Article: France learns to speak ‘touriste’ (AP)

From an Associated Press article:

France has long had a reputation — particularly in the English-speaking world — for being a bit difficult to visit. We love to hate it, with its surly waiters and superior shopkeepers. But we also love to love it: More people visit France than any other country in the world.

IMG_3270The rest of the article is fairly interesting, focusing on how France can attract visitors for longer periods of time, i.e. more than a day or two for European visitors, and making itself more of an attraction for those overseas visitors who might just visit Paris for a day as a part of a larger tour, but there is still this persistent idea that France is full of surly waiters and generally unpleasant people.

Are there surly waiters? Sure. But I could say the same of every country I’ve visited, and a number of restaurants in my hometown, too. The only occurrence of surliness I witnessed during my ten days in Paris was an occasion where I think the waiter was entirely justified in his behaviour (however much one wants to argue that a waiter should always be the perfect model of manners, they are human too). In his case, a tourist had come into a café (I was there eating lunch), and once he was seated, proceeded to order his food and drink in a very pushy manner, with no courtesies, in English. Then, he demanded low-fat butter,  and loudly complained about how slow the service was. Well, the service he received was absolutely glacial in speed due to his manner. Sitting nearby, I cringed in embarrassment, wishing that he could at least use ‘s’il vous plait’, or ‘merci’, or, in fact, any French at all. In the end, the tourist left disappointed, and the waiter was put out, though he still received a tip.

IMG_3269The France I experienced was full of friendly people: the shopkeeper in the (somewhat touristy) shop attached to the Cafe de Flore, who chatted to me about jazz; the charming waitress in the restaurant in Chartres who was run off her feet serving the entire place, but still had a smile and a kind word; the staff of a lingerie shop who, when realizing my vocabulary didn’t extend to lacy dainties, communicated as best they could in English; the man on the metro who gave up his seat for my mother and gave us a friendly ‘Bonsoir’; and the post office employee who helped me figure out how much it would cost to send postcards to the UK and overseas.

Actually, there were a lot more lovely people, and I’d say that even the fellows hawking souvenirs at the Eiffel Tower (and the courtyard in Versailles, and pretty much every ‘big’ tourist attraction we went by in Paris), were pretty nice.

I only have two small pieces of advice on how to make the most of a trip to France: 1) learn a bit of very basic French, including courtesies (s’il vous plait, merci, bonjour, bonsoir, etc.), and 2) visit knowing that France is not like your hometown. Make the most of your new experiences, and enjoy the differences in culture. A bit of adventurousness can go a long way.

Sunday is Bastille Day!

And publisher Le French Book (who translated and published the excellent ‘The 7th Woman’, and ‘The Bleiberg Project’) has a special sweepstakes to celebrate the French national holiday.

french flag

July 14 is Bastille Day in France, and Le French Book is celebrating. This ebook-first publisher focuses on fiction in translation from France, with a special emphasis on the country’s top-selling mysteries and thrillers. To mark the date, it is running Bastille Day Sweepstakes for an ereader and a number of summer ebook reads with a French flair. “With our focus on entertaining reads from France, we couldn’t miss out on this Bastille Day opportunity to share what we are doing with new readers,” says Anne Trager, the company’s founder. She started Le French Book with the goal of sharing what she loves about the Gallic nation and its fiction. The sweepstakes run from July 11 through July 14.

Read more about what to do on Bastille Day and the sweepstakes:

Get your chance to win via Facebook here:

Or enter the sweepstakes directly here:

Click here for a free Bastille Day short story by seven of France’s top writers.


Bastille Day (or  La Fête Nationale) commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789. Read more about the holiday on Wikipedia.

Article: Why does France insist school pupils master philosophy? (BBC)

From the BBC:

“Why this emphasis on philosophy in France?

Other countries have school-leaving exams which cover the history of ideas and religion and so on. But the French are very clear that that is not what theirs is.

The purpose of the philosophy Bac is not to understand the history of human thought but to leap into the stream that is the actuality of human thought.

If you learn about what Kant or Spinoza once said, it is not so much to understand their argument as to use their argument. …

So the purpose of teaching philosophy was – and remains, in theory – to complete the education of young men and women and permit them to think.

To see the universal arguments about the individual and society, God and reason, good and bad and so on, and thus escape from the binding imperatives of the now – by which I mean the dictatorship of whatever ideas are most pressingly forced on us in the day-to-day by government, media, fashion, political correctness and so on.”

