Friday, January 31, 2014

French government aims to undermine New York schools?

That headline was just to get your attention. What's really happening is that the French government, as reported in today's New York Times, is raising money for bilingual French/English education in New York City schools. Bilingual education has long been a flash point in America, with many parents fearing that learning a subject in a foreign language will impact their child's performance in that subject. And you can kind of understand their concern, except that studies have proven that bilingually educated children actually perform better than their one-language peers.

And, as a bonus, they presumably won't go to France and, as I once did, tell a waiter, "I'll have the ham in newspaper and my son will have my daughter."

There are already around a thousand kids attending English/French classes in New York, where half the classes are taught in English and half in French. Many of the kids' parents are French immigrants, but there is also a growing number from Haiti, the French Caribbean, and North Africa, where, let us not forget, French is also spoken.

Kudos to the city and the French government! And vive la France!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

No exit

Today on Wordsmith Wednesday we examine (but not too closely, and you 'll see why in a moment) the term cul-de-sac. This is, as most people know, a dead-end street, yet another example (yawn) of English borrowing a French term.

Except maybe not! There is some entomological evidence that the usage first appeared in English in the early 1700s, when it was the fashion for English aristocrats with airs to speak in French -- then traveled across the Channel to become standard French. As a result, the French now use a phrase literally meaning "bottom of the bag"(or, if you want to be a little scatological, "ass of the bag", which makes no sense, but is fun to say) for a street with no exit.

The English haven't stopped chuckling since.

Here, by the way is the French street sign for a cul-se-sac (and don't pronounce the "l" in French). À tout à l'heure!

Friday, January 24, 2014

French Food Fight Friday: Escargot!

I don't know what I was thinking when I came home with a dozen snail shells and a huge can of snails. I suppose I was thinking I'd make Escargots Bourguignonne, that delicious bubbling mixture of butter, garlic and parsley that I've loved the few times I've had it in French restaurants, both here and in France. Advice to anyone else leaning towards this inclination: enjoy it in restaurants.

First of all, I didn't need to by a two-pound can containing  5 dozen snails. The shells came with a baker's dozen (who knew?).

Secondly, jamming a large snail (and, trust me, these were large) into a small shell results in...never mind.I mean, there are some things you never want to see in the kitchen.

Thirdly, my wife, Anne, wisely stopped after the 2nd snail ("My, these are rich!") while I ate mine and a couple of hers. And paid for it the next day.

Fourthly, after dinner Anne asked, "How do you clean the shells?" The answer: repeatedly. Boiling them in a water/vinegar mix finally seemed to remove the oil. I certainly wasn't throwing them out - they cost more than the bucket of snails. A mere 3 days later all (most) of the water hiding inside had evaporated.

So, are you ready for the recipe? (Just kidding...really, eat these outside the home.) But now that I have the shells, I'll plan to use them. There must be all kinds of cool things I can stuff them with: Melted cheese and bread; sausage; little shrimp scampis; or, I can leave them in the garden and see if any of my slugs make a home in them! Maybe, what Escargots Bourguignonne needs is fresh, not canned snails! The game is afoot, Watson! (A slimy foot, but a foot).

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Of French Affairs, Affaires, and Liaisons

Let's begin with the obvious: namely, that the term "French sex scandal" is an oxymoron. So when French president François Hollande was photographed visiting his mistress' apartment via motorcycle, the only surprise should be that he was on a motorcycle.

I mean, really? The president of France gets to scoot around town on a motorcycle, his security detail following behind on their motorcycles? Viva la France!

But this is a French language (mainly) blog, so let's focus on what Hollande was doing after he'd dismounted from his, um, motorcycle. He was not having une affaire. He does have des affaires, but he has them at the office (as in affairs of state). What he and actress Julie Gayet were up to is une liaison. Note that both our English words affair and liaison are derived from French. No surprise there.

My question about this whole thing is, what do French women find so attractive about aging, vain French men like Hollande, Mitterand, and Sarkozy. Guys, tell me your secret - I'm 60!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Twelfth Night, à la française

January 5th marked the Christian holiday of Twelfth Night, which some French families celebrate by crawling under a table and calling out names, part of the custom of the galettes des rois, the cake of kings, wherein wherein one bakes a cake, having inserted into the batter a miniature ceramic figure of the baby Jesus. Whomever gets the slice with the Jesus, provided he doesn’t choke to death, is king for a day, and gets to wear a paper crown (a conventional crown, thank goodness, not a crown of thorns).

Okay, so far, not so bad. But wait: Because it would be easy for the server to divine when the baby Jesus had been delivered and give the slice to a chosen one, another family member (or office worker — the ceremony is sometimes held in the workplace as well!) crawls under the table on which the cake is being sliced and calls out the name of the person to receive the next slice. I last performed this ceremony in my 10th grade French class, where the teacher adapted the ceremony for our mostly Jewish class by inserting a king and a queen into the cake. Guess who drew the king and had to dance in front of everyone with the queen?

It was enough to make me quit French for 40 years. (But I'm back!)