This week, this photo appeared on my Facebook feed:
Err, what? Is this an actual thing? Underwater shooting in a swimming pool apparently is a thing in La Clusaz and Europe in general.
A bit of research reveals that this sport was borne in the eighties in France, where it’s known as tir sur cible subaquatique. Competitors must be eighteen, so it looks like La Clusaz are hoping to introduce this…erm….’sport’…to future champions. They’re allowed to use a diving mask, fins, snorkel, speargun, diving weights and a wetsuit.
As someone who struggles to remember not to breathe with a snorkel when under water, I can’t imagine how much coordination this activity requires. There’s the holding the breath bit of course, then the staying relatively still in order to aim, actually aiming (with just one hand), and then pulling the trigger without disrupting all that breath-holding, keeping still and aiming.
If nothing else, participants will be able to catch their dinner from Lake Annecy whenever they please.
In France, it’s unheard of to start a meal with without saying “Bon appetit“. Cheese is served before dessert. Kids are shooshed if they talk loudly in a public place (making the parents far louder than the kids), and it’s just plain wrong to offer chrysanthemums to a living person. It’s a country that sells croque monsieurs in busy pubs during gigs, because even the toughest punk fan enjoys the tenderness of the melted cheese in a ham and cheese toasty. Etiquette differs between regions as to how many kisses are given when greeting someone, but kisses are always the norm.
Every new arrival learns about these cultural rules over the years, and for me, adopting French etiquette was easy. However, there’s one part of French culture that was hard to embrace. It’s that fart sound made by the mouth. You know, when you were a kid and you pretended to make the sound of a fart when your grandma stood up, and all the other grand kids would laugh? That’s an acceptable sound in France. Seriously.
You might be wondering how the fart sound is used. It’s pretty versatile for answering questions where the answer isn’t certain. Here are some examples:
Q: “What do you want to do today?”
A: “Prpppppp.” (meaning “I’m not fussed.”)
Q: “What time does the film start?”
A: “Prpppppp.” (meaning “I don’t know.”)
Q: “That guy was wrong. We have more sun here in the north, don’t we?”
A: “Prppppp.” (meaning “I’m staying neutral.”)
That last one, being more of a hostile one, is aspirated. Imagine huffing at the same time as making the fart sound, and you’ve got the indignant fart noise of that last example. However, that’s used less than the average fart sound outlined in the other examples. I hear it daily in general conversations with my friends and in public.
I was determined never to use this sound as a word replacement. It just sounds so much like a comedy movie line. Imagine my surprise when I heard myself making fart noises when talking in English to some visiting Australian friends recently. They looked baffled at the sound I’d just made — the only reason I noticed I’d made it.
So how do I fix this when talking in English? Prppppp. I’ve embraced it.
Ahh, look at this rustic hippy scene from the seventies. Hang on, that’s an image from a brand new advertisement on French TV.
The ad represents vegetarians as hippies living in houses with home-made decorations like shells on strings. Add some cotton shirts, bouffant hair and beaded jewelry and we’ve got the perfect hippy family.
Cured meat makers, Aoste, are responsible for the ad, in full, below (with a shortened translation under it).
Dad: “But how come you don’t want to be a vegetarian anymore?”
Son: “I’m sick of always eating the same things — green salad, celery, celery, green salad.”
Dad: “There’s tofu steak.”
Mum: “Sliced soy fillet.”
Son: “Also, nobody ever asked if I wanted to be vegetarian. C’mon, one time.”
Dad: “One single time.”
(Holding hands at the supermarket.)
Mum: “If you really want to do it, do it properly.”
Voiceover: “Aoste, simply irresistible.”
Did you see the son’s teardrop as he’s downing that delicious meat?
I’m a vegetarian, and the first time I saw this I laughed. Aoste must have produced this with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, going for every stereotype apart from deadlocks (I’m guilty of once being that stereotype, so I can only laugh!).
As much as the ad amuses me, it’s a reminder of just how cringeworthy some places in France are for vegetarians. The mountains is one of them. Here are a few moments I’ve experienced, all spoken in French at the time:
1. The snack bar
Me: “I’m looking for a sandwich without meat.”
Server: “Sorry, we don’t have any cheese sandwiches.”
Because we all know that that lettuce, tomato, cucumber, roasted vegetables and boiled eggs are made of meat. Really, France, is it that hard to just leave the meat out of a few sandwiches?
2. The posh Italian restaurant
My friend: “She’s a vegetarian.”
