McDonald’s serves beer!

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Click on picture to see different McDonald's Menu items around the world

It is hard for Americans to understand how a kid-oriented fast food chain like McDonald’s could possibly sell alcohol without troubles. However, one main reason why McDonald’s can successfully incorporate beer into its menu is because the German mentality toward alcohol is very different than that of Americans.

In Germany, and all over Europe,  it is socially acceptable to appear with alcohol in public. Minors view alcohol as something common and do not usually drink just to fit in with the “cool” crowd.

The restricted access to alcohol in the U.S. was meant to prevent minors from drinking until they reach a more responsible age. However, it had an opposite effect, and minors find alternative ways to get to alcohol. The risk of getting caught doesn’t intimidate teens much. Even though the alcohol-related laws were meant to restrict consumption, it seems like they backfired, encouraging binge drinking and an increased peer pressure to drink just to be more popular. Check out these three links for examples of this:

Bonging in front of a college lecture

Small get together

Taking shots

The following video is a common reaction of Americans at a German McDonald’s.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the difference in perspectives is the substantial difference in the drinking age of the two countries. When Americans find out for the first time what Germany’s drinking age is, the reaction is mostly shock or disbelief. In Germany, 14-year-old minors are allowed to consume and possess alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine in the presence of their parents. At age 16, German minors are allowed to drink beer and wine without parents having to be there. Once they reach 18 and become adults, they are allowed to drink any sort of alcohol such as hard liquor and are not restricted to just beer and wine.

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While Americans are shocked with the little restrictions on alcohol consumption in Germany, Germans are shocked that people in the States have to wait 21 years to enjoy their first legal alcoholic beverage of choice. Beer is a major part of German culture and – Germany has about 1,300 breweries, which is more than any other country other than the U.S., which has 1,500.

Inside the Hofbräuhaus in Munich

Inside the Hofbräuhaus in Munich

The tradition of beer consumption in Germany has been going on for hundreds of years. One of the best known breweries is the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. It was first established in 1589 by Duke Wilhelm V. This was his attempt to satisfy his “‘thirsty and demanding household”. They were dissatisfied with the brews produced in Munich, so they established their own brewery. It was an instant hit and the demand was so high they had to expand their business. The beer hall continued its successful operations throughout the early decades of the 20th century, until it was destroyed during a bombing in 1944. The brewery was rebuilt in its original style and reopened in 1958.

Alcohol consumption by German adolescents is traditional and generally accepted. This is how McDonald’s can easily sell beer in a kid-oriented setting. If a 14-year old chooses to do so and has the approval of his/her parents, he or she can order a cold beer right along with a Happy Meal. While it might seem like a strange combination, the kid will not be thrown in jail and charged outrageous fines for their alcohol consumption.

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Click here to see what a McDonald's Menu looks like in Germany

Frightened in France

An earlier Eurokulture post discusses some of the most popular sites to visit in France, and Paris in particular, according to the folks who live there. I thought it was worth revisiting the idea with a particular theme in mind: Halloween.

Pere La Chaise Cemetery

Pere La Chaise Cemetery

Halloween is a popular holiday in America, with sales of scary costumes, haunted houses and other frightening parapahenalia.

Even if they don’t relish all the elements of Halloween like Americans do, the French do have some “skeletons in the closet and a sordid past,” this blogger says in a post about the weirdest and scariest locations in Paris.

No. 1 on the list is the Catacombs, which visitors can tour daily. Joan of Arc‘s ghost supposedly haunts the basilica at Le Bois-Chenu Domremy, and one of the sites houses the ghost of Marie Antoinette.

Most of the places on the list are castles or locations where ghosts have allegedly been sighted, but the list surprisingly includes EuroDisney. What could be scary about Mickey Mouse?

What are the American counterparts that might be included? Salem, Massachusetts, home of the witch trials, comes to mind. Where else would you suggest?

Alowine attitudes

Halloween is a particularly popular holiday in America. Some say it’s the second most important retail holiday in the U.S., behind Christmas. Americans buy costumes for themselves, their children, and even their pets. Many people have costume parties, and some cities or retail businesses host events for children on Halloween as an alternative to door-to-door trick or treating.

