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Uncomplicating French, Fatting Up Before Lent, Taking Home a Gourmet Baggy


The Académie FrançaiseThe Académie Française

The French are happiest when they are complicating their lives. Complicating their lives even more than they already are is even more fun.

This past week’s big news had to do with 2,400 changes to the French language that has caused quite an uproar. The reason for the changes has to do with uncomplicating their language, which is complicating things even more as one can imagine!

In contention are aspects of the language that complicate it — such as the circumflex and other seemingly unnecessary accents (maîtresse/maitresse), extra vowels that make no difference to pronunciation (oignon/ognon) and compound nouns that could be made into one word (porte-monnaie/portemonnaie).

Some of those opposed to the changes are accusing the Socialist administration of ‘dumbing down’ the nation. Other opponents have started a “#JeSuisCirconflexe” campaign on Twitter. Right wing politicians are following suit in their anti-reform voices, claiming the changes will be near to impossible to enforce. Like any reform or change in France, the French will likely be reluctant.

10 spellings that will change:

* Oignon becomes ognon (onion)
* Nénuphar becomes nénufar (waterlily)
* S’entraîner becomes s’entrainer (to train)
* Maîtresse becomes maitresse (mistress or female teacher)
* Coût becomes cout (cost)
* Paraître becomes paraitre (to appear)
* Week-end becomes weekend (weekend)
* Mille-pattes becomes millepattes (centipede)
* Porte-monnaie becomes portemonnaie (wallet)
* Des après-midi becomes des après-midis (afternoons)

That being said, I remember when one day we spent euros instead of francs and the change happened almost instantaneously. If they are actually able to accept these 2,400 changes in the language, then perhaps they can accept other reforms which are more important…like economic reforms that would decrease taxes and increase jobs!

In fact, that’s part of the controversy — why put so much time and energy into these proposed reforms in the French language by the Académie Française when there are so many more important things to worry about in today’s world. Not only that, language is quickly evolving all on its own, thanks to the way we are using the Internet and our hand-held devices to communicate. The Academie needs to just relax and let the French language take whatever shape it will take based on the people who use it, rather than by the people who wish to control it. (My opinion.)


New Orleans' Mardi Gras - King of RexNew Orleans’ Mardi Gras – King of Rex

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday — the day before Lent when one is expected to dine and drink well before beginning the ritual of fasting. Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world, but most notably in two of my favorite cities — New Orleans and Nice.

New Orleans has the French to thank for the festival, dating back to the French explorers Iberville and Bienville who celebrated it in 1699 near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Mardi Gras balls and the wearing of costumes and masks were recorded later in 1730, but it wasn’t official until 1833 when Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, a rich plantation owner of French descent, raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration.

I grew up attending the parades of the “krewes” in New Orleans, learning how to catch the “doubloons,” trinkets and beads thrown from the floats without getting killed by other revelers, and ‘worm’ my way up to the front of the crowd for the best views and vantage points (without having a ladder).

In Nice, the “Carnaval” is a similar, but  different kind of festival. It takes place over two weeks (this year from February 13th through 28th) with floats, parades and festivities — but no throwing of the trinkets and beads, a bit of costume by the paraders, but not by the bystanders, and no drunkenness (that one is aware of)! The Carnaval dates back to 1294 when the Count of Provence, Charles Anjou, celebrated it for the first time in Nice. As you see, its roots are a ‘bit’ deeper!

While I’m not going to take a quick trip to New Orleans this year for the revelry, I am going to take a fast train down to Nice for a week of sun, surf and Carnaval at the end of the month with my oldest friend from New Orleans. The last time she and I celebrated Mardi Gras was in New Orleans the year before Hurricane Katrina — so this will be a special reunion. We look forward to the eighteen floats that will work their way along the Promenade des Anglais into a frenzy at Place Masséna surrounded by 1,000 musicians and dancers from all across the world. All this takes place within steps of my apartment, “Le Matisse” … we won’t even need to ‘worm’ our way up to the front!

Stay tuned for a full report with lots of photos!

Note: Le Matisse is available for rental year-round. Book now for the best times during the Summer season! Or email [email protected].


Illustration by Tom BachtellIllustration by Tom Bachtell

Americans often leave a restaurant with a “doggy bag” — the part of their meal they couldn’t eat, since portions are enough for a person-and-a-half (and sometimes two). Asking for a doggy bag in France, however, will have gotten you a big fat frown…until now.

In an effort to cut down on food waste, a new regulation came into force at the beginning of the year applied to restaurants serving more than 180 meals a day that they can no longer deny your request for a baggy. Opponents don’t believe it will catch on — that it’s embarrassing to take leftovers home from a restaurant (while we think nothing of it), but a poll showed that 75% of the French aren’t really opposed to the idea, while 70% have never actually done it.

Others say that it’s ridiculous because it doesn’t solve the problem of waste — better to stop serving industrially prepared meals that spoil quickly. And then there are those that simply hate the term “doggy bag,” since it implies that the food is only fit for dogs! However they can stomach the term “Le Gourmet Bag” much easier!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - with pal, Kathy Rasner, Mardi Gras 2004  Adrian Leeds
  Editor, Parler Paris

  (with pal, Kathy Rasner, Mardi Gras 2004)

  Respond to Adrian

 parler paris postmark150

P.S. Tomorrow is Mardi Gras! So, for all of you who will be joining us at Parler Paris Après Midi, be sure to wear your beads, your costumes or your masks and have some fun!


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