Archive for September, 2013

J’adore le Cinema Français

Posted on September 26th, 2013 by Jonah Arellano in Uncategorized | No Comments »

My love of foreign film started at a young age. I’d really like to say that I was cultured and worldly at the start of my teen years and that’s why I decided to broaden my cinematic horizons. Unfortunately—and embarrassingly—that isn’t the case. The truth is I was lured in by the promise of the “mature” scenes that sometimes accompanied the late-night, subtitled movies. As I grew older filmand less curious about…“maturity”, I kept watching foreign films, by that time I was too addicted to the unique look of the cinematography and the captivating story lines.


It goes without saying that some of my favorite foreign movies are French. I find there’s a fresh, hip quality to them that isn’t always present in mainstream American cinema, probably stemming from the type of boundary-pushing films being made around the 1960s during the movement called La Nouvelle Vague (The New Wave). None of this, however, makes me an expert on French film. Sure, I can tell you that France is the birthplace of cinema, and the first public screening of films at which admission was charged was held on December 28, 1895 at Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris, but that also doesn’t make me an expert. What I’d like to do is share my non-expert opinion on a few of my favorite French movies in hopes that you’ll like them too.


He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not (À la folie… pas du tout)

Amelie is a great movie; I love it. But I do feel that it is a bit overhyped to be on this list. Chances are, you’ve already seen it or heard of it, and I want to try to expose you to films you might not have heard of before. Assuming you have seen Amelie, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that Audrey Tautou, who plays the title character, is a wonderful actress. To see her really shine I’d suggest watching the psycho-drama, He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not. Tautou plays Angélique, a fine arts student who is obsessed with a cardiologist (Samuel Le Bihan). The first half of the movie follows Angélique through all her wide-eyed romantic idealism. After a literal rewind of the film, the second half depicts all the events of the first from the point of view of the cardiologist.


the fairyThe Fairy (La Fée)

The Fairy is a French-Belgian film written, directed by, and staring Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy. Fans of silent-era slapstick acting will really enjoy this movie. All three writer/director/actors share a background in theatre and circus, so they execute even the most ridiculous poses and expressions with an effortlessness Jerry Lewis would find enviable.


The Dinner Game (Le dîner de cons)

Anyone who has seen the 2010 American remake, Dinner for Schmucks, will already be familiar with the plot of The Dinner Game. A man must bring an “idiot” to an “idiot dinner” for the other guests to ridicule. This comedy is great for French learners. The time frame and setting both require minimal attention, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the fast paced dialog riddled with puns.


The movies listed are my personal favorites, but by no means do they encompass all French cinema has to offer—as if any three movies could. Sure I could have listed movies that have had more acclaim or made more money, but I wanted to show you what I like so that maybe you’d be inspired to go out and find a few French favorites of your own (if you haven’t already).


How did you get started watching foreign cinema? Was it for a love of the language or, like me, did you have more mature reasons? What are your favorite French films?

How to be Polite (or Rude) When You Want to be

Posted on September 24th, 2013 by Jonah Arellano in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Of the French stereotypes that float around, the most ridiculous—in my opinion—is the belief that French people are rude. That isn’t the case at all. People just don’t realize that cultural differences sometimes spread into the realm of politeness. As someone who grew up on the border of the US and Mexico, I’ve seen all the ways something that seems harmless or commonplace in one country can be considered extremely rude in another. France is no different; with a country’s culture comes its own brand of politeness, and to get along peacefully it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little etiquette. On the other hand, not everyone in France is going to be nice, that’s just a fact of life. And for those times when you feel the situation merits it, it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to be rude either.


Starting Off on the Right Foot

One part of French etiquette that really appeals to my Mexican sensibilities is the formality of greetings. When approaching someone on the street or entering a store, it is customary to greet the person you encounter. It may seem strange to address someone you hardly know, or don’t know at all, but by doing this you are showing that person a level of respect that will be appreciated and returned.polite 2

  •       To greet a woman say, “Bonjour, Madame”
  •      Bonjour, Monsieur “ is the proper greeting for a man

Likewise, when leaving a store or conversation, it is important to exchange the appropriate valediction.

