Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Beets Revisited

I lost 10 euros today on a bet with Marion, one of the graduate students in the lab today. Having only recently received my own desk (I had previously been sharing a desk with 2 others), this past weekend I brought in some random photos I had lying around with which to decorate my little space. One of the photos was this:

Anybody remember? Back in October I posted this as a mystery photo. It's a big pile of betteraves (the French word for beets)--they can be found all over the place in the farmland area outside of Orleans where we visited my sister-in-law's archaeological dig site. Anyways, when Marion asked me what the picture was, I told her she should guess--and if she got it right within 3 tries I'd pay her 10 euros. I thought it was a pretty safe bet, as her first guess was "excrement" and it was pretty clear she had no idea what the hell it was. Anyways, she was patient, and asked around the lab until she found somebody from the area who knew what they were after 2 seconds. I'm a man of my word and even though she arrived at the answer by somewhat dubious means, I'll part with my hard-earned euros.

In other news, I was completely embarrassed when instead of asking one of the graduate students, "Est-ce que tu peux me dire où est le bain-mairie 37 degrees que tu utilises?" (Can you tell me where the 37 water bath that you use is?) I accidentally asked, "Est-ce que tu peux me dire où est la salle de bain 37 degrees que tu utilises?" (Can you tell me where the 37 degree bathroom that you use is?) I regrettably made this error right in front of my boss' office, who started laughing at my mistake. Oh, well. As somebody told me recently: in the world of learning a foreign language, it is essential to live by the motto, "No Shame, No Gain." At least I'm trying!

Monday, February 26, 2007


Miscellaneous Thoughts:

-Can you imagine that I've survived the year without a cell phone (in French: "un portable") ?! I've decided it didn't make much sense since I don't know that many people in France and I work in the same general location as my wife. The cell phone industry has done a very good job of making the cell phone an everday device rather than a luxury. Who doesn't have one? The word for "ring tone" in French is "une sonnerie", and they are just as potentially annoying as they are in the U.S.

-Death to the Bureaucrats. We just found out that Claire's green card application is going to be harder than initially advertised, as a result of something called The AdamWalsh Child Protection Act of 2006. Apparently, they have to do a background check on my wife to make sure she is not a convicted pedophile/child molestor, and since the law has determined that overseas embassy officials are not licensed to do the aforementioned background check, we must apply for her green card back in the 'States. Or at least I think that's the deal. So far I've heard about 3 different versions of what we are supposed to do depending on who I talk to...

-3rd party candidates: François Bayrou, the candidate who represents a "middle of the road" between Socialist candidate Segolene Royal and the leader on the right, Nicolas Sarkozy, is gaining ground. We saw him answering questions on the television today. Election's in April.

-Thank you to Mom & Dad for buying me a sweet Gary Fisher mountain bike. Can't wait to try it out when I get back home. I recently learned that Gary Fisher is credited as one of the inventors of the mountain bike as well as the man who first coined the term "mountain bike".

-Link of the Day: Do you like waffles? I know I do. I wonder if the Eggo Waffle industry has noted the decline in overall waffle sales with me out of the country? Don't worry, I plan on resuming my consumption of Eggo Waffles upon my return to the United States.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Super Tourists

Our visitors Becca and Jean departed for Duluth this past weekend. It was great having them (and getting to practice my English...hopefully I won't forget after this year ;). They were indeed Super Tourists, as evidenced by the day where they tackled both the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay in a single day. That calculates out to appreciating an amazing 19.53 masterpeices of Western art per hour (Statistics painstakingly researched by myself)! Impressive. Very impressive.

I'll show the last bit of photos I have from their visit, this last batch from our stroll around Montmartre. In contrast to the last time I was there with my parents when it was ceaselessly pouring down rain, this past weekend it was genuinely beautiful--I would even describe it as "T-shirt weather!"-and the lawn in front of the Basilique de Sacre Coeur was covered with people basking in the glory of an unexpected February sunshine. Also shown are some of the paintings we came across at the Place du Tertre, a public square with a host of artists and caricaturists plying their trade.

