Quorn returns to Haute Savoie!

Quorn placement in Annecy Carrefour

A little while ago, I wrote about how vegetarian food is often stocked next to the meatiest options possible. Carrefour have gone one step further, with their placement of Quorn products, which were recently reintroduced in France after a long absence.

Carrefour recently created their own brand of vegetarian products, and it seems they don’t want any competition from such a successful brand as Quorn. At least, that’s only reason I can come up with when I see where the Quorn products have been placed. Imagine the worst place possible. Is it next to the black pudding like Intermarché’s vegie burgers? Nope: that would be an improvement.

No, Carrefour Annecy are stocking Quorn products in the deepest, darkest corner where vegetarians fear going. In the back corner, there’s a meat section for minced meat, leftover lumps of meat for pets, hotdogs and more. Sandwiched between the smoked meats and halal meats (more offensive to any vegetarian than typical meat, as the animal probably suffered, being fully aware rather than stunned before bleeding to death), is Quorn. Just check those signs: “MEAT”, “MEAT”, “SMOKED MEAT”, “La la la vegetarian rainbows and unicorns”:

Quorn - Carrefour Annecy - stocked with meat

Quorn placement in Annecy CarrefourYes, hiding among packages of blood and flesh is a vegetarian range of products, including Quorn sausages, hamburgers, fake chicken breasts, pepper ‘chicken’, sandwich slices, fake chicken pieces, minced ‘meat’ and more.

I’m not convinced that meat lovers frequenting this dead end of the supermarket would be enticed by a piece of textured mushroom that never clucked, mooed or oinked. Nor can I imagine many vegetarians just happening to walk by such a broad variety of dead animals, let alone looking closely enough to notice this bizarre placement of Quorn meat-free products! Alas, this is France, where a waiter once insisted that chicken was not meat when I objected. And so, I expect Quorn will continue rubbing its fake shoulders with the salted, real shoulders right next door. Yum yum.

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Sacre bleu, mais merde…ZUT!

France has announced its Euro 2016 football anthem, and nobody is all that happy. The anthem, sung by popular French rock band Skip The Use, is a cover of a song by American band, Kiss. Their hit from the late seventies, ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’, has been transformed into ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ you, My Team’. Yes, really.

Here’s the original if you need a reminder:

And here’s the French version of the song:

The YouTube link is full of negative comments from the French, not happy with the use of the langue anglais, and non-French, not happy that a French band has ‘Eurotrashed’ a song that many are still fond of.

I’m not happy either. I’ve enjoyed seeing both bands play live. I love Kiss: I grew up with their music and have lots of memories entwined with their songs. Skip The Use had a hit a few years ago which sounds much better than their latest offering:

And now, a song I love is being used for a sport that requires fan segregation to prevent violence, sung by a band who have mutilated it with strains like they’re pushing out a baby.

Apart from it being a bit weird that the French have chosen a song that is more than thirty years old to get their fans excited, a whistled version of the song was used by supermarket giant Carrefour until 2013 (replacing the theme song from ridiculously old US sitcom, ‘Happy Days’).

The song was regurgitated into a jingle by La Foir Fouille on TV, radio and over their shop loudspeakers all day long (here’s their most recent advert):

Everybody got bored with it. And somehow, here it is again, rehashed in the most dire format possible.

Anyone who knows the Kiss lyrics understands that the song is about singer Paul Stanley ‘loving’ (having sex) with a girl, giving it all to her, in the darkness…so much he wants to do. Somehow, the French football people thought it would be a good idea to use the same lyrics to represent the French football team. Coincidence, thoughtlessness, or pure sexed-up Frenchness? I’m actually surprised that the music video isn’t filled with naked footballers and fans. Actually, that would be more entertaining. Let’s hope France do better at football.

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The world’s grumpiest hitchhiker

Learning how to speak French can be challenging, especially for those who move to France knowing only croissantun, deux, trois, and merci, like me. Everyone has their own methods to improve their language skills, and mine began with driving. I started with the number plate game (before the departmental numbers got smaller on the new number plates). Then, I started reading aloud the departmental numbers on the number plates, and soon enough, ridiculously long numbers such as quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (99) were rolling off my tongue.

