Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Tu" ou "Vous" (On se tutoie ?)


The topic at hand today makes even the most advanced students of French trembler: when to use “tu” or “vous”? To understand the difference, one must first know a few things. “Tu” and “vous” are both translations of the English pronoun “you”. Anglophones use “you” to indicate both singular and plural so, in this case, English is simpler than French. Although the English version may be plus facile, this may also pose some problems. Consider, for instance, the phrase “You do the dishes!” In this phrase, without context, it’s difficult to determine whether this awful sentence will fall only on yourself or on a group. Some Anglophones use the wonderful variants “you guys" or “you all” to be more specific. 

The French have a more elegant system: “tu” is singular “you,” as in “Tu vas bien?,” meaning “You’re okay?”  “Vous” is plural “you,” as in“Vous allez bien?,” meaning “You guys are ok?” Compris? Great, because that’s the easy part. This question of “tu” and “vous” became tricky because the French also change these words depending on who they’re addressing. In some situations, this point of grammar gives not only shivers but also des cauchemars. Proper execution of “tu” and “vous” can take years to master and even a native Francophone can make mistakes. In these instances, des erreurs may not be grammatical faults but rather social mistakes. 

As an adult, a French person becomes a master jongleur of “tu” and “vous”. With each new person you meet, you must ask yourself the question : “tu or vous?” This is usually a straightforward question but sometimes the answer is not obvious. Your boss would always merit a “vous” unless you work for a peer and you’re a millennial. The baker at the local boulangerie would be “vous” if you go there a couple times a month but “tu” if you go there everyday and chat about the weather, the kids, and local sports. Your beau-père or belle-mère could be either “vous” or “tu” depending on the individual and your relationship. Starting with “vous” is always the safe choice. If you become “tu” later, it’s a sign you’re being welcomed into the family. If you remain “vous” after one or two years, you might remain “vous” for the entire relationship. 

Personally, I’ve always struggled to use “vous” with people I’ve known for a long time. To avoid choosing the pronoun, I’ve developed elaborate techniques to avoid having to use any pronoun. Imagine you are at a family dinner with your partner and you want le sel next to your father-in-law. But you really don’t want to refer to him as “vous”. Wait for your chance and dès que eye contact is made, jump into it, cut the conversation, rapidly raise your eyebrows, and loudly ask “Est-ce que quelqu’un pourrait me passer le sel s’il vous plait?” Your question could appear to be for everyone! You didn’t win the war but it’s a successful battle against choosing pronouns! 

Just remember, “vous” is always the safe choice if you aren’t with des amis and “tu” indicates to the person that he or she is your peer. Don’t forget that you can also ask a person if you may use “tu” with him or her. French people will enjoy hearing this question from a non-native speaker and they will most likely say Oh bien-sûr !” 

Vocabulaire :
trembler = shiver
plus facile = easier
sentence = Sentence (law)
des cauchemars = nightmares
Compris = understood
des erreurs = mistakes
jongleur = juggler
boulangerie = bakery
beau-père = father-in-law
belle-mère = mother-in-law
le sel= the salt
dès que = as soon as
Est-ce que quelqu’un pourrait me passer le sel s’il vous plait? = Could someone please pass me the salt?
des amis = friends
Oh bien-sûr ! = Oh of course!

La grotte de Lascaux

Aurochs and horses in Lascaux

In the South of France lies one of the oldest and best-preserved secrets of France: la grotte de Lascaux, or "The Lascaux Cave.” This series of connected caves depicts around 600 different paintings that were created around 18,000 years ago! Most of them, like the one in the photo above, depict common animals. The photo shows an aurochs (an extinct species of ox) and several horses.

Because of its exceptional historical value, the entire site was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The murals are so exceptional that they are even referred to as "The Sistine Chapel of the Paleolithic" or even the "Versailles of the Prehistory.” 

The cave was discovered in 1940. Upon discovery, archeologists were able to appreciate the original paintings as they had been preserved since 17,000 due to the special atmospheric conditions in the cave. The site quickly attracted thousands of visitors. To permit the entrance of so many visitors, the entrance to the caves were adjusted. However, millions of visitors in the first 20 years of tourism changed the fragile atmospheric conditions of the place; consequently, the caves closed to visitors in 1962 so that the painting would be preserved. 