French of the Day: the phrase, "clouer le bec à qqn" means literally "to nail shut the beak of somebody"--basically, a rude way of telling somebody to shut the hell up.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Locking Atoms & Arab Windows

Since I'm all out of entertaining stories involving liquid nitrogen, we'll move straight on to the...

French for the Day: The expression "avoir des atomes crochus", which means "to hit it off with somebody," is literally translated as, "having locked atoms" with somebody. I like it.

Here are some pictures of L'Institut du Monde Arabe--we tried going there this past weekend with Becca and Jean but the line to get in was ridiculously long and we decided to go elsewhere instead. But the building itself is pretty interesting and I took some pictures of it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Adventures in Liquid Nitrogen

Don't you just love today's blog entry title? It sounds so...mysterious! (Note to Mom and Dad before beginning my tale: don't worry, I didn't freeze my arms off in a liquid nitrogen-related lab accident).

In most biology labs, living cells must be stored under conditions of extreme cold, usually in liquid nitrogen, which maintains a temperature of approximately -320 degrees Fahrenheit (I'm from Duluth, and that's cold even for me!) The cells are stored in small vials, which are placed in boxes that can hold about 100 vails each. Then each box is put into a rack and submerged into a vat of liquid nitrogen (in our case, the Thermolyte Locator 8, shown on the right) where it can be stored until whenever needed. (Embarrassing note: I must admit that sometimes I pretend that I am encasing Han Solo in carbonite as I am dipping my cells into the smoldering liquid nitrogen..."He's alive...and in perfect hibernation!")

Anyways, on Monday I went to retrieve a vial of my cells from the liquid nitrogen, and I was perplexed to find my box missing from the rack! Where had it gone? The answer soon became apparent as I tried moving the racks around and discovered that there was something blocking their movement--I therefore deduced that my box had evidently fallen to the bottom of the liquid nitrogen tank!

The next question was obviously how the hell I was going to retrieve my box from a huge vat of liquid nitrogen. Despite my Duluth-induced resistance to cold, dipping my arm into a substance that causes instaneous frostbite to retrieve my box full of cells did not sound enticing. I made some enquiries with my friend Olivier in the lab and we soon found a long pair of metallic forceps. Unfortunately, the situation went from bad to worse when I accidentally submerged the forceps to far into the liquid nitrogen and it got stuck. Merde! After making a few more calls, we were able to try again with a fabulous device we borrowed from another lab called "The Cryo Claw", a long metallic arm on one end with a gripper on the other (picture on bottom), apparently designed for just such an event. Unfortunately, due to the large volume of liquid nitrogen, we couldn't actually see the box--we could only feel it--and trying to remove it with the vaunted Cryo Claw was like performing an apppendectomy blind. After 2 hours (I'm not kidding--we were seriously working on this issue for 2 hours) we solved the problem by emptying half the tank of liquid nitrogen (during which a large metal bucket was also accidentally dropped in the drink and had to be fished out), after which we were able to visualize the box.

Finally, after some masterful maneuvering with the Cryo Claw, Olivier was able to rescue the box with no loss of sample whatsoever! I was so excited that I insisted that we celebrate with a "high five" (by the way, the "high five" is evidently an American phenomenon--and I could tell that Olivier was pleased to have participated in his first ever genuine high-five).

So that's my adventure in liquid nitrogen. I bought Olivier lunch today to thank him for his mad Cryo Claw manipulating skills. All's well that ends well.

French for the Day? The word for liquid nitrogen is "l'azote liquide".

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

La Grande Galerie d'Evolution

On Sunday we somewhat unintentionally wound up at La Grande Galerie d'Evolution, which makes up part of the Museum of Natural History. I had heard about the museum before going in--it's basically a bunch of taxidermy specimens of countless biological specimens ranging anywhere from insects to birds to monkeys--and to be honest I had visions of half-assed high school biology projects featuring cheesy dioramas. Well, I was pleasantly surprised and totally LOVED the museum; I could have spent a good two or three hours more if I had had the time. The exhibits were quite modern, genuinely educational, and often interactive. My favorites included several impressive whale skeletons, an interesting video exhibit describing the different types of plankton, and an impressive parade of large mammals (shown below) which make up the centerpeice of the museum.