Hitchhiking in the French AlpsOnce I’d perfected numbers, I moved on to hitchhikers. The lack of regular public transport around in the Alps means that people hitch between villages often. Even Candide Thovex picks up hitchhikers, so who am I to drive past someone in need of a lift? Besides, hitchhikers are a captive audience, making them excellent victims to practice dodgy French skills on. Most hitchhikers are happy to get to their destination without having to wait any longer by the side of the road, even if it means being polite and patient with the driver massacring the French language.

I’ve learnt loads of small talk from hitchhikers. I’ve chatted about the common stuff like “Vous habitez ici?” (“You live here?”) right through to cultural conversations comparing France with Australia. I hope most hitchhikers have enjoyed the exchanges, even if some cringed as soon as they heard my accent. As my French has improved, I’ve used hitchhikers less for language practice, but I still pick them up out of habit and kindness, especially in bad weather.

Last night, I picked up the grumpiest hitchhiker I’ve ever met. He needed to get to Le Grand Bornand, where I was headed, so he jumped in. I broke the silence by asking in French if he lived there. He grunted like some teenage angsty boy despite being older than that. I tried again, asking if he found it quiet between seasons. Another grunt. I added that in summer, it’s lovely and he didn’t even bother grunting. I was glad Le Grand Bornand was just a few kilometres from where I’d picked him up. I contemplated stopping the car and telling him to get out, but we were already at the village entrance. When I parked in town, I sang a purposely cheerful “voila” but he was already half out the door. I followed up with a melodic “au revoir” (“see you again”) and he grunted one more time.

I wanted to shout after him: “You rude s**t. I hope a tyre splashes mud up you next time, you ungrateful w**ker. Screw the ‘au revoir’ — unless you’re standing near some mud.” The words just weren’t there in French, which means either I need to continue learning French with hitchhikers, or I need to learn to shrug it off with a good old French “bof“.


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Le Petit Journal

Back before cable TV stations, France had the usual satellite stations which offered evening shows with audiences. You know the sort, where French people clap (to the wrong beat – this drives me nuts) to familiar songs between segments, laugh at pre-rehearsed jokes and watch slapstick humour. The audience for some reason always sits behind the presenters and the guests.

One day, a new TV station called Canal+ came with its own decoder box so that only subscribers could watch. They left some shows unscrambled in an attempt to gain more subscribers, and it no doubt worked.

Le Petit Journal French TV show on Canal+Today, Canal+ still has segments left unscrambled, and one of those segments in Le Petit Journal. It’s my favourite French TV show. I’m a little bit in love with the twinkling eyes and cheeky smile of presenter Yann Barthès, but I’m more in love with his sharp wit and the show’s modern approach.

Rather than interview aged popstars about their new cookbook, this show has its eye on current affairs, such as the US elections, the Brexit (candidly interviewing Boris Johnson on a train last night, asking him what he thinks of European Parliament president Martin Schulz, who was of course in the studio watching and listening), providing a French perspective with an injection of humour.

Le Petit Journal looks at France with equally sharp eyes. When French prime minister Manual Valls talked about being zen, there was an entire segment showing how unzen he can really be (here’s just a snippet):

This is a show that makes learning about French culture a real pleasure. It’s entertaining, thought provoking and educational all at the same time, and even if I don’t understand every word, it’s certainly improved both my French and my awareness of French culture.

Le Petit Journal French television emissionIt’s not all positive though. There’s still a section of Le Petit Journal where French men dress up as women and pretend to be all girly in the office (why can’t they just get women to act as women and kill the cliché stereotypes for an even stronger segment?), and there are still aspects that shock me, like an illustration of a woman’s wide open legs morphing into a cat’s head. Bizarre, ‘arty’ and apparently entirely appropriate for an 8.30pm audience.

Despite those pitfalls, I love this show, so I’m sad to hear rumours that the new head of Canal+, Vincent Bolloré, is thinking of canning Le Petit Journal because it’s too expensive. There aren’t any further details at the moment, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the rumours never become reality.

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Finding vegetarian food in a French supermarket

Vegetarian food in French supermarket

Vegetarian food in French supermarket

Being a vegetarian in France is getting easier, with more products appearing on the shelves each month (and some disappearing, unfortunately). Supermarkets are finally jumping on the bandwagon, with many producing their own range of veggie options.