But maybe the Americanization of Halloween hasn’t been true to the holiday’s roots, which offers a remembrance and respect for the dead.

Lit pumpkins near the Eiffel Tower

In France, the holiday and its celebrations are fairly new and controversial. It showed up in the 1980s, and was first celebrated at a bar where staff had to explain the holiday to patrons. Here’s how one writer describes it:

Halloween in France is rather controversial, due to the perception of corporate and cultural influence, as well as the fact that it is not a typical French holiday and some people still don’t understand what is being celebrated. Because Halloween is seen as an American celebration, some French people refuse to enjoy it, having decided to include it in their anti-American boycott.

An article in the New York Times on Oct. 25, explains a little more about the observance of Alowine in France, and the ever-changing attitude about the holiday.

One American who moved to France for a year with his family, said that Halloween exists in France but not in any way recognized by most Americans — no pumpkins and no candy or trick-or-treating. He threw an American party for his children’s friends so they could experience the holiday as he thought it should be.

Today, Halloween in France is celebrated more readily in an Americanized fashion. On Oct. 31, French teenagers go to McDonald’s and visit Disneyland Paris because of their iconic American images.

A 2000 story from CNN explains that France had embraced the European roots of Halloween, but a 2006 story in Forbes declares Halloween dead. No word on whether it’s a holiday that will be well-celebrated in France this year. Some retailers in the U.S. don’t expect such a profitable Halloween season this year because of the economic downturn.

How are you celebrating Halloween this year?


What’s Lurking Beneath Moscow?

The cartoon above depicts Moscow Metro chief Dmitry Gayev putting up a sign in the subway that translates to, “Checked, no ghosts!”

Like most cities that have a subway system, Moscow’s Metro has its share of urban legends.

The ones about paranormal activity in the Moscow Metro appear to be so prevalent that Gayev had to publicly dispel these rumors. In this Russian news article, he says (roughly translated)

The Metro is a very boring organization… there are no ghosts here, or anything like that. I’ve worked in the subway for 18 years and I have not seen any… At night, I have shouted “Where are you, dear?” and nobody has been found.

As Halloween draws near, let’s take a look at some Moscow subway tales that have had the Russians so spooked. Which one is the most popular?

After briefly surveying Russian blog entries such as this translated post, the winner seems to be the Ghost Train. It’s centered around a completely empty train that appears once a month after midnight, driven by prisoners who died while working on the construction of the subway.

This translated post lists more stories, including the Preobrazhenskaya Square Station, which is “built on the bones of the dead” – a huge cemetery, and rumored to be haunted by priests that were killed by Bolsheviks.

The post also mentions a tribe that lives underground, of people who once descended into the ground and has since lived there in the darkness.”

Russian blogger Anastasia Carroll gives an overview of the history of the mystique of the Moscow underground in her post here.

The Moscow underground is one of the most mysterious areas of Russia. The labyrinth under Moscow was started in XV century in the reign of Ivan the Terrible. He dug Russia along and across. Some tunnels led to the neighbor principalities hiding in their bosom mysterious stories and unrevealed facts and maybe treasures of Russian ancestors.

She also mentions diggers, who have explored the underground and have found deep dungeons, neolithic caves and “pilot objects that the diggers don’t want to talk about because they don’t have enough information.” It seems like these diggers are similar to what Americans call urban explorers.

In the second post of this series, Carroll talks about legends that these diggers have brought back to the surface. One of them is mutants – giant rats, ducks with fish skin, and weird insects.

They have also have brought back a fair share of ghost stories.

While exploring the tunnels underneath the Sklif medical institute, diggers have claimed that they encountered a ghost of a woman that appeared from a concrete wall. In an attempt to escape, one digger hit his head badly and they took him upstairs to the hospital. While waiting for the doctor, they were shocked to see on a wheelbed the body of the woman whose ghost they had just seen. She had died 30 minutes ago when the diggers were still underground.

