Thursday, March 29, 2007

Walking In Memphis

Other Random Comments:

-In the lab, we often use purified water to perform various chemical reactions. Anyway, I keep mine in a tube labeled "high quality H2O", an homage to the stupid-yet-watchable Adam Sandler movie "The Water Boy." I'm 99.9% sure that my little reference is not appreciated by my French labmates.

-we are now in the time of year the French call "les giboulets de mars"--referring to the fact it rains a lot during the month of March.

-the French way to say "whats-his-name" is "machin" (or "machine" for a woman). Also, in the show "The Addams Family", the French name for the character of Cousin Itt (the dude with all the hair) is "Cousin Machin".

-AND most exciting of all, I'm a-goin' to Memphis, Tennessee this weekend to witness my friends Dave and Lisa get hitched. A bunch of my Philly doctor friends are going to be there, and with any luck I'll be posting photos of us drunk and doing silly things.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Really Bad French Rap

I can't really explain why, but I've always thought that French rap was kind of ridiculous. Okay, there's definitely some ridiculous aspects of American rap, too, but there's something about rapping in the dignified and sophisticated French language that to me seems a little silly. A very good example of this can be found in the latest rap single from French basketball player-turned rapper Tony Parker, "Balance-Toi." Check out the You Tube clip (it was also recently featured on Bill Simmons "The Sports Guy"'s blog as something which would inevitably score high on his brilliant "Unintentional Comedy scale" as well as the full lyrics in French.

In fact, for today's French lesson, let's dissect the beginning lyrics from the song "Balance-Toi", which can be translated as "Swing Yourself" (as in dancing, I think). Translation provided myself and my wife, who I should point out has no idea what several of the slang phrases in the song actually mean. First, in French; what follows in parentheses is my English translation and any additional comments.

Tout doux, j’ai mon style (All soft I have my style.)
Le rap perce dans les chars (The rap pierces tanks.)
Ca va faire mal (This is going to hurt.)
Et j’avalle mon pure style (?And I swallow my pure style—not sure what this means.)
Le public me réclame (The public asks for me)
Et j’assume grave (and I assume seriously)
Lady…lady….lady…lady…Tony P! (apparently his rap name is either “Tony P” or “TP9” (9 referring to his basketball jersey number for the San Antonio Spurs) which I think is really ridiculous because for me the phrase “TP” conjures up images of toilet paper, as in “We seriously T.P.’ed our math teacher’s house last night!”)
Balance, balance, balance, balance-toi….etc etc
Est-ce que tue pense que t’es prête Baby (do you think that you are ready, baby ?)
Ça fait boum boum dans le club Baby (it goes « boom boom » in the club baby)
Oh oui bouge sur la 'zic lady (oh yeah, move to the music baby)
Tony P cool et smoove (I find it funny that the French are borrowing the word “smoove” for their rap songs) etc etc

Other notable lyrics include:
« laisse glisser quand c’est open bar » (let it slide when it’s open bar)
« Efface-toi de la piste si t’es pas prêt a faire bouger tes épaules » (Get out of the way if you’re not ready to move your shoulders)
And also of note, he refers to himself as “le nouveau Snoop-Dogg” (the new Snoop-Dogg) and “Texas Boy” (a reference to his playing for the San Antonio Spurs, I guess).

Pretty silly? I’m sure that if you were to perform a similar exercise with most American rap lyrics you’d get something just as inane. It’s too bad because I actually really like Tony Parker the basketball player. Maybe he should stick to that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blogger's Block

I know I haven't posted anything in a few days, but quite frankly there's not a lot to write about. Extracting DNA from bacteria in the lab? Not very exciting. Hopefully I'll find something inspiring soon and recover from my Blogger's Block. A few random thoughts and observations...

We are rapidly approaching the "premier tour" (1st round) of the French election, scheduled to to take place on April 22nd. There will be 12 names on the ballot--unlike the U.S., you can't do a "write-in" vote. Aside from the major candidates, there are a slew of candidates representing smaller parties, my favorite of which is the CPNT. CPNT stands for "Chasse, Pêche, Nature, et Traditions", which means "Hunting, Fishing, Nature, and Tradition." Kind of like the manly man's political party.

