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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Anggun to represent France at 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.

There has been no messing around by France in deciding who'll represent the country at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, that annual jamboree that brings together the very cheesiest of what Europe has to offer "musically" speaking.

France 3 television, which chooses the act every year - none of that ineffectual allowing the public to decide - has plumped for Indonesian-born singer Anggun.

Anggun (screenshot from television interview with LCI

The 37-year-old will carry the hopes of her adopted homeland when she takes to the stage in the final to be held on May 26 in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, that country well-known to be at the heart of Europe.

Get hold of a map to see just how far east of most of the rest of the continent it really is.

Azerbaijan won the right to stage next year's contest when it beat all the other entries at Eurovision 2011 with the never-to-be-remembered "Running Scared" by duo Eldar & Nigar (Eldar Gasimov and Nigar Jamal).

Anyway, back to Anggun, who's clearly as pleased as punch that she has been chosen.

"It's a wonderful present for someone like me who only became a naturalised French citizen in 2000," she told the national daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien.

"Without doubt I symbolise a modern-day France; a country that is a mix of races and cultures," she continued.

"When I was growing up the contest was always considered a bit tacky and rather old fashioned, but it's a great show and very important for many countries," she added.

"Secretly we all want to win. I'm going to shine for France."

Ho hum. Famous last words.

Choosing Anggun might well be considered strategically clever as she has had sizeable international success apparently.

You might not have heard of her, but plenty have according to her official website.

But the same sort of reasoning was behind the choice of Patricia Kaas when she sang the French entry in Moscow in 2009. Kaas only managed eighth place.

And then there was the fiasco that was such a "shitty finish" for last year's representative Amaury Vassili who for some inexplicable reason went into the competition as the bookmakers' favourite.

His dire "Sognu" could only manage a lowly 15th spot with a mighty 82 points.



Anggun told LCI television that she knew the responsibility that lay on her shoulders was a "heavy one" especially as the last time France won the contest was back in 1977 when Marie Myriam sang "L'Oiseau Et L'Enfant".

And of the song she'll be singing?

"It hasn't been chosen yet," she told LCI television.

"It'll be one that has never released."

Monday, 28 November 2011

A purrfectly ridiculous Christmas present for your cat

All right so it's obviously a marketing strategy; encourage pet owners - in this case those who have cats - to cough up hard-earned centimes for something that's packaged especially for Christmas.

But isn't an Advent Calendar for your furry four-legged friend taking things just a little too far?

An Advent Calendar for your cat

This one's currently available in a major chain of supermarkets throughout France, but of course they're not just in the shops.

Try a simple search on the Net and you'll come across any number of sites reminding us for example that, "Christmas is also for our family pets and this excellent Advent Calendar is a great way to share the excitement of the countdown to the festive season with your feline friends."

Puh-lease.

Goodwill to all creatures great and small all year round and not just during the festive season.

Nothing wrong in that.

But really.

An Advent Calendar to, "provide a little delicacy for your feline every day until Christmas."

Bah humbug!

Que pensez-vous?

Welcome back to Paris, Marks and Spencer

It has been a decade since British retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) quit France, shutting all of its 18 stores and firing 1,700 people.

In fact in 2001 M&S, under the then-chairmanship of Luc Van de Velde, closed all 38 of its European stores with the loss of 3,350 jobs across the continent.

Marks and Spencer reopening in Paris (screenshot from France 24 report)

Since last Friday though, they're back - in France at least - with the opening of a flagship store in the capital Paris at an address that has not gone unnoticed in the press; 100 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, "la plus belle avenue du monde" (the most beautiful avenue in the world" as the celebrated street is often called.

It opened its doors on November 24 choosing the location because it "wanted to find a prestigious address and return with a new image," as Michelle Lamberti, the company's marketing director is quoted as saying in the monthly women's magazine Marie Claire.

Although all those expat Brits - no matter how misty their memories or tenuous their ties with Blighty might have become - may have had high hopes of being able to get their hands on traditional British fare (yes there really is such a thing) they'll likely be disappointed by the reopening.

Because as the British daily The Guardian reports, the emphasis of the flagship store (there are another three scheduled to be opened in the Paris region) is most definitely not on food.

The grub is there but it's apparently squeezed into just 100 square metres of the store's 1,400 square metres of retail space.

The emphasis will be on clothing, a decision chief executive Marc Bolland defended as being a practical one.

