One very awkward englishman, boldly goes…

Archive for March, 2012

Kayaking from Les Catalans


So, when me and my girlfriend first discussed moving over and everything that it would entail, one of my major points of negotiation was that I couldn’t be departed from my little sea kayak. As I have stated in previous posts, I am a bit of an angling fanatic, and love catching fresh fish to eat – safe in the knowledge that I know exactly where it comes from and how fresh it is.

The relatives of my girlfriend had organised a space at their local boat club for me when I moved over, and I also felt this would be a great opportunity for me to socialize with people, and get my French up to scratch.

This week I had a day off, and the conditions were pretty perfect. The temperature was around 23 degrees, no wind and not a cloud in site. The locals have an expression in French “le mere d’huile” to describe the state of the sea on days like this, which means the sea of oil.  Below are some pictures of the trip out. If you fancy doing something similar, I have heard there are centres towards the Prado and Le Point Rouge where you are able to hire kayaks from. I highly recommend it, as you get a totally different perspective of the city, and on days like this it is very relaxing!


Setting off (note the clarity of the water!)



View back towards the shore, with Notre Dame de la Garde in the distance.



The headland towards Le Point Rouge.


I also managed to catch lots of brightly coloured Girelles, which are a very common fish around the rocky shores of Marseille. These are perfect for the famous Marseille Fish Soup! I will have a go at preparing this soon, and will look at putting a blog together with a recipe, for those interested!


Roll on the Summer!



I could definitely get used to this…


Spring in Marseille feels like mid-Summer in the UK…

…currently sipping a Pastis and watching the sun go down. Perfect!

Englishman has first job interview…IN FRENCH!

Upon arranging in France 4 months ago, my main initial priority was to settle in and get my French up to a strong level as quickly as possible. Although I had a level of French when I came over, I was very focusing on wanting to sound as French as possible. I now feel my French has improved a lot and I can follow and contribute to most conversations with friends and family.

So out of the blue this week I got a call back from a local business, (I won’t name the place or the line of work as I don’t want to jinx it!) to ask if I could pop by for an interview for a position I had applied to a week or so ago. Although I was happy to receive the call, I was suddenly panic about the thought of having to do a whole interview in my new, far from perfect language. I hate interviews in English, and having to explain myself, my motivations and my past experiences in French sounded very scary indeed – especially with the thought of a Manager staring at me the whole time studying my responses. I knew that this had to happen, and that I shouldn’t expect to get the position over other native speakers who might also be interviewed, but to treat it as a new experience. Still, the merest thought of what mistakes I might make through my nerves caused me to hyperventilate!

I spent a long time preparing what I wanted to say, translating my qualifications and achievements into their equivalent in French and working through every possible mistake I could possibly make so I knew what to avoid. I want to make sure I was formal, but friendly and as I can’t really disguise the fact I am English I should instead make more of it. I decided to dress up in a nice suit, shirt ands tie combination, borrowed some nice shoes off my Fiancées dad and generally worked on my appearance in the hope to it might take the emphasis away from any faux-pas I might make.

So today was the interview day, and after several toilet visits I prepared myself for the interview. I arrived early, announced my arrival with the secretary and took a seat in the plush reception. After a while a young French gentleman in a suit emerged who had obviously been interviewed before me, and I was called in for my interview. The interview itself went very well indeed. Although my interviewer spoke very quickly I had no problems understanding everything word he said, and I was able to answer any questions posed at me with ease and confidence… Thank goodness!

After 10 the interview was over and I was shaking hands and leaving the office, before saying goodbye to the secretary. I might not have got the job, but at least I felt happy with myself to have got through what felt like a big hurdle without any problems.

Merci France!

Les Nauticales @ la Ciotat

Last Sunday I was lucky to get an invitation to Les Nauticales 2012, an exhibition in La Ciotat celebrating all things nautical. The expo runs until 25th March and is focused around the marina next to the casino.

Unfortunately the weather was a little grey and overcast, but this didn’t dampen the mood of people attending the event.


The local sea school were taking novice sailors out for short trips around the bay, although looking at the state of the sea, I thought rather them than me!


The local sea Gendarm were on site, although they didn’t look particularly happy with people clambering all over their boat!


The French equivalent of the RNLI were fundraising too. I made sure I gave them a good donation as you never know when you might require their services. Lovely friendly staff enjoying a hearty laugh and a joke with the general public. A great institution entirely funded by voluntary donations like the UK version.



My friends had a stall on the marina for the Sea Shepherd organisation. They attempt to raise awareness of some of the awful fishing and hunting practices around the world. Their recent victory over the Japanese Whaling fleet is a great testament to the determination and extreme lengths they go to to try to combat these horrendous acts of cruelty and corruption. If you do attend the exhibition, please stop by and say hi to the guys running the stall. They are there all week entirely voluntarily.


A drawing board for children to illustrate with different sea life.



All in all a great day out. I highly recommend it if you are in the area of La Ciotat this week.

Englishman is talking about the food… AGAIN!