My new French class is pretty cool. Very international: there is only one other American other than myself, and just off the top of my head I can think of representatives present from Italy, Spain, Peru, Argentina, Japan, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Wales, and Poland.

As of right now, I'm leading my family's Final Four pool, having correctly predicted Ohio State and Florida in the Final Four. However, I'm pretty sure that if Georgetown wins the whole shebang, my wife (who knows about as much about basketball as I know about, say, manicures) will beat me.

One good thing about living in Paris this year is that I don't have to hear very much about this Anna Nicole Smith business.

French vocab for the Day: The phrase for "writer's block" is "le syndrome de la page blanche" (syndrome of the white page), also referred to as the more directly translatable "blocage de l'écrivain."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bring Out the Gimp

In preparation for Quentin Tarantino's next opus, Grindhouse, I've been watching some of his other films--in French, of course. Pulp Fiction played on TV here, and we also rented Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (one of my favorites).

Some interesting vocabulary picked up along the way: the word used to describe "the gimp" is "La Crampe." I wonder if I'll ever have a chance to use that word in conversation? Hopefully not.

Also, the phrase "Does (Marcellus Wallace) look like a bitch?" is translated as, "Est-ce qu'il a l'air d'être une fiotte ?"
That's it for today.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sporting (French) Wood

Much like Jerry Lee Lewis, Woody Allen is well-loved in France. In other words, the French have got a major woody for Woody. In fact, this article says that Woody has recently appeared in a French tourism board video during which he urges Americans to set aside their differences with their French compatriots and "fall in love with France again."

In following with our theme of Frenchified American movie names, Woody has some real gems which are shown here. "Take the Money and Run" (one of my personal favorites; a real "old school" Woody Allen movie with a lot of short, literary gags) becomes "Prends l'oseille et tire-toi"--a translation which is pretty literal but uses the word "l'oseille" which is an older slang word for money that I had never heard before. Also, the movie "Mighty Aphrodite" is interestingly transformed to "Maudite Aphrodite" in order to preserve the rhyme, though it means something entirely different ("maudite" = "cursed"). "Small Time Crooks" becomes "Escrocs Mais Pas Trop" (literal translation: "Crooks But Not Too Much". And my personal favorite, the movie "Sleeper" (a comedy about a man who is revived from cryogenic freezing to wake up in the future) is altered to "Woody Et Les Robots" ("Woody and the Robots"), which in my opinion is a better title than the American version...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Frenchified American Movies

American movie posters translated into French can be a good place to pick up random vocabulary words, especially if you already know what the meaning is in English. It's often amusing to see what the translations are--sometimes they are translated word-for-word (e.g., La Dernière Roi de l'Ecosse = The Last King of Scotland--a movie which I would highly recommend, by the way), sometimes they don't bother changing the name into French (e.g., The Godfather remains The Godfather), and sometimes they are completely different (e.g., The Bourne Identity is "La Memoire dans le Peau", which means, "The Memory in the Skin."

A few other amusing examples of the latter: Saving Private Ryan becomes "Il Faut Sauver le Soldat Ryan" (literally: "It's Necessary to Save the Soldier Ryan"), Ferris Bueller's Day Off becomes "La Folle Journée de Ferris Bueller" (literally: "The Crazy Day of Ferris Bueller"), and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants becomes "Quatre Filles et un Jean" (literally: "Four Girls and One Pair of Jeans.")

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Rain in Spain

Just as I am taking French lessons through the City Hall of Paris, my wife Claire is taking English lessons! Her English is already pretty darn good as it is--in fact, she reads about 25 times more (in English) than I do--but she never bothered to learn all the hard-core grammar and therefore will occasionally make minor errors while speaking or writing. Anyways, her English class tonight went to a British play, and I tagged along, thinking it might be novel to view some entertainment in good old English.