"Let's be honest, nobody comes to the Champs Elysées to do their weekly shop," he told The Guardian.

Can't argue with that.

The company has also launched a French language website for anyone not able to make it to Paris.

Time to stock up on warm underwear and pullovers as France prepares for winter and a chance for a spot of stay-at-home Christmas shopping perhaps.

In any case, rebonjour Marks and Spencer.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Toutou rista - the Doggie Doo poop-scooping game in France

Not sure how to keep the children entertained at Christmas?

Well family games manufacturer Goliath thinks it has the answer with the release in France of Toutou rista.

Toutou rista (screenshot from promotional video)


It's the French version of the same game launched on an unsuspecting German, Spanish and Dutch market last year.

In Germany, under the name of Kackel Dackel it was a huge hit with the promotional video going viral.

None the wiser?

Well perhaps the English name will give the game (sorry) away as it's also being released in the United Kingdom and The United States under the name of Doggie Doo.

It's a game which "aims to teach children how to take care of dogs with poop-scooping gameplay" and French toy industry magazine La revue du jouet named it best infant toy game in France for 2011.

"Feed and walk your little pup, when he makes a mess you clean it up," says the game's manufacturer, Goliath.

"The first player who has 3 pieces of dog mess on his shovel wins the game."

The rules are simple although they include the rather...er...worrying extra remark, "You can only pick up the dog’s mess when it has fallen on the table. When it is hanging outside the end of the dog, just tap him on the back until it drops."

Charming!

Enough said.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

In memory of Silvio Berlusconi

BNP Paribas - a bank without money

So, this is the (true) story of a man (just for argument's sake let's call him Jean-Pierre) who tried to make a withdrawal from his bank but couldn't because, in the words of the clerk, "We don't actually have any money here."

The (in)action took place at one of the Courbevoie branches of BNP Paribas.

BNP Paribas (screenshot from commercial)

"The bank for a changing world" as it proudly boasts on its website, is "a European leader in global banking and financial services and one of the best rated banks in the world."

With over 2,000 branches in France it is the country's largest.

Courbevoie, in the northwestern suburbs of Paris and one of "the best places to live" (apparently) in the Île-de-France region which comprises the capital and the surrounding metropolitan area, isn't actually Jean-Pierre's home.

It's where he spends his weekdays as he works in Paris, returning to his home in the southwest of France for the weekends.

And it's in the southwest that, just over a year ago, he opened an account with BNP because, well to be quite frank, it offered the best terms.

He needed a loan for renovation work and the local branch manager was only too willing to offer him one at a good rate and without requiring him to move his main account from a competitor bank, Crédit agricole.

Jean-Pierre's salary continued to be paid on to his Crédit agricole account in Courbevoie for which he had an ATM card but he made sure he had more than enough on both his current and savings account at the BNP to cover any emergencies that might crop up.

It was, in a sense, an account purely meant to meet expenses to his main home: although he had a cheque book, he didn't have an ATM card.

"You don't really need one if you're not going to make withdrawals," the manager had told him when he had opened it.

"And besides if you do need money at any time, you can just drop into any of our branches throughout the country and get some."

Excellent, thought Jean-Pierre at the time. "It's not an account I'm going to be using that much. My main one is with Crédit agricole and I don't have to meet the costs of having a card I'm not going to need."

Oh yes he was - and still is - a frugal man.

Except, as you've already grasped, that's not exactly how it all worked out.

Because when Jean-Pierre went along to a Courbevoie branch of BNP this week to take out some money he needed to make a cash payment (with receipt - it has to be added) he was informed politely that, "Sorry we cannot give you anything. We don't actually have any money here."

A bank without money? Now that was something novel.

Well maybe not in these cash-strapped times.

There then followed one of those almost surreal conversations during which the clerk said that if Jean-Pierre had been a client of that particular branch then he could have requested an ATM card allowing him to make an on-the-spot withdrawal.

That would have taken time, money and paperwork, and anyway wasn't really a solution to his immediate needs.

"What about the other branches in Courbevoie?" Jean-Pierre asked, knowing there were at least two more close by.

"Do they have any...er...money?"

He tried hard not to snort with incredulity at the preposterous nature of his question.

"No, they don't," was the response."

"Your best bet, if you need some cash immediately, is to try to find a BNP branch in Paris that has some. I'm sure there is one. I just don't know where it is."

Now that's the kind of sound financial advice anyone wants to hear from their bank.

