How to deal with snow

Snow in St Jean de Sixt Copyright LeFrancoPhoney

I took this photo last week on a walk around Saint Jean de Sixt. The trees are heavy with snow, glistening in the sunlight, and the fence pictured is laden to the point that the snow is warping between the posts.

Snow in St Jean de Sixt Copyright LeFrancoPhoney

In fact, the photo really doesn’t do it justice. As beautiful as the fresh snow looks when the sun comes out, the roads can be a nightmare. Keeping the roads clear of snow is a winter-long task here in the French Alps, and they’re pretty good at it around La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand (especially compared with some other ski resorts I’ve lived in).

Haute Savoie magazine with snow clearing detailsEven more amazing are the statistics for the entire Haute Savoie region of France. The magazine contained an article about the winter road services and how the keep traffic flowing on even the stormiest of nights.

Haute Savoie covers an area of 4,388 km². It includes the area on the French side of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) as well as Chamonix and Mont Blanc, Annecy, and further south, almost to Albertville, and a bit further west of Annecy too. It’s a region with plenty of mountains and cities well above sea level.

Surprisingly, the department keeps the roads clear with just 144 snow clearing trucks. However, it’s quite likely that many of those are here in the tourist hot spots of the ski resorts, like the ones here in the Aravis, and that smaller villages without tourists are left with snowy roads while the remaining snow clearers cover a wider area.

In comparison, when driving through Italy’s Aosta valley on the other side of the Mont Blanc tunnel, I noticed small cars and vans with snow clearing equipment tacked on the front. They looked like private vehicles!

Meanwhile, here in Haute Savoie, I drive like a nervous Australian if the road has a few centimetres of snow on it, while some locals make the most of the situation, sliding around in car parks and pulling on their handbrakes. Everyone deals with the snow in their preferred way. Mine is a pair of skis.

Snow clearing statisitics Haute Savoie

A few other stats for a typical Haute Savoie winter, translated from the image above:

  • 29 snow clearing centres
  • 28 snow clearing storage spots
  • 141 snow clearing circuits
  • 445 staff
  • 3,000 km of departmental (free to use) roads to be cleared of snow
  • 24,000 tonnes of salt used
  • on call 24/7
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Rude wine terminology

Pisse Dru French wine etymology

Pisse dru French wine etymology

Beaujolais Nouveau is a relatively new wine in France, and one that cops a fair amount of cynicism from the French (see my post about Beaujolais Nouveau here).

The 2017 batch of Beaujolais Nouveau hit the shelves last week, and I stopped to giggle when I saw the bottles pictured above. The phrase “pisse-dru” literally means to urinate in a straight line. The merchandiser saw me and wanted to explain the history.

Pisse-dru” is also, apparently, a bonafide wine term used in the Beaujolais  wine region, just north of Lyon. So what does it mean? The wine man explained that the term was to refer to the juiciness of the grape. If a harvest produced a lot of juice per grape, the winemakers would describe the grapes as “pisse-dru“. Some smart bunny came up with the idea to include the phrase on bottles in 1955, just a few years after Beaujolais Nouveau had been developed, and the brand Pisse Dru was born.

I’m from Australia and we call things as we see them. Seriously, we have the Blue Mountains because they look blue from a distance, the Snowy Mountains (take a guess), the Great Sandy Desert (duh) and Ninety Mile Beach (really, yes, and it’s lovely). I grew up with this pragmatism in everyday life, and that’s probably why I’m not so keen on tasting things that sound so gross, like “straight piss”. I’ll just hide that bottle away next to the Jesus sausage and that box of coucougnettes (testicles).

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Professional French website fail

RSI payment fail

When Emmanuel Macron became the French president earlier this year, one of his first promises was to close down RSI (Régime Social des Indépendents). RSI is the administrative body that looks after freelancers, like me. We pay large sums in social fees every year, yet have few rights to claim a range of benefits offered to traditionally employed people with pay slips.