I’ve never heard of ghosts in the subway during my eight year stay in New York City, but there is a widespread urban legend of the Mole People, which echoes the Russian underground tribe I mentioned earlier. The 1993 book by Jennifer Toth, The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels underneath New York City depicts vivid and harrowing images of individuals and communities living underneath the NYC subway system. A debate has been raging on since. Here’s an article from The Straight Dope that gives a pretty fair account on both sides.

The article ends with,

Parts of Toth’s book are true, parts of it aren’t, and you take your chances deciding which are which.

There are also stories about about people being attacked by giant killer rats in the NYC subways. I have personally witnessed an abnormally sized rat the size of a cat scurrying across the subway tracks. Luckily, it ran away instead of savagely biting off a chunk of my arm, but it fit the physical description pretty well. So, yeah, it’s most likely that parts of the rumors are true, and parts of them aren’t.

The Dead Creating the Living

On the 15th of October, Fabienne Justel, a 39-year-old French widow, was denied the chance to use the sperm of her late husband Dominique to be artificially inseminated. Dominique died three months after their June 2008 wedding of cancer, but had his sperm stored before his death.

Justel had hoped that she could obtain the sperm and take it to another country to be impregnated because artificial insemination using the sperm of a deceased partner is illegal in France. Permission has to be given for procedure by the donor, and in Justel’s case, her husband obviously wouldn’t be able to provide consent. Justel was  even denied the simple opportunity to obtain the sperm to take elsewhere.

Although this is a major setback for her, Justel wasn’t surprised by the ruling, and plans to appeal. She tells the AFP (the Agence France-Presse, kind of like the French version of the Associated Press), “…I want my husband’s sperm given back to me. I have no time to lose.” She hopes that France will lighten up on the issue of artificial insemination because other countries have less restrictions when it comes to allowing post-mortem sperm usage. This makes me think. Can you be impregnated by a deceased individual here in the States? What exactly are our rules?

According to the West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, “Now that sperm can be frozen for future use, a woman can be impregnated at any time, even after her husband’s death.” Creepy…But I guess that it is the best option for women with husbands or partner’s who know that they may not make survive certain sicknesses such as cancer. This law was tested in the case of Nancy and Edward Hart of Covington, Louisiana. Battling with cancer and finding that chemotherapy could leave him sterile, Edward froze some of his sperm for his wife Nancy. After he passed in 1990, Nancy was inseminated with his sperm and gave birth to their daughter Judith in June of 1990. Much to her surprise, the state would NOT announce Edward as her father due to the fact that Judith had been born more than 300 days after his death. Facing the chance that she would not be allowed to receive Edward’s social security benefits, Nancy sued the state of Louisiana. It was finally decided nearly four years after the birth of Judith that Nancy and her daughter were owed a lump sum and $700 in survivors benefits a month. Simple DNA evidence (that took four years!?) proved that Edward was the father of Judith, forcing the Social Security Administration to pay up.

Although I probably wouldn’t want to have a child by my partner if he were not alive to see he or she, I think that the French courts should allow Justel to have her husband’s sperm. She’s not taking it to commit some form of biological terrorism crime (let’s not be paranoid, now), but to keep Dominique’s memory alive. It may be a little creepy, but if this is what they both wanted (obviously since Dominique purposely had his sperm frozen…), then his last wishes should be honored. If it makes people happy, and these folks choose to take care of their offspring, then by all means…

For more information on artificial insemination, check out the E-Healthsite Resource to have it broken down in simpler terms. Be sure to leave your thoughts below…

Bye boycotts, carrotmobs are cooler.

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Forget boycotts. Over the weekend some Berliners queued, bought and chomped their way through a restaurant as part of a new movement to foster a greener environment.

Carrotmobs is a relatively new wave of environmental activism that spreading quickly in Germany. The concept is simple – and best phrased by TIME magazine: Instead of steering clear of environmentally backward stores, why not reward businesses with mass purchases if they promise to use some of the money to get greener? Put simply, it’s a reverse boycott.