French Expresions for the Day: a relatively common expression for "to quit one's job" is "rendre son tablier"--which literally is translated as, "to turn in one's apron."
In addition, the expression "lever le coude" (literally: "to lift the elbow") is another way of saying that somebody is out boozing it up.

Link of the Day: This hilarious Bob Dylan parody. Want to see Bob singing "I Like Big Butts And I Cannot Lie"? Here's your chance.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

No Paris Vacation Is Complete Without...

The Eiffel Tour! When all else fails, just post pictures of the Eiffel Tower. We visited the famous Tourist Magnet last Saturday, hiked all the way up to the top, and came away with a handful of overdone yet satisfying photos of the occasion. Here are a few:

Night-time view of the Tour, all lit up.

View of Arc de Triomphe from the top.

Ants! My favorite bit of Tour Eiffel graffiti, the translation reads: "Vladamir, I love your wife. " Evidently, memoirs of a love affair in Paris...
Oh yeah, and special thanks to Susie Hellman for calling this relevant news item to my attention.

French for the Day: In a tradition similar to telling somebody to "Break a leg!" rather than boring old "Good luck!" before any kind of performance or event, in French you tell the person "Merde!" Which, of course as we all know by know, is the French translation for excrement, aka shit.

Monday, February 19, 2007


We caught the movie "Babel" last night. It's been rattling around in the back of my mind all day, and in that sense I think it succeeds. For those of you who don't know, it is a story of 4 interconnecting histories which take place in four very different locales: south-of-the border Mexico, high-tech Japan, a small desert community in Morocco, and sunny San Diego. As my guests Becca and Jean don't know French, I thought it would be safe to go to a "V.O." (version originale) showing of the movie. Perhaps not the best choice: although they were able to understand every word that Brad Pitt (who, incidentally, looks positively old in this movie) spoke, I neglected to realize that the Arabic, Japanese, and Spanish that is spoken is rendered intelligible by French subtitles, not English ones. Oops...

The name of the movie, I'm pretty sure, is a reference to the biblical story of The Tower of Babel, in the Book of Genesis. In the story, the residents of the ancient city of Babylon decide to unite together to build a tower so high that it will be able to reach the heavens. Angered by their foolish pride, God prevents the project from being achieved by somehow causing everybody involved in the project to speak a different language, such that they cannot understand one another. The story is often used as a biblical explanation as to why there are different languages and perhaps even different races, and it's relevant to the movie, where a chain of unfortunate events are set into motion, in large part due to difficulties in communication between different cultures. It also brings up a question that I've been wrestling with all year long as I devote a significant amount of energy towards learning a new language: would the world be better off if everybody just spoke the same language? I certainly won't attempt to answer that question here, which is at this stage is mostly a theoretical one, but it is interesting to think about.
French Vocab for the Day: the word for "to babble" in French in "gazouiller".

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Recyclable Dragon

Our continued tourist's view of Paris brought us to Jardin des Plantes, where we were greeted by this interesting and unique sculpture of a dragon. It is made out of recycled aluminum cans, as shown.
More details to follow. For now, French Word for the Day: les espéces menacés = endangered species.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Hangin' With Auguste

As part of our whirlwind tour day of Paris with our Duluthian guests Becca and Jean (right), we went to the Rodin Museum, where I had never been before. It turned out to be one of my favorite museums in Paris, featuring a fabulous sculpture garden with magnificent views of the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides (Napoleon's tomb). In addition, the weather today was really nice (probably pushing 60 degrees or so) and it was fun to be outside.

Here's some more photos I took from the Musée Rodin, complete with captions.

"Le Penseur" aka "The Thinker" aka The Money Shot.

Woman In Red Dress Standing Before the Gates of Hell.

Cool Picture of Rodin bust through a window with a reflection of les Invalides superimposed. Doesn't it look like this dude should be saying: "Yo, Word To Your Mothah!"

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Short N' Sweet

I'm kind of exhausted and very fool of deliciously delicious French food tonight, and it's late, so tonight's entry will be short and sweet.

