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This week’s DSK-bag award goes to…

Why, hello there, dear reader! Fancy seeing you here after all this time. I had all the best intentions of maintaining this or some other blog when I got home from France, but I’m no good at keeping promises to myself (and we all know what they say about good intentions…)

Today, though, I was inspired to dig this dear diary out of its place in the cyber attic and blow the dust off its html-bound cover to revisit one of my favorite news topics (and least favorite people) of the past year: Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

As my most faithful readers may remember from this ancient post, I was impassioned by the case against DSK and dismayed by my impression of the general French public’s response. To jump to his defense, I still believe, is to permit rape culture.

Those original charges of rape were dropped because the plaintiff lacked credibility. Shortly thereafter, a completely different set of rape charges against DSK (this time in France) were also dropped. Today DSK found himself and his questionable character in the limelight yet again. This time, he’s being questioned regarding his connection to a prostitution ring as police investigate orgies with escorts who may have been paid with embezzled funds.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I were going to arrange an orgy, I would pay the escorts with my own damn money.

Whether or not DSK is guilty of any of the charges against him–a person is, for better or worse, innocent until proven guilty!–can we all just agree that the guy’s a D-bag?

But as it turns out, even DSK isn’t the biggest DSK-bag in his life. No, this year’s DSK-bag award goes to his lawyer, Henri Leclerc., who said the following on record:

“He could easily not have known, because as you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman.”

Oh right, you can always tell a clothed prostitute from any other clothed woman.

This quotation is offensive on at least 423 levels, so I’ll just skip the soap box and get right to the moral of the story: The next time you find yourself at a lavish orgy, pause to clarify that the naked women aren’t escorts–but if they are, at least be sure that your host didn’t embezzle the money to pay them.


So long, Angers

Since I’ll be entertaining my parents tomorrow, this is essentially my last night in Angry Town. Among other things on a lengthy list of tasks to complete before they arrive in about 16 hours, I wrote “Blog about something.”

I was hoping to wax poetic about the past nine months: what I’ve learned, how this experience has changed me, how I’ve grown (other than my pastry belly, that is).

Predictably, I’m beginning to love Angers just in time to leave. Pathetically, none of my remaining friends are free to get a drink with me on my last night. And you know what? That pretty much sums up my experience here. Du coup I think it’s best not to do much soul-searching right now.

But I promise, promise, promise that this blog isn’t over yet. The next few days will be full of drinking Cointreau and staring out of windows*. At the very least, my impressions upon my return to the good old U.S. of A. should be very entertaining. I’m wonder what’s possible there that I’ve completely forgotten about? Stay tuned.

*10 points if you can name the reference.

Life update

My parents arrive Friday.
Saturday, we leave Angers for a road trip around the lovely region of Bretagne, France.
June 8, I accompany them to London.
June 12, America.

I’m most looking forward to:
-Jeffrey Michael Stout
-Giant cups of coffee
-Hoppy beers
-A big fat Jucy Lucy
-My old bicycle
-Fantastic customer service

In the mean time, I’m trying to put the past nine months of my life into 2 bags of 23 kg. This challenge raises many questions, both practical and philosophical. How did I end up with 5 hair brushes? Did I really need three charismatic megafauna decorative pillows? (Yes.) Do I really need 15 bras for 2 breasts? But most importantly, how do I take home a liter of Cointreau?

French in 10 phrases or fewer

Learning a second language is endlessly challenging, and if you stick to textbooks, you’ll never learn how people speak it in real life. Lucky for you, I’ve been in France for nine months now, taking notes, so I present to you…drumroll please…