Considerable damage had nonetheless already occurred. The onslaught of tourists had introduced a new type of fungus to the caves, which damaged some of the paintings. Conservators quickly implemented a plan to protect the paintings and they managed to restore most of the artwork to its original state. Even today, specialized workers enter the cave every two weeks to clean fungus from the artwork.  

Starting in the 70s, several replicas of the cave were built named "Lascaux 2", "Lascaux 3" and "Lascaux 4.” These replicas allow hundreds of thousands of visitors to admire these sublime works of human history every year without risking the original masterpieces.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

La Galette des Rois (It's all about the cake)


Every year we eat grandiose dinners for the holidays. For that reason, January is a good time to start eating lighter, healthier food. In France, however, you'd have to wait until after the galette des rois, because missing this treat would be a real shame.

The tradition of the galette comes from celebrating the Epiphany on the first Sunday following New Years Eve. The Epiphany is a Catholic holiday that celebrates the arrival of the three kings to Jesus Christ. The idea of sharing a cake with a fève inside goes back as far as l'antiquité ! Back in those days, maîtres and servants would share the cake together. Whoever would found the charm would be designed the "roi du jour" and would be able to command even his masters for the day.

Nowadays, the French continue the tradition of the galettes des rois. The galette is a great excuse for the French to organize a Sunday lunch. "Tu viens manger la galette des rois dimanche prochain ?" The galette is such a good occasion to bring friends together that these galette gatherings often last until the end of February. 

In France you will find two main types of galettes: "la galette des rois" which is made with frangipane, a sweet almond filling, or "le gateau des rois", a brioche-like cake in the shape of a big doughnut. This second type of cake is more common in the south of France. Regardless of the type of cake, the tradition surrounding the act of serving galette is the same everywhere. Tradition dictates that the youngest person in the family sits under the table to determine who receives each slice of cake, which ensures a fair distribution of slices. As the youngest in the family, I was always the person underneath the table. It's a fun role when you're five years old but loses its charm by the time you're fifteen! 

Cutting the galette requires some skill. In the malchanceux event that the person cutting the cake hits the charm, he must pretent that he didn't. And it's always a bit suspect when the person cutting the cake ends up with the fève in his slice.  This is a great chance to display your best acting skills. "Oh j'ai la fève dis ! Non mais quel chanceux hein..!". Once the charm is found the person receives the couronne and can ask for any favors he desires. This is a good way to avoid having to do la vaisselle !

Whether you want to partake in this tradition in January or February and whether you have charms or not, the galette des rois is a chance to enjoy a delicious French tradition.  In the end, it's all about the cake!

Here is a link to a galette recipe for les plus gourmands. 

Vocabulaire :
grandiose = spectacular
galette des rois = king cake
fève = charm
l'antiquité = the antiquity
maîtres = masters
roi du jour = king of the day
Tu viens manger la galette de rois dimanche prochain ? = You want to come eat the king cake next Sunday?
le gateau des rois = king cake
malchanceux = unlucky
suspect = suspect
Oh j'ai la fève dis ! Non mais quel chanceux hein..! = Oh I found the charm..! What a luck hein...!
couronne = crown
la vaisselle = the dishes
les plus gourmands = the real food lovers

by Nicolas Yviquel, program management intern

Na’ir al Saïf

Iota Orionis, photo taken by Addison Baldeshwiler

On January 20th, stargazers around the globe went outside to admire the super blood wolf moon. Though the moon was the main attraction that night, three special stars caught the attention of CIFC staff. Addison captured a beautiful photo of three stars just under the belt of Orion. These stars represent the sword of the warrior around the constellation of Orion.

One of the brightest stars of the constellation, Iota Orionis or Na'ir al Saïf in Arabic (meaning "The Bright one of the sword”), is responsible for producing the cloud of light that resembles a nebula. This star is part of the largest nebula of the constellation (the Orion Nebula) and is the easiest star to see, visible even to the naked eye.

To find the Na’ir al Saïf, wait for a clear, dark night and search for the three stars that form Orion’s belt. Na'ir al Saïf is the star just below the middle star of Orion’s belt. Enjoy!

by Nicolas Yviquel, program management intern