Adventures in Ad Translation

December 18, 2006 at 5:53 pm | Posted in food | 11 Comments

Please internet, help me.


I’m sure we can all agree that a tartiflette as produced by Pizza Hut is going to be an affront to all that is cheesy, bacony, and tasty in this world. However, that’s not what concerns me today. What I want to know is, what the hell is up with the tag line?

Le maxi Tartiflette revient… La Queen veut sa tete sur un plateau.

The super Tartiflette is back… The “Queen” wants her (its?) head on a platter.

Why is ‘Queen’ written in English? Whose head does she want on a platter (since the grammar is ambiguous)? I can’t imagine she wants her own head on a platter — that seems both gruesome and pointless. But since when does a tartiflette have a head? Or is there some pun I’m missing?

Presumably, the bizarre phrase is a reference to the biblical story of Salome and John the Baptist. In that case, the queen does indeed ask for John the Baptists’ head on a platter, although she conveys the request via her daughter Salome. But what a strange allusion for a mediocre pizza chain to be making in reference to a cheese and potato dish!

Does Pizza Hut really want us to associate their maxi-tartiflette with the martyrdom of Christ’s cousin? And if that’s not bad enough, they are encouraging us to make a connection between their food and St. John’s severed head. Mmm, sacrilicious. Also: disgusting.

Okay, surely I’m misreading this whole thing. But honestly, I have no idea what they’re getting at. Can anyone help me unravel this sales pitch?

Food Post — Holiday Snack Edition

December 15, 2006 at 1:43 pm | Posted in food | 13 Comments

Just in time for the Holidays, it’s Cranberry Flavored Yop!


I’m amused by this product, because cranberries aren’t really very French (witness the fact that they are called “cranberries”, rather than some actual French word). And Yop (a thick, full-fat, drinkable yogurt made by Yoplait) isn’t available in America, as far as I know… So it’s kind of a weird cross-fertilization of cultures.

And how did this meeting of worlds go? Okay, but the Yop fared better than the cranberries.


As you can see here, the color is pretty pale, foreshadowing the weakness of cran-taste in the drink itself. If I closed my eyes and really focused, I could tell I was drinking cranberry-flavor, rather than strawberry or raspberry. But it was really lacking that tart attack you usually get with cranberries — mostly it was just sweet and creamy, like other Yop products. In any case, it didn’t satisfy my craving for my mom’s cranberry-chocolate-chip cookies. Yum.

Moving on.

Belin Croustilles

In the comments to my famed Potato Chip post, it was recommended that I try these Belin Croustilles, which were described as the French “version of the cheeto” (and also, “cheeserific!”). As a long-time closet cheeto lover (they were pretty much all I ate my freshman year of college), I was determined to try them.


Verdict? Interesting. They’re much paler than the radioactive-hued American cheetos, but with a much more complex flavor. At first, you hardly taste the cheese, but as it mellows, there’s a strong, pungent undercurrent of full-bodied cheese aroma. And in this case, it’s not sharp cheddar, but some unplaceable combination of camembert, reblochon, and roquefort.

And yet, as far as I could tell from the listed ingredients, these “croustillantes” — like their American cousins — contain no actual cheese: trans-fat and chemical flavoring all the way, baby. So how do they get all those subtle flavors of French cheese crammed into tiny crunch sticks without using a smidge of actual cheese? I don’t know, but I’m gonna go ahead and call it a holiday miracle.

And for good measure, I’m also going to throw in this photo of Salade de Chevre Chaud, because I made it this week, and it came out pretty. Enjoy!

salade de chevre

Book Review

December 12, 2006 at 7:46 pm | Posted in backstory, books | 7 Comments


Stet by James Chapman. Available through Fugue State Press.

I really, really wanted to like this book, for several reasons. For one thing, I want to believe that people who work outside mainstream publishing can occasionally produce works of surpassing beauty. I’m also interested in books about Russia, particularly Soviet Russia — there are so many depths to plunder there, so much still unsaid about that strange, brutal world.

From the first paragraph, it seemed that Stet would say all those unsaid things — acerbic wit and sinister surrealism working together in defiance of fascism’s absurdities:

Opinions are unbeautiful, but we all speak them. Opinions, creeds, advice on how to live, these seep from our pores in this land, and no one is exempt from judgment. Perhaps your feelings have been hurt. If they have been hurt for year upon year, that is not unusual, you are probably an artist or some sort of idiot. But to hurt the feelings of millions, for whole lifetimes, this is Russian, it requires our own special language.

It was an auspicious beginning, one that made me grin. But the deeper I got into the book, the further that ideal of the New Russian Novel seemed to drift away.