  •   Au revoir, Madame
  • Au revoir, Monsieur

Make your mother proud by remembering to say please, thank you and excuse me.

How to say “Please”

  •    S’il vous plaît (plural or formal) 
  •    S’il te plaît (singular and familiar)

How to say various forms of “Thank you”

  •  Thank you: Merci
  •   Thank you very much:  Merci beaucoup
  •  A thousand times thanks: Mille fois merci

Different expressions of “Excuse me”

  •  Excuse me:  Excusez-moi
  •  Please excuse me: Veuillez m’excuser
  •   I’m sorry to disturb/bother you:  Excusez-moi de vous déranger
  •   Pardon me, I beg your pardon:  Pardon

Even when entering and exiting an elevator, a place where other cultures consider the polite thing to do is ignore the other passengers and stare blankly at the door, exchanging pleasantries is the norm in France. Even going as far as offering a hopeful “bonne journée” (good day) to those exiting before you.

Starting off on the WRONG Foot

Yes, being polite will increase your chances of a pleasant experience in many situations, but just as one shouldn’t stereotype a group of people as always being rude, one shouldn’t assume that everyone will always adhere to the accepted social etiquette. Sometimes people are just rude. In those instances, you’d do well to remember a few words and phrases.

rude 2

  •   To say impolite: impoli/-e (the “e” is added if it’s feminine)

For example: “la question est impolite” (the question is impolite)

  •  An impolite/rude person is : mal élevé/-e

For example: “Ces personnes sont très mal élevées” or “Ces gens sont très mal élevés” (these people are very rude)

  •  Coarse or rude (usually to refer to manners or words): grossier/-ière
  •  A rude or dirty word: un gros mot

Sometimes a certain person will just rub you the wrong way, and for those times, it may be necessary to say some rude phrases yourself.

  •   To express the equivalent of “shut up” say: “Ferme la bouche.”

For an extra rude way of saying this try: “Ta Gueule.”

  •    If you feel like someone merits the term stupid: “Vous êtes stupide.”

Or, to put it more forcefully: “Tu es completement débile.” (You’re a complete moron)

  •  When a simple “Au revoir” is too polite, bid farewell to the person causing you extreme distress by saying: “Brûle en enfer!” (Burn in h*ll)

What are your thoughts on the French social etiquette rules for exchanging pleasantries? How different is it from your culture’s views on politeness?

A Look at French Music

Posted on September 19th, 2013 by Jonah Arellano in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Dancing 1The earliest known sound recording device, the phonautograph, was patented in France in 1857, so it’s no wonder the country has a rich musical background. From iconic Musette, a style of music which uses the accordion as the main instrument (look into the music of Émile Vacher for a taste of French atmosphere the way it was depicted during the golden age of cinema) to Chanson Française (literally means “song,” and refers to a lyric driven genre of music), France has had a very diverse array of musical styles. Today, let’s take a look at contemporary French music.

Nouvelle Chanson

Nouvelle Chanson, whilst influenced by the forefathers of Chanson—Serge Gainsbourg being one of them—has developed through modern influences such as rock and electronica. Amélie-les-crayons, Camille, and Emilie Simon are good examples of the Nouvelle Chanson genre. While those hoping to sample the flavor of the music without needing an English to French dictionary might try the likes of Feist (remember her song “1234” from the iPod nano comercials?), or Cynthia Alexander.


The more commercial and pop part of the Chanson genre is called Variété . For this type of music, give a listen to Alizée , Florent Pagny, Marc Lavoine, or the pop-rock group Indochine.


I am reminded of an episode of The Simpsons that satirizes book-turned-movie The Devil Wears Prada. In the episode a comment is made by Carl about how he loves everything about France except their “lame-o version of rock and roll.” He must have been listening to something else, because Téléphone (who have opened for the Rolling Stones) and Superbus are nothing but awesome.

Electronic and Dance Musicmusic1

Did you watch that movie Tron: Legacy? Remember the great score? That was composed by the French electronic music duo known as Daft Punk. They released a new album this year, and only one word can describe how I feel about it: love. You know what? I’m going to put it on right now, hold on a second. Ahh, that’s better. Ok, moving on.