At Intermarché supermarket, they’re already stocking meat-free products right next to some of the meatiest items possible. Here we have boudin noir (black pudding) right next to the vegetarian patties, because every vegetarian wants to check out the blood-filled sausage before grabbing their box of meat-free joy.

I’m still waiting for Quorn products to appear in my closest Carrefour — something that was meant to happen last year. Apparently, they too are to be stocked in the ‘fresh meat’ section of the supermarket. Yep, that’s correct: vegetarian meat alternatives are going to be stocked next to the meaty items, presumably because people are still hanging out in the meat section trying to figure out exactly how they can cook a meal without meat for that one annoying dinner guest who has jumped on this nouveau meat-free bandwagon. To find vegetarian products in a French supermarket, simply look for meat! France still has some way to go in understanding vegetarianism, it seems. Heaven help the vegans.

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French-style doggy bags – yum yum!

Lately, doggy bags have made French news. There’s a push to prevent food wastage, and to allow people to take the rest of their meals home with them. Restaurants in France are now legally obliged to provide doggy bags.

When I first moved to France, I confused a few waiters by asking for a doggy bag. Taking food out of the restaurant is simply not the done thing here in the French Alps, nor in most other parts of France. When I lived in the UK and Australia, a doggy bag was part of the restaurant experience. For example, I’d order a pizza, but only eat half of it so I’d have room for dessert. The next day, I’d get to enjoy the remainder of my pizza. It was a socially acceptable thing to do.

Here in France, when I asked for the remainder of my pizza to be boxed up in one of those takeaway boxes on the counter, the waiter thought I was crazy. He obliged, but my French dinner partner was beyond embarrassed. The idea in France seems to be to spend hours in a restaurant, eating, talking and drinking, until each course is finished and being digested to the point that the next course may begin. After that first encounter, I’ve opted to eat my pizza and skip dessert — my digestion apparently takes longer than most French people

French style doggy bagRegardless of the new law, I think the real French opinion is captured in the doggy bags already on sale in the supermarket. They’re certainly destined to take something away, but nothing edible. Yes, here in France, the ‘doggy bag’ is used to clean up your dog’s poo. Bon appetit!

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Rate your bread

French bread © LeFrancoPhoney La Cluasz

French bread © LeFrancoPhoney La CluaszAn a country that can talk for hours about bread, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you can rate your local bakery on a dedicated website, allobaguette.

It’s a given that a baguette is croustillant here in France. If there’s no crunch when you bite into it, it’s simply not a baguette (and I have the scars to prove it). But there’s so much more to French bread.

Baguette quality is influenced by ingredients, cooking temperature, loaf size and the cutting technique for those crusty ridges. But the broader spectrum of bakery goods is also an excellent topic for discussion in France, especially inside bakeries, where customers seem intent on discovering exactly what type of flour is used in a Campagnarde or just how many people that brioche will feed for breakfast. So it makes sense that allobaguette exists. Rate baguettes, loaves, snacks or anything else on offer at your local bakery.

The website made French TV news this week as it now offers an online ordering service. Yep, you can order your baguettes online! You will still need to go to the bakery to pick up your bread, so you’re really only saving payment time (which you’ve already lost in logging into the website). The lady on TV seemed very happy to be able to walk into her local bakery and be handed her baguettes. She made it look so simple.

I decided to try ordering online, but I soon hit a hurdle. I couldn’t find any bakeries in my area that had registered with the site (although they were all listed). I did find a registered bakery in Dunkurque!

Allo Baguette website for online bread orders

I couldn’t find anything about ordering online at that bakery, so I decided to register with the site in case it helped. Far from straightforward, the site first told me I had previously registered, then it couldn’t find my details. Eventually, I registered, but finding a bakery that takes online payments remained a mystery: logging in made no difference.

At least the lady on TV is enjoying her online bakery payments, but it looks like I’ll be handing over my cash in person for now — and tuning in to the flour discussions of the customers in front. C’est la vie français, non?

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Mundolingua language museum in Paris

mundolingua-posterI stumbled across a poster for the Mundolingua museum of languages during a busy long weekend in Paris. Given my love of language and Scrabble, this looked like my type of museum. Miraculously, I saw the poster during my only few spare hours in Paris, and it was just a few streets away. I had to go.

