Friday, June 29, 2007

Bienvenue à Sophie!

C'est une fille! I really had a feeling it was going to be a girl! Her name is Sophie Anne Hellman and she is super-mignonne. Sophie was born at 4:15pm on June 28th, 2007 at Clinique Jean d'Arc at a weight of 3.6 kg and height of 51 cm. Both mom and baby are healthy and happy. Thanks for all the support that we've received over the past several months.

As per the rules of the contest, it looks like the winner of the contest is.....BOTH countries! We're all winners! Quite honestly, it was the result I was secretly hoping for, as it gets me off the hook for having to choose a winner. We'll do a recap later, as I may be taking some time off from the blog over the next few days. Take care!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Nobels Per Capita

Today's Topic: the Nobel Prize. Which country has the most? To make it more difficult for the Americans, we'll even say that it has to be the most per capita. According to this web site (and if it's on the Internet, it must be true, right?) the U.S. has achieved a total of 242 Nobel Prizes, from the combined categories of Medicine, Economics, Literature, Physics and Chemistry (for whatever reason, the Peace prize is not included in this analysis), and France has a total of 42. Dividing by population figures, this gives a Nobel Prize per capita of 1 every 1,127,000 people in the U.S. and 1 every 1,404,000 people in France. We're knotted up at 17-17, with no baby in sight.

Minimum Wage! He-ya!

Another "by the numbers" theme for our Franco-American contest: Which country has the better minimum wage? My source is wikipedia (via the 2006 U.S. Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices), which says that FRANCE ($16,668 international dollars annually) is higher than the U.S. (currently at a deplorable $10,712 international dollars annually). Granted, this figure is the federal minimum (there are higher minimums in different states), and also a bill was recently passed which will increase the federal minimum wage up to $7.25/hour. However, even with this new bill I calculated that the U.S. minimum wage would still be only about $15,500 annually, less than the French, so I give them the point. They're up 17-16.

Had my last day of French lass today! In fact, it was our exam this morning. I'm crossing my fingers: it was a tough one, and it's going to be a close one as to whether or not I passed... Here's a picture of my class, which was actually a lot of fun.

French for the Day: the expression for "there's someone for everyone" is, "à chacun sa chacune".

Monday, June 25, 2007

À Table!

More interesting gravesites at Cemetière Montparnasse: a pair of hands, the tombstone of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (buried together because of their shared history), two lions, and a cool ivy-strewn grave which reads, "Marie Dorval: Morte de Chagrin" (transl: "Died of Sorrow"). Now that's a quality epitaph. After a few minutes of wikipedia'ing, I just found out that Marie Dorval was a 19th century French actress who at one time was rumored to have had a lesbian affair with famous French writer George Sand (the masculine pen-name for a female author). Ain't the Internet great?

Topic of the Day: Meal Times. The French tend to minimize the importance of breakfast (which is not cool in my book) but they they atone for this by their much later dinner hour: usually around 8 or 9pm, rather than the traditional 5-6pm dinner hour in the U.S. It's never made sense to me that we eat so early in the 'States: if I eat that early, I'm hungry before I go to bed and tempted to have a bedtime snack. I've now fully converted to French mealtimes and plan to continue my late dinnertimes even when I return to friendly U.S. soil. The score: a tie, 16-16.
French for the Day: the French word for "thesis defense" is "la soutenance de thèse". I went to one today for one of the graduate students in the lab. It's pretty similar to ones I've been to in the U.S.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Few Interesting Tombstones