Hip-Hop and Rap

Hip-hop music was exported to France in the 1980s, and has since flourished to the point that France is now the world’s second largest hip-hop market. Care to listen to some artist “spitting rhyme” (it’s a slang term used in the US to refer to rapping or reciting poetry)? Give La Rumeur, TTC, or Kenza Farah a try.

Music and Language Learning

You’re probably asking yourself why you should care about French music if you can’t even understand most—if any—of it yet. The answer is simple. Studies have shown that music can help you learn a second language faster. Music is compelling and memorable and, unlike flashcards, it doesn’t get tedious (assuming it’s in a genre you enjoy). Have you ever seen anyone dance around to a vocabulary list? I think not.

So try out a couple of the artists mentioned, or dust off your old Edith Piaf records, and let’s take a look at La Vie en Rose. Have you tried listening to any French music? Did you find it educational, “lame-o” or just plain fun?

Tickets to the Louvre: Made in China

Posted on September 17th, 2013 by Jonah Arellano in Uncategorized | No Comments »

louvre2The Musée du Louvre is one of the world’s largest museums, and a historic monument. A central landmark of Paris, France, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1st arrondissement (district). With more than 8 million visitors each year, the Louvre is the world’s most visited museum, how many of those visits were unlawful has yet to be seen.

According to recent news reports, French authorities suspect Chinese organized criminals are behind the circulation of thousands of fake tickets to the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa, in a scam worth hundreds of thousands of euros., an international news reporting website, translates quotes from an article on the subject from the French daily, Le Parisien:

“A member of staff first spotted a ticket presented by a tour guide on August 12,” a spokesman for the museum told Le Parisien. “It felt strange to the touch and the paper quality was not good. All our staff were immediately put on the alert.”

In the following days, a number of other counterfeit tickets were seized by Louvre staff “that were in every way identical to the genuine article,” the spokesman said.

Chinese counterfeiting is old news at this point, a New York Times article from 1992 tells the tale of Lin Liangxi, a man who was trying to get a refund for fake train tickets made at the ticket-making factory in his hometown, Wenzhou. Apparently when he was taken into custody, authorities found 254 more fake tickets hidden in two packages of instant noodles in his hotel room.

My takelouvre

For a time, I studied Hotel and Restaurant Management. In one of my hotel-centric classes, a whole week was spent discussing the importance of being able to identify counterfeit money and “all expenses paid” type vouchers. Like the quote above indicated, sometimes the best way to tell a counterfeit is by touch. After taking tickets all day, one can’t help but notice the different thickness or grain of the paper used to make a fake. But how does this help those unknowingly buying counterfeits? It doesn’t.

While a ticket taker at the Louvre may notice the difference, there is no way a tourist would unless it was either a terrible counterfeit or they just happened to have a pile of Louvre ticket stubs that they fondled constantly. The best and only advice I can give is for tourists to only buy tickets (museum, train, saucy cabaret show, etc.) from reputable sources. Yes, you might have to wait in a long line to buy these genuine tickets. Yes, you will undoubtedly have to spend more money than if you bought them from a scalper. But in the end it’s better for all involved; the less a business is scammed, the less it has to compensate for lost income, meaning that in the long run those coveted tickets may go down in price.

Have you ever been affected by a counterfeiting scheme?

Let’s Talk “Aboot” French in Canada, Eh?

Posted on September 10th, 2013 by Jonah Arellano in Uncategorized | No Comments »

When thinking of learning French, most people envision having a baguette and cheese picnic on a grassy knoll a stone’s throw from the Eiffel tower. But if you’re doing business with someone from Canada, learning French might serve you well.

There are over 9.5 million speakers of French living in Canada, representing almost one-third of the population. Approximately 22% of Canadians speak French as their mother tongue, most of which reside in Quebec, an area once referred to as New France.

One should be aware, however, that there are some differences between French spoken in France and Canada. Firstly, Canadian French tends to lean towards more archaic discourse rather than modern French from France. No doubt, due to isolation of French as a language surrounded by English speakers in other parts of Canada and the US. Also, there are a number of regional dialects in Canada including, but not limited to, Quebec French, Acadian French, and Brayon French.

