Au printemps

Spring has been taking its sweet time in making an appearance. Normally the signs are visible by mid-March but this year Easter came and went with nary a blossom. It’s not surprising that the longed-for season of renewal is dragging its feet – winter came in with a bang far later than usual. But this week, enfin! The unmistakable signs of le printemps are here at last.

The birds are the first ones to announce that something is up. Even before we sprang forward by an hour, I could hear them twittering away in the predawn dark. Now there is a flurry of activity going on in the eaves and in the branches at all hours.

 

Hello yellow
Le jaune de forsythia

Forsythia is the first floral sign of spring. Hello yellow! I love it for its brief, joyful burst that heralds so much to come. Its intense yellow hurrah will only last a few weeks at best. It’s joined by bright daffodils and a softer yellow wild flower that grows around the base of trees. Wish I knew its name.

Next: the rain. It has been pouring on and off for the past couple of weeks. We had an actual thunderstorm yesterday. I could feel winter’s cold breath blowing madly against the warmer spring air. It’s colder again this morning so winter may have won the battle but spring will win the war.

Around town, all the signs are there too: the year’s first ‘braderie’ or rummage sale is coming up this weekend and – joy! – the local restaurant by the lake is open again. It closes from October to March as it specializes in local lake fish. Can’t wait to have the season’s first plate of filets de perche, the tiny fish that are cooked ‘à la meunière’ and served simply with a butter and lemon sauce.

Restaurant du Port

But first, there is the obligatory post-winter régime to rid ourselves of excess blubber. Signs have sprouted in the shops promoting ‘cure d’amincissement’, ‘détox’ and ‘minceur’. As for me, I find that it helps to eat less. So I’ve cut out my sweet and salty treats for now and am upping the ante with a bit more exercise.

Another sign of spring is the sudden onset of wardrobe renovation. I went down to the charity shop in the village and splurged on several second-hand finds. Someone who is just my size and has excellent taste must live around here. Then, given that I’d only spent a few euros, I splashed out on a brand new pair of summer sandals online. Oops. Can’t wait to take these babies for a trot.

Les sandales

Now the schoolkids are on holiday for another two weeks. Easter vacation is their last official break before the summer. There has been talk about reducing the (in my opinion, ridiculous) amount of vacation time between the Toussaint, Christmas, Winter and Spring breaks (each of which last two weeks). The mere mention of such a change in the sacrosanct French school calendar has various unions gearing up for action.

Speaking of which: across France, strike season is gaining momentum as the SNCF continues it movement, or lack of. More on that later.

What’s your favourite sign of spring?

Mot de passe

Anonymous hacker groupThe French term for password, ‘mot de passe’, is a bit of a no-brainer for English natives, one of those all-too-rare, word-for-word translations that feels like a gift when you learn a language.

It’s a different story when it comes to your PIN for banking and credit cards. There is a very good reason why the French call this ‘le code secret’ and not code pine, as I have been known to say. Which is how I discovered that ‘pine’ is slang for penis.

If only there was a mot de passe for language itself. Imagine that you could log in to your adopted tongue and start speaking, even thinking like a native. Quel bonheur!

When you think of all the words you need to know to master a second language, an estimate that ranges from 300 to 2,000, it is daunting. Certainly after thirty years of speaking French, I must have acquired almost that many. But I think it was easier than the challenge of staying on top of all of the various user ID’s and passwords that are required just to stay afloat online these days.

It doesn’t matter whether your native tongue is English, French or Swahili, when it comes to covering our accesses and keeping our identities secure, we are all in the same boat. That boat is dangerously overcrowded, has multiple leaks and is listing seriously starboard, Captain!

I first experienced password hell when I started working in the corporate world here in France. You needed to sign in to your workstation every day. Then you needed another password for your email, and another for the intranet. VPN and various services quickly multiplied both at work and at home, along with the number of passwords you needed to use them.

I remember my boss back in the day, a 90’s dress-for-success businesswoman with a blonde flip, joking about how she just used her husband’s first name for everything. We all followed suit. In fact, you could have probably hacked into most French women’s bank accounts with nothing more than the first name of their spouse and children.

Then some techno-terrorist in Corporate Security changed the rules. A password must contain at least eight letters and two numbers or symbols. You must keep it secret and not store it on paper or anywhere in written form. You must change it for each different site or service you use, and update it from time to time. Or risk giving away your personal identity and financial details to the entire internet. Woe to any fool who uses the same password on more than one site! Hackers are lurking just behind your keyboard.

Despite the fear of having one’s bank details misappropriated, the French took quickly to shopping and other online transactions. As an avid consumer of English books and imported delicacies such as crunchy peanut butter, I for one rejoiced at the advent of Amazon and never looked back. While my compatriots wail about the death of the store, I have gotten to know all of the delivery people near and far: Chronopost, Colissimo, UPS…they all beat a path to my door. Sure beats schlepping multiple klicks to the nearest store only to find they don’t have what I want.

One of the reasons I shop on Amazon is that they never ask for my password. Any new vendor means you have to create an account, add payment details and learn another mot de passe.

Now we have a password for just about everything, including a code for the gate to enter our residence and the alarm that guards us against marauding intruders. For the phone, the internet, the TV, not yet for the toaster.

I have a secret system for my passwords. Obviously I cannot divulge it here, but it involves variations on a mnemonic theme. As my memory is far from perfect, my back-up is a rather low-tech file that lists all of my various logins and passwords. Hackers would have a field day if they found it.

Et toi? How do you manage all this password malarkey?