One very awkward englishman, boldly goes…

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Artisan 13 – L’Ecosse à l’honneur

Over the weekend I headed out to St Just to l’hotel de département for the Scottish themed Artisan 13 festival. The Conseil General along with the Anglo Med business network had worked in co-operation with the Scottish tourist board to promote Scottish and Provencal designers, jewelry makers, musicians and food experts to create a unique Provencal-Celtic blend.

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The expo featured some fantastic Scottish musicians, dancers and singers playing traditions folk music. I have to say it left me a little teary-eyed and emotional, even a little home sick (even though I’m English!) It was lovely to hear some songs in the English language again, and it was great to see the local children getting involved too.

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We moved on to the exterior food stalls and outdoor activity stands. We saw most of a live food show by 2 top chefs who created deserts containing Foie Gras. I tried the samples, and can’t say I liked it too much, but I was impressed by the preparation and techniques they used.

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For lunch we had a Scottish/Provencal mix of Haggis accompanied by a Seafood platter! Probably not the best mix I know, but we were trying to get into the spirit of the day! (Note the chutney accompanying the Haggis. I have never heard of this before, so I suspected it was to make the Haggis slightly more palatable for the French!)

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We then headed over to the Scottish produce stand where they were selling traditional Scottish smoked fish for a very reasonable price. Note the very special label below…

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We also talked to one of the head Chefs of the stand, who runs one of the largest catering schools in the Provence. He told us that they do exchange programs with other catering schools around Europe over the summer, where students can come and learn about traditional Provencal cooking, and vise-versa for the French children they exchange with. A lovely idea!

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All-in-all it was a fantastic day with a great ambiance. I’m looking forward to seeing more events like this in the lead up to Marseille-Provence 2013 capital of culture.

Presidential Election Update

So the Presidential Election race has now officially commenced, with each of the candidates campaign adds flooding French television. They take turns to appear on all the major talk shows and their campaign posters are now lined up on official boards outside most public spaces and schools. As someone who can’t vote, I have to admit that I really can’t wait for the whole thing to be over and done with, and for normality to resume! anyways, here is a little update of some of the recent events from the front-runners.

I have ordered the following candidates in order of their positions in the most recent Sondage (Poll).

Sarkozy -UMP

After being well behind in the early stages of the campaign, Sarkozy is now a few percentage points in front of the PS leader Hollande. It is hard not to draw a link between the tragic events in Toulouse, and the Presidents rise in popularity – but his sensitive speeches and supposed tough stance since the events have seemingly struck a chord with a population reeling in shock.  Arriving on the scene of the school shooting later on the same day certainly raised a few eyebrows from people who thought the police really didn’t need any distractions whilst they did their job, Sarkozy went on to send his foreign minister to the funerals in Israel. At this speech the foreign minister made the bizarre claim that “Every time a Jew is cursed, attacked, or injured on French territory, we will react. Attacks on French Jews are not just attacks on the Jewish community, but on millions of French citizens who cannot tolerate such behavior.”  The cynical side of me can’t help think that what he means by this is the death of an arab or other French minority would not be given the same importance. The whole episode seems even more sad, as the week previous to the shootings Claude Guéant was aiming angry comments in the direction of the Jewish and Muslim communities, attacking their traditional slaughter methods amongst other things and saying they needed to do more to modernise in order to integrate better into French society.

Sarkozy has recently been trying to show more of his sense of humour, appearing on the French equivalent of The Daily Show, Le Grand Journal recently and laughing along with presenter Yann Barthes as he played a show-reel of embarrassing clips and gaffs. He has been constantly making what can only be described as ‘dad jokes’ on the campaign trail with the general public, and generally trying to shake the image of a glamorous out of touch millionaire and re-connect with the people.

The epicentre of balanced, fair and open-minded journalism (!!!) The Daily Mail last night published a story that Sarkozy has apparently attacked The UK AAA rating and deficit reduction measures, fueled by Standard and Poor stripping of the French rating a few months back. Whether there is much truth in the story is open to debate, as I can’t find this story in any other news agencies, it didn’t feature on French news and the journalist hasn’t been named in the article.  Hmmm….

Hollande – PS

Why do you think your campaign hasn’t evoked much passion from the French people?“, a journalist from Liberation asked the self-styled Mr Ordinary last week. Unfortunately, for someone who has modelled his election campaign themes so strongly on the successful Obama campaign, his lack of charisma and awkward campaign posturing has left an underwhelmed feeling with many voters.  Certainly, some of his more extreme claims such as 75% taxes for top earners and separate swimming pool opening times for men and women in the Muslim community have been met by bemusement, even from those within his own campaign team who seem to have no knowledge of them being formal policy. Although the reaction that has met Hollande on the campaign trail, including the frenzy of Martinique recently – Hollande still looks slightly like a rabbit in the headlights addressing large crowds, and struggles to command a stage like Obama.