We saw the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion at the Theater de Menilmontant. It is the story of a phonetics/linguistics expert named Henry Higgings who takes on as his project a poor flower girl named Eliza Doolittle in an attempt to convert her into a high society lady by teaching her how to talk without her low-brow Cockney accent. Accents are interesting to people learning a foreign language--they are notoriously difficult to detect. Even for my wife Claire, who is definitely fluent, has trouble distinguishing a British from an American accent at times. I am told that there are (not surprisingly) a wide variety of French accents--perhaps most notably a southern accent which involves, as best as I can tell, pronouncing the "e's" at the ends of words which are not normally pronounced--but my lack of training prevents me from recognizing them.
French for the Day: the word for "love at first sight" in French is "le coup de foudre"--literally, "the bolt of lightning." Nice imagery.

Monday, March 19, 2007

French Election Update

Only about 50 days until the 1st round of the French elections! Things are heating up; there's been some interesting developments in the past months. The two leaders, which up until now have been relatively clear cut--Segolene Royal of the Socialist (left) party and Nicolas Sarkozy of the UMP (right) party--are facing some challenges. The most impressive of these is François Bayrou, representing the UDF--a party which is somewhere in between the main left and right candidates above and seems to be capitalizing on the fact that many French are not finding exactly what they are looking for in either the mainstream right or mainstream left. A recent poll which has been the talk of the town shows Sarkozy at 27%, Royal at 25.5%, and Bayrou close behind at 23%. Then of course there's the ultra-right Jean-Marie Le Pen with 12% (a little scary).
The way that it works in France is that you need to have a majority (>50%) of the vote to be elected president. Obviously, with so many candidates, this is nearly impossible to achieve on the first go. So the goal of the 1st election is essentially to see who are the top two candidates--then, two weeks later, there is a run-off election between these top 2. It's so close right now that any of the combinations seems plausible. In 2002, France was shocked when the top were Chirac (from the right) and LePen (from the extreme right)--with the candidate from the left not even making it to the final round. If Segolene doesn't even make it into the final round as well, it would seem to be a major blow to the Socialist Party.
French for the Day: a quirky phrase for "to stand somebody up" (e.g., to not show up or to be egregiously late for a pre-ordained meeting) is "poser le lapin à quelqu'un"--literally: "to give somebody the rabbit."

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Obviously, during the course of my everyday life here in Paris, I cannot help but compare all the little differences between here and the U.S. From a global perspective, life is probably not all that different between the two countries--the difference between Botswana and the U.S. is far more evident than the different between France and the U.S., for instance. But nevertheless there are differences above and beyond the simple fact of language. And although many of these differences contribute to the subtle charm of the French way of life, some of them are, quite frankly, annoying.
Take, for instance, paper. The 8 1/2" x 11" printer paper that is the standard in the U.S. is replaced by the A4 (210 x 297 mm) size in France (and, in fact, all of Europe). It's not simply a matter of metric conversion, either: the A4 paper is noticeably longer than our paper. Furthermore, instead of using a "3-hole punch" to store their paper in folders--they use a "2-hole punch" (or sometimes they double it up to make it four holes in the margin of the paper). I was really annoyed when I realized I had to buy a new hole puncher upon moving here just to store my papers in folders. Realize that I'm not passing judgement on the superiority of American or European paper--I'm just annoyed that they are different! Couldn't the world just decide to adopt one system or the other?! Is there anybody that benefits from this inane compatibility?!

Other incompatibilities that are also annoyingly different between the two cultures: electrical current (I've already lost one major technologic appliance--my computer--when I forgot and plugged the computer directly into the wall instead of into the power converter), DVDs (French DVDs don't work on American DVD players and vice versa--totally annoying), and the convention of date format (e.g., my birthday is 12-08-73 at home but 08-12-73 in Europe...there is no good reason for this and it confuses the hell out of me sometimes). I could also think about putting the metric system into this list, but the fact that America is obviously in the wrong for not adopting this clearly superior system makes it a little different from the rest, which in my opinion are instances of differences just to be different.

French for the Day: the phrase "draguer les femmes" means "to hit on women."

Link of the Day: Check out this awesome preview for The Grindhouse--a double feature of the film "Planet Terror" and Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof." I can't wait.