Ultimately, reading Stet reminded me of when, as a kid, my mother took me wading in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. From a distance, it looked like an ordinary lake, shallow and inviting at the edges, mysterious and unfathomable in the middle. But it turned out that the edges were not so inviting: the shore prickled with unforgiving salt chunks that dug into the soles of my feet, making any progress a chore rather than a pleasure. More disappointing still, the lake had no depth at all — just endless shallow, as far as I could bring myself to wade.

Now, it’s a big lake, and I admit that I did not wade all the way across. I did, however, wade a good quarter mile in, and even after all that wading, the Great Salt Lake still reached no higher than my calves. So I don’t know: maybe, somewhere in the middle, the Great Salt Lake turns out to be great indeed, and deep, and mysterious. But I didn’t have the will to find out.

Please excuse this obnoxiously extended metaphor, but the same is true of Stet. I so wanted Stet to be profound and amusing, to fill me with dread and hope and fear and loveliness. But as far as I waded (and, no, I didn’t make it all the way through), I found only the same shallow, aphoristic phrases, which, although sometimes maddeningly evocative, held more promise than they could possibly deliver.

“[M]usic exists because there’s no such thing as silence.”
“When you die it is always your fault.”
“In a zone where every citizen despises himself and desires to disappear, the greatest value is placed on entertainment.”

Maybe, somewhere within this book, there is something deep and moving — some brilliant undercurrent that ties the disparate elements together and makes a complex statement about the search for beauty in the face of oppression. I didn’t find it.

Noël à Paris

December 11, 2006 at 12:41 am | Posted in vie quotidienne | 4 Comments

It’s been a long time since I spent a whole Christmas season in Paris, and I’m finding it strangely refreshing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until the other day, when I found myself hunting through BHV for various holiday items.

There I was, stuck in a stuffy, overcrowded department store, two weeks before Christmas — by all rights, I should have been miserable. And that’s when I realized: no Christmas music! Instead of the ubiquitous Jingle Bell Rock and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree one inevitably hears in American shopping malls as early as October, I noticed the gentle strains of perfectly ordinary pop music wafting through the perfume-tinged air.

Rihanna, Beyonce, JT, and all their seasonless tales of love, heartbreak, and betrayal… Sure, the music is still dull and insipid, but at least there’s not that insufferable sense of forced gaiety. It’s amazing how, in the absence of simulated good cheer being shoved down your throat, the holiday season can actually be enjoyable.

Indeed, it might even be perfect — if not for the trees.

sad trees

For the past month, the streetcorners of Paris have played host to these pathetic troops of shrunken and bound shrubbery. Don’t misunderstand — I love Christmas trees. But, having grown up in the wilds of upstate New York, I have to admit that I find city Christmas trees a little sad. I just hate to see them, all skinny and bagged, the better to fit on subway cars and up narrow apartment stairways. There’s nothing joyful about such compromise.

One of the joys of urban living is that major holidays become public affairs, and the parvis of Notre Dame can act as a living room for us all.

arbre de noel

Face it: your lonely little apartment tree will never be as gorgeous as this. (Look here for an even more majestic view.)

Not that I’m entirely opposed to interior decoration. But I did go a somewhat more minimalist route this year than the good folks at the cathedral.

pink lights

Look, ma! No pine needles to clean up!

Eurotrash (Now, with real Euros!)

December 7, 2006 at 12:32 pm | Posted in vie quotidienne | 3 Comments

Since you all sent your good wishes, I thought you should be the first to know — yesterday afternoon, the bank account was magically filled! The carte de sejour is still delayed a bit, but now that Brumaire is being paid, who the hell cares?

Thank you all again for your positive anti-bureaucracy vibes. I’m sure it helped!

Chatter Pips!

December 6, 2006 at 3:25 pm | Posted in food | 18 Comments

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog so far making fun of French fast food — from take-out pizza to microwaveable burgers to Flunch, the French just don’t seem to understand the joys of a well-made junk food.

There is, however, an exception: potato chips. My Lord, do the French have tasty potato chips. Now, it’s not their essential chippiness which is so superior to American brands — they aren’t particularly crunchier or lighter or less greasy. What they do have is flavors the likes of which I’ve never seen on the left side of the Atlantic.


Roast Chicken with Thyme. Sure, it sounds tasty, but is it really “Naturellement Irrésistible“?

Oh, is it ever. Basically, each chip is like an entire perfectly roasted chicken, miraculously shrunk down to one crisp, delicious mouthful. My first thought upon trying these was, whoa, how did they make my chicken so crunchy? It’s as if someone took the skin of a broiled chicken, then deep-fried it. Seriously, how could you go wrong?

