kottke.org posts about France

French cafe charges extra for rudenessDec 12 2013

French Rude Cafe

A cafe in Nice, France charges rude customers five times more for a cup of coffee than those who say hello and please.

"A coffee" will set you back €7, according to the sign, while "a coffee please" is a little more affordable, at €4.25.

If you want keep your expenses down, and stay friends with your local barista, however, the best option is "Hello, a coffee please," which will only cost you €1.40.

The manager says that although the pricing scheme has never been enforced, customer civility is up. Cheekiness is on the rise as well:

"Most of my customers are regulars and they just see the funny side and exaggerate their politeness," he said, adding "They started calling me 'your greatness' when they saw the sign."

(via eater)

The fall and rise of the baguetteJul 05 2012

The baguette is one of the foods most commonly associated with France, so it's surprising that for a long time, the French baguette was uncommonly bad. Samuel Fromartz travelled to Paris to apprentice with a baker and discovered how the baguette got its groove back.

"For years I had watched the sensorial quality of French bread palpably deteriorate," he told me. The decline first set in, he said, when bakers switched from levain to commercial yeast in order to shorten the bread-making process. Yeast could work as an acceptable substitute for levain, but instead of relying on minute amounts of yeast and letting the dough ferment over 24 hours- as Delmontel does with his baguettes-bakers added more yeast and cut the rise period to as little as one hour, "suppressing the first fermentation that is the source of all taste," Kaplan said.

The situation worsened in the 1950s, when bakers started using intensive kneading machines that satisfied consumer desire for an ever-whiter crumb. They started sprinkling in additives such as vitamin C to spike fermentation, and heaps of salt to mask the absence of flavor. In short, while pursuing the promises of modernity-efficiency, speed, and whiter bread-what French bakers lost was the one indispensable ingredient: time.

"For me, bread was a crucial dimension of what the French proudly call their 'cultural exception,'" or national identity, said Kaplan. "They did not seem to be aware that they were putting it in grave peril." By the 1980s, the French ate less and less bread. Boulangeries folded; those that remained competed with supermarkets, which baked frozen baguettes and sold them as loss leaders.

Count Robert de La RochefoucauldJul 02 2012

This obituary of Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld has 4 or 5 paragraphs similar to the one below.

En route to his execution in Auxerre, La Rochefoucauld made a break, leaping from the back of the truck carrying him to his doom, and dodging the bullets fired by his two guards. Sprinting through the empty streets, he found himself in front of the Gestapo's headquarters, where a chauffeur was pacing near a limousine bearing the swastika flag. Spotting the key in the ignition, La Rochefoucauld jumped in and roared off, following the Route Nationale past the prison he had left an hour earlier.

(via Stellar)

Paris, USAMay 09 2012

Having recently published a book about Paris, France, Rosecrans Baldwin visited a number of towns named Paris around the US to see how Americans perceive the French here in 2012. Here's part one of his report.

The survey has eight questions ranging from general opinions to particular trivia. For example, "Whose side was France on during the American Revolutionary War?"

Sixty-six percent of respondents get it right: our side. Twenty percent are wrong. Incorrect answers include "the British," "England," "the opposite side," and, oddly, "the French." Other responses: "History was not my class in school -- I hate it," and "I am averse." My favorite comes from a gas station attendant in Lexington, Ky., who writes: "I refuse to answer the rest of this survey. I love the French language. I have had many French friends."

One guy in a parking lot outside a Dallas strip club says, "This has got to be a trick question." And there's another person, at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, who will ask me, "You mean our American Revolutionary War?" Which appears to be a general concern -- of the 55 people, at least 10 ask me to which American Revolution I am referring. Two people say, "But we didn't have a revolution."

The Morning News is serializing the other parts of this story all this month but you can get the whole thing right now on the Kindle.

How to parent like the FrenchFeb 06 2012

Adapted from her upcoming book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, Pamela Druckerman shares why French parents are superior in this WSJ article.

The French, I found, seem to have a whole different framework for raising kids. When I asked French parents how they disciplined their children, it took them a few beats just to understand what I meant. "Ah, you mean how do we educate them?" they asked. "Discipline," I soon realized, is a narrow, seldom-used notion that deals with punishment. Whereas "educating" (which has nothing to do with school) is something they imagined themselves to be doing all the time.

One of the keys to this education is the simple act of learning how to wait. It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don't pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep. It is also why French toddlers will sit happily at a restaurant. Rather than snacking all day like American children, they mostly have to wait until mealtime to eat. (French kids consistently have three meals a day and one snack around 4 p.m.)

We have a French pediatrician who advised us to do almost exactly what is in this article and we've had pretty good success with it. It's not all roses (kids are kids after all) and a lot of work, especially for the first couple of years, because you have to be consistent and steady and firm (but also flexible) and I know I haven't always done a great job, but the dividends have been totally worth it so far.

