ministry of Fashion would've been a better fit.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

90+ ways to know you're becoming French

A reader from France, Lisa Vanden Bos, recently sent me a copy of small, illustrated book (and by small, I mean 3 inches square) titled 90+ Ways to Know You're Becoming French.  A couple of my favorites:
  • Start a series by counting with your thumb (as opposed to your index figure)
  • Find nothing wrong with saying in English, "I am here since three years."
  • Know where the "first floor" really is
(Hint on the "first floor": You might want to take the elevator.)

Fun stuff. You can learn more about the book here . The authors operate a website that serves the expat community in France,  You know how I know that they're becoming French? The website ends in ".fr".

Bonne lecture!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Innocents Abroad

As you might imagine, I've been getting some e-mail from people of a certain age who also have attempted to learn French and have had similar experiences to mine. One such correspondent, Greg Curtis, even enrolled at the Sorbonne -- and lived to tell about it.

Here's his entertaining story, which appeared in Alcalde, the official publication of the University of Texas.

Bonne lecture !

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Would you prefer I spoke English?"

Okay, so I'm no Orson Welles, and I have this New York-ish accent...but if you want to get a goût gratuite (or is that a "dégustation gratuite" -- who the heck knows; it's French!) of Flirting with French you can hear me read a minute and fifty seconds, courtesy of the New York Times.

Of course, in doing this for the Times I've certainly killed any chance of being asked to record my own audio book, but I like this clip because it's the type of thing that happened to me often in France.

To set it up, my wife and I have arrived in the town of Dinard after several long days of bicycling in the rain, and an hour earlier, I had struggled mightily trying to understand where the hotel clerk wanted us to store the bikes. Now, I have to deal with her again...and I'm not looking forward to it.

Je lis...