Today's photos are courtesy of the deceased in Cemetière Montparnasse. There's some interesting stuff in there, some of it would fall into the category of "modern art" more readily than "tombstones". For example, why is there a pelican on one person's grave? Why is there a giant oyster shell on another's? More photos to follow.
Today's Topic of Franco-American Warfare for the Day: ice or no ice? At restaurants in the U.S., the default when you ask for a glass of water is to have ice cubes. In France, the default is no ice. Obviously, my (still-pregnant, for anybody wondering) wife would argue from the sans ice perspective. As for me, I'm pro-ice, and once again, since this is MY blog and MY contest, mine is the only opinion that counts. Besides, it's relatively simple for a French person to ask to "hold the ice" for water, but I get the impression that in France most restaurants don't keep random ice cubes just lying around. So the Americans take the lead, 16-15.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Despite the fact that it's only a few minutes' walk from our apartment and I pass by it every day on the way to work, until yesterday I had never paid the Cemetiere de Montparnasse a formal visit. The cemetery is, according to most, probably the 2nd most-famous Parisian cemetery behind Pere Lachaise, and houses such dead notables as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Baudelaire, and Alfred Dreyfus just to name a few. The most-visited grave in the cemetery, however, is undoubtedly that of Serge Gainsbourg, the controversial French singer/songwriter, who died in 1991. It is apparently a tradition to leave on the grave a used metro ticket--a reference to his song "le Poinçonneur des Lilas" about somebody with the mind-numbing job of punching metro tickets in the days before they developed machines that are able to do it at the turnstiles. I left my special "Fête de la Musique 2007" Metro ticket used the night before for Serge, right next to a small coffee cup which reads "I Love Charlotte" (Charlotte is his daughter, today a famous actress/singer).

Franco-American Topic of the Day: I'm subtracting a point today from the French for having developed the ridiculous tradition (common in other languages, I know, but not English fortunately) of having masculine and feminine nouns and adjectives in their language. Why do we need to assign a gender to, say, a table? (By the way, a table is feminine--"la table".) And why do some words make no sense with regards to their chosen gender (the word for beard is "la barbe")? I've also gotten into the habit of referring to our unborn child as a "him" in French, because the word for baby ("le bébé) is masculine, even though I have a strong inclination that it's going to be a girl (hopefully we'll see if I'm right in the next few days). And finally, the masculine/feminine convention results in a very high number of red marks decorating my writing assignments for my French class. As a result, the French and the Americans move back into a tie, 15-15.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Fête de la Musique

As you probably know, yesterday was June 21st--the first day of summer. In France, it's also the newly-created (well, at least since 1981) Fête de la Musique. The Fête de la Musique is like a city-wide music festival. There are large, organized concerts in several main locations, but in addition (and thing I find so charming about the tradition) there are random people that just go out on a street corner and play their instrument for others to enjoy. Garage bands, Rolling Stones cover bands, harpists, Japanese taiko drummers, American-style blues bands, marching bands, chamber music--I saw examples of each of these yesterday evening. Claire and I walked around our neighborhood (the Denfert Lion, shown above, was momentarily confused at the large stage which was constructed around him, but continued to survey his neighborhood faithfully) as well as the Jardin de Luxembourg and Quartier Latin until around midnight or so, and it was still extremely lively when we left.

French Topic of the Day: Health Care. According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) most recent rankings of national health care systems, France opens a can of whup-ass on the United States. In fact, France is rated number 1 whereas the U.S. is rated a shameful number 37, being rated LOWER in fact than countries such as Colombia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Costa Rica. Okay, not everything is peachy in the French health care system according to several doctors I've met here--but I nonetheless get the impression that the level of crisis here is not of the magnitude that it is in the 'States. France is up 16-15!

French for the Day: "due date" in French is "date d'accouchement", though I've also heard several people refer to it as "le jour J" (the French translation of "D-Day", which is kind of humorous that delivering a baby is equated to the storming of the beach at Normandy.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

On the Market

It's official. French's hottest Socialist Party political power is on the market! Ooh-la-la! Actually, Ségolène Royal was never officially married to Socialist Party chief François Hollande, despite the fact that they had four children together. But the day after the election for the Assemblée Nationale she made the official announcement that she and François were no longer living together. Interestingly, she also stated that that's all she cares to say about the matter, since it's her private life. Quite frankly, she's correct, and in general the French media is much less aggressive about snooping around for details regarding a politician's love life than in America.

Contest Topic of the Day: Nakedness on Major Network Television. Outside of Janet Jackson SuperBowl halftime shows, there's virtually no chance of seeing nakedness on T.V. And, to be quite honest, the most famous "wardrobe malfunction" in history was far more disturbing than arousing. I don't want to give the impression that French television is like watching soft porn, but every once in awhile while channel-flipping I'll see some nakedness on, say, a shampoo commercial, or a news report on a beach where women occasionally go topless. The French win the point and we're tied up 15-15.

French for the Day: a fire-breathing dragon in French is "un dragon qui crache le feu" (lit: "a dragon who spits fire"; cracher = to spit).