Eve and Adam’s was the participating store in Berlin’s second carrotmob. The restaurant pledged to donate 45 percent of their profits that day into making their shop more energy efficient and hence reduce their carbon footprint. The theme this round: WIR STUERMEN DEN HEISSESTEN IMBISS IN MITTE – which translates literally into “We conquer the hottest diner in Berlin Mitte“, Berlin Mitte being one of the city’s well-known district/borough around the famous Brandenburg Gate. Berliner and many north Germans call their boroughs in a city ‘Kiez’. “Mein Kiz” means “my ‘hood”.

Some 500 turned up for the event and there was a good buzz on Twitter. Several bloggers including Hamburg-based Henning thought the concept was “an extremely clever idea, which should be supported”.

Organizers hailed the event as a resounding success and reported a total amount of €2334.34 (about US$3,500) spent at the store during the even – €300 more than the first carrotmob held in June. That works out to about just under US$1,600 that the store will set aside to make its business more green. The restaurant too made its largest ever turnover that day, according to Max Patzig, who tweeted on his page.

The first carrotmob in Berlin held earlier in June reeled about US$1,000 – the grocery store, Spätverkauf: Multikulti, only committed 35 percent of the day’s profits – and was spent on items such as energy-efficient light bulbs and a thermal protector. That in effect helps save the grocer 1454 kWh of electricity per year, and a reduction of 1152 kilograms of CO2. It’s not clear at this point exactly how Eve and Adam’s will spend the money.

Similar carrotmobs were also held in Munich and Bielefeld within the past couple of weeks.

This fledgling movement has its roots in the United States though. Started by Brent Schulkin, a San Francisco–based activist turned entrepreneur, the first carrotmob took place on March 29, 2008. Hundreds of green-minded patrons poured into a San Francisco convenience store after Schulkin solicited bids from 23 stores in the area to find the business that would promise to spend the highest percentage of Carrotmob profits on more energy-efficient lighting

“Traditional activism revolves around conflict,” Schulkin told TIME magazine. “Boycotting, protesting, lawsuits — it’s about going into attack mode,” says the former Googler and onetime game developer. “What’s unique about a Carrotmob is that there are no enemies.” The focus is on positive cooperation, using the power of the casual consumer to help save the planet.

Out of the total number of carrotmobs conducted, nearly half were done in Europe though. It’s little surprise given that the Europeans – particularly the Germans – have long seen to be more conscious of the environment.

An American college tutor who grew up in Germany wrote on his site saying that environmentalism is much stronger, if more abstract, in Germany.

“The abstract, big German environmental issues, such as the greenhouse effect, the ozone hole, energy saving, overconsumption, and garbage reduction are almost non-existent in American public debate.”

Environmentalism in the US is often very down-to-earth: getting industry to clean up a certain toxic waste site, protecting a particular endangered species, or preventing a particular piece of land from being developed, he writes.

“While all German political parties have embraced the notion that environmentalism is not detrimental to economic progress and in fact can spur technological innovation and provide job and export opportunities, most American politicians still see environmental regulations as a direct threat to jobs and to the competitiveness of US businesses.”

Carrotmob Berlin #2 from Andreas Förster on Vimeo.

Do you think this new movement will have harder bite in environmentalism? What would work in Germany that might not work here in the US when combating climate change?

The Susan Boyle of the East

Kseniya Simonova, the most recent winner of Ukraine’s Got Talent, has become an internet sensation since she won the competition last spring. It was the first season of the Ukrainian version of the show, and Simonova walked away with the equivalent of $125,000 as a prize.

She’s not a singer, dancer or actor, she’s an artist, a sand animator to be exact. Her talent involves an illuminated table which she covers in sand, drawing pictures in the sand that evolve into stories. The stories are set to music and are projected onto a large screen for the audience to see.

This article calls her the “Susan Boyle of the East” and I agree. Her videos are so enthralling; each one has a different, touching story. According to an article in The Telegraph, a YouTube video of her performance in the show’s finale has already gotten over 2 million viewer hits. The animations tells a story about how WWII affected citizens of the Soviet Union, and has brought many audience members to tears.