Sarkozy recently accused Hollande of acting “like Thatcher in London, and Miterand in Paris”, in relation to his mixed messages about the financial markets, and in particular the regulation on the City of London. You can’t help but feel that the events in Toulouse were a gift for the right, and it was very difficult for Hollande to know how to react to this. In the end he attacked Sarkozy for not doing anything to prevent the tragedy, and questioned how the authorities could keep him under surveillance, but not link him to the first or second shootings quicker. This was a fair point, but his message was being drowned out my the incredibly angry rhetoric from the right, who were seizing the initiative to dominate every talk show and news broadcast which followed. All very depressing…

Mélonchon – Front de Gauche

Mélonchon’s steady increase in popularity has surprised many, as he recently overtook the Front National in the polls. Mélonchon has the charisma which Hollande so painfully lacks. His campaign has recently been built around enormous rallies held in famous locations in major French cities. His recent Paris rally attracted many tens of thousands of people, all captivated by his fiery calls for the people to rise up and trigger a “civic insurrection”. He is due to hold a large rally on the Prado beach in Marseille this weekend, although it looks a bit too windy for me to trek down their to investigate!

His anti-capitalist leanings have attracted many who were left disillusioned and angry after the financial crisis. His policy claims go even further than Hollande in many respects, with the same promise of 75% tax band for high earners and a salary upper limit to re-address the balance in the French societies finances.

Many have also warmed to his vitriolic attacks on Marine Le Pen, although his attacks on the Anglo-Saxon and, particularly the English are a little personal for me! Speaking at a recent rally Mélonchon ranted  “We speak fluently “globish”… the language of the occupier – the occupier of our minds” and “Our battle is a cultural battle”, he added, calling French the “language of the heart” and English the language of “accounting”

….. ok then, I’m definitely not going to your little rally now! Connard.

Le Pen – FN

Marine is still hanging about like a bad smell. As stated above, the recent shootings in Toulouse turned out to be an absolute gift for her anti-immigrant campaign, and yet somehow her percentage has seemingly decreased in the polls since.  It was very interesting that immediately after the first few shootings, when the media was speculating that the perpetrator was a far-right extremist or Nazi like the case in Norway last year, Marine stayed suspiciously quite in the media. Possibly she was scared that it might come out that the gunman was somehow linked to her party in some way. As soon as it was established that the shooter was A) of Arab ancestry B) an islamic extremist called Mohamed and C) was unemployed and had his 500 euro per month flat paid for by the local authority VOILA! Marine magically appears on every single new channel going simultaneously, spewing her usual bile about immigration, integration and French identity.

What is even more shocking is how she has continued to use the case since as a sign of an out of control immigration system. At a recent rally in Nantes, when talking in relation to the shooting she said “they arrive here by boat, and take everything they can from us”.  This is obviously a very dangerous thing to say, as the shooter was a French citizen born in France and hadn’t arrived in France at all.

One of the most interesting pieces of information coming in from the Front National in the last week is how popular they are with younger voters. In a recent poll Marine Le Pen’s party lead among voters aged between 18-25, which dispels the belief that the FN’s core vote is older people who still cling to the old idea of French colonialism. In the poll she scored a 26% rating, compared to Hollande in second place with 25%.

Bayrou – Movement Democrat

Finally Francois Bayrou, the centre candidate. Bayrou has had a relatively quiet campaign so far, and is still struggling to connect with a larger proportion of the French vote than the previous election. His worries about the French national debt in particular have seen his support drop, as it is seen as being unpatriotic discussing such matters.

Bayrou does, however seem to be the only candidate who can speak English. This may not seem that important to your average French voter, but it can be crucial on the world stage. Even Francois Hollande didn’t manage to speak any English at a campaign stop in London recently, and a visit to the labour party offices. He could have at least rehearsed “terrible weather today!” or “More tea please!”

Here is Bayrou talking in English…

http://www.wat.tv/video/francois-bayrou-anglais-aify_2exyh_.html

…and here he is slapping a small child on a previous campaign trail for trying to steal his wallet. Nice!

I know there are a few Expats living in France  who, like me can’t vote in the elections and view the whole thing with similar bemusement! I have created a anonymous poll below to see who you would vote for if you had the vote. I would be interested to see your answers.

BBC article : Marseille: One Square Mile of France

The Marseille 2013 PR machine has been whirring into action, with several articles in major worldwide publications going to print lately. Many of them focus on the same old issues and clichés of the city, such as illegal immigration, high poverty and crime – which is a real shame as many other European cities face the similar problems, but don’t get the same negative press.

This new article and video by the BBC paints Marseille in more of a positive light, whilst still talking about clichés and stereotypes of the city. For me, it is very hard to sum Marseille up in just one article or report. It is a very complex and unique place that really can’t be understood in a short stay or a fleeting visit. It is in my opinion a magical exciting and intoxicating place which is unlike anywhere else in France or the World.

So if you do read one of the countless articles that are cropping up, take everything they say with a slight pinch of salt and come and experience Marseille for yourself to get a true picture of what this city is like.

THE BBC ARTICLE – CLICK HERE

Kayaking from Les Catalans

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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!

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Setting off (note the clarity of the water!)

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

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The headland towards Le Point Rouge.

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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!

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Roll on the Summer!

 

I could definitely get used to this…

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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

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