Pic of Day: Claire (still pregnant!) at the Concorde Metro Station.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Use Your Illusion

I've been struggling with exactly how to end this U.S. versus France contest. To be completely frank, I haven't really decided who I want to win. And to be honest, I like both countries, so it's going to be hard to choose. And calling it a tie would be kind of wuss-like. As a result, I've decided to enter an element of randomness to the contest that will take some of the decision-making power out of my hands. I've decided that the contest will officially end the day that Claire delivers. Whichever country is ahead at that point will be declared the winner. If it's a tie, so be it.
Today's Topic is the somewhat vague category of "convenience." If there's one thing that most Americans miss when they live in just about any foreign country, it's the convenience aspect of the U.S. Supermarkets open on Sundays. 24-hour restaurants. Going to the movies on a holiday. Paying bills and renewing driver's registration on-line. Not having the entire country basically shut down during the entire month of August, not like some countries I know. Obviously, our convenience comes at some price--see the entry on "evil, faceless corporations"--but for the consumer I have to admit that the convenience is nice. The U.S. takes the lead once more: it's 15-14.

French for the Day: The original title of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"--by France's own Jules Verne, in fact--is Vingt Milles Lieues Sous Les Mers".

Pics for the Day: optical illusions at the Palais des Découvertes. The two wheels shown below are the same--but the bottom one is being spun and thus creates the "bullseye" design.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Brigitte vrs Marilyn

Today's Topic: comparing the nation's sex symbols. Who wins between the U.S.'s Marilyn Monroe and France's Brigitte Bardot? I gotta go with Marilyn. She married Joe Dimaggio and is involved in a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory. With all due respect to Brigitte Bardot's undeniable former hotness, she is probably most famous nowadays for her support of far-right political candidate Jean-Marie LePen. The U.S. pulls even with France, 14-14.

Photo of the Day: the Algerian War Memorial, not far from the Eiffel Tower along the banks of the Seine. It consists simply of three vertical columns with a continuously strolling text in red, white, and blue which lists the veterans who lost their lives in the conflict, which in some ways could be considered their own version of Viet Nam.
French for the Day: Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in French is "Les armes de destruction massive" (ADM). The French love their acronyms possibly even more than we do.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Random Parisian Statues

Cool old statues: this city is full of 'em. A few pics of some random statues around Paris. First there is the statue of Général deGaulle, leader of the French Resistance movement and 1st President of France--this statue stands in the square just outside of the Grand Palais on the Rive Droite. Next is an interesting statue atop the Grand Palais which overlooks the Seine called "L’Harmonie triomphant de la Discorde"--it looks really cool at night, when an intense white light illuminates it from behind. And last on our sculpture of Paris tour of today is a plain old horse which is guarding the Eiffel Tower. For some reason there is the face of a man buried within the shield at the horse's feet.

In unrelated news, I was inspired after a dinner party to write my first ever wikipedia entry yesterday night. Hey, write what you know about, right?

As I mentioned before, I'm running low on ideas for my France-USA contest which will name at the end, leaving little doubt, the identity of the superior country. As a result, I've decided to give a point to the Americans for lending a helping hand to the French during WWII. The score: France 14, US 13.

French for the Day: the phrase "sans dec?" can be translated as, "no shit?", often used to express incredulity to a stated fact henceforth unknown.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


I'm giving the French a point in the standings because Tony Parker walked home with the 2007 NBA Finals MVP. Never thought I'd see the day when a Frenchie was given this prestigious award (there have been two other foreigners who have won the NBA Finals MVP--Tim Duncan of the US Virgin Islands, which doesn't totally count, and Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon of Nigeria, a crucial part of the All-Nate Team. As I've said before: it's my contest, and I'm allowed to make up random rules as I go along. Besides, I'm running out of topics and am considering wrapping up the content sometime in the next week or so. The US better get its ass in gear and start taking this contest seriously! France 14, US 12.

French for the Day: the French word for the game "tic-tac-toe" is "le jeu de morpions." I like the word for two reasons: first, it sounds like the English word "scorpions", and second, it's also the word for "pubic lice."

2 More Pics from last weekend: a cool Fernand Leger painting at the Palais des Découvertes as well as my very pregnant wife in front of a statue at Trocadero.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chouette! Les Animaux en Voie de Disparition!