EJ’s guide to speaking French like a native in 10 phrases or fewer

  1. “Buhh” This is a filler word along the lines of “um.” The key to this one is in the facial expression: eyes wide, mouth stretched wide into a bit of a frown.
  2. “du coup” Expresses consequence, but is used more liberally than we use “and so.”
  3. “par contre” Expresses contrast, but to a lesser extent than “au contraire.” It’s along the lines of how we say “oh but” or “on the other hand,” or how (as my loyal readers may have noticed) I frequently write “Oh but wait.”
  4. “a priori” Note that this is not even French, but Latin. I can’t even use it in a sentence if I try, but they use it all the time.
  5. “en fait” This means “in fact,” but it’s used as filler, almost how we use “like.” You might say for instance, “In fact I am hungry du coup I am going to the store because in fact I am out of food du coup I have to buy many groceries in fact.”
  6. “RIB” This is not a rib from your body, though it may as well be, considering its significance to your life in France and the consequences you will incur if you do not have one. The relevé d’identité bancaire is proof of your bank account. You can print one from your online account or at the ATM. It doesn’t accomplish anything that a void check can’t accomplish, yet you are demanded to furnish them at least once per week, any time you give someone any other paperwork.
  7. “Op!” They say this as they complete tasks. Step 1, “Op!” Step 2, “Op!” Sometimes they supersize it to “Op là!” which basically means “Uff da.”
  8. “Vous n’avez pas de pièces?” In France, especially in Paris, you are always expected to have exact change. I always feel like saying, “No, I don’t have exact change, but I’ll bet you do in that cash drawer you’re sitting at.” (Yes, cashiers are seated in France.) I usually preempt this exchange by handing them some coin along with a bill, even if it doesn’t correspond to the sum whatsoever. It placates them, and I’ve found it’s better to placate French cashiers than to make a point.
  9. “Veuillez nous excuser.” French authorities do not apologize because nothing is ever their fault because no self-respecting Frenchman ever takes responsibility for anything but a well-chosen wine. So if, for example, your train is late, the conductor, who is of course absolutely not responsible—the fault lies upon someone far away you can’t yell at—he does not say, “We’re sorry for the inconvenience.” He says, “Please excuse us.” The difference, to me, is significant: in the phrase “We’re sorry,” speaker does the action of apologizing. In the phrase “Veuillez nous excuser,” the speaker commands you to do the action of excusing. Veuillez, I should note, is a form of the verb “vouloir,” which means “to want.” They might as well be saying, “You know you want to excuse me, bee-otch!” Way back in French I or II, we were taught that “Je suis désolé(e)” means “I’m sorry,” but I’ve never actually heard that here.

But if you learn only one sentence in French, it shouldn’t be “Hello” or “How are you?” or even “How do I get back to a place where they speak English?”, it should be this:


While this phrase translates to “It is not possible,” what it usually means is “I cannot be bothered to do whatever it is you have requested even though it is my job to do so,” or “I am too lazy to stand up to Our Lady of Infinite Administration,” and sometimes, “You’re making me uncomfortable but I am too passive aggressive to ask you to stop.”

Want to establish a bank account without providing legal of proof of your parents’ address because you haven’t lived with them for the past five years? Ce n’est pas possible!
Want the social security card to which you have a legal right as a government employee so that you can afford to go to the doctor? Ce n’est pas possible!
Want to talk to customer service? Ce n’est pas possible!
Want a full refund for the train ticket a surly employee wouldn’t print for you even though he absolutely could have? Ce n’est pas possible!
Want the internet that you pay for to work? Ce n’est pas possible!
Want your landlord to fix your electricity? Ce n’est pas possible!
Want to sunbathe in your own yard? Ce n’est pas possible!

En fait, I heard that phrase so many times this year that du coup, it inspired the title for the memoir I may eventually publish about this year. Keep an eye out for future bestseller Nothing is Possible: My Year in France.*

*(c) Emily Joan Smith, 2011

Bavaria Day!

The very best day of my trip to Munich was actually spent mostly outside of Munich.

On Saturday, we dressed up in authentic Bavarian dirndls. As I told Andrea, if the the five-year-old version of me had known that I would someday dress up old-fashioned to visit a fairy tale castle, she might have died first of overexcitement.