600full-simone-de-beauvoirDuring my schooling (excluding post-secondary), philosophy was never touched upon. Even in university, it was not a required part of any degree that I can recall (excluding of course the Philosophy major or minor). I chose to take several philosophy classes while at uni, my favourite being Philosophy of Literature, where I was introduced to the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre (and through him, to Simone de Beauvoir, which was pretty well life-changing), as well as reading works by Andre Breton, Plato, and Edmond Jabes, among others.

Though often philosophical subjects were difficult to understand, reading and discussing concepts like existentialism, where each individual must give meaning to their life, and not rely upon outside sources, such as religion, pushed me outside my everyday thoughts. It was also very different view from my Introduction to Philosophy course, which seemed to focus almost exclusively upon the question of whether or not God exists. Part of that course, though I had no real interest as to the existence of God, was meant to teach the basics of argument, and formulating a concise statement of belief. It wasn’t quite a class in rhetoric, but it helped.

I think that it would be useful for everyone, but here it seems that degrees in subjects like Philosophy are derided as useless, while exalted are those degrees which provide the greatest financial gain–engineering, business. I wonder that we’re losing something in focusing upon financial gain at the expense of other things, of thinking beyond the immediate events, learning how to step back from the clamour and rationally consider our lives.

Have you taken philosophy courses? What did you think of them? Did they help you consider the world in a different way?

Cover Reveal: The Paris Game

I’ve been sitting on this for a little while, waiting until I returned from my trip. But now, I’m pleased to be able to show off the cover for my upcoming release, The Paris Game! It is the first in a new series, and I’ll be releasing a second book later this year.


On the darker side of Paris, it’s dangerous to not pay your debts…

A singer in a jazz club past its prime, Sera Durand must come up with thousands of euros to pay back her boss, a ruthless gangster.  A confrontation with her ex, an art dealer profiting on the wrong side of the law, leads her into a questionable wager, but one that could solve her problems.

Marc Perron knows a winning proposition when he sees one. Seducing a shy young woman of Sera’s acquaintance will be the easiest thing in the world, and the prize, to have Sera in his bed once again, is worth the chance of losing a sizable sum. What he didn’t expect was the depth of Sera’s desperation.

When one of his deals goes awry, Marc’s solution could cost them more than money…

The Paris Game - Alyssa Linn Palmer

Article: Franglais row (BBC)


From the BBC’s website:

“The French parliament is debating a new road map for French universities, which includes the proposal of allowing courses to be taught in English. For some, this amounts to a betrayal of the national language and, more specifically, of a particular way at looking at the world – for others it’s just accepting the inevitable. …

“According to the left-leaning daily newspaper Liberation, 790 higher education courses in France are already taught in English, and like Fioraso it sees nothing wrong with the idea.

Its all-English front page on Tuesday featured the words “Let’s do it” in bold capital letters.

Liberation represents a growing fringe of the French population – young, urban, trendy, the kind which, in the last 20 years, has adopted franglais in their daily life.

For them, the work of the Academie Francaise – which offers grammatical advice and alternatives to new foreign words – now feels irrelevant and obsolete. They like nothing more than adding English sounding suffixes to French words, or combining English words into new terms such as “fooding” (made out of “food” and “feeling”).

The result is a fantasy English that exists nowhere else; this, many think in France, is an inverted snobbery. “Why speak French well when you can speak English badly?” asks with irony the literary critic Bernard Pivot.”

I would hope that France does keep up some of its language snobbery–every language has different ways of viewing the world (the article likens it to a particular ‘vision’ of life). However, I did notice on this trip, as compared to my earlier trip in 2003, that many more French people spoke fairly good English, and were more willing to use it. English does seem to be the language of the world (particularly in business), but I think there is a place for others.

Movie: Rust & Bone (De rouille et d’os)

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this film, having only read the barest of blurbs before I saw it as a part of the Calgary International Film Festival. It caught my notice because it was French language, and it stars Marion Cotillard, who has become one of my favourite French actresses in the last few years. (See in her ‘La Môme’ as Piaf, and in ‘Public Enemies’ as Billie Frechette, among other films, if you are not yet acquainted with Ms. Cotillard.)