In case you’re wondering, the message she writes at the end translates to “You Are Always Near Me”

Although her art is not permanent, it is constantly changing and therefore able to tell a story. I love how she transitions from one image to the next, in one part of her finale performance she turns lampposts into the bars of a baby’s crib with just the brush of her hand. And she collaborates the music with it so well. The soundtrack to the performance above features a fight song from the Soviet Army, and a song commemorating victims of WWII. It’s clear she takes care to tie the entire performance together. Even her movements become more dramatic as the story unfolds.

I think it’s interesting that such a unique form of art won the competition. It’s not as refined as oil pastels or opera, but I think that it does just as good of a job at expressing emotion, which is in my opinion one of the key components of any type of art.

The French Pay More for Less: The Kindle 2

As Amazon.com launches the new Kindle 2 for international users, buyers in France may have more complaints than benefits.

Amazon.com’s original Kindle was launched in late 2007 and is a wireless, hand-held device complete with 3G networking to deliver everything from the latest novel to the daily newspaper at your fingertips.

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Since the Kindle’s 2007 release, Amazon has created the Kindle 2 making it available internationally on October 19th. It is also available as an application on the Apple iphone. The Kindle 2 boasts of text size options, easy wireless access and free book samples. The device appeals to an older consumer market, ages 40+ contrary to most popular gadgets.

Though Kindle 2 is available to French language readers, options are limited and ebook prices are higher. American readers have over 200,000 titles to chose from, but Europeans have about half that amount. If fewer options aren’t enough of a turn-off, the price hike may be. European customers must purchase ebooks through the U.S. based Amazon.com only to pay an average of $13 on a book that costs only about $9 in the United States. The price difference even includes newspapers.

The New York Times, sold in the United States to Kindle users for $13.99 a month, costs $27.99 here in Europe. Even the International Herald Tribune, which is actually published in France, is more expensive here: $9.99 in the United States compared to $19.99 for Europe.

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Here is a link to price translations from the U.S. dollar and the Euro.

Less for more seems to be the trend.

With so much competition from the Sony Reader and France’s own Bookeen, will the Kindle 2 fair well for French users? Will the French choose not to embrace the Kindle 2 at all because of the price differences between Europe and America?

France In Season

The French have very different eating habits than Americans. The French have a purely love-love relationship with food instead of the love-hate relationship that Americans have because of fast food and obesity. It could be because French people insist on buying the freshest ingredients from their local source at the market. Endless rows of colorful vegetables and fragrant cheeses can be truly mesmerizing, not to mention mouth-watering.

Lyonnais Market, personal photo

Metropolitan French cities have dozens of fresh-food markets year round. The French city of Lyon has at least 3 markets open on any day of the week. Some of these markets run daily and are generally preferred over supermarchés (supermarkets like Kroger or Casino) or hypermarchés (hypermarkets like Walmart or Carrefour) by the French. Buying locally at a market isn’t only fresher, healthier and environmentally more efficient, but it is generally less expensive than grocery stores.

So how do the French stay healthy with this abundance of food? Some say it’s because they walk everywhere. Others believe the nicotine keeps them thin. But more likely, it could be that they buy and eat according to the season. Popular French author, Mireille Guiliano, gave away the French eating secrets in her books, French Women Don’t Get Fat and French Woman For All Seasons. Guiliano suggests that eating fresh and seasonal foods from the market is healthier and promotes outdoor exercise.

“Seasonality is far more than knowing what’s in season and appreciating nature’s best from month to month. Seasonality is a manner of being that is responsive to all conditions and stimulations of our environment throughout the year.” – Mireille Guiliano French Women for All Seasons p. 34

“Golden Arches” at the Louvre?

Ronald-Mona

Courtesy of fr.novopresse

The Paris-based Louvre is a symbol of French culture and one of the world’s most beloved art museums.