So, this week it was the Birthday or Anniversaire of my Fiancée. As we are now mid-twenties and are attempting to live our lives as sophisticated adults to variable success, we thought we would have a light buffet with friends and family. Now my initial thoughts when it comes to the word ‘buffet’ is the traditional English style finger food of cocktail sausages, cold pizza and coleslaw served up on a floppy paper plate, which inevitably flexes as you pull away from the table, giving freedom to a stray pickled onion. As with any type of food here however, the French take things to the next level.

We prepared a selection of seafood, salads and various cheeses – whilst we waited for the Mother of my Fiancée to bring a couple more dishes she wanted to prepare. It turns at that ‘a couple of dishes’ in France seems to somehow translate as 10 plates of intricate platters, as well as fruit and 2 different types of desert which took her all day to prepare. She also brought along 2 bottled of champagne to add to our extensive alcohol supplies, which could have quite easily killed a small elephant if drunk at once.


The night was a great success with a lovely time had by all. Lots of laughing, telling old stories and generally embarrassing my Fiancée! The food was unbelievable. My head the next morning was rather less thrilling!


The only slight hiccup was a poor spelling mistake on the personalised Birthday cake, which my fiancées father had ordered. See if you can spot it below…

PS, it isn’t a mistake in the spelling of her name. Comment below if you can spot it!


Englishman is besieged by Le Mistral, and other minor events…

A little round-up of recent events…


Ok, so Le Mistral is currently battering our house making it very difficult to sleep at night due to the foroscious noise. For those not in the know, Le Mistral is the strong Provencal wind which travels from the North towards the South out across the Mediterranean sea. Myth has it that a Mistral will last for 3 days, and if it doesn’t stop after 3 days then it will rage for another 3. So far this seems very accurate! The strangest thing about this wind is its ability to switch on like a light. All was calm when we went to bed last night, but during the night all of sudden we were woken up to all hell breaking loose, as plant pots, wind chimes and out-door furniture went crashing about as the Mistral commenced. It was a case of my fiancé making a quick dash to the window boxes to bring in the plant pots before any damage was done!

The great thing about the Mistral however is that it clears the sky of all cloud, as the picture below demonstrates…


So the week before last I was invited by an old University friend to a concert at Le Dome. She is currently touring the world with the Australian Pink Floyd, and this date in Marseille was part of a massive arena tour of France and the rest of Europe. Le Dome is the largest indoor events venue situated in Saint-Just in the 4e Arrondissement and seems almost like a mini arena, similar to the Birmingham NIA.

I took a few friends along, and we made our way to the VIP section, behind the sound desk. I had heard a lot about how bad the sound quality is in the Dome, but we had a great position and I thought the sound quality was generally great. The show itself was very impressive, with an incredible light show and all manner of stage tricks and visuals to bring the Floyd back-catologue to life.


After the concert we attended the ‘after party’ for a short while. It is a long time since I toured with my old band, but it still amazes me how unglamorous venues and festivals are backstage. I found it hard to imagine recent performers such as Beyoncé and Rihanna pigging out on peanuts and lounging on the plastic chairs in the rather empty and bland backstage lounge. Maybe Monster Munch is more their thing? Who know… Anyways, it was good to catch up with an old friend for a short while before we departed into the chilly Marseilles night.

For much of last week we had a lot better weather, and the temperature hovered around 18 – 20 degrees with a tiny breeze. We were invited over for our first BBQ of the year (In Februay!?!) at the mother of my fiancé in the Blancarde area of the City. I thought this might be a perfect time to buy some fresh fish from the famous Marseille fish market on the Vieux Port. I am slowly getting a lot better at identifying the various strange and wonderful species of fish we have down here, so I felt confident I might be able to order something suitable for the BBQ!

Once I got down there I hovered around the various stalls in amongst the fish lovers and bemused tourists for a good 15 minutes. I desperately tried to suss out which fish I wanted, the name in French, how many I wanted and how much I would need to pay by listening to other people ordering. At last I plucked up the courage and asked one gruff-spoken, leather skinned Marseilles fisherman for some Dorade Sar, or small Sea Bream. There are many different varieties of Sea Bream in the mediterranean, the most highly prized being the Dorade Royal or Guilthead Bream in English. Unfortunately all the stalls were fresh out of Dorade Royal, so I felt the Sar could work well on the BBQ. I thought 15 Euros seem to be the amount many other people were paying so I plumped for the same. I soon started to worry as the man filled a bag with these fish, 10 in all before handing it over for the cash. I walked home feeling a bit silly that I had ordered so many fish, and that I would be eating Sar for the next 2 weeks solid!


One final thought before I go…

One of the things that I have been having a lot of problems with lately is when you have English words, phrases or names within everyday French speech. I have been working very hard on my French accent, but when it comes to pronouncing anything in English I always revert back to my English native speaking accent. This inevitably leads to me having to repeat what I have just said again, as the person I’m talking to hasn’t got a clue what I just said. Take asking for a packet of cigarettes for instance. I have now worked out that I need to say the English word, phrase or name with a fake French accent in order to be understood.

Rather strange if you think about it… On y va!

Raymond Blanc visits Marseille

Here is French chef Raymond Blanc visiting Le Petit Nice in Marseille (which you may have seen in my previous posts) for his current ‘Hungry Frenchman’ series.

PS, Gerald Passedat (pronounced Pasta on the program!) That guy was born to be a chef surely!