The web was invented in France, not SwitzerlandJan 25 2012

David Galbraith updated his post on where the web was invented (which includes an interview with Tim Berners-Lee) to include the juicy tidbit that the building in which TBL invented the web is in France, not Switzerland.

I'll bet if you asked every French politician where the web was invented not a single one would know this. The Franco-Swiss border runs through the CERN campus and building 31 is literally just a few feet into France. However, there is no explicit border within CERN and the main entrance is in Switzerland, so the situation of which country it was invented in is actually quite a tricky one. The current commemorative plaque, which is outside a row of offices where people other than Tim Berners-Lee worked on the web, is in Switzerland. To add to the confusion, in case Tim thought of the web at home, his home was in France but he temporarily moved to rented accommodation in Switzerland, just around the time the web was developed. So although, strictly speaking, France is the birthplace of the web it would be fair to say that it happened in building 31 at CERN but not in any particular country! How delightfully appropriate for an invention which breaks down physical borders.

Those sexy, smelly VictoriansMay 04 2011

Here is my third installment in pulling down random books from my shelves and writing about them, under the belief that the internet is better when not all of it comes from the internet.

Eugen Weber is a wonderful, sassy cultural historian. His best-known book is probably Peasants Into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1880-1914.

When I first moved to Philadelphia, one of my favorite things about staying up too late was catching episodes of his documentary series The Western Tradition on PBS at 3 AM. (Now you can stream the whole series free at Learner.org, which I just found out today.)

This is a passage from France Fin de Siecle, a really terrific book about art, culture, and literature in mid-to-late 19th-century France. And I swear to God, I think about this particular section all the time.

If one considers the scarceness of water and of facilities for its evacuation, it is not surprising that washing was rare and bathing rarer. Clean linen long remained an exceptional luxury, even among the middle classes. Better-off buildings enjoyed a single pump or tap in the courtyard. Getting water above the ground floor was rare and costly; in Nevers it became available on upper floors in the 1930s. Those who enjoyed it sooner, as in Paris, fared little better.

Baths especially were reserved for those with enough servants to bring the tub and fill it, then carry away the tub and dirty water. Balzac had referred to the charm of rich young women when they came out of their bath. Manuals of civility suggest that this would take place once a month, and it seems that ladies who actually took the plunge might soak for hours: an 1867 painting by Alfred Stevens shows a plump young blonde in a camisole dreaming in her bathtub, equipped with book, flowers, bracelet, and a jeweled watch in the soap-dish. Symbols of wealth and conspicuous consumption.

In a public lecture course Vacher de Lapouge affirmed that in France most women die without having once taken a bath. The same could be said of men, except for those exposed to military service. No wonder pretty ladies carried posies: everyone smelled and, often, so did they.

Teeth were seldom brushed and often bad. Only a few people in the 1890s used toothpowder, and toothbrushes were rarer than watches. Dentists too were rare: largely an American import, and one of the few such things the French never complained about. Because dentists were few and expensive, one would find lots of caries, with their train of infections and stomach troubles, it is likely that most heroes and heroines of nineteenth-century fiction had bad breath, like their real-life models.

Yep. That's why we call them "the unwashed masses."

It wasn't until the twentieth century that most people took a bath, washed their underwear, flushed a toilet, saw their own reflection in a mirror, or stopped dying at atrocious rates every time they gave birth to a child. How's that mistake looking now, Werner?

Cliche!Feb 08 2011

"In France, everyone has a view of the Eiffel Tower" and other French stereotypes:

Also, la version française. (thx, rosecrans)

Color photos of occupied ParisJul 10 2008

André Zucca's color photographs of Paris during the German occupation of WWII have provoked controversy because Zucca worked for a German propaganda magazine. But Richard Brody argues that Zucca's photographs are true to the Paris of the time and don't just show the "cheerful ease" of the city's residents.

Certainly, Zucca couldn't get the whole story: he photographed Jews wearing the star but couldn't show the roundups or the deportation to Auschwitz; he could show German soldiers but couldn't show the arrest, torture, and execution of resisters. He couldn't, but nobody could; the problem wasn't that he worked for a propaganda rag: photographers who actively worked for the Resistance couldn't do it either. But what he did do was to capture the paradoxes of the Occupation, where horror and pleasure coexisted in shockingly close proximity, where the active resistance to Nazi occupation was in fact far less prevalent than the feigned daily oblivion of those who kept their heads down and tried to cope.

More of Zucca's photos are here.

Smoking at CannesMay 22 2008

Taking in the scene at Cannes:

Defying France's strict new antismoking laws, Sean Penn, right, president of the jury at the 61st Cannes Film Festival, lighted a cigarette at a news conference yesterday, Agence France-Presse reported. After a couple of puffs in defiance of rules that banned smoking in enclosed spaces since January, he put the cigarette aside and returned to answering reporters' questions. But a jury member, the Iranian writer and director Marjane Satrapi, prompting laughter, then asked if anyone minded if she smoked "for medical reasons." She lighted a cigarette; Mr. Penn and the French actress Jeanne Balibar joined her.