It houses works like Monet’s Water Lilies, Eugene DelaCroix’s Liberty Leading the People (a.k.a. Coldplay’s Viva la Vida album cover), DaVinci’s Mona Lisa and now, McDonald’s McCafe.

Huh?!

Yes, that’s right. The golden arches will become a part of the Louvre, in the upscale shopping mall beneath its glowing pyramid (please see image below).

So – how did “Mc Do” (mack-DOH), as the French call it, earn a spot in the same building as these aforementioned masterpieces? No one is quite certain, but its placement will coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the first-ever McDonald’s Restaurant (can we even call it that?) in France.

In an article from knoxnews.com, “Walt Ricker, a vice president of media relations for McDonald’s says the French McDonald’s chain is ‘thoroughly French.’ According to him, the company has ‘not adopted, but adapted to matchup with the French culture.’ For instance, most French diners do not eat their burgers with ketchup.”

Really? Is that what makes the McDonald’s chains in France “thoroughly French?” The fact that French customers don’t use ketchup with their burgers? What about with their fries?

Michael Steinberger, author of a book about the decline of French food, attempted to answer this question. He tells knoxnews.com that the French have made the restaurant chain their own because, “They came, they ate, they lingered.”

Although I remember grabbing an après-swim McDonald’s cheeseburger during my elementary school summers with friends and family — and taking the time to enjoy it — the tradition of spending hours at the table is definitely European. We Americans typically tend to get in, get out and get on with our lives.

Courtesy of eu-forums.com

Courtesy of eu-forums.com

On NPR, Didier Rykner, chief editor of the French art journal The Art Tribune is one critic to those who profess that this Louvre-McDonald’s is going to be high class.

“They say, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a very high-level McDonald’s,'” Rykner says, laughing. “I don’t know what is a ‘high-level McDonald’s!’…Rykner says it is not McDonald’s fault. He blames the Louvre for selling out to commercialism and mass marketing.”

France’s Le Post highlighted the responses of one sarcastic French Twitterer:

“Un Mc Do au Louvre? Ouais, pourquoi pas. Et metton un KFC à la chapelle Sixtine ou un Pizza Hut au National Gallery. Ridicule.” (@aisfornala)

Translation: “A McDonald’s at the Louvre? Yeah, why not. And let’s put a KFC at the Sistine Chapel or a Pizza Hut at the National Gallery. Ridiculous.” (@aisfornala)

And, in an even more satirical manner, one blogger on The Spoof comments on the Mona-Ronald portrait above: “Of course, some may be surprised by the portrait appearing, but this is part of a new neoclassical-subbaroque postmodernist antediluvian preGothic form of oil painting. It follows in the tradition of Monet, Manet, Minnie Mouse and Homer Fils de Simp, and Ronald makes us face a classic world-weariness in juxtoposition with an all-pervading struggle with Nature, and with man’s struggle to open the ketchup bottle.”

Well, if you’re Frenchman or woman at a Mc Do, apparently you won’t have the ketchup bottle struggle.

Bon appétit!

Courtesans: prostitutes of status

French Courtesan Halloween Costume

The word courtesan has been thrown around a lot lately. In English, courtesan simply means a high-class prostitute and was used repeatedly on television news during the Eliot Spitzer’s prostitution scandal. Paris Hilton is often called a courtesan and Michelle Pfeiffer just recently depicted the role in the film Chéri (where she seduces a man 20 years younger than her.) Courtesans served a traditional in role in French aristocratic socioity for over four centuries, and with Halloween around the corner and courtesan costumes flying off the shelves, I decided to actually learn a bit about France’s classiest ladies of the night.

The word court as in “a court of law” and as in “to court an object of affection” both have their origins in the royal courts of feudal society in Europe where the court was the center of government as well as the residence of the monarch. “To court” someone means to behave like someone’s who attends court, which is a reference to the Courtesans of the 16th – 19th century Europe that prevailed in Italy and France.

Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, c.1750

In Renaissance Europe, courtiers played an extremely important role in upper-class society. It was customary during this time for royal couples to lead separate lives. Couples commonly married simply to preserve bloodlines or to secure political alliances. Because of this, men and women would often seek gratification and companionship from people living at court.