Andrea borrowed her dad’s car so that we could visit Neuschwanstein Castle, which you may recognize from the children’s movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The drive there was a treat. We passed through some quaint German villages that conformed quite closely to my expectations of quaint German villages. Better yet, I finally got my first glimpse of the Alps that took my breath away. I had seen them from Switzerland and France, but on those occasions, I was, frankly, a bit disappointed. They lacked the grandeur I expected from growing up on The Sound of Music. (First World Problems.)

Germany changed that. The weather was gorgeous, and the scenery was so incredibly beautiful that I could have been in a living postcard.

The hills were definitely alive with the sound of music, so needless to say, I burst into song.

We were disappointed to learn that we wouldn’t be able to tour the castle. It was sold out until the evening, and we had other plans back in the city. (Stay tuned.)

The bus ride up the mount was a challenge for someone as terrified of heights as I am. My knuckles were white as I had daymare visions of the bus rolling out of control down the mountainside, crushing down giant pines along the way. And then we stepped out onto the bridge.

See that tiny thing covered with people a jillion meters in the air?

This is what you saw if you looked down. Andrea took this picture while I was busy hyperventilating.

But this is what you saw if you looked out. I pulled myself together just long enough to take one picture.

That's the original Swan Lake in the background! This picture wasn't so difficult because I was on firm ground, rather than a bridge that groaned under the weight of a jillion tourists.

Neuschwanstein was built—commissioned, rather—by “Mad” King Ludwig II, a really interesting guy, if you ask me. If he were a broad, I’d consider naming a beer after him, so it’s unfortunate for both of us that he was born male.

Ludwig II was coronated at the age of 17 when his father died. He hated kinging, and preferred the company of Bavarian villagers. He married, of course, because kings always do, but popular opinion maintains that he was gay. He was known for having strapping young Bavarian dudes come to the castle under the pretense that their muscles would be drawn for anatomy books.

Like most royals, his life tragic. He wanted to live in a fairy tale, which would explain the fact that he commissioned multiple outrageous castles. In 1886, he was declared insane and deposed. He died the next day under mysterious circumstances—it’s unclear whether he was assassinated or committed suicide.

It’s a sad story, but the happy ending is some badass architecture.

After exploring the castle grounds, we headed back toward München, stopping along the way in Germany’s answer to a roadhouse grille: a biergarten with delightful Bavarian fare. I love Europe.

A mac n' cheesey sort of thing, curry fries, and schnitzel. Pas mal!

We hurried back to the city to catch Swan Lake at the National Opera.

Lemme just say: Natalie Portman, shut up.

I haven’t seen classical ballet since my childhood, so the dance and the music were a tremendous treat. Better yet, we didn’t know when we bought our tickets that the story had been re-choreographed to tell the story of our dear leader Mad King Ludwig II! We felt a bit odd showing up at the gorgeous National Opera House in dirndls until we realized that we were more appropriately dressed than anyone else there!

The parallels in the stories were uncanny, and the ballet was incredible. I like avant garde dance, but it’s possible that I like ballet even more, because I like things that are orderly, and ballet is the most orderly kind of art I’ve ever seen.

Alps, castles in the sky, gay kings, and ballet: that , my friends, is why I’m in love with Bavaria.

München on meat

If you saw me in Munich, you wouldn’t believe that I’m not much of a meat eater. You definitely wouldn’t believe that I’m a recovered vegan, but it’s true. For five days, I was a total carnivore.

First dinner in Germany: delicious juicy roast pork with a crispy skin, a big potato dumpling, and a kraut salad.

Barbeque dinner at Andrea's bestie's house. The gigantic wieners are stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, just to prove a point, I suppose.

Andrea is a very proud Bavarian, so she wanted to make me taste the very Bavarian specialty of wießwurst (white sausage). It’s traditionally eaten for breakfast, so one morning, she took me to the lovely café where she used to work for a breakfast of juice, coffee, and weißwurst.

This is what weißwurst looks like.