Waiter: “We have this salmon dish…”
Me (wishing my friend hadn’t said anything – it’s easier that way) : “I don’t eat fish, but I’ve found…”
Waiter: “There’s a chicken dish here.” (pointing to menu)
Me: “Chicken is meat.”
Waiter: “No, it’s not.”
Me: “Yes, it is.”
(Repeat last two lines about three times)
3. The New Year’s Eve celebrations – set menu
Two vegetarians on big table of friends were given one massive salad each, served as a main, between the entrees and mains offered to the meat eaters (so we had to watch, hungry, while the others ate their entrees, then be watched as we scoffed a lot of lettuce). A salad. Really? Happy bloody New Year.
However, the acceptance of vegetarianism in France is slowly getting better, with more options on the market every year. Traditional places like La Clusaz are always going to take a bit longer to catch on, and while the Parisians are probably howling with laughter at the Aosta commercial, the locals here are probably shaking their heads about hippy vegetarian types and saying “Ah, les cons” (“Ah, the idiots”).
This photo needs little commentary. Public toilets in La Clusaz are often shared by both sexes, and when I walked into this one, the sight of urinals didn’t surprise me. The sign, however, did. It says “Water not drinkable.”
Who is this sign for? Who tried to drink out of a urinal?
Last year, I bought a new car. It has big tyres, so I looked at the cost of snow tyres and thinner wheels online, hoping it would be cheaper than in La Clusaz or Annecy.
Undecided, I visited Norauto for advice. The guy was super helpful and provided three printed quotes. He offered a loyalty card with 15% off any purchase, bringing the total price down out to around the same as the online prices. “Just call the number on the paper if you want to book your car in,” he said. Too easy!
It really was too easy to be true. It seems that my first Norauto experience was in some parallel world with customer care. Why? Because I called that number almost hourly for four days and only once did someone pick up. Apparently put off by my accent, she hung up within 20 seconds of me speaking.
Undeterred, I drove to Norauto. There was a queue, yet staff wandered past doing more important things than serving customers. After 30 minutes, it took a further 30 minutes to make the appointment for 10 days’ time (it would take that long for my new winter tyres to be mounted on my new winter wheels).
I arrived early for my appointment and queued for another half an hour just to hand over the keys! No, you can’t pay by cheque, and of course my French bank card has a counter transaction limit. One trip to the bank later (work wouldn’t start until I’d handed over ALL the cash), the mechanics did the job in a mere 25 minutes. On top of that, they were helpful. After the soul-destroying queueing, this was a lovely surprise, and I’m happy with their work. Still, a 25-minute job took up an hour and a half of arrange.
The picture shown arrived in my inbox and says “Did you know that your card gives you access to a range of advantages?” Can it give me back my hour and a half? Norauto, I think I’ll be going elsewhere next time. No advantage is worth the length of time wasted waiting in your shop!
Le Grand Bornand is marketed as a family ski resort. They even hold a week-long summertime kids’ festival, and provide all sorts of family entertainment throughout the year. So it’s no surprise there’s only one nightclub in town.
Lalu Discotheque has been going for five or so years now, and it’s popular with the locals and tourists alike. The nightclub seems like a bit of a racy one (you might recall the smurf pubic hair flier). As you can see from this flier, there’s a sex toys party on tonight. What on earth happens at a sex toys party? Do they give out toys upon entry? Is there some sort of live act? Is it a swap fest? Or is it like a Tupperware party where everyone sits down and looks through brochures, while the party planner demonstrates and displays some of his or her favourite items?
I can’t help but wonder if this event is filled with old men in long coats, or perhaps today’s generation really is that easygoing that it’s now normal to go to sex toy parties at nightclubs. Is this unique in France? Am I just old?
I’d love to satisfy everyone’s curiosity and answer some of these questions by going tonight, but I’m opting for the old prude card and settling for a hot chocolate in front of a roaring fireplace instead.
The French Alps have had a slow start to the ski season, with Christmas holiday-makers in La Clusaz limited to just a few small ski areas. My visitors sought alternative entertainment, opting for the Titanic Exhibition in Geneva and the view from the top of La Salève (above), where paragliders were able to soar in the unseasonal mild conditions.
Less than 24 hours later, Geneva (on the left in the photo above) was covered in a snowy blanket, and the Savoie region of France ground to a halt. Roads to ski resorts were closed after midday. People had to abandon their cars and take overnight emergency shelter in town halls.
French news showed scenes of traffic jams, police putting chains on family cars, and cars that had slid off roads. Local newspaper Le Dauphine had loads of reports and pictures showing the standstill.