There is a free exhibit just across the street from the Eiffel Tower showing a bunch of stunning nature photographs of "les animaux en voie de disparition": endangered species. I ripped off some photos shown here.
Franco-American Competitive Topic of the Day: today is strictly by the numbers--which country has the longer life expectancy? It's France: (80.59 years to 78 years life expectancy from birth, according to the 2007 World Fact Book that is displayed on wikipedia. France is up by 1, 13-12.
French Vocab for the Day: the word for an owl is "un hibou" or "une chouette", the latter of which is also used as an expression for "super!" or "great!"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Branly Revisited

The last time we tried to go the Musée de Quai Branly (during the Nuit des Musées) we were turned away due to the ridiculous lines. Refusing to take no for an answer, we tried again last Saturday with better results.

The architecture of this museum, which is relatively new and just down the block from the Eiffel Tower, is amazingly varied. The front façade overlooking the street is covered with hanging plants, perhaps my favorite aspect of the museum. Then there are a series of gardens which are fairly wild and covered with ferns and thick growth--in some ways, the exact opposite of the stereotyped, geometrical gardening style that the French are known for (à la the gardens at Versailles for instance). In the back there's a small marshy stream where some ducks and cat-tails are growing. Very strange to visit this small patch of wilderness smack-dab in the heart of Paris. Finally, the building itself is quite modern-looking and colorful. I am posting a shitload of pictures below.
Topic of the Day: keyboard configuration. The French and American versions are just different enough to be annoying. Of course, based on my training by Mr. Poe at Ordean Junior High School, I am more familiar with the American version, and hence you could argue that I am too biased to be able to objectively judge this subject. However, I've become well-enough acquainted with our French keyboards in the lab that I can now comfortably switch back and forth. The verdict: I still vastly prefer the American version. Design flaws in the French version include the fact that you have to push down the "shift" key before typing any of the numbers (very annoying) as well as a period (doesn't make sense--this is used so commonly you shouldn't have to press shift) as well as the fact that on most French keyboards I've seen, the "@" key (arguably one of the most important keys in this modern age) you have to push down a "function" key that is actually different from the "shift". The grudge match is tied up at 12-12 once more.
French Vocab for the Day: in preparation for the soon-to-arrive Shrek 3, the character of Puss N' Boots in French is "le Chat Botté" (the booted cat).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Let's Hope Our Kid Doesn't Really Turn Out Like This

This weekend's Paris expedition took us to the Palais de la Découverte (Palace of Discovery), a science museum that is not too far from the Louvre on the Rive Droite. One of the exhibits included a booth where two people sit face-to-face and you can blend them together by fooling with the amount of light on each. Anyways, here's a disturbing mix of myself and Claire. I hope and pray that our kid doesn't really turn out like this...

Back to The Contest: Today's topic is, hmmm, how shall I put this? The polite way would be to include a category called "overall cultural awareness of its citizens." Or you could just tell it like it is, and say, "Which country has the most number of dumbshits walking around?"

The answer, as evidenced by any number of easily-available videos such as this and this, is clearly that there are a lot of dumbshits walking around the U.S. You know, all those statistics which are cited which state that only one American in six is able to correctly located "Mexico" on a map. It's friggin' embarrassing! I'm sure that dumbshits exist in France, too, but I get the impression that the Average Jacque is a little more in tune with current events that the Average Joe. I'm giving the point to France. The French have for the first time taken the lead, 12-11!!! I blame reality television and Paris Hilton.

Good News for the Day: the lab group I'm currently in published a nice little paper recently--and it officially came out online today! Go, team.

French for the Day: the acronym HLM stands for "habitation à loyer modéré" (housing of moderate rent). In other words, The Projects.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Boulevard de la Mort

Yesterday Claire and I saw the latest Tarantino flick last night, "Death-Proof," although in France it received the equally dark title "Boulevard de la Mort" (Boulevard of Death). We both agreed that like most Tarantino films, it was bizarre, gory, and hilarious at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie-going experience.