I haven’t met a person who isn’t happy about RSI closing down. It’s disorganised, inflexible, expensive and generally broken. This is an organisation that still uses my old address from ten years ago despite my calls, letters and even an in-person visit to change it. Apparently, it’s very difficult to change a business address, so I shouldn’t be surprised that creating a useful website is beyond them. For more than a year, RSI have been encouraging us freelancers to pay online. The email says “It’s simple, rapid and secure” (in French of course). Here’s a snapshot of their state-of-the-art website:

RSI website


Despite having some concerns that it wouldn’t be simple, rapid or secure, I clicked on the link to pay my quarterly bill. Can you guess how that went? Bingo!


In English, that says “The service has experienced technical problem. Please contact your regional technical support”. I tried calling it once when a previous payment was stuck in a loop before confirmation. Their solution was that I should pay another way.

So today, I’m paying using the technology of the seventies — a cheque book, an envelope and a stamp. It’s simple, rapid and secure.

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Hospitalisation in France

Review of hospital stay in France

I’m home after four days in a French hospital. The scheduled surgery and stay went well. But of course, this is France, so although everything went well, that’s not to say it wasn’t complicated.

It started two months ago, when my surgeon’s assistant set the October date. First up were three hospital appointments — pre-admission (no appointment needed), cardiologist (not typically needed) and anesthesiologist — a week prior to surgery, and I was grateful that the assistant wangled them on the same day. She asked me to sign some papers, and gave me an hour of pre-admission forms to fill in.

Review of hospital stay in France

Prior to pre-admission day, I visited my health insurance provider (called mutuelle in French) twice to give them papers they were ‘missing’. I discovered that anomaly during the initial phone call to the mutuelle to notify them of the surgery and to check a code and price from the surgeon. Confused yet? That code and price tells the mutuelle what the surgery is and how much extra the surgeon wants to charge. Had my mutuelle refused, I would have had yet another call to make — back to the surgeon’s assistant with the message from the mutuelle. It’s all a bit Chinese whispers.

Meanwhile, at the pharmacy, they measured me for compression stockings and gave me more paperwork for my mutuelle, a supply of medical products to use before surgery, and a jar to pee into ten days before surgery, which I was instructed to take to my local pathology centre. With that pee test passed, it was time for the three hospital appointments.

The day started with handing over forms and identification during pre-admission, then onto the cardiologist for some tests (not typically done before surgery unless, like me, you have any sort of tiny, irregular heart rhythm that they want to check). I passed the tests and moved onto the anesthesiologist. More papers were signed and the full procedure was carefully explained (in French), which was reassuring. I left with a prescriptions for a blood clotting test and a French blood type card because, apparently, my Australian blood type card doesn’t have enough details. The pre-admission day took around three hours in total.

French hospital pre-admission washAt home, the night before surgery dictated the usual no eating or drinking from midnight rule. It also involved the Betadine shower — a special soap wash, with instructions on how to wash (twice), then to dry with a clean towel and wear clean sleepwear between clean bed sheets. In the morning, I had to repeat the two-wash Betadine shower and step into clean clothes, ready for hospital.

Ah, hospital. Let the fun begin! I paid extra for a private room, where flower bouquets are forbidden, and patients must bring their own towels and soaps. In a blatant admission of poor hospital food, I also had the option to pay to upgrade my meals!

Once in my hospital room, a nurse tutted that my identification documents had my two first names but my hospital bracelet was missing part of my first name. Well, that’s because I have one first name and one middle name, but of course in France, that’s all too confusing, and so a new hospital bracelet was ordered with my new double first name. The phone line rental turned out to be a bit pointless: the phone never rang because the hospital forgot to activate the line (which is a bit unhelpful when close family on the other side of the world are trying desperately to call).

After surgery, nursing staff visited throughout the night and checked pain levels, blood pressure, temperature and heart rate. The checks continued day and night until I left, along with blood tests every morning before breakfast.

Black coffee was automatically delivered with breakfast and sporadically with lunch, and the tea lady laughed when I asked for a coffee with dinner. “Non, mais non! Pas si tard,” she said, wagging her finger as she left the room. I couldn’t physically make it to coffee machine on the ground floor, which just made that finger wagging even more annoying.

Checking out of hospital was relatively simple: armed with a swathe of new prescriptions for post-surgery care, I collected my security cheque, wrote a new (more expensive!) cheque, and handed over the TV remote control. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond, sitting painfully on a straight chair, when I was asked if my stay had been good. Um, was I meant to enjoy it? It’s probably just a nuance of French language that I misconstrued but all I could do was utter ‘uhhh’ and look blank. I blame the drugs. Speaking of which, those new prescriptions have led to a big box of goodies from the pharmacy (mostly covered by my Carte Vitale, but not completely), including injections and bandages administered by the daily nurse.