There were generally two kinds of Courtesans, those for whom being a courtesan was a primary means of employment, and those who had entered into a one time sexual contract as a way of advancing their (or their mate’s) position within the elite society. At this time, it was completely acceptable to enter into a sexual agreement in exchange for a position of status. For example, the wife of a Noble might become the courtesan of a Lord simply to secure a position for her husband within the Lord’s court. Arrangements of this sort were specifically agreed upon ahead of time, and the courtesan had the right to recourse if the deal was not honored.

Unlike arrangements of this kind, full-time courtesans had few rights and could easily find themselves cast out of court if they displeased their benefactor. However, if they served their benefactor well, when he/she tired of the courtesan, the courtesan would be given to another noble or perhaps set up in an arranged marriage with a semi-wealthy merchant.

Marie Duplessis, French Courtesan

Up until the early 18th Century,  women leading the life of a courtesan in a royal court in romantic relationships with kings, achieved wealth and status that would eventually lead to many of them being executed following very public trials. These trials often left them appearing to have been evil, or power-hungry, when in fact they were more often than not, merely a lover and mistress to the king. By the late 18th Century, courtesans would often find themselves cast aside by their benefactors, but the days of public execution or imprisonment based on their promiscuous lifestylesa were over.

There are many famous courtesans, like Marie Duplessis, a French courtesan who worked her way from a humble prostitute at the age of 13 into one of the most prized courtesans. Before she died at age 23 of tuberculosis, Duplessis left behind several letters describing the extravagant life of a successful courtesan. She describes an apartment draped in muslin and silk, carriage and horses, servants, wines and food including an excess of sweets, a wardrobe full of dresses, hats and shoes, and jewelry. She spent her days choosing what to wear, riding her carriage, going to balls, the theater and to concerts and entertaining her lovers.

The simplicity of swears

The above poster says “Dick” and below it the message states “we do not swear.”

I suspect that this poster is a parody to what may be in an office to announce the rules.

What is representative of Russia? Is it their beautiful women, their Soviet regime, their love for vodka, or may it be their distinguished language and art of swearing?

This is a video I found on rutube.ru (Russian equivalent to youtube.com) from something called “nasha Russia,” which literally translates into “our Russia.”

I thought this video was great because of the amount and complexity of swears the Old Lady uses.

This video is basically a journalist interviewing a resident of a building as to why a fire started. She seems to be the one who started it and rambles on a while about getting wasted with her neighbors.

When the journalist further questions her, she explains a discussion that she had with the fire itself about sharing vodka. In the end the Old Lady states she was not home when the fire started and does not know what happened.

In this video she uses exaggerations and and had her own way of talking. Much like other people globally she uses certain words to express herself, even though most of them are swears. I can compare her language to a way a Southerner would use slang, something we can refer to as hill billies. They of course have their own dialect and way of saying things, just like this old woman does. Many people speak like this, but just like everywhere in the world not everyone uses exaggerations.

Russian swear slang is really hard to translate since there are no words for some of it in English. It would be like trying to translate ebonics to a person in the Middle East or Asia. They can basically ad on a few prefixes and syllables and make a simple word a swear.

One saying that comes to mind for me is “Ta pishla von” which literally means go over there, but translates into f*** off.

This article explains that Russian swears are even sometimes a form of philosophy. It also talks about how Gorbachev tried to make one uniform proper Russian language.

“Mat” literally means swear and it is what many people use.

This Newsweek article I found explains that some cities in Russia are imposing an anti-swearing campaign. They can fine people up to $33 for swearing in the streets and people can be jailed for up to 15 days. One librarian went as far as getting rid of all the books in the library that contained profanity.

In Russia, different villages will have different ways of saying a swear or using a different pronunciation. The same goes for the United States. Just look at the way people in Texas say something as opposed to people in New Jersey.

There is an online dictionary dedicated to deciphering the different terms people have come up with in the past for the United  States.