Topic for Today: because I can't think of anything creative of today, I'm picking a category that is so blatantly obvious of a decision that anybody who disagrees with the verdict should be committed to a mental institution. Our topic is bread and the bakeries from which they issue. There is nothing quite like arriving to the French boulangerie, asking for a 80-centime baguette, and being handed a piping hot, crispy-on-the-outside, delicious-and-melty-on-the-inside piece of heaven. Nothing in the 'States even comes close. We're tied once more, 11-11.

French for the Day: did you know that "baguette" is also the word for "drumstick" (as in the sticks used to play the drums, not a chicken leg--that's a "pilon") and also the word for "chopsticks"?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Dad School

So Claire is taking these birthing classes and today was the day where the Dads were invited. We practiced some breathing exercises together. Exciting! It could happen any day now...

Topic of Battle for the Day: thermometer route. I was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, to learn this the other day, but my wife informs me of a critical difference between American and French society that has to do with the orifice of choice for sticking a thermometer in order to take somebody's temperature. That's right, you've probably guessed at this stage of my fearless reporting that rather than sticking a thermometer under Jimmy's tongue to see if he has to stay home from school as in the 'States, the French stick it where the sun don't shine. And apparently, it's not just children: adults do the same thing, VOLUNTARILY, to see if they have a fever, and the rectal temperature is what they take when you go to the hospital. I guess the important lesson here is that Claire and I should definitely not share thermometers, since I don't plan on changing my American-biased temperature-taking strategies any time soon. Unless you have a fetish for sticking things up your butt (and not to be judgemental if you do, but this is, after all, my contest), the Americans take home the point and lead the contest 11-10.

French for the Day: As you may be aware, the French Open is taking place at nearby Stade Roland Garros. As we all now, the French Open is unique among the Grand Slam events in that it takes place on a clay surface. In French, it's called "terre battue": "beaten earth." Also, I find it funny that the translation of the phrase "Grand Slam" is "Grand Chelem" (pronounced like "Shlemm".) As far as I know, "chelem" does not mean anything specific in French. Sunday's men's final features #1 seed Roger Federer against #2 seed Rafael Nadal--should be good!

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Leftover pics from last Saturday's stroll:
Funny faces on Pont Neuf ("the New Bridge", although it ironically happens to be the oldest bridge in Paris, from the time of Henry IV). I love these.

Close-up of statue of Charlemagne and some other random dude (seriously, can anybody tell me who this guy is? He has a sweet mustache) in the parvis de Nôtre Dame.
Flying buttresses!!!

Topic of Day: evil, faceless corporations. The U.S. is the home of Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Starbucks, and any number of other chains poised to take over the world given the opportunity. France, in contrast, is much more cautious about protecting its small businesses. Did you know that the government regulates when businesses are allowed to have sales in order to avoid smaller businesses having to compete against large ones? Anyways, even if it smells a little too socialist for my American-raised nose, I have to say that it's better than what the U.S. seems to be turning into in recent years. The vote goes to the French for having less evil, faceless corporations. It's tied up, my friends: 10 apiece!

French for the Day: "You're room is a pigsty!" is translated as, "Ta chambre est une porcherie!"

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

La Marsellaise versus the Star-Spangled Banner

We have a very important topic of battle ahead of us today...the national anthems. Let's first take the case for the Star-Spangled Banner:
-catchy tune.
-great at sporting events because of the comedy which ensues when somebody can't quite hit the "by the rockets red glare" part a la Roseanne Barr.
-a good history (Frances Scott Key during the War of 1812, to refresh your memory).

And now the Marsellaise:
-catchy tune.
-awesome, gore-filled lyrics that would make Quentin Tarantino proud (sample of English translation: "The howling of these fearsome soldiers/ They are coming into our midst/ To cut the throats of your sons and consorts."
-a good history (the lyrics were written by somebody who supported the monarchy, but the song was adopted by French revolutionaries).

Know what? I think the two are amongst the best of the world's national anthems, and I can't choose one. Besides, I'm tired of having to write the "0.5" with each score. We'll call it a tie of national anthems and that brings us to U.S. 10, France 9.

French for the Day: the word for "jack-of-all-trades" (e.g., somebody who knows how to do a lot of random stuff, often but not necessarily related to home improvement projects) is "un homme à tout faire".

Today's pics: of the Holocaust Memorial at the tip of the Ile de la Cité, right in the back of Nôtre Dame. I never knew it was there.