To wrap up, I have total confidence in the French medical system. I don’t mind that the pre-surgery Betadine scrubs and preparations seemed excessive (much better than being inadequate!), or that the administrative processes leading up to the stay was stressful due to the pages of paperwork alone. During my stay, I received professional care that was focussed on my well-being and recovery alone.

Non-hospital coffeeA week later, I’m here, lying on my couch with compression stockings on and awaiting today’s blood test and anti-clot injection. Recovering at home is comfortable and far more relaxing than a hospital. The calls from Australia are coming in and I’m surrounded by get-well flowers. And most importantly, I can have milky coffee any time I like.


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The French Lady of the Lake

I came across a gruesome story this week, about ‘La Dame du Lac‘ (‘The Lady of the Lake’) right here in Annecy. It’s a tale of trickery by the devil himself which changes a young couple’s lives for ever, (you can read the full story in English here, if you prefer the original, read the French version here). If you didn’t click on a link, the story ends with the wife throwing herself off the cliff of le Roc de Chère and plunging into Lake Annecy to drown, where she remains submerged and animated to this day, pulling on the feet of swimmers in the belief they might be her husband, causing them to drown too, and taking them to the bottom of the lake with her.

Since then, I’ve discovered that lakes all over France have myths involving various degrees of aggrieved women throwing themselves into lakes and haunting swimmers for ever after. There are legends about ladies of the lake in the Pyrenees, the Ardèche, further north in Lorraine, and of course plenty around here in Haute Savoie.

Take Tignes for instance. Between Tignes and Val d’Isère lies a lake, with the statue shown below overlooking it. Yep, it’s another lady of a lake.

Lady of the Lake Tignes, France

Photo from artist’s website:

This lady has a more recent story. In 1953, the old village of Tignes was flooded to create the dam that the lady now overlooks. Begrudged locals were forced to move out and, of course, legend has it that one lady refused to leave. The statue appeared as recently as 2003 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the village’s flood, and is said to remember the past while looking towards the future. Personally, I’m not convinced that the story of the stubborn lady existed before the statue was made.

I wonder what the Annecy version would be like. Perhaps the statue would show a couple embracing with the devil standing behind looking at his calendar, or perhaps a lady pulling the legs of a stranger with a look of terror on his face.

The thing I love most about these ladies of the lakes is that I had no idea they were ‘a thing’ until this week. Let me explain. I’ve integrated with the French culture in many ways, like making puns in French or reciting the lyrics of some old French song that nobody expects me to know. That initial excitement I felt every time I discovered (and wrote about) some surprising part of French culture has waned over the past few years. The local dame du lac story has bolstered that feeling and it feels great.

I probably won’t ever swim by the cliff le Roc de Chère again though.


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Wishing you good gout

My friend Jane sent me an image from a business that went something like this:

There’s a French business for baby food called Good Gout. I guess the business owner liked the alliteration of the ‘G’ and the rhyming of the English and French words. ‘Gout’ in French means ‘taste’, which is obviously appropriate for a food business.

As Jane said, “How can you make baby food and call it Good Gout?”

I’m pretty sure, however, that if I were to start a business with a name that uses French and English words mixed together, I’d check to make sure it didn’t sound weird in either language. Good Gout has professional photos, a fast, good-looking website, and probably very tasty baby food. So how did the business get so professional without checking if ‘gout’ means anything in English? Mes amis français, ‘gout’ en anglais est le maladie ‘goutte‘ en français !

French parents across the country are no doubt giving their babies Good Gout. And with the rest of the world’s love of all things French, perhaps Good Gout have dreams of exporting to other countries. So, the rest of the world, would you feed your kids Good Gout?

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The French-British flagged castle

French castle with French-British flag

I recently visited this castle with a funny flag, but where is it? The grey sky, the Tudor façade and the neat, green grass might indicate England, but it’s not. So where was I?

