Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Read my New York Times op-ed: The French Give in to the Hashtag!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in this space about the remarkable fact that France seems to be giving up the fight against English. I've expanded this into a full op-ed that you can read online in the New York Times or in print in the International editions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Buzzfeed's "42 reasons to never visit France"

"The landscapes are ugly and food sucks." Read the full piece, while keeping tongue firmly inserted in cheek.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kids Cook French

To those of you who, like me, despair when you see a children's menu in a restaurant (denying kids child-sized portions of the delicious stuff the adults are eating), you have a friend in Claudine Pépin. Not one to pamper the children, Claudine's new cookbook, Kids Cook French, with illustrations by her father, the better-known Jacques Pépin, has kids cutting up a whole chicken, making a béchemal sauce, and just generally acting like grownups in the kitchen. In other words, there are no chicken fingers on this kids menu.

Although I suspect it is adults who will get the most out of this book, especially adults with a yearning for French, for the book is bilingual, with English recipes and text on one page, and the French version the facing page. Which is how I learned that cauliflower is chou-fleur (literally, "cabbage flower"). And unless you have very precocious kids, this may not be, with some exceptions, a cookbook you turn over to your 11-year-old and expect to find dinner and the table when you get home from work. Unless you trust your kids chopping up a whole chicken (with no instruction other than "cut the chicken into eighths") with your 10-inch chef's knife (to be fair, the recipe does say you can buy chicken parts instead) or spending the afternoon on a beef bourguignon. But the best part of kids cooking is cooking with them. And so, do these recipes a couple of times with your kids, and, who knows, you may just be surprised some evening to walk in the door to the smell of poulet à la crème.

That is not to say the recipes don't make concessions to youth - there are many, some of which my inner enfant welcomes. I'm looking forward to making a simple soufflé in which you don't separate the eggs (this recipe, like several others, is accompanied by a charming family story about its accidental origin); a croque monsieur that omits the béchemal (although, mysteriously, béchemal is included in a later recipe); and helpful tips for inexperienced cooks of all ages ("If you have the time to wash something you've used while you're cooking, do it!"). Most of the recipes are in fact accessible to a child who likes to be challenged a bit, and Claudine has done a wonderful job of coming up with a well-rounded, appetizing selection of real food, healthy food, and the kind of food our kids should be learning to eat -- and make -- at an early age.

The fact is, were it not for the title and the kind of thick cardboard cover you find on picture books, you'd never know you were reading a children's cookbook. And that's a good thing. If youth is wasted on the young, so are a lot of children's books. So you can safely buy this (ostensibly) for your kid, try some good, easy recipes with our without your child, and brush up on your French at the same time.

Parents against chicken fingers, unite!

Kids Cook French (Les enfants cuisinent à la française), by Claudine Pépin with illustrations by Jacques Pépin. Quarry Books, $21.99

Full disclosure: Jacques Pépin graciously provided a blurb for my book, 52 Loaves. I have no other connection with the Pépins.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

France surrenders to the hashtag

Didn't see this coming: France's Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin, last week declared that she (and thus France) are ready to end the stubborn resistance to the incursion of English words into French, declaring a unilateral truce in the decades-long war on English. “French is not in danger and my responsibility as minister is not to erect ineffective barriers against languages but to give all our citizens the means to make it live on,” Pellerin told an audience assembled for the opening of French Language and Francophonie Week, acknowledging with one sentence both the futility and misguidedness of the battle.

“French is not in danger” is a remarkable assertion from the chief language guardian of the country that once fined TWA for issuing boarding passes in English and that has been trying to keep the language pure since King Louis XIII.  Perhaps the final straw was the ridicule heaped onto France for trying to come up with a French word for "hashtag," settling on mot-dièse.

My only question for the Mlle Pellerin is,  did she run this past the elders (and some of them are quite elder) in the Académie français? Or is the merde about to hit the fan? Bon courage, ma fleur!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Les affairs

Is seems there is (fortunately for us bloggers) no shortage of salacious news from France these days. First we have the DSK trial with its bacchanal orgies; now the country is in an uproar over the widespread advertising of a website that helps married women find willing partners for affairs.

French feminists are protesting the double standard apparently in play here: French men having affairs is one thing, but if a woman tries to return the favor, sacre bleu!  Meanwhile the (male) moralists are retorting that men keep their affairs discreet, while this website, Gleeden (as a public service, I've provided the link) is being advertised on the back of buses and in Metro stations. Check out the ad below. The caption reads, by the way, "to be faithful to two men is to be twice as faithful." You have to admire the copy writing, if nothing else, non?

Yet the openness of it does seem a little outre, even for France, and some bus companies, in response to the public outcry, have pulled the ads. All of this is great publicity for the website, which has a million subscribers in France. That's right, boys. A million Frenchwomen are actively trolling for a discreet affair. This in a country of only 33 million women! Do the math.

Frenchman, you've got no ones to blame but yourselves!  Bon courage!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

DSK trial ends (bizarrely, bien sur!)

"Neither the investigation nor the trial justified the charges against Mr. Strauss-Kahn. I call for him to be acquitted, pure and simple."  Thus was the closing argument of the prosecution in the pimping trial of former IMF head and almost French president Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Wait a second, that was from the prosecution??? Not the defense?

Mais oui! La France, je t'aime!

It seems that 4 of the 5 prostitutes that DSK is said to have hooked up with his sex parties withdrew their charges. This sounds more like New Jersey or Brooklyn (were les filles made an offer they couldn't refuse?) than France, but there you go, and DSK is set to walk yet again. Although, even with both the defense and and prosecution agreed that there are no grounds for prosecution (boy, that's hard to write), the case has gone to the judges, with a verdict to be rendered June 12, giving DSK time for a couple of more sex parties before the verdict (June? French courts make the US Supreme Court look like a body that rushes to judgement, by comparison)

So did someone "get" to the girls? The prosecutor blamed the press for putting the girls through an ordeal, and few in France are suggesting anything underhanded, but the trial was essentially completed when the girls suddenly quit en masse. C'est bizarre, non? DSK himself said that "perhaps the girls have revisited their memories."

