Faire de l’oseille

A friend asked me how work was going the other day. “Ca va? Tu fais de l’oseille?”

I had to laugh. It’s a funny sort of expression, and joking is just about the only way you can safely refer to money in conversation.

If there are a lot of words to describe something in a language, is that an indication of its importance? There are certainly a bunch of ways to talk about money in French: argent (money, but also silver), monnaie (currency but also coins or change), liquide (cash), blé (bread), fric, pognon, thune (dough, money, bucks).

Between blé (wheat) and galette (cake), both slang terms for money, do I hear echoes of Marie Antoinette? (“Let them eat cake!” Which, by the way, was one of the original ‘fake news’ and wrongly attributed to that hapless royal.

I like the sound of the word oseille, and the quirkiness of the expression. It reminds me of what we might call in English, ‘the green stuff’. To be fair, we have quite a few ways of talking about money: cash, bucks, George Washingtons, dough, moolah, do-re-mi, rolling in it. Most of these are pretty dated, like moi. I’ll have to rely on any younger bucks among you to update my lingo.

We all need money to live. Having enough not to have to count it all the time certainly makes life easier. It is, however, one of the great taboos of the French culture. It doesn’t do to talk about, to show it off, or spend it too obviously. Money is not something people tend to talk about. How much things cost or, worse, how much you make. Don’t mention the inheritance you got when your grandfather died. Or what you paid for your house. You might as well ask someone their age, religion or political party while you’re at it.

This may well be true in most cultures. But in France I would go further and suggest that people have an issue with wealth, period. It doesn’t do to be rich around here. Thankfully, I am not. And if one day I win the lottery, it’s just a hop across the lake to Switzerland.

The oseille herb, on the other hand, does have real value hiding among its acidic green leaves. When cooked, they reveal a lovely flavour that is delicious in omelettes, sauces and soups. You may know it as sorrel.

How do you like your oseille?

 

La flemme

la flemme

This is me. Actually it is not me but our cat, Léo, lolling around after a night on the town. But it is how I feel. J’ai la flemme.

‘La flemme’ is when you feel lazy. When your bed beckons well after the time you should have left it. Or the TV remote tantalizes you from across the room. It’s when you just can’t be bothered to do something, no matter how much you know you should.

To have la flemme is very French. Not that the French are lazy, pas du tout. It’s just that they alternate periods of extreme activity with moments of pure paresse. Relaxation, holidays or just lounging around. It’s what saves their sanity.

I am this way by nature, and living in France for so long has certainly made it worse. Most days I get up and kick myself in the butt, have a military approach to sticking to schedules and deadlines all in order to avoid the encroaching flemme that wants to take over and subvert me into a life of sloth.

Perhaps it is fitting that I write of low energy and a lack of motivation today. It is the last day of November, a month that always makes me feel like death. December 1st will bring the promise of pristine slopes, the year-end holidays and a new start in 2018.

So just for today, like the cat, I’ll stretch out and enjoy a few moments of blissful laziness.

Do you ever give in to la flemme?

Poser un lapin

You’re supposed to meet someone at an appointed time and place. They don’t show up. You sit there and wonder: is it me?

In English we call this being stood up. Back in the day when I was dating (pre-mobile, pre-internet, ie the ice age), you had little choice but to wait and wonder. Now, presumably, you phone or text.

I have never been stood up in France. Getting my wires crossed is something else. My feu (late) Belle-mère was famous in our family for les rendez-vous ratés. We would agree to meet somewhere then miss each other entirely – in one case waiting on opposite ends of the train station for an hour before eventually giving up.

The French expression ‘poser un lapin’ literally means to place a rabbit. According to my source, aka Google, this rather mysterious term finds its roots in the rabbit as a symbol of fertility and plenty. The original meaning of ‘poser un lapin’ was not to pay someone for their favours, or more generally to leave without paying. Somehow this got transformed into modern parlance for not showing up.

Rabbits are rather common in France. People raise them like they do chickens, keeping a few in a backyard hutch. Rabbit meat is in all the supermarkets. I don’t mind it, although I’m also not crazy about it. The first time I ate rabbit was, bizarrely, at Easter.