What a place! My French travel partner and I were warmly greeted with a melange of French and English. After some guidance on how to make the most of our visit in our preferred language, we started with a game on the top floor. It was interactive, with a touch screen and earphones, and lots of fun.

In fact, the entire museum is an experience for the senses, with sounds, visuals and plenty of items to touch. The most reluctant of visitors will find something interesting here.

My travel partner shrugged at the giant language tree above our heads while I gasped in happiness. He went ahead to ogle at the Enigma machine, a device embraced for military communication in Germany during World War 2.

Enigma machine at Mundolingua ParisWhile the Enigma machine kept him busy, I sat down to read about the braille machine — something that has always fascinated me. There were loose sheets of paper by the machine and a large board showing the braille code for the alphabet. Was it really okay to test out the machine? At this museum, yes it is. I typed my name in braille, which was more challenging than I’d expected. I could have spent all afternoon on that machine, but there was a lot more to see.

Needing a break, my travel partner relaxed on the couch with a coffee while I got busy on the giant Scrabble carpet. We didn’t have enough time for a full game, so I used the tiles to reflect my feelings.

There were plenty of interesting information points (some with topics I covered during my linguistics studies at university, but presented in a more accessible manner) such as slang, proverbs from around the world, and the history of personal names.

With no time to look at the Rosetta stone, to learn how polygraph lie detectors work or to delve into the library of language books, we thanked the staff and left. I’m already planning a longer visit during my next stay in Paris!

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When and how to kiss in France

Living in France means getting your kiss on, and it’s something that’s never bothered me. In fact, as someone who shuns hugging, the cheek kiss is perfect: less overall physical contact, and no awkward moment trying to figure out when to pull away.

It’s a great way to meet new people too because, at a small gathering for example, friends of friends must greet everyone and not just their friends. There’s no sideways looks from others trying to figure out if they know that person who just arrived, and no need to try to break into a group’s circle if you just to find some conversation. Instead, a quick bonsoir and some kisses on cheeks upon arrival break the ice. Personally, I find it much easier to spark up a conversation with someone I’ve already acknowledged, whether I’ve met them before or not. But not everyone feels the same about the bisous. Things can get complicated in social situations, as Paul’s (slightly aggressive!) video below shows:

As Paul points out, one of the challenges is knowing how many kisses are required and which cheek to start on. Different areas of France have different rules, and if you go for the wrong cheek, the kiss could get more intimate. Not to worry — a new French website, combiendebises.com, is here to help. People can vote for the number of kisses typical in their department, along with which cheek to start on. Some departments, such as Vosges (88), know what they’re doing: 96% of voters say there are 2 kisses, and 75% start on the right cheek.

Here in Haute Savoie (74), things are a bit more confusing. Two or three bises? Left or right cheek? The uncertainty is all part of the fun! Over the border in Geneva, the standard is three kisses, and that’s probably influenced the Haute Savoie results.

French depardtments and kissing

As confusing as it is here in Haute Savoie, it gets even more confusing with other non-French people. Do you embrace the French way of greeting friends and faire les bises (while saying “Hi” in English), or do you keep your distance and wait to see if they approach? If they’re a close friend with the same cultural background as you, do you go right in for a hug? Probably best off doing what Paul says and pretending to be sick to avoid the whole thing.

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French fireman calendars

You no doubt heard about the racy French pompiers calendar released near the end of 2015. If not, you can sample it in the video below.

Saint Jean de Sixt fireman calendarHere in Saint Jean de Sixt, our local fire brigade did their annual door knock to sell (through donations) their calendar last week. Were they inspired by that other calendar everyone’s been raving about? Err, not quite. Here’s a red Ferrari, which is pretty much as racy as the calendar gets. Is it to be used as some sort of fire truck? Does a fireman own it? Was it a gift from Italy? Who knows: there’s no further information.

There are photos of the various teams, and I was able to spot our cabinet maker in among the retired firemen (yes, they’re in there too, which is nice). No naked chests or thighs in black and white, but plenty of grey (hair). And then, bizarrely, September comes along with this photo of a car accident.

Saint Jean de Sixt fireman calendar

Okay, it’s not in festive December at least, but I’m glad my birthday isn’t in September. What a downer. I doubled my donation this year in the hope they hire a photographer with some new ideas next year. Or a gym membership. I don’t mind.

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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 wendyhollands.com, my other site.

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