Didn't Tony Soprano use that line?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Of diplomats and sex parties

In case you haven't been following the wild goings-on at the pimping trial in Lille of one Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), the man who not long ago was expected to be the next president of France, you've missed:
  • Topless women protesting outside the courthouse
  • DSK telling the press this his orgies were no big deal because "it was only four a year" 
  • The unique defense “I dare you to distinguish between a prostitute and a naked socialite.”
That last statement is really the crux of the issue, for not only are orgies legal in France (as in the U.S.), but the French have a classy word for it (this from the language that doesn't have a dedicated word for "wife"!): libertinage, whose tradition goes back to the 16th century, when the best ones took place in the Bois de Boulogne on the northern outskirts of Paris, and the participants wore masks (in case you missed that movie).

The only problem is that in DSK's case, these weren't naked socialites cavorting around with 70-year--old men, but prostitutes with names like Jade, and securing a prostitute is illegal in France - it's called "pimping."

This is, of course, the same DSK who was accused of raping a maid at a hotel in New York a few years back and who might be in a New York prison right now if the accuser hadn't had her own shady background, forcing the DA to drop the case. I happened to be in France, at an immersion language school, at the time, and here's a brief excerpt from "Flirting with French" in which I describe the French reaction:

The French are furious with the American judicial system for holding DSK “hostage.” He’s a prominent figure, not a flight risk, and shouldn’t be treated this way. Emboldened after four days of classes, I decide to give a rebuttal in defense of my country. I rehearse it in my head several times, then speak up.

 “I’ve a proposition. You give us Roman Polanski and we’ll give you DSK.” My French is decent enough that the room erupts in laughter.
That, by the way, is about the all thing I've ever said correctly in French. I'll keep you posted on Monsieur DSK.

Friday, February 6, 2015

French movies to get you through l'hiver

Here in New York's Hudson Valley, as in much of the Northeast, it's been a snowy, cold winter (l'hiver), Fortunately for we francophiles, Netflix has a nice collection of streaming French movies to get you to le printemps.

Le Chef  Not to be confused with the Jon Favreau movie "Chef," this one stars the wonderful  French actor Jean Reno playing, not a tough cop (or assassin) for a change, but a tough chef trying to hang on his Michelin stars. You'll need to suspend disbelief at times, but it's a lot of fun  to watch Jean play against type and to watch the French skewer Spanish-inspired molecular cuisine

Bicycling with Moliere  Life imitates art imitates life in this fascinating psychological study which will, if nothing else, make you feel totally culturally inferior to the French. Which, by the way, you are.


The French Minister  A young man navigates the perilous corridors of power in France. A nice little French comedy if you need a diversion.

On My Way  Catherine Deneuve, still beautiful at 70, gives an acting seminar in this beguiling movie, which costars a pack of cigarettes.


Venus in Fur  Roman Polanski brings the Broadway play to the screen. I loved the play, and the movie almost as much.

Aliyah   A secular Jewish, low-level drug dealer thinks about escaping to the Promised Land. I love films that make you root for a drug dealer.

Blue is the Warmest Color - If  nothing else, this movie should warm you up. But some terrific performances make it much more than the soft porn it was peddled as.

Only 42 days till spring! Bon courage!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Deep Yogurt

If you've been to France, you might have noticed a couple of things about yogurt: 1) Their Dannon yogurt (called "Danone") is so much better than our Dannon yogurt; and 2) French yogurt in general is less expensive than in the US. A LOT LESS. Recently, French Morning, a publication for French expats living in the US, did some investigative reporting to find out why, for the price of one single-serving container here, you can buy a pack of a dozen ("oui -- douze" they say, incredulously) in France The article is in French, but the gist of the piece is:

  • The French eat a lot more of the stuff, so there are economics in the supply chain
  • Milk is cheaper in France
  • Americans tend to favor the high-protein Greek-style varieties
  • No surprise here, but our single-serve container are American-sized -- larger than in France, sometimes quite a bit.
One final thought on French yogurt: When I was staying at a hotel in France a decade ago, containers of plain yogurt were put out at breakfast. Yuch. How do they eat this stuff? I wondered. Then I saw that the people at the next table were sweetening it with some jam that had been put on the table. That's the only way I've even yogurt ever since. It's SO much better than flavored yogurt, which is full of of sugar.

On my most recent trip to France, I had to search for plain yogurt at breakfast spreads. Which means, I've become more French than the French? (At least when it comes to yogurt.) That should every Frenchman cause for concern!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Contest: Be a beta tester for Fluent U iPhone version

A year ago 10 lucky readers of this blog got access to Fluent U's unique language-learning software, which features often-hilarious French videos. Now they're back with an iPhone version, and I'm offering 10 of my readers the opportunity to be beta testers (Note that you need to have ios8 installed on the your iPhone.)

To be eligible to win, all you have to do is send an email to thefrenchblogcontest@gmail.com with short note about one of the following:
  • Your favorite part, or line, or moment of my book, "Flirting with French"
  • Describe a humbling language experience of your own
  • Explain in one sentence why, in France, the Big Mac is "le Big Mac" but the Quarter Pounder with Cheese is not "le quarter pounder avec fromage." (extra points if you can cite the movie which explained this)
  • Spot the French error in this posting
Bon chance! (And remember you need an iPhone with ios 8)