Right now in France les chasseurs are out in force. Presumably hunting for Peter Cottontail among other small game in the fields and forests.

Let’s hope he gives them a run for their money. Or places a rabbit.

Have you ever been stood up?

Raconter des salades

salades_marche

Lies, lies, lies. Half truths, tall tales and outright fibs. Every time you turn around these days it seems a new one is revealed, from Russian hijinks to politicians (not) paying their taxes.

The French language is filled with colourful expressions and ‘raconter des salades’ is a delightful example. Why one would tell salad tales to spin a yarn is not immediately obvious. Yet by gathering different ingredients and marinating them in a sauce, seasoning them with half-truths and jokes and then serving them up as fresh and healthy…it begins to make sense.

When you think about the meaning of the word ‘salade’ it becomes even clearer. Whereas in English a salad is a dish, in French it is also a lettuce or any of the various leaves that compose such dishes. What duplicity!

‘Salade’ the leaves are many indeed. Growing up in Canada in the ice age of the 1960s, iceberg was the only lettuce we knew. Along came the 70s and we discovered romaine (Hail, Caesar!) and in the 80s the advent of the spinach salad. (Raw spinach? In a salad!?!)

Arriving in France I was amazed by the number and varieties of lettuce and other leaves that people ate raw or dressed with different types of vinaigrette. From mesclun to watercress, frisée to lola rossa…the sheer variety was extraordinary. This image gives you an idea. (How did I never realize that dandelions are literally dents-de-lion, lion’s teeth?)raconter-une-salade

Perhaps most amazingly, there were salads served in restaurants that contained few or no leaves at all: salade de crudités with a variety of raw veg; salade Niçoise, with green beans, potatoes and tuna; salade Grecque with its chunks of feta, tomato and olives. When we moved to Lyon I discovered the salade Lyonnaise with its lovely runny egg and smoky lardons. The frisée lettuce served with this one can make it challenging to consume politely, without splattering vinaigrette or wending one’s knife.

I love salads, and not just because they are good for you. There are lemony carottes rapées (that’s grated, not raped because, let’s face it, if anyone is going to do the raping it is the carrot) and betterave (Better ‘ave ‘em? Beets me!) with lovely mâche and walnuts. As I shared in a previous post, the secret is in la sauce vinaigrette.

Pardon my use of so many silly puns, but is that not in keeping with the telling of salads?

What’s your favourite kind of salad?

Un froid de canard

froid-de-canard

Suddenly, it’s winter here in France. Which means it’s cold enough for ducks.

One of the eternal mysteries of life is why winter always feels colder here than in Canada. Is it the damp, perhaps, or the fact that we are less prepared for the subzero chill? Could it be because the houses are not as well insulated or our coats not as warm?

All I know is that il fait un froid de canard and – pardon my French – we are freezing our tits off. My own personal theory is that we need some snow. All that bright white will soon have us feeling warmer. Take it from a Canuck.

The arrival of snow in France is an annual event that is almost as talked-about as the great migration to parts south and coastal in the summer. Not of ducks but of French holiday-makers.

I’ve posted before about how snowstorms will trump (pardon my French again!) just about all other breaking news. So far we’ve avoided that disaster but the mere suggestion that a few flakes might be falling this week has required live updates and lengthy analyses by meteorologists. When something happens in France, no matter what the cause, an explanation must be found, and if possible a guilty party. The weatherman shook his head and pointed with consternation to the cold front coming in over the Balkans from Russia. Aha!

To the other burning question: why do the French associate the sudden onset of cold weather with ducks? I am happy to be able to clear up that mystery: it seems that our quacking friends come out of hiding when the temperature drops, leaving the open waters for the hinterland and giving hunters a clear shot.

Poor ducks. Well, at least if they’re out flying they haven’t been confined and force fed to fatten up their livers for foie gras.

You have to look on the bright side.

la neigeAs I write this, snow has finally fallen and, conversely, my mood has lightened. Nothing like a bit of white stuff to keep the cold at bay. And the ducks.

What’s the temperature chez vous?

How do you feel about la neige?