So dumbfounded, Jean-Pierre left and headed straight to the nearest branch of Credit Agricole - where - what do you know - they actually did have cash on the premises.

The end.



Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Did Sarkozy really spend €37,000 a night on his G20 hotel room? No!

"As world teeters on the brink, can leaders enjoy €1m of hospitality? Yes they Cannes" screamed the headline to a story in that bastion of journalistic accuracy The Sun last week.

Majestic hotel, Cannes (screenshot from YouTube video)

The paper was beside itself and in apoplectic full flow over the amount of money some world leaders had spent on accommodation, "gourmet meals and fine wine" during the G20 summit held in the southern French city of Cannes.

And according to the paper the biggest culprit, in terms of the amount he had spent on a place to rest his head for two nights, was none other than the host to the whole shebang, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the piece readers learned that the former master of Bling Bling had forked out an "eyewatering" £32,000 or around €37,000 a night for "the Presidential Suite at the five-star Majestic Hotel".

What a scandal, especially in these times of belt-tightening austerity, and the comments from Sun readers were suitably outraged.

Except it's not true, according to both Franck Louvrier, a spokesman for the French president's office, and the hotel itself.

You see, the French national daily Le Monde actually took the time to check on the veracity of the claim and provided evidence to back up what it had found.

It's a clever technique that surely still has its place in reporting called "backing a story up" with evidence or "attributing" it.

"The information is false," Louvrier told Le Monde.

"The actual cost was ten times less even though there are suites at that price."

There are indeed, as the hotel confirmed; one at €30,000 a night and another at €38,000.

But Sarkozy wasn't in either of them and instead had been in a room which typically cost between €1,500 and €3,000 a night.

The Majestic was too discreet to mention which room in particular Sarkozy had stayed but it did confirm that the bill for his two-night stay had been between €6,000 and €7,000.

So there you have it. Perhaps The Sun article slapped on an extra "zero" - by mistake.

And what does it say for the rest of the claimed expenses and accompanying graphics?

Monday, 7 November 2011

French presidential election 2012 - who has the most sex appeal?

Monday morning madness - from France. Stories that should bring a smile to your face and help you get the week off to a great start.

Anybody in this country who follows politics - or doesn't for that matter - will know just how much the French love their opinion polls.

Barely a week seems to go by without TNS Sofres, OpinionWay, Ipsos and the like telling us that, for example, Sarkozy's popularity is at an all-time low/stagnant/on the up. Or the Socialist party's presidential candidate François Hollande would win an election if it were held next Sunday (useful that). Maybe it's one showing the frightening level of support there is for the Front National's Marine LaPen.

And so on and so forth.

It's not entirely unexpected perhaps given that both presidential and legislative elections are due in France next year.

But a recent opinion poll conducted by Harris takes rather a...well...different slant on all things political.

Not surprising really as it was commissioned by the (A, B, C and D-list) celebrity weekly magazine Closer - not exactly known for its grasp of political affairs.

The questions?

Well they were along the lines of "Which of the male pretenders - both declared and, in some cases, no longer in the running - would you most like to spend the night with?" Or "With whom would you like to spend your life?" And "Which one makes you fantasise the most?"

Yes they really were that banal.

Just for the record the "winner" in each category was the Socialist party parliamentarian and former candidate in the party's primary, Arnaud Montebourg.

Arnaud Montebourg (from Wikipedia)

Runner up was fellow Socialist party politician who as also a candidate in the primary; Manuel Valls.

Both men are 49 - so perhaps youth played a factor!

The incumbent limped in third - still ahead of MoDem's François Bayrou and Hollande.

When the question was turned around to discover which female candidate (again both declared and no longer in the running) was the one most men would fantasise over...well guess who came out top!

Here's a clue. She was an also-ran in the very same Socialist party primary as Hollande, Montebourg and Valls, has four children by one of them, is NOT the mayor of Lille AND was the party's candidate in the 2007 presidential elections.

For the complete poll - and remember it's definitely not to be taken seriously - scoot over to Closer and discover, among other things, the presidential candidate seen as the most "show biz" (no prizes for guessing), the women who would make the best first lady and how much the the arrival of Giulia "moved" potential voters.

Now, who would you...no perhaps it's a question better left unasked.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Friday's French music break - Sankofa Unit, "Let's dance"

Friday's French music break this week is not from a group in perhaps the recognised sense of the word, but a choir comprising people who can sing. Heck can they sing!


