Monday, 26 March 2007


This weekend, to widen my experience as a linguist (and to make up for all those times I've ignored people begging on the RER), I did some volunteer interpreting for a French NGO.
I arrived on time and introduced myself to my booth-mate:
me: so what brings you here then?
- oh I used to be a translator but I wasn't making enough money so I signed up to an interpreting school. what do you do?
me: I'm a translator
I'd been a bit nervous but it turned out to be a very supportive atmosphere, and a good day altogether. Although at one point, when the delegates went off to work in groups, I started to wonder about interpreter neutrality. When everyone is there as a volunteer and you are talking about a charitable organisation it's sometimes hard not to get involved. The first group we listened to (for vocab learning purposes) was very small, so we introduced ourselves but found it hard to stay out of the discussion without being rude. The second group was larger so we were able to keep a low profile, until one of the delegates approached me with a digital camera and asked if I could take a few snapshots. In our third and final attempt at neutral observation one of the group members, enthused by the appearance of foreigners, launched into an explanation of what they were working on, until his colleague pointed out that, currently, they were not able to work on anything, and could he please just pretend the interpreters were not there! This made me feel instantly more comfortable.
A good experience altogether, and a chance to meet some interesting people.

Today my Polish CD finally arrived from Amazon! I've been making the daily fruitless trip to reception to check for parcels for the last two weeks now, but today the receptionist caught me at the door with my package! Now I have six days to learn the whole Polish language...

And finally: I brought a very old book with me to France, supposing it to be Tristram Shandy. As I started to read, it became clear that it was really The Count of Monte Cristo. Now that I have come to the last page, I realise with horror that it is in fact only volume 1 of The Count of Monte Cristo. How can I possibly wait to find out What Happens Next??
My dealings with Amazon may not be over yet...

Friday, 23 March 2007

politics (ooh la la!)

In the comic operetta 'Iolanthe', WS Gilbert claims that we are all of us 'either a little liberal, or else a little conservative'- definitively one or the other from birth.
I think he would have had a problem with current French split-personality politics.
Last night, for example, my two flatmates got into a heated debate over the state of France today, and the Sarkozy/Royal conundrum.
In all honesty I haven't heard such committed Thatcherism since I last nibbled on a scone at the Sevenoaks constituency Conservative summer tea.
On unemployment: the poor guy who travels 3 hours every morning on the RER to earn the minimum wage shouldn't be worse off than the guy living it up on benefits.
On disaffected youth in the banlieues: why can't they just get off their behinds and make the effort and get a job?
On immigration: well of course if you let just anyone in...
On the SNCF strike: just wait till privatization and see how they like that!

On the forthcoming Presidential elections:
-I'd never vote right-wing!
-Absolutely not! We've always been Socialists!

Friday, 16 March 2007

dairy produce

An English friend also living in France confessed to having a weakness for fromage blanc, to the point of obsession. 'White cheese' in itself does not sound overly appetizing, but actually it's a kind of less acidic, thick, creamy yoghurt. Specifically designed not to be eaten on its own but with added jam, syrups, compote, nutella etc. etc.(or grated cucumber if you're on one of those horrible skinny-french-girl protein diets).
At Intermarché in my lunch time I counted two butter/cheese aisles, plus various cheese displays round by the fish counter (no idea), the usual stacks of UHT bricks and bottles, and, the masterpiece: a chiller stretched along the whole end of the store and packed full of yoghurts, cream desserts, rice puddings and so on.
You can't help but love a cuisine that allows you to snack on bowls of what is effectively chocolate-flavoured egg custard.
For the record, our fridge at work contains: 4 danone natural 'sur lit de fruits' (guilty); pack of four chocolate weightwatchers desserts, 3 apricot mousses, no less than eight individual activia yoghurts of various flavours (multipack leftovers); 100g tzatziki; President spreadable butter, milk, emmental rapée and a pot of parmesan dust. Addicts? not us, we can quit any time. I reflect on the folly of people's food obsessions whilst quietly finishing off a 500g packet of dates bought three days ago.

On an entirely different note, I've booked my flight east and I leave for Krakow in two weeks and two days. Better get working on that Polish then...

Monday, 5 March 2007

language exchange

I thought it would probably be a wise idea to learn a few words of Polish before I step off the plane and find myself at the counter of a coffee bar with a handful of zlotych and a phrasebook flapping uselessly open at 'handy phrases in the pharmacy'.
So I placed an ad on a free website and, after much trawling through junk mail urging me to take an online degree or to enlarge various areas of my anatomy (the latter probably more lucrative in the long run), I found a reply from a nice girl from Krakow and we started up a language exchange.
When I say exchange, this implies equilibrium. In fact, on a Saturday afternoon we go for coffee, chat a bit, and she details the finer points of Krakovian history whilst simultaneously tackling the English past conditional. In reply, I splutter out the Polish alphabet and struggle with phrases such as 'mam nowy televisor' (almost true in fact, it's my flatmate's television and it's nearly-new).
Still it's all jolly good fun, and hopefully by the time I reach that coffee bar in arrivals I'll be asking for a skinny vanilla latte and not 30 aspirin and a box of Tampax...

Friday, 2 March 2007

Initial contact

It's Friday night and I'm drinking beer after work. My flatmates are out. And I thought: instead of just scribbling on facebook, why not start up a blog? Stems from the fact that I am far too lazy to send out massive emails describing what I've been doing in minute detail. And probably some sort of cyber-exhibitionism as well.
I suspect this will work one of two ways: either I will update it incessantly (like facebook) or abandon it totally (like myspace).
Fantastic. Let's see how it goes.