Take for example the term “cougar.” According to urbandictionary.com this means

“Noun. A 35+ year old female who is on the “hunt” for a much younger, energetic, willing-to-do-anything male. The cougar can frequently be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a swanky bar in San Francisco (or another city) waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path. “Man is cougar’s number one prey.”

This term and definition is the way some people use words in the United States today. Although it is not a regional term, this is the way some people speak. This definition of cougar is not the same as the animal but rather a slang that has been created.

So what do you think? Does having a diversified slang characterize a certain place? Why and how do you believe it evolves over time?

It’s all in the family

It’s no surprise when the name Sarkozy makes the news in France, after all the French president and his son are known for their good looks and powerful connections, as well as their beautiful, rich wives. But as France 24 reported last week:

Jean Sarkozy

Jean Sarkozy

Pressure is piling up on embattled French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose 23-year-old undergraduate son looks set to head-up the main business district in Paris. Worryingly, not only have there been howls of disapproval at home, but the international community is now joining in as well.

Some critics are calling it nepotism. At issue: Whether Jean Sarkozy should head the agency in charge of the Paris business district La Defense. Almost two years ago, he was chosen as a councilor in the same rich suburb where his father’s career began. A few critics say Jean Sarkozy is getting the attention because of his looks and name and not for his abilities.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has even suggested that the elder Sarkozy is trying to appoint an heir apparent. Read a LeMonde commentary on the situation.

Jean Sarkozy is said to be known for his blond good looks, and as the president’s son he should be used to the attention, right? Would it be unusual if his good looks failed to help propel his political career? Unlikely.

It seems that good looks worked in his father’s favor, too. The elder Sarkozy recently made the list of Hottest Heads of State.

But Nicolas Sarkozy is ranked at 28, well behind U.S. president Barack Obama at No. 15.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

The list isn’t official and the public doesn’t get to vote, according to Time Magazine.

Is Jean Sarkozy getting too much media attention because of his powerful connections and good looks? Are good looks and political success linked more closely in French society than in American society?

The Fourth Reich?

gnome

They’re small, organized, but are they out for world domination? I am talking of course, about a new art display in Southern Germany depicting garden gnomes saluting the way Nazi officers used to do during the WWII era.

In an article I found in the Local, an English website about German news and pop-culture, 1,250 fascist garden gnomes found their way to the Bavarian town of Straubing. They were put there by artist, Ottmar Hörl, who put the 15 inch figurines there to

“deal with a serious topic in a not so serious fashion and without accusation.”

There was also a few blogs about Hörl’s exhibit. I found a group blog that surfs the web looking for funny or outrageous stories, pictures and videos.

The saluting gnomes received some negative attention after prosecutors in Nuremberg launched an investigation to determine whether or not the gnomes were breaking the law. At the end of WWII Nazi symbols and salutes were made illegal in Germany. In response to this Hörl was quoted as saying:

“It is a work that is meant to get people to think, to react,” he said. “I want to show that we all have far-right thoughts in our heads.

The choice of garden gnomes as a personification of political protest may seem a strange one for those in the United States, but the gnome is a prominent figure in European folklore and is said to have originated in Thuringia, Germany in the mid-1800’s. There are an estimated 25 million gnomes in Germany, and Der Spiegel reports that Hörl’s characters are part of a larger trend towards more obscene gnomes including suicidal and sexually-explicit sculptures that have required courts to intervene for their removal.

Eventually, prosecutors accepted Hörl’s argument that the figurines were ridiculing the Nazis, and not promoting them. Hörl, who has designed other, less controversial, public art exhibitions and permanent installations, explained he hoped to draw attention to the rise of right-wing extremism in Europe.

The Mayor of Straubing,Hans Lohmeier, said he will have a protective around-the-clock watch on the public exhibit after threats were made on the work. The art work is publicly displayed in the city’s town square

Many people did not like the art and thought it was harmful. Others enjoyed it and understood what Hörl was trying to get at.

Did Hörl go too far with his art? Or is he right on track and allowing Germany to critically reflect on its past?

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