Looking to branch out, I also tried these mustard flavored chips:

Mustard Potato Chips

When they say mustard, they aren’t talking about a delicate hint of mustardy aroma. These chips packed an intense, dijon-style wallop. Take back your “nacho cheesier” and “cooler ranch” — American chips never come close to this intensity of flavor, except in the occasional bag of salt and vinegar.

Which brings up an interesting question: why don’t these chips exist in America? Do the powers that be at Lays really believe that Americans wouldn’t enjoy chicken-infused potatoes?

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, and I’ve concluded that this is not the reason. Everyone knows that American potato chips are coated with some mysterious substance that makes it impossible to open a bag without finishing it. It’s even in their ad campaigns: “Bet you can’t eat just one,” and “Crunch all you want, we’ll make more.” It’s almost like a sick challenge.

French potato chips, on the other hand, no matter how tasty, cannot be finished in one sitting. They are simply too strong to act as binge food. When I opened that small bag of mustard chips, I thought we’d finish them with lunch. In fact, I wound up putting them away, and it took us almost 48 hours to kill the whole bag. What would happen if you brought such chips to America? I can only imagine the chaos! Chip producers would be laying people off left and right, unable to support themselves as Americans made do with only one or two bags of chips per week. The whole potato-based economy would crumble to the ground, like a bag of chips that hasn’t been properly air-puffed!

So, yeah — don’t look for these flavors Stateside any time soon. The country just couldn’t take it.

chatter pips

Sans Papiers

December 4, 2006 at 1:38 pm | Posted in vie quotidienne | 11 Comments

Hey, remember this post? It turns out all those chickens were still-born.

The carte de sejour has not appeared, and we’ve been criticized for asking about it when “it’s only been a few weeks!” The money that was supposed to appear in the bank account, including three months back pay? Never came. And that nice bank we joined? Seems to have somehow forgotten to give us a bank card, so even if we had any money (which we do not), we wouldn’t be able to access it.

So, it’s back to spaghetti for us. Hey, at least I’m losing weight!

Christmas is going to be fun this year.

Writing on the Wall

December 4, 2006 at 11:55 am | Posted in art, vie quotidienne | 8 Comments

Even though I know French, live in an apartment (as opposed to a hotel), and have spent large chunks of my life here, there are certain things about France that will always make me feel like an outsider.

Case in point: graffiti.

In America, I usually have a pretty good idea what’s going on with the graffiti. Aside from the basic “Kilroy was here” type tags, I recognize the pink triangle with “Silence = Death” written underneath: gay liberation and support for AIDS research. And when I see that Andre the Giant has a posse, I know who he is, and in fact I know that this particular meme was started by an art student in Providence, as a statement against consumer propaganda.

But in France, I’m much less aware of the issues and in-jokes. So when hand-written signs like this one pop up in my neighborhood, I suddenly feel like I’m on Mars.

Attentats Potagers

Onions make strength, long live the vegetable attacks, squat your world?

Uh… I dont get it. Can anyone tell me what the hell this is about? Knowing the French as I do, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is probably a series of puns on some ideological slogan. But even though I know all the words, I have completely missed the message here.

I also noticed this one recently:

Recherche du Desastre

— And where does your father work?

I have to admit, when I first looked at this flier, I translated the bottom as “let’s stop researching disaster.” And I thought, why? Don’t we need people to research disasters so we can prevent them in the future? But then I thought about it some more, and decided my current translation made more sense.

Still, I have no idea what it’s a reference to, and the girl with the green tongue is giving me precious few clues. It would probably help if I knew what the CEA was. Can anyone help?


December 1, 2006 at 7:13 pm | Posted in food, vie quotidienne | 9 Comments

The whole world over, it is understood that “French restaurant” is synonymous with fine food and elegant ambiance. So then, how does one explain Flunch?


Flunch has been around as long as I can remember. It’s a chain catering to families with young children, featuring incredibly cheap (and totally inedible) kid-friendly dishes like steak haché and spaghetti bolognaise. And in typical French style, the name is partially borrowed from an English word, as a kind of disclaimer: at this restaurant, we hold ourselves only to the culinary standards of English speaking nations.

Seriously, who was on the focus panel when they picked this name? Its resemblance to the English noon-time meal aside, can you think of a restaurant name that sounds more like a slang term for vomiting? “Man, last night I had a huge bowl of curry and eight shots of tequila.  Then I totally flunched.”


But rather than leave you with that image, I’ll hop on the bandwagon and post a pic of the Christmas lights in my neighborhood.

mouffetard lights

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