Andrea explained to me that you don’t eat the casing of this particular sausage. You cut into into at one end, then slurp the meat out of the casing. Needless to say, immature fellatio jokes ensue.

I wondered how sausage could possibly be white, but I liked the taste just fine. I wasn’t crazy about fellating it, though, because I didn’t care for the texture of the casing dangling like an overgrown foreskin at the end of the weiner.

It was only after I began struggling with that foreskin that Andrea said, “Do you know what the casing is made of?”

Cue foreboding music.

“How do you call the part of the intestines where the poop is made?”

Spit take! “The colon?!”

“I think they have some way of cleaning the poop,” she said to console me.

I did not proceed with the sucking process. I took the slightly less brave route of cutting open the colon to remove the shit with a knife and fork.

This is what the colon looks like when you're done.

I’ll save my last Bavarian meal for my next entry on Bavaria Day!

DSK: not OK.

I’m really excited to tell you about the 5 delightful days I just spent in Munich, but before I do that, I’d like to take a moment to say my piece about the DSK affair.

Are Americans following the story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn at all? It’s huge news here in France. Here’s my summary of the story:

DSK, (now former) director of the International Monetary Fund and the frontrunner for Socialist candidate in the upcoming French presidential elections, is charged with attempted rape of a chambermaid at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan. Police boarded his Air France homebound flight to arrest him. He was then placed in custody at Rikers Island in New York, but he was released Friday on $1 million cash bail, now living under 24-hour house arrest.

The French are outraged at what they consider to be humiliating treatment of DSK by the American legal system. “Innocent until proven guilty” plays out  differently here in France, where perp walks and ubiquitous pictures of defendants in handcuffs n’existent pas. What frightens me is that, according to a poll conducted last week, 57% of French people believe he is an innocent  victim of a plot.

Here’s my two centimes’ worth:

It’s deeply frightening to me that the French were so quick to jump to DSK’s defense, especially considering the man’s reputation. A known womanizer, he was investigated for abuse of power in 2008 following an affair with a subordinate at the IMF. Another woman has finally decided to press charges against him for attempted rape in 2002. According to a number of articles that have interviewed IMF insiders, it was an unspoken rule not to leave him alone with women. The whole IMF is the sort of place where, according to the International Herald Tribune, “Some women avoid wearing skirts. Others trade whispered tips about overly forward bosses.”

Pardon my French, but, are you fucking kidding me? Here we are in the 21st century, and yet powerful men—some of the most powerful men in the world!—still get away with sexual harassment and abuse, every single day.

To jump to DSK’s defense is to permit, even promote violence against women and a culture of harassment and disrespect. In this as in nearly every case of rape in human history, popular opinion condones men’s behavior and instead blames the female victim for her misfortune.

In a column titled “The impunity of the strong” in yesterday’s IHT, Katha Pollitt said it better than I ever could:

It took a powerless outsider in a foreign country—the housekeeper had no idea that DSK, as one of the world’s most powerful men, was entitled to make violent use of her body—to take action. Now DSK’s defense attorney is saying the sex, if it took place, was consensual. Because nothing is more likely than that a housekeeper—a Muslim widow in a head scarf, no less—will leap at the chance to fellate a 62-year-old hotel guest who springs naked out of the bathroom. […] Powerful men molest with impunity, enabled by friends, wives, political cronies, a servile press and a culture deeply hostile to women. Tell me again how feminism’s job is over.

One final note, completely beside the point:

As the head of an immensely powerful international organization ostensibly dedicated to reducing global poverty, I find it tactless that DSK was staying in a $3,00o-per-night hotel in the first place.

I read an editorial in a French paper that blamed the whole scandal on America’s rampant francophobia. To that, I roll my eyes and say: Yeah right, France—your military strength, superior capitalism, and fabulous customer service are so very threatening to us that we just had to take it out on your potential Socialist presidential candidate. Now will you please pass the ketchup for my Freedom Fries?