Friday, March 16, 2007


An interesting variant of the French language is something called "verlan"--a type of slang which has been growing popular in recent years, especially in the banlieu (a.k.a. the suburbs), which is where all the riots and car burnings have taken place in France in recent years and is also considered the seat of urban hip-hop and rap culture in Paris. Words in verlan are derived from taking their inverse--an in fact, this is where the word "verlan" comes from (à l'invers = inverted). You take the last syllable of the word, stick it at the beginning of the word, and voila, you have your new word in verlan. Other popular examples:

"le genar" = "l'argent" (the word for money)
"meuf" = "femme" (the word for woman)
"Ça cheumar" = "Ça marche" (the phrase for "that works.")
"la turvoi" = "la voiture" (the word for car)

You get the idea. Here are a bunch of other words in verlan. I liken it a little bit to the U.S. gangsta rap practice of adding the "-izz" sound to words--as in, "fo' shizzle", or, "in the hizzouse" á la Snoop Dogg--to create a kind of coded English language. Or perhaps you could describe it as the "French pig Latin", but cooler. Anyways, as I'm having a hard enough time learning regular French as it is, I'm not planning on incorporating verlan into my everyday lexicon, at least not for the time being...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Born in the USA

Since I don't have anything exciting to talk about, and because I just sat through four very unfulfilling hours of a scientific meeting conducted in French with me following about 60% of the conversation and feeling once again forlorn that I am never going to be French-fluent, our topic of the day shall be:

Random List of American Things I Miss:

-being able to order a mouth-watering, juicy, thick hamburger at an endless variety of cool pubs.
-Eggo waffles.
-the endless variety of breakfast cereals (especially my man the Cap'n, who is nowhere to be found in this country).
-watching hoops on TV. What I would give right now to watch some March Madness with some ice-cold brews and some friends!
-my barbecue grill (okay, so obviously barbecuing isn't outlawed in's just that it's much less common, and more importantly our apartment doesn't have a porch or deck to make such an activity feasible).
-NBC's "The Office" (although I do download the latest episodes via computer).
-Popeye's Fried Chicken. Love that Chicken!
-automatically having ice in your water glass at restaurants (in France the default is "sans glace").
-not being 6 hours ahead of all my friends in the US, thus rendering nearly impossible phone conversations at reasonable hours.
-good Mexican food.

and the #1 thing I miss most about America is....(drum roll, please!):
-being able to communicate with people efficiently and without feeling like a feeble-minded half-wit!!!
Obviously, there's a ton of things that I will miss about France when I go back...but for today I'm in a negative mood so we'll just leave these picks as-is. At least I'm not as negative about France as the morons at this web site (
French for the Day: The phrase for "I suck" is "Je suis nul."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tribute To Captain America

Captain America has met his demise. As many of you may heard, Marvel comics icon Steve Rogers aka Captain America was gunned down by a sniper in issue #25 of Captain America Vol. 5 last week. He will be missed.

I've had a special connection with Captain America (probably my second most-beloved Captain after Cap'n Crunch) since my youth, when I proudly displayed my Captain America underoos for all to see. Also, I managed to meet the real Captain America at the FAO Schwartz Toy Store in New York City back in '93. Look how happy we both were! Indeed, these were happier times.

At least our Metro station, Mouton Duvernet, was reopened today. Hell, yeah.

French for the Day: the word for "a head of lettuce" is "un pied de salade"...which is counterintuitive because the word "pied" means "foot," not "head." Doesn't it look more like a head than a foot? This is definitely a case where the English word is a better one than the French alternative.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

R2D2 Makes the World a Better Place

At last, a stirring piece of evidence that the world is indeed better off now than it was 50 years the form of R2D2 mailboxes!! I am not making this up. The U.S. Postal Service, inner dorks that they are, have come up with this droid-based design for mailboxes. This is so friggin' cool!! I love this idea!! I'm seriously thinking about choosing my apartment in Boston next year based on its proximity to an R2D2-shaped mailbox.

French for the Day: the catch-phrase of the French Bugs Bunny is "Quoi de neuf, docteur?" (What's up, doc?)

Monday, March 12, 2007


Finishing off the Prague photos that didn't really fit with anything else. On our immediate left is a really cool statue of a huge bird flanking the Italian Embassy. Shades of Big Bird from Sesame Street.