A few French vocabulary words:
Instead of being a bookworm, you are a "rat de bibliotheque": a library rat.

Instead of doing the limbo, you do "la danse de la belai": the dance of the broom.

Instead of making a "Thump!" when you fall down, you make the noise "Pouf!"

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day...

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody...

There is definitely an awareness that Valentine's Day is today (as evidenced by the line outside most flower shops on the way home), though most people in the lab informed me that it only started becoming part of the public consciousness over the past 10 years or so, and there are many who refuse to celebrate it based on its perceived commercialization recently. My gift to my lovely wife: flowers, a nice dinner out (well, at least I hope it will be nice--I'm waiting for her to come home so we can go out), and a DVD of The Most Romantic Movie of All Time (Casablanca). Not too shabby if I do say so myself.
In other news: time to bolt down the furniture, because BECCA MOEN is coming to town! She and her friend Jean will be staying with us in our humble (read: tiny) Parisian apartment for about a week, and it should be fun. Perhaps if Becca plays her cards right, she may even be asked to be a guest blogger, who knows...

French for the Day: instead of saying "yuk!", Frenchies say, "beurk!"

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Songs Every Good American Should Know

A few years ago, I made my wife (then my girlfriend) a "mix CD" of the title "Songs Every Good American Should Know." It was based on the premise that there are certain songs which are part of the national consciousness, and everybody growing up in America without question--at least from my general age group--knows these particular songs. I was also shocked at the time that I was dating somebody who was not exactly sure who James Brown was, and I aimed to change that.

The ground rules were simple: only American artists (sorry, no Beatles, Rolling Stones, or U2--even if they are perhaps more in the American consciousness than many legitimate U.S. bands) and only one song per artist. I fully admit that this list is heavily skewed towards artists popular between the 70s-90s, in large part because of my own frame of reference. Anyways, here's the list:

Blue Suede Shows (Elvis Presley)
R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Aretha Franklin)
Like A Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)
American Pie (Don Mclean)
Hotel California (Eagles)
Piano Man (Billy Joel)
I Feel Good (James Brown)
Light My Fire (the Doors)
Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)
Like A Virgin (Madonna)
Purple Rain (Prince)
Michael Jackson (Thriller)
Born in the U.S.A. (Bruce Springsteen)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
Ice, Ice Baby (Vanilla Ice)

As if it needed to be said, that last one was a joke. It's pretty hard to come up with such a list--arguments could easily be made for R.E.M., Van Halen, Janis Joplin, Stevie Wonder, and Milli Vanilli (again, kidding about that last one). No doubt somebody else's equally-valid list would look very different from this. Anybody with any suggestions out there for egregious omissions to this list?

French for the Day: the French word for "booger" is "une crotte de nez."
Also, the literal translation for "Vanilla Ice" would be "la Glace Vanille."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Of Boogeymen and Dirty Old Men

The Boogeyman. To children everywhere, his name is synonymous with fear and the unknown. I can still remember the first time I heard about the boogeyman while growing up as a young lad in Minnesota; at the time it scared the shit out of me. It's kind of interesting that there is no set image of the boogeyman, which probably encourages kids' imagination to imagine the worst possible incarnation of evil. For me, my image of the boogeyman was that of the sleestacks (lizard-like creatures who wandered around making hissing noises on "Land of the Lost", one of my favorite TV shows), probably because that was the scariest thing I could think of at the time.
Interestingly, I recently found out that most cultures have their own version of the Boogeyman. There are even theories that the story of the Boogeyman represents an evolutionary adaptation by human beings to scare the bejeezus out of their children into staying close to the rest of the group and away from danger at night (hey, I read it on wikipedia, okay? it must be true...)

In France, The Boogeyman is called "Le Croque-Mitaine", which is translated literally as "The Mitten Biter". As if nibbling on your mittens wasn't f'ed up enough for you, there is another haunting figure of childhood legend in France named "le Père Fouettard". le Père Fouettard, as best as I can tell, is kind of like an evil, sadistic version of Santa Claus (also known here as "le Père Noel"). If you are a misbehaving child, you are scooped up in le Père Fouettard's sack and then mercilessly beaten with a whip. Okay, I added the word "mercilessly" myself, but basically, this is some pretty disturbing stuff.