It's the Sankofa Unit, an "urban choir" which has evolved from past participants of the Sankofa Soul Contest a kind of springboard for soul, blues, jazz and gospel talent in France.

Directed by Joby Smith, they've just made an appearance on "La France a un incroyable talent" this country's version of the "Got talent" franchise and, to say the very least, their performance was electrifying.

The show's three judges, Gilbert Rozon, Sophie Edelstein and Dave, were completely blown away as were most of the audience and Sankofa Unit look like a dead cert to be chosen to appear in the semi-finals later in November.

Whether they'll actually win the whole kaboodle is, perhaps, irrelevant, although it would certainly be a financial boost to the 40-strong company.

What's more important though is the national exposure they've already had courtesy of appearing on M6 and the likely impact that'll have on their individual and collective careers.

Here's a live performance you can find on YouTube of the very same song that rocked television sets on Wednesday evening.

The sheer enthusiasm and obvious pleasure they all seem to get from singing is totally infectious and the sound...well it's just uplifting.

Check out their Facebook page for more info.

In the meantime - enjoy.

CNN reports from G20 in Cannes - Spain!

All right a question to all Americans reading this.

How good is your knowledge of European geography?

Hopefully a little (or should that be a lot) better than someone over at CNN, the US cable news channel with of course its well-known international counterpart.

The channel has deployed, what the French weekly news magazine Le Point calls, "its usual army of journalists and technicians" to cover the G20 summit.

You know, the talkathon currently taking place in Cannes - hosted by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy with guest of honour his US counterpart Barack Obama.

The two men are to appear in a 15-minute pre-recorded interview on prime time news in France on Friday evening - apparently more than enough time to cover all the world's issues and any questions on re-election they might both face next year. But that's an aside.

Er - so where were we? Oh yes - G20 summit, Cannes on the French Riviera and ergo in France...well not quite it appears.

Because someone back home at CNN HQ responsible for putting together world maps managed to place the city, world famous for its annual film festival, not just several hundred kilometres away but in a completely different country - Spain to be precise.

Now we all know that Americans can have a rather - how to put this politely? - tainted view of the world, geographically speaking but really!

The blunder didn't go unnoticed on the Net of course with comments ranging from "CNN exclusive - northern Spain has been ceded to France" to the suggestion that "when the US invades Iran, best make sure that CNN are not embedded with the military."

Click here to see one of many images of CNN's latest take on European geography.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Paris apartment rip-off - 3m2 for €29,000!

Thinking about buying an apartment in Paris? Here's one that's definitely worth avoiding.

A three square metre Paris apartment for €29,000 (screenshot from De Particulier à Particulier advertisement)

Property prices in Paris and its immediate suburbs have stood up well to the general economic downturn.

Although there has been a slowdown in the increase in recent months, it's still hard to find a bargain of any sort with two-room apartments being especially sought after.

Studios for the capital's large student population are also at a premium, a factor which has not gone unnoticed by what can only be described as one money-grabbing vendor.

In what the French men's magazine website Gentside describes as being "surely nothing more than a scam" an apartment measuring just three square metres is on sale in the French capital for the princely sum of €29,000!

Maybe a few extra exclamation marks should be added - here goes.

!!!!!!!!!!

Now let's get this straight - three square metres in estate agency speak in France doesn't even usually count as being big enough for a room (the minimum norm is nine square metres).

So what do you get for your money - apart from not even enough space for a bed let alone to swing the proverbial?

Well according to the ad' which appears in the weekly French magazine De Particulier à Particulier for those wishing to buy and sell privately without going through an estate agent, there's an electric radiator and a meter - presumably to tot up just how much heating and lighting the future purchaser will have to shell out.

There's also the possibility to install a skyligh,t although permission will have to be gained first from the syndic or the organisation comprising other apartment owners in the building.

Shared loo and washing facilities are also a feature of the "space" described as being "ideal for residential purposes or archive material" but at least it's in perfect condition and in a totally quiet location.

More exclamation marks please.

!!!!!!!!!!

Extra costs include property taxes (around €36 a year) and monthly maintenance costs of €2.

And before you rush out to make an offer, don't forget to factor in the initial and obligatory costs of going through a notaire (around €240 for a property on sale at the advertised price).

Outrageous and a rip off most certainly - and let's just hope nobody is foolish enough to buy it.
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