The answer is the north of France. The exact location will be revealed later. This castle, with its half-British and half-French flag, was built in 1222 by a Frenchman. Since then it’s been commandeered by both the Brits and the French during various wars through the centuries, and legally owned by both nationalities in more peaceful times too. Henry VIII is one of the many members of royalty to have visited the castle.

The castle isn’t just for royalty: Charles Dickens stayed here when it was owned by his friend, Sir John Hare. Apparently, he spent time there with his lover, Ellen Ternan, and the change of scenery may well have influenced his stories or characters.

Another Brit, John Whitley, played a very important role. His work was to increase tourism in the neighbouring beach-side village of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage. After some years and resistance from locals, he focussed his marketing efforts just along the coast, buying the castle and its surrounds in 1897. He decided to market the beach-side village by the castle as a posh holiday spot and sporting mecca, eventually buying huge areas of land in the years to follow. He succeeded, and the village now boasts all sorts of hidden homes on salubrious plots of land among the pine forests, with golf courses nestled close by for the residents to enjoy, plus an an avenue named after him in the heart of the populated forest.

The castle was occupied by the British army during the first world war, and has more recently been used by a scientist and a group of nuns (not at the same time). In 1979, it was used in Roman Polanski’s film, Tess.

Although it’s now owned by the local French council, the castle’s British history lives on today, with exhibitions and events held on the site celebrating British culture. The one thing that definitely shouldn’t be considered British is the name of the castle, which is also the village name. In French, it’s pronounced ‘ard-eh-lor’. In English? Well how would you say ‘Hardelot’?

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Fidget spinners arrive in France…kind of…

French hand spinner

French fidget spinner
The fidget spinner has been a huge retail success in many countries, and France is now in on the act too.

But wait, what’s that? The ‘Hand Spinner’? Yep! In France, where English words are creeping in despite the efforts of the Acadamie Francais, I guess it should be no surprise that the name changed from English to different English.

But why would the product marketers bother changing ‘fidget’ to ‘hand’? Many French adults learnt that English stalwart song ‘If you’re appy and you know it clap your ands’) at school, and those who can pronounce the ‘h’ often, and understandably, mix up the usage. They might say ‘air’ for ‘hair’ based on the correct pronunciation of ‘hour’, for example, or just invent an ‘h’, such as ‘(h)axe’. In French, an axe is ‘hache‘. It’s why burgers are called ‘steak hache‘ (literally, ‘axed steak’, but realistically, ‘chopped meat’). The ‘h’ isn’t pronounced in ‘hache‘, but some Frenchies like to add it into the English version anyway.

French hand spinnerI wondered if it was just a cheap version of the fidget spinner being sold at one supermarket, so I checked some more catalogues.

The very next catalogue had a more expensive fidget spinner, but it was still marketed as a Hand Spinner, complete with an explanation in French on how to use it.

I asked a French friend why she thought the name had changed and she explained it very logically. The English word ‘fidget’ isn’t commonly known in France, whereas ‘hands’ is well understood, even by non-English speakers (probably thanks to that song singing at school).

And for anyone coming to France who is seeking a fidget spinner, don’t think you’re getting offer lightly just because the name is in English. You will need to ask for one with a French accent. Something like ‘Un and spin-nur (s’il vous plaît)’ should do the trick.

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Has Le Franco Phoney turned Austra-Phoney?

Greetings from Australia, where I’ve been helping out with a family illness for the past month. I’m about to head back to France, but being home brought up a few cultural questions.

I started Le Franco Phoney because the French culture felt alien to me, an Australian, who barely spoke the language. More than ten years later and the tables have turned. Returning to Australia has surprised me in the same ways that France surprised me all those years ago. Here are some snippets.


Insects in French bakery displays, due to no flywire screens, now seem normal to me. In comparison, seeing these trolley wipes at the supermarket were a complete surprise. How posh! Yes, people use them all the time.

Pragmatic advertising

Public toilets are never fun, but at least the advertising on the back of this toilet door is appropriate. Why advertise glamour or fashion to people squeezing one out on the crapper when you could get their attention about something for more pertinent to them at that moment? Talk about a captive audience! I’d forgotten how pragmatic us Aussies can be.

Did I hear this correctly?