In a semi-related vein, the French word to describe a "dirty old man" (like the ODB) is "un vieux cochon" (literally: "an old pig").

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Universal Translator

Remember the Universal Translator in Star Trek (and a host of other sci-fi films and books)? I have often thought this year how nice it would be to have one in France. It doesn't seem like it should be such a technically insurmountable problem at first glance. After all, I only would require translation from French to English(two languages which are somewhat related to one another) as opposed to English and, say, the language spoken from some alien race from the planet Yorbitron which almost certainly does not contain the same alphabet or phonetic sounds. There is already voice recognition software which is reasonably good at transcribing somebody 's voice when they enunciate clearly (I've seen some doctors use this while dictating), and since all languages follow rules (e.g. in English: subject + object + verb = sentence), one could envision inputting all of these rules into one big computer algorithm to allow for an instant translation of whatever was being said with only a minimal delay.

Obviously, however, this has turned out to be harder than was originally anticipated. This field is termed "machine translation" and despite the fact it's been around for some 50 or 60 years, the currently available products are less than ideal, even for simple stuff. Another website I use frequently, Learn French at About.com, tested out the top online French-English translators with some simple phrases to see how they did. For example, the relatively simple phrase, "I love you very much, honey", was translated in each case as something like "Je t'aime beaucoup, miel", having translated the affectionate term "honey" as "miel" (the literal term for honey, aka what bees make). So it looks like at this point, human translators do a much better job than machines can, and sadly I don't have the resources to hire somebody to walk around with me all day long to translate stuff for me.

So I guess for now, I'm stuck learning this crazy language of French, in which the three letter -ent are often inexplicably silent and writing the number 97 ("quatre-vingt dix-sept"= "four twentys and ten plus seven") involves no small amount of mental arithmetic.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Vocabulary Booster

Because it's been a slow news day and not much to report back on...how about a few random bits of French vocabulary? I've been on a real vocab push the past few days--I have been using this website called The Flashcard Exchange which allows you to make your own flashcards online and then test yourself with them--which I would recommend to anybody who has to study something where rapid, brute-force memorization is required.
A few expressions which have English counterparts but are just different enough to be interesting:

-Instead of giving somebody a "helping hand" as we do in English, in French you give somebody a "coup de pouce"...a "push of the thumb." There's even a recent commercial on French TV during which a giant thumb follows somebody around helping them out all day long.

-Instead of "turning over a new leaf," to express heartfelt change in French you say, "Il a fait peau neuve" (He made some new skin). I like this image; it reminds of a snake shedding its skin.

-The French word for "bouncer" (e.g., at a popular night club) is "videur", which literally means "emptier". This is also an improvement on the English word, I think, because you can envision a big burly guy "emptying" a bar of no-good hooligans, but it's difficult to think of him truly "bouncing" them.

That's it for now...time for dinner!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The U.S. versus France: a comparison

Good news first: J'ai reussi mon examen! That is to say, I succeeded in my French exam. Au revoir, Level 3. Bonjour, Level 4. The second semester should be starting sometime at the end of the month of February.

The written part of the exam was Monday; the oral part was today. The oral part consisted of drawing one of several pieces of paper from a hat which had a topic on it and you had to spontaneously talk about the subject demanded of you. Mine was the question (paraphrased in English of course): What are some of the advantages of disadvantages of living in France? How does it compare with your home country? Speak of your personal experiences.

I've been meaning to do this for awhile, and probably at the end of my stay in France I will do something more comprehensive, but for now, allow me to break things down Nate-style: a comparison of life in the U.S. of A. versus la vie en France into the three most important categories in a guy's life: food, sports, and women. Let's do it.

1. Food (overall). Advantage: France. Although I will often whine about not being able to find a decent hamburger or the utter absence of peanut butter in this country, I have to admit that there are not a lot of food items from the U.S. that I miss. Not only do the French have their decadent pastries and sumptious quiches and soufflés, but even the simple stuff like ham sandwiches that you can buy on the street taste a million times better than their American counterparts.