Generally speaking, the difference between French from France and French from Canada has been likened to the difference between English spoken in the UK compared to English spoken in the US. Noticeably different, but when it comes down to it we can still understand each other’s television shows.

Want to sample of Français Québécois for yourself? Why not watch a movie made in Quebec. My favorite one at the moment is Starbuck, staring Patrick Huard. Huard plays David, a perpetual screw-up in his early 40’s who finds out he is the father of 533 children (I’d tell you more, but I don’t want to give too much away).

If—like me—you see watching a movie in its entirety in one sitting as an impossibility because of rambunctious children, try watching French Canadian cartoons instead. Caillou (pronounced kai-yoo) is a popular children’s series based on books by Christine L’Heureux. Not only will you be giving yourself a chance to pick up a different dialect of French, but your child might learn a thing or two as well.

Even the popular American cartoon South Park has taken notice of the importance of French Canadian culture, satirically of course. In an episode where the main characters, four young boys, travel through Canada, they are greeted in French Canada with a song that states, “There’s no Canada like French Canada, it’s the best Canada in the land.” Who can argue with a song sung by animated mimes and mustachioed men wearing striped shirts and berets?

Speaking French means more than eating baguettes and taking romantic strolls by the Champs-Elysées, it’s a language spoken around the world. Wouldn’t you like to become part of that tradition? Even if you are only traveling as far as Canada, why not learn French and give Quebec a visit? After all, “It’s the best Canada in the land.”

Have you tried giving Canadian French a listen, what did you think? Did you find it had a certain je ne sais quoi?

Voulez-Vous What!?

Posted on September 10th, 2013 by Jonah Arellano in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Assuming, at this moment, you are a non-speaker of French, it is safe to say you know a few words here and there, am I right? You might be shaking your head “no,” but if you think really hard, words like ”bonjour” and  ”oui” come to mind don’t they? That’s good; use those to your heart’s desire. What I am here to caution you about it using the other words.  You know what I mean, the phrases with meanings you aren’t quite sure about, but come tumbling out of your mouth whenever the topic of speaking French comes up. Be especially careful of song lyrics.

The summer of 2001 was the summer of what everyone called the “lady marmalade song.” It was everywhere. Mothers and children sang it in their cars on the way to play dates without considering the content of the song. Prostitution. Come fall, I had my first French class. I was as excited as any 14 year-old-girl with a taste for French cinema would be. “Finally,” I thought, “I can watch without subtitles!” then the class began. The teacher looked out into the faces of the students and asked if anyone had taken a French class before. Silence. (It seems to me that anytime a teacher wants to get their class to be quiet, they should ask a sincere question and await a response). “Does anyone know any French at all? I’m sure there must be someone who at least knows how to say please and thank you.”

Before I tell you about what happened next, I should tell you a little about myself. I have no brain to mouth filter. That is to say, sometimes words just come out of my mouth before I have the chance to perform an internal check for practicality, propriety, and all-around _____. Usually this leads to me inadvertently embarrassing myself or others.

So, back to the story:

The teacher looked around hoping to break the ice by having a student offer up at least a *”oui, oui” That’s not what he got. Without raising my hand, or any other preamble for that matter, I said the little bit of French I knew. That line from the “lady marmalade song”. From that song about prostitution. To my teacher.

As the last few syllables left my mouth I knew I had said the wrong thing. How wrong was visible on the very red and embarrassed face of my teacher.

After laughing it off, he explained my gaffe to the class—my turn to be red in the face—with a warning that I will pass on to you: “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words are even more dangerous.” He meant that words can be used like weapons, against others or ourselves, if we do not know how to wield them responsibly.

Do I continue to sometimes speak before my brain has time to process my meaning? Yes, but only in languages I am very comfortable using, lest I ask someone to “coucher avec moi” again. So to those reading this wondering if they should learn French—yes, you—my advice is to do exactly what you’re doing, find a classroom to learn in, and not a pop song.

Have you ever accidentally said something inappropriate in another language because you weren’t quite sure of the meaning? Let me know, I’d really like it if I weren’t the only one.