Next: At one of the major city parks overlooking the city, there used to be a giant statue of Stalin. It was taken down shortly after Czech independence was obtained and now in its place is a gigantic metronome. Interesting choice, but a little random. Why not build a gigantic pickle or a humongous fork? And what the hell happened to all the old monolithic statues of Communist leaders? You could probably come up with a half-decent museum just by displaying all the artwork of ancient Communist leaders, if they haven't already been melted down into scrap metal.

Sunset over Prague Castle from the edge of town, our first night while taking a walk.

Hare Krishnas parade down the streets of Prague.
Statue of Jan Hus, a religious man whose views on Church reform led to his being burnt at the stake in 1411. The statue of Jan Hus is one of the centerpieces of the Prague Old Town Square.
French for the Day: the word for "bird shit" is "la fiente."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Marionettes de Prague

Still a few more Prague photos left to display. One of the things Prague is most known for are its marionettes. We actually went to see a puppet show while there, a production of Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni." At one point I reflected on the international flavor of the event: I (an American) watching an opera composed by an Austrian (Mozart) in Italian (its original language) with a French woman (my wife) in the captial of Czechoslovakia (Prague). Throw in all the Japanese tourists in attendance and you could even make the case that three continents were involved. Probably a very touristy thing to do, but also a lot of fun. Also shown are the many shops selling marionettes at the market. I brought back a sweet three-headed dragon for my nephew Henry as well as a jester and an old lady puppet for our neices.

French for the Day: The Walt Disney character of "Scrooge McDuck" is named "Picsou" in French. It comes from the verb "piquer" (to steal or to nab) and "sou" (the name of a small coin--like a penny--which is no longer in use today). The French Picsou also has three nephews...but instead of being called "Hewey, Duey, and Louie", they are called "Riri, Fifi, and Loulou."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Happy Journée de la Femme

It's March 8th, and we all know what that means. That's right, it's International Women's Day (en français: Journée de la Femme)!! Despite the fact that I have known about this "holiday" (I use this term loosely) for all of 18 hours (we talked about it in our French class this morning), apparently its origins are in the United States. What's the deal--has everybody else (in the 'States, I mean) heard about this thing and I've somehow avoided learning about it? Or is it just universally ignored in the U.S.? Also, apparently in Italy there is a tradition of handing out yellow mimosas (a type of flower) to all individuals with two X chromosomes. I wonder what their tradition is for International Men's Day? Oh, that's right, I forgot...there isn't one!
Back to the Prague photo trail: on Sunday we strolled through the old Jewish neighborhood. At one point Prague comprised the Jewish center of Eastern Europe and has a rich history of learned rabbis and cultural tradition. Of course, between the years of 1940 to 1945 the Jewish population of Czechoslovakia went from roughly 100,000 to a few thousand thanks to Adolf Hitler. It is perhaps morbidly ironic that Hitler was responsible for the preservation of the Prague Jewish quarter: he had intended for the history to stand as a "museum" for the extinct race of the Jews, and thus he had ensured the preservation of their synagogues, cemeteries, etc while other similar Jewish sections in neighboring villages were wiped out or blended in with the rest of the city.

The following pictures come from the Jewish cemetery. Apparently the Jews were not allowed to expand the space they were given to bury their dead, and therefore they just kept on piling layers of bodies one on top of the other. As a result, the grounds are an interesting, jumbled mix of headstones going every which way. Check out the last picture where you can see moss growing in the shape of Hebrew letters on one of the gravestones!

French Word for the Day: "aigre" is the word for "sour." The word for "vin" means "wine." Put 'em both together and you have "vin + aigre"...and voila, the origin of the word "vinegar"!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Eiffel Tower Lite

Lying atop Petrin Hill overlooking the city of Prague is a replica of the Eiffel Tower...which is one-fifth the size of the real thing! Strange but true. Kind of funny that we traveled from Paris (the site of the real deal) to Prague to see the replica, but there you have it. It was built in 1893.