This film did not disappoint. Well, maybe a tad. Everything was great except for the character of Ali. Now, I’m going to get into spoilery detail, so click below to continue at your own risk. Aside from my criticism of Ali’s character, I highly recommend going to see this film. It is fantastic. (Check out the trailer on Youtube.)

The basic premise is that Ali (Alain) moves with his son to the south, and meets Stephanie, a killer whale trainer who has suffered a tragic accident and lost her lower legs. Stephanie’s journey and the progression of her journey is incredibly compelling, and Marion Cotillard plays it subtly; her emotions are portrayed in her body movement and in her face. It’s hard to explain, but she is so fully Stephanie, and I was completely entranced. But Ali… I just don’t know….

Continue reading

Article: Language is Music (from the New Yorker)

I just read a fascinating article posted in the New Yorker, by Mary Hawthorne, entitled LANGUAGE IS MUSIC. Most of the piece is a response (from various translators) regarding an editorial by Lawrence Summers in the NYT, which opined that, ‘English’s emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world, make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile.

Naturally, there was much disagreement over his points in numbered paragraph 5. Quite honestly, I do think that learning a second (or third) language is something that ought to be done. It needs to be taught properly at the lower grades, when learning of languages has been shown to be easier. There ought to be more opportunities for immersion, as well. Learning another language is learning a different way to think, a different way to view the world. And, as David Bellos states, ‘mastery of a foreign language is a prerequisite for understanding how to use your own.’

Am I biased? Yes, probably. I would have loved to have decent instruction in French when I was younger, but the teachers I had most years barely knew any more than their students, having (I’m guessing) drawn the short straw or had the free period needing filled. (And, alas, my parents chose not to put me in French immersion schooling, though I think I would have done well.) So now I plod along, working haphazardly to learn a bit more French. To be honest, properly learning a foreign language is a lot of work. With everything else that I do, I just don’t have time to devote hours every day to study.

Still, I’ll keep at it, though progress is slow. In the meantime, I’ll continue reading French works in translation, and maybe someday I’ll know enough French to read Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘L’Invitée’. I have a copy, and it’s waiting for that moment.

Today is Bastille Day

Or in French: la Fête Nationale.

It commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789, which you may recall as the beginning of the French Revolution. After the Revolution, France became a republic. There are three ideals of the republic for all French citizens: liberty, fraternity, and equality.

There are celebrations today all over France, and in many countries of the world. I don’t know of any in my local area, though several of the French restaurants in the city are promoting Bastille Day specials.

More on Bastille Day at Wikipedia.

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 14: My Trip to Paris (5)

After a very long lie-in, recovering from our night at Le Bilboquet, we spent the remainder of the day in gorgeous Montmartre.

Montmartre is, of course, the home of the strikingly beautiful Sacre Coeur basilica. It sits at the highest point in Paris, and if you look closely at the banner of my blog, through the clock of d’Orsay, you can just see Sacre Coeur. If you’ve seen the film Amélie, you may recall that she took Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) on a hunt for his photographs, up and down the stairs leading to the church. Thankfully, we took the funicular from the base of the hill to the top, saving us the need to walk all those steps. (Whew.)

Aside from Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur was the most touristy of all the places I visited. You weren’t allowed to take photos inside the church, so instead I had to buy a postcard. The ceiling of the church is painted with Christ, and it’s incredible. Photos don’t do it justice.

For €5, we climbed to the tower dome to look out over all of Paris. Along the way, we spotted gargoyle waterspouts, and a lot of graffiti. I could have stared out over the city for hours, and I still come back and look at the photos I took, marveling at how large Paris and its surrounding suburbs are. (An interesting fact: the basilica is made of travertine stone, which exudes calcite and thus keeps the stones white, even with the city’s pollution.)

We also took in the crypt, which was thankfully a cool respite from the summer heat. The chapel in the crypt held lots of relics, including little finger bones of saints, and the heart of Alexandre Leguil (sp?), or so says my notes. Churches are full of body parts of saints, and I wonder what those people might think if they could know that their little finger, or their heart, or perhaps a comb they used, is now on display in a church some hundreds of years later. (That’s not even taking into account the possibility that any number of these relics could be fakes. But that’s a post for another day… maybe.)

After our lengthy tour, we took a break at a small café. I had cider and a crêpe with Nutella, quite possibly my favourite meal ever. By this time, it was getting late, and we called it a day. Our next day would be a big one, going out to the Chateau Vincennes.