From the outgoing NY Times Paris bureauMar 24 2008

From the outgoing NY Times Paris bureau chief, eight lessons in the ways of the French.

A doctor I know told me he once bought a coat at a small men's boutique only to discover that it had a rip in the fabric. When he tried to return it, the shopkeeper gave him the address of a tailor who could repair it - for a large fee. They argued, and the doctor reminded the shopkeeper of the French saying, "The customer is king."

"Sir," the shopkeeper replied, "We no longer have a king in France."

The front pages of some Italian andJul 10 2006

The front pages of some Italian and French newspapers on the day after the World Cup Final.

Allez les Bleus!Jul 09 2006

French Flag

I'm rooting for France today, but I feel that Italy has the best chance of winning. But we shall see. Allez!

Update: I'm stunned. Not so much about the loss, but Zidane...what was that? That headbutt is one of the craziest things I've ever seen in sports.

Update: Video of the headbutt. There's some speculation that Materazzi twisted Zidane's nipple...or if not, I wonder what he said that could have riled the Frenchman so?

Update: Ok, here's a video of the whole exchange. No twisting that I can see...Materazzi obviously said something. With all his experience, hasn't Zidane heard it all before?

Update: Video of some of Materazzi's dirty plays.

Update: From a 2004 profile of Zidane in the Guardian:

One of the theories about Zidane as a player is that he is driven by an inner rage. His football is elegant and masterful, charged with technique and vision. But he can still erupt into shocking violence that is as sudden as it is inexplicable. The most famous examples of this include head butting Jochen Kientz of Hamburg during a Champions League match, when he was at Juventus in 2000 (an action that cost him a five match suspension) and his stomping on the hapless Faoud Amin of Saudi Arabia during the 1998 World Cup finals (this latter action was, strangely enough, widely applauded in the Berber community as Zidane's revenge on hated Arab 'extremists').

Update: More detail on some of Zidane's past misdeeds. (thx, daniel)

Update: Zidane's agent says Zidane "told me Materazzi said something very serious to him but he wouldn't tell me what". "Zinedine didn't want to talk about it but it will all come out in the next week. He was very disappointed and sad. He didn't want it to end this way."

Update: Zidane's headbutt, now in video game format.

Update: With the help of lip readers, two UK newspapers have deciphered what Materazzi alledgedly said to Zidane to set him off.

Great set of publicity photos taken byApr 26 2006

Great set of publicity photos taken by French Ministry for Tourism of celebrities flying Air France in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. They were found at a flea market for a euro each. Includes Ursula Andress, Louis Armstrong, Henry Miller, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, a great one of Alfred Hitchcock, and one of a pre-WWII John F. Kennedy. (thx, dov)

As France becomes more like the USJan 25 2006

As France becomes more like the US in eating habits, the famously thin French are getting fatter. "Some of the reasons for the increase in obesity are those that plague the United States and much of Europe: the lure of fast food and prepared foods, the ubiquity of unhealthy snacks and sedentary lives."

Surowiecki on the differences between Europeans andNov 30 2005

Surowiecki on the differences between Europeans and Americans when it comes to work. "But since more people work in America, and since they work so many more hours, Americans create more wealth. In effect, Americans trade their productivity for more money, while Europeans trade it for more leisure."

An interesting bike rental scheme from Lyon,Aug 24 2005

An interesting bike rental scheme from Lyon, France: you pay by the hour with a credit card and the rack automatically checks your bike in and out (using sensors and whatnot) and rides under 30 minutes long are free. More information is available on the Velo Grand Lyon site.

Great influence map of European art andAug 18 2005

Great influence map of European art and sculpture (looks largely French), detailing relationships between masters and students as well as collaborations. Reminds me of a Feynman diagram.

Photo slideshow of Lance Armstrong's Tour de FranceJul 25 2005

Photo slideshow of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France.

Happy Bastille DayJul 14 2005

Happy Bastille Day.

How four little paragraphs about wine inJun 30 2005

How four little paragraphs about wine in Time magazine caused such a ruckus in France and Napa Valley.

Photos from a Jules Verne celebration in FranceJun 27 2005

Photos from a Jules Verne celebration in France.

Coffee in Paris sucks?Jun 17 2005

Coffee in Paris sucks?. I don't drink coffee myself (vile, vile stuff), but I've never heard anything bad about the coffee in Paris, aside from the complaint of some Americans that you can rarely get it to go.

Alexandre Dumas' last novel, The Knight ofJun 09 2005

Alexandre Dumas' last novel, The Knight of Sainte-Hermine, was recently published in book form for the first time.

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