French Word for the Day: un queue de pie, which is (kind of) the word for tuxedo. Interestingly, the French are not really that into tuxes--the queue de pie is specifically a long-tailed tuxedo which, as in the United States, is often associated with classical music performances. For weddings, most French men simply wear a nice two- or three-peice suit. The word for the day is topical, as I just had to shell out some dough to rent a tux for my buddy Dave's "black tie only" wedding coming up in Memphis at the end of March. I think all of you out there can probably guess what my stance is on "black tie only" weddings, seeing as how I didn't even wear a tux at my own wedding...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mmmmm, goulash

When the main food attractions for your country are goulash, big fat sausages, and something called pork knuckle, this may be an indication that your national cuisine is not considered very high-brow. Perhaps I've been spoiled with all the delectable French foods I've experienced this year, but overall we weren't incredibly impressed with the Czech eats we experienced.

What the country may lack in eats, however, is more than made up for with BEER. High-quality beer, and very often cheap. I kid you not, it was actually cheaper than bottled water in some restaurants. You gotta love a country where the beer is cheaper than water.

Today's French word of the Day comes to us courtesy of a conversation I overheard today in the lab during which one of the women was describing (I think) the remodeling of her house by some construction workers. The word she used was "chernobiliser", as in "La salle était complètement chernobilisé" ("The room was completely destroyed," or "The room was completely chernobilized.") Referring, of course, to the Chernobyl nuclear accident back in the 80s. I just thought it was amusing to hear Chernobyl turned into a verb.

Link for the Day: This movie about killer sheep looks like one of those which is so bad, it just might be good.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

Some of my favorite pics taken on my trip to Prague were in front of "the Lennon Wall." As in John Lennon of the Beatles, rather than the Vladamir Illich variety of Lenins which has also left its mark on this part of the world. The Lennon Wall is a short stretch of ordinary concrete wall which during the 80s became a place where Czech youths would write "peace and love"-themed graffiti, often with direct quotes from John Lennon. Not surprisingly, this pissed the Communists off to no end, and they repeatedly painted over the graffiti, only to find that the next day it was filled up with even more.

With the fall of Communism, the Lennon Wall has been allowed to grow, and is covered with overlapping layers of John Lennon quotes and portraits. I liked the way the photos turned out because they're so colorful. Here are a few of them:
In French news, I began a new chapter in my quest for learning the French language. For the second semester I have decided to enroll in an "intensive " French class, which meets a total of 8 hours a week (Mon, Tues, Thurs, and Fri 8am-10am). French for the Day: the word for "wheelchair" is "un fatueil roulant"--literally translanted as a "rolling armchair".

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Eastern Bloc

As I am only living in Paris for one year--or at least that's the current plan, ask me again in a few years--we are trying to take advantage of our European proximity and visit other amazing cities. I never did the "backpack around Europe" thing after college, so now's the chance. The latest stop on our European Vacation was Prague, Czechoslovakia.

What an amazing city! The highlight of Prague is undoubtedly the city itself, which is like walking through a museum. A little touristy in some areas, no doubt, but Claire and I still managed to find walks through some public parks which were away from the hordes.

The photos I took on this trip will serve as useful blog fodder over the days to come. We'll begin with some shots of the Prague Orloj, a huge astronomical clock which is mounted on the Old Town City Hall in a central square. Every hour on the hour the two blue windows at the top open up and little mechanical figurines parade through the window, while the skeletal figure (representing Death) rings the hour with his hand-held bell.

And don't think that just because we'll be talking Czech over the next few days that we'll be neglecting our daily French lessons! Pas de tout! French for the Day: a great expression to describe when your in a mess is "dans la merde." Literally, it means, "in the shit," and is probably most akin to the English phrase "up shit creek," which I think you'll admit has some charm of its own...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Out of Office Reply

Claire and I are going to Prague for a long weekend! As always, I will be certain to take shitloads of photographs and post the most blogworthy in the days following. We bought the tickets on SkyEurope (one of these super budget airlines) for a song back in the fall.

This will be a short post, as I am still recovering from having to do journal club today, which involved me having to read much more about nematode worms than I would have ever thought possible. Good times...

French for the Day: The French have a much nicer word for a "mole" than we's called "un grain de beauté" (a seed of beauty would be the literal translation.) I guess we do have the term "beauty mark" to refer specifically to an attractive mole found on the face, a la Cindy Crawford--in France this is also called "une mouche" (a fly).

Back on Sunday...