Join the Ranks of the Brigade de Cuisine

Posted on September 5th, 2013 by Jonah Arellano in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s no way you’ve missed the proliferation of food culture into everyday life over in the last ten years. Whether you’ve worked in a restaurant, or seen the likes or Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver on television, you may have noticed a few references to the brigade de cuisine. Think this is the first time you’re hearing about it? Have you ever spoken to a maître d’ or heard the term sous-chef? Then you are already familiar with the brigade, and, no doubt, have experienced its effect first hand. The brigade is a system of hierarchy found in restaurants and hotels, usually referred to as the kitchen staff.

Most people—especially fans of Julia Child and Jacques Pépin—are all too familiar with the important contributions French cuisine has had on the rest of the western world. But most are not aware of the far reaching nature of those contributions. Almost every professional kitchen, and some home kitchens, employs some version of the brigade de cuisine system. The system was brought into being by Georges Auguste Escoffier, oft called the father of modern French cuisine, on the cusp of the 1900s. The purpose of the brigade de cuisine was to do exactly what its militarized name implies, introduce organized discipline to his kitchens. Under this system, each position has a station and defined responsibilities; a few of those positions are outlined below:

  • The Chef de cuisine (kitchen chef; literally “chief of kitchen”) is responsible for all kitchen operations, including ordering, supervision of all stations, and development of menu items. He or she also may be known as the executive chef.
  • The Sous-chef de cuisine (deputy kitchen chef; literally “sub-chief”) is second in command, answers to the chef, may be responsible for scheduling, fills in for the chef, and assists the station chefs (or line cooks) as necessary.
  • The Poissonnier (fish cook) prepares fish and seafood dishes.
  • The Plongeur (dishwasher) cleans dishes and utensils, and may be entrusted with basic preparatory jobs.

It should be noted, however, that in smaller operations, the classic system is generally abbreviated and responsibilities are organized so as to make the best use of workspace and talents. In my time working at popular chain restaurants (a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) I have seen this system, as well as been a part of it, changed as it may have been. I don’t think classic French cuisine ever elicited a need for a position on the brigade known as “taco/salad,” but there I was, all the same, preparing tacos, nachos, and salads alongside the grill station and the fry station.

So, next time you decide to have a night out on the town, or hear the phrase “Yes, Chef!” shouted respectfully, if not hurriedly, from the television, keep in mind the rich history and cross cultural influence of the French and their army of cuisiniers.

Whether from working in a kitchen or channel surfing, have you come across evidence of the brigade de cuisine?

The F-Word

Posted on September 2nd, 2013 by Jonah Arellano in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Gather ‘round boys and girls, today we’ll be talking about the F-word. No, not that F-word! I guess you could say I meant the F-language: French.

First, let’s start with some background information. French—along with Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian to name a few—is one of the Romance languages. No, not that kind of romance. I know what you’re thinking, “But isn’t French the language of amour?” Of course it is, but when talking about Romance languages, “romance” refers to Romanic not romantic. Anyway, Romance languages are derived from Vulgar Latin—again not what you might be thinking of. The word vulgar in this context comes from the Latin word for common. Simply put, it was the spoken version of the language at that time. Got all that? Good, now we can move on.

Ever wonder where you would use French if you decided to learn it? Wonder no more! French is estimated as having 110 million native speakers and 190 million more second language speakers. That’s a whole lot of people communicating it the language of love. And in case you were concerned about being a lonely student, you should know it’s the most taught second language after English, so there will be no lack of study buddies.

Have a need to travel outside your particular homeland; French is an official language in 29 countries. Can you say “extended vacation?” Or, for those business minded of you out there, French speaking areas account for almost 20% of the world’s import and export trade.

Learning French is not only practical, but advantageous on both business and personal levels. So what are you waiting for? Don’t equate learning a new language with a not-so-nice four letter F-word. Instead, smile with the knowledge that you are joining a large community of people who all speak the same six letter F-language.

Do you want to impress your new boss, or whisper sweet nothings into your girlfriend’s ear? Tell me, what are your reasons for learning French?