2. Sports. Advantage: U.S. It's hard not to be biased here since I'm not a huge soccer fan, but the U.S. has a definite edge as far as being a sports fan. Although there are several hard-core soccer fans around, the drop-off after soccer is considerable. What's the number 2 sport in France? Rugby? Tennis? Swimming? Grand Prix Quto Racing? I just don't get the impression that they're very popular apart from the fans who are truly devoted. In the U.S. , the Super Bowl is a cultural event viewed by many who don't regularly follow football, and there's a variety of secondary sports (basketball, baseball, and arguably hockey, golf, tennis, and NASCAR) which comprise an important part of the collective consciousness.

3. Women. Advantage: slight edge to France. Granted, I've never lived in the mythical lands of California or Florida known for their beautiful babes, but in general I've found the caliber of attractive women to be overall higher in France than in the 'States. It was perhaps more obvious to me during the summer months upon my initial arrival when the ladies were more scantily clad than now in the middle of winter, but I think it's still true. Besides, how could I vote for the American women when my beautiful and lovely wife sings the Marseillaise?

So there you have it. France 2, U.S. 1 for now. We'll do this again sometime with more categories.
French For The Day: related to my story about the "gendarmes" from a recent blog post, instead of using the derogatory term "pigs" to describe cops, they instead using the term "poulet" (chicken). So apparantly, when encountering members of the law enforcement profession, rather than slyly asking the question, "Do you smell bacon?", French people will instead make clucking noises to express their disdain for the police. I feel that you people need to know these things.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Wrapping Up Rennes

A few last pictures to share from the Fulbright retreat at Rennes last week. On the immediate right is a scene from the printing press at Ouest France, the country's largest newspaper, which is based just outside of Rennes in a town called Chantpie. We were given a tour of the facility which included the impressive whirring and buzzing of the printing press, a machine which pumps out newspapers at a speed of roughly 18 gazillion pages per second. I tried taking a picture of it but it moves so fast the newspaper pages are just a blur.

I also found out that unlike American newspapers, French newspapers never endorse a particular candidate for a presidential election. The sole exception was during the last set of presidential elections, when it came down to two candidates: the incumbent Jacques Chirac and the noted fascist and xenophobe, Jean-Marie LePen. He's kind of like the French version of Jesse Helms or Strom Thurmond if you will: a really old guy (LePen is 78) with extreme right-wing views. Anyways, the newspaper endorsed Chirac, and fortunately, he won, though most French seem to be pretty embarrassed that LePen made it so far in the first place.

Believe it or not, up until last weekend I had never learned the rules of poker. Here's a pic of me learning the tricks of the trade from Texas Hold 'Em experts Andrew Levine and Lauren Oliver.

French for the Day: the word for "Diet Coke" in French is "Coca-Lite."

The word for "diet" is "au regime"(e.g. Je suis au regime = I'm on a diet.)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Les Flics

French Vocabulary Word for the day: "gendarme", the French word for policeman.

I spent some quality time with 3 gendarmes last night at around 4 in the friggin' morning while returning from a Super Bowl party. The guy who was giving me a ride home at the end of the Colts' victory in Super Bowl XLI was pulled over by les flics (slang for "cops") just outside of the Bastille. Unlike in the 'States, apparently the police here don't actually have to have a reason for stopping you. (They later explained that they stopped us because of some irregularities in the license plate of the car, but I have a feeling that it was more because it was a rather suspicious-looking jalopy cruising around at 4 in the morning). Anyways, after being searched for drugs and weapons and the like, we were allowed to carry on our merry way without any repercussions. As a result, by the time I made it my apartment it was past 5am, and after showing up to work with only 2 hours' sleep, I was having flashbacks to my sleep-deprived residency years...

But: despite our little adventure with The Law and my overall state of exhaustedness, it was worth it. I will always remember The Year I Watched The Super Bowl In France (it was great hearing the French commentators saying stuff like "Quel breakaway!" and "Il s'en va!" during the game), and from my point of view the game had a happy ending with the Colts bringing home the goods. Congrats, Indianapolis.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Go Colts!