Since I’m talking about advertising, let’s talk about fish, because “there’s always something new to learn about fish”. Seriously! This advert says so:


What? Who could possibly come up with that line for an advertisement? And what did we learn about fish? Did a group of marketing people have one of those lightbulb moments? “Hey, fish is this MASSIVE mystery to the world. There’s ALWAYS something new to learn about them! Let’s run with that. It’s surefire.” Bonus points for the “school of fish” pun at the end.

“Am I in France?” moment #1

Looking for an Australian postcard in a Melbourne tourist shop, I found some Eiffel Tower minis alongside the Australian flag and other Aussie goodies. Do we have an Eiffel Tower in Melbourne? Did France send us one like they sent the Statue of Liberty to the US? Or did the shop order these towers instead of the Arts Centre with its Eiffel-like spire? Even more disturbing is that there’s a variety of Eiffel Tower models on offer.

“Am I in France?” moment# 2

Long-time readers might remember France’s amazing letterbox. It seems Australians are now onto the trend of creating mini-home letter boxes. This one is a carbon copy in a suburban street.

Down, down (with Coles)

For years, I’ve been blissfully unaware of supermarket Coles’ “Down Down” jingles. French supermarkets have had a wide range of annoying song snippets but none of them compare to this. Every night lately I’ve been going to bed with this ten-second screech on repeat. Over and over. And over.

Sorry about that. I hope by sharing it, the burden is lifted from my shoulders. Down, down, with the burden.

Number plates

Australian states have number plate slogans. Queensland is “The Sunshine State”. Victoria is a bit more confused. It was “The Garden State” when I was little, and in 1994, then-premier Geoff Kennett changed the slogan to “Victoria – On The Move”. Now there’s a whacky mix of the old plates, plus “The Place to Be”,”Stay Alert Stay Alive” and “The Education State”. Being a sport-loving state, Victorians can also get football team number plates, such as the one below for Aussie Rules football team the Geelong Cats. Meanwhile, my mum’s car has no slogan at all and I don’t blame it.

Banter is king

French interaction with strangers is normally limited to greetings when entering buildings or shops. In Australia, it’s not uncommon to casually hear about a shop assistant’s brother who is getting married on the weekend. Elevators aren’t off-limits either: “I’m escaping” a guy in a hospital gown said as he entered a packed hospital lift to get to the ground floor. The occupants made jokes and everyone left with a smile.

Australia, I’m leaving you with a massive smile, clean trolley hands, and a suitcase full of Tim Tams, a mini-Eiffel Tower and some frozen fish meals from Coles stuck inside an awesome letterbox.

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Typical French television?

Sunday morning television in France is no different to the rest of the world. It’s terrible! Queue re-runs of eighties sitcoms and cartoons for kids — surely the only people up on a Sunday morning.

Alas, I’m an early riser, and out of desperation, I switched to local Savoyard channel TV8 Mont Blanc to discover Top Accordéon. Presumably named after Top Hits (a music show of the latest popular music hits), Top Accordéon is a bit spesh. Here’s a sample:

The photo image from the TV doesn’t do it justice: that’s a fluorescent piano accordion and a lot of blue rinse dancers going on, presumably in a very snowy area on a beautiful blue-sky day with a magnificent blue lake in the foreground to complement the music.

The illusion is broken when the next accordion player begins:

Oh. How disappointing. They’re in some school sports hall with one small backdrop of the glacial Alps. On the upside, this accordion is tri-colour (sorry for the blurriness of my TV-photography skills)! Who knew these accordion players were into such bright, loud colours?

I applaud TV8 Mont Blanc for upholding that universal rule of bizarre Sunday morning TV, even in a supposedly sophisticated and chic country like France. Indeed, I was glued to the action! And it gets better:

Yes, that’s a judging panel. Just  like the prime time talent show The Voice, Top Accordéon has judges as well!

Don’t fret if you’re not in France: you can watch the most recent episode online. Yep, Top Accordéon has its own website, where you can check out photos from each fortnight’s show, buy accordion music CDs (including rainbow accordion man’s contribution), and even buy tickets to upcoming shows! They’re still advertising for last week’s gig, which was just around the corner from me in St-Pierre en Faucigny.  If only I’d known! I’m going to keep and eye out and go to the next one.

Now, to find a dancing partner…

I’m relieved to say that accordion shows aren’t typical French television, but I think most would agree it’s typical Sunday morning TV.

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About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

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