Here in La Clusaz, a trip back from Annecy yesterday — normally 35 minutes — took 2.5 hours. That’s not bad, actually. The two-minute car trip between Le Grand Bornand and St Jean de Sixt took a friend three hours.
I suppose I should eat my words about how well equipped France is compared with the UK. However, yesterday was probably the busiest day of winter on the roads, with Christmas guests leaving and New Year revellers arriving. Rather than eat my words, I’m about to consume some of that fresh snow before the new arrivals do!
Just when you thought chocolate adverts in France couldn’t get any weirder (I’m thinking about the Kinder Maxi advert where a woman on a train offers a random kid some chocolate, while some lyrics “If we sleep together would it make it any better” play in the background), they did. Suchard chocolate have been doing their pre-Christmas marketing on television this week. They’ve tried to make chocolate sexy. It’s impossible to embed the latest advert, but an older one is very similar (minus the phallic scene, which you can watch with this link instead). Here’s the older version:
(People receiving this in their inbox will need to click on the link.)
Chocolate is my guilty pleasure. It’s childhood memories of Easter eggs and stealing a piece from the block while breaking it up for a dessert recipe. The advert says it’s “Chocolate for adults”, but I don’t want to think about bums and boobs while I’m chowing down on some chocolate. It puts me off buying this chocolate. The advert also says that giving this chocolate to someone is to “Offrez le plaisir” (“Offer pleasure”), but I’d be worried that the receiver might think I’m trying to give them a hint about my feelings for them.
Hello after a month’s break! Apologies for the length between posts: I just haven’t had anything interesting to say, and life has been busy, with a new car purchase, trips away for special birthdays/celebrations, and lots of pre-winter work. In fact, this busy time formed a crescendo last weekend with an annual pre-season party, hosted at my place. This year’s theme was ‘Pirates of the Aravis’, allowing people the freedom to dress as traditional pirates or to incorporate a wintry, snowy theme.
After many years of making gingerbread houses, I decided to make a gingerbread pirate ship, based on the one pictured here. Isn’t it pretty? I went a size bigger. It was a mistake.
The initial construction went well, with a gingerbread mast, portholes and a length of gingerbread added to the deck for walking the plank. I wish I had taken a photo. However, with all the other cooking going on, my house was humid, and gingerbread is a bit of a sponge for humidity. My crispy gingerbread turned as soft as cake overnight. The mast fell over, then the back of the boat collapsed. A friend helped me turn the pirate ship into a pirate ship wreck, with a grassy rock tactfully placed to help hold up one side of the boat, and the mast placed into the sea, plus brown ‘rope’ dotted around. We also added a shark fin, some red around the shark, and a pink hand nearby. The result is below. What’s that saying? “Saw it on Pinterest: nailed it.” Yes, that.
Cruising around Lake Annecy on a large boat has an air of glamour, especially if you’re watching from solid ground. Last weekend, I finally became glamorous, stepping onto one of the famed red and white boats to cruise the lake at a discount price of €5 for the entire day.
The special deal was part of an event called ‘Lac en Partage‘ (‘Shared Lake’) which combined the discounted boat service with free shuttles, hikes, plants, cake, brochures galore and local information stands at each port.
Although the event started early on Sunday morning, I arrived ‘fashionably late’ (I slept in) after midday at the Veyrier port and bought my ticket. Taking a boat across a beautiful lake on an unseasonably hot October afternoon was glamorous enough, and then it peaked when I was interviewed for a national radio station covering the event — in French.
Uber-glamour quickly turned to economy on the freebie shuttle bus to Annecy’s newest water plant, not far from the lake. The tour of the plant was interesting, with more than €2m of microfilters inside the white barrels, pictured. The tour guide carried on for an extra half an hour to show us the layouts of every water reservoir in Annecy. There are lots. It was not interesting. Paint drying is more fun. The tour finished minutes before the last boat to St Jorioz — that I was supposed to be on — was due to depart. The bus driver said there’d be no chance of making it back in time.
Thankfully, the boat was running late too. A sprint from the bus to the port got me noticed, and the staff waited for the crazy running lady to board before closing the gate behind me. With just 10 minutes in St Jorioz before the last boat back to Veyrier, I raced around the information stands at the port. I learnt about the ancient submerged villages in Lake Annecy. Diving is forbidden, so the only way to view these protected sites is by looking at photos. On the upside, free plants were available, with gardeners on hand to help choose wisely.
Back in Veyrier, the mood was chilled in the late afternoon sun. Plant in one hand, drink in the other, next year, I’ll make sure I get up earlier. An afternoon was nowhere near long enough.