Can't wait to see the Super Bowl tonight. Kickoff's at midnight, French time! Oh yeah. Better hope it's an exciting game, to keep me awake.

For the record, I'm rooting for the Indianapolis Colts to win, based on (1) my loose affiliation with the city based on my parents' living there for the past several years, and (2) I think it would be a better story for football that the Colts win given that they have been one of the league's more impressive teams in recent years whereas the Bears kind of came out of nowhere and don't have a lot of recognizable names. One thing is for sure, though: if the Colts win, Peyton Manning's mug will be plastered on an astounding variety of advertisements, probably ranging from hemorrhoid cream to breakfast cereals to tartar sauce to you-name-it. You think he's popular now?

French vocab for the day: the word for ear plugs in French: les Boules Quiès. It's another example of a specific brand name whose mark has become synonymous with the object it sells. Kind of like Americans with the word "Kleenex" (everybody calls it Kleenex, even if it's not necessary made by the brand Kleenex) and the French words "le klaxon" (for car horn) and "le scotch" (for scotch tape).

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Crêpe Day

Apparently Friday was something called "La Chandeleur", a holiday which is celebrated by eating crêpes. Nobody seems to know all that much about it other than the fact that it is a crêpe-centered holiday even though I've asked around quite a bit. I guess there are worse ideas for holidays out there. I just gobbled down a bunch of Nutella crêpes for my dinner a few minutes ago, in fact, to celebrate.

I know that nobody who might be reading this blog particularly cares to hear me whine about how busy I am, but I'll whine about it anyways. Monday morning I have a meeting with the boss, Monday night is the written portion of my end-of-the-year French test, Tuesday morning is my turn for lab meeting (which I just found out about recently), and Wednesday evening is the oral portion of my French test. To top it all off, I'm resolved to watch The Super Bowl (I'm going to watch it with some other Americans in Paris), which due to the time difference start at midnight.

Oh well. At least I wasn't arrested for head-butting people while wearing a Chewbacca costume like some people.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Do you use an "M" when you sneeze?

The topic today: French sound effects!!

What sound do you make when you sneeze? If you're American, it's "Achoo!" However, in France, you have to add an "m" at the end: "Atchoum!" Do French people and American people really sneeze differently? I would've said no, but I swear I heard one of the women in our lab add a distinctive "m" at the end of her sneeze today. I'm not kidding. I was stunned.

In addition, while I was working in the tissue culture room today somebody asked me, "Est-ce que tue connais où est la pchit-pchit?" (translation: do you know where the pchit-pchit is?) I had to ask Frank to repeat what he was saying like four times before I finally got it. The "pchit-pchit" is a spray bottle (we use it to spray on things to make it sterile in the lab)--named for the sound it makes when it sprays. Frank used the word "onomatopée" (virtually the same as the English "onomatopoeia") to get his point across.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Je blague

Huh....no blog comments even for peirced ear, huh? What do I have to do? Get the "Prison Break" tattoo of the entire Fox River Penitentiary blueprints on my torso?

But of course, in addition to being a blogger, I'm also a "blagueur" (a joker, from the verb "blaguer = to joke"). Not surprisingly for those of you who know me well, the chances of my ear getting pierced voluntarily are slim to none, and the earring was, of course, a fake. They were magnetic fake diamond earrings brought by one of the other grantees who shared them with many others (including myself) throughout the course of our Rennes retreat. So don't worry, Mom and Dad: I didn't pierce my ears.
Today is a monumental day in the history of France: the day the smoking ban goes into effect. As of Feb. 1st, 2007 smoking in all public places is now interdict (banned). If you read the fine print, however, you will realize that restaurants and bars are exempt from this policy for an additional one year. So really Feb. 1st, 2008 will be the big day, and with regards to this law being strictly enforced in every single smoky French brasserie, I'll believe it when I see it.

To leave you with a few more images from our Rennes trip: first, having beers with clarinetist Vic Chavez and second, another example of the typical Bretagne architecture.