Our Life in Burgundy

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May 23, 2013

Why do the French speak French?

Filed under: People — Tags: , — Mary @ 10:26


‘Grandma and Grandpa live in France, not here on earth with us’ -  Maggie then aged 3 to her baby sister Jo.

This morning I had a letter from Maggie’s headmistress at the nursery school in Glasgow. Maggie had written a lovely letter, copiously decorated with red hearts.  Enclosed was this photo of the French and Scottish flags she had made.

Maggie at school


Maggie’s class of four-year-olds are learning about different countries and Maggie is very proud that her Granny and Grandpa live in France. In the letter she asked the question – “Why does everyone in France speak French?”.

That’s a tough one. Is she being egocentric and expecting everyone to speak English? Is she asking why French is different from English? Has she been following current affairs?

En bref I replied that French language is result of the Roman invasion about 100 years BC, the subsequent Latin being confounded with the languages spoken by the Germanic tribes who invaded in the 6th century. On the other hand English is a result of invasions by these same Germanic tribes, the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes. Hence there are a lot of words common to both French and English.

After the Norman invasion in 1066 French was the language spoken in the royal courts and by the nobility. It was, and still is, the language of fashion, art and culture. For hundreds of years it was the most influential language in Europe.

Maggie goes to school in Glasgow so I told her the Scots have only been speaking English since the early 1600s when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England and the royal court moved to London. Scots English still retains many of the old Scots and Gaelic words.

The French language has been regulated since 1635 by the Académie Française which was set up to protect French from the Italian influence. More recently the threat has been from the English, particularly American-English. In 1994 the government passed the Touban Law which made French compulsory in government funded schools, government publications, workplaces and advertisements. It even restricted the proportion of English pop songs on the radio.

Unfortunately the internet has led to an invasion of English words. And the English are so abysmal at learning foreign language that franglais is de rigueur. Who can forget Bill Wyman singing “Je suis un rock star”? Incidentally Mick Jagger speaks excellent French.

The current debate is whether some courses in universities should be taught in English. The idea is to attract more foreign students. Many private business schools have been successfully teaching courses in English for several years. But students who want to come and study in France often come for the French culture and lifestyle and learning French is part of the experience. It’s better to teach foreign students to speak French than dumb down the teaching with Globish (another new horrible word describing the inadequate English of non-English speakers).  See yesterday’s article on the BBC website -  Franglais row: Is the English language conquering France?

From the BBC magazine website yesterday

From the BBC magazine website yesterday


Not that I don’t think Franglais is useful; to put in the few French words you know and pad it out in English with a French accent with the hope that someone will understand what you mean. And I love the way the French take English words and add -ing. In an art shop yesterday we laughed at le scrapbooking. And there’s le shampooing (shampoo) and un relooking (make-over), le footing (jogging), le parking ……….

There’s the question about whether the language you use influences your thinking and the perception of the world around you. After watching a bilingual child talking in English then switching to French I really think it changes your character. I think a lot of ‘Frenchness’ would be lost if the language succums further to Anglo-American influences.

May 19, 2013

Balade Botanique

Filed under: Village Life,Weather — Tags: , , — Mary @ 18:04


Once upon a time when we first came to France it was sunny all day long with not a cloud in the sky. Is this all a dream?

This year we are still waiting for summer to start.  With the recent weeks of cool weather and copious rain the grass is lush, the cows are hidden amongst the buttercups and the wildflowers are prolific.

The meadows above Cortambert

The meadows above Cortambert


This morning we went for a walk up to Notre Dame des Roches and along the faitral, the path through the woods above Cortambert. Some deer were walking just ahead of us, their hoofprints fresh in the mud.

Setting out

Setting out


Claire is our expert in botany and along the way we kept stopping to examine the wildflowers and discuss their culinery and medicinal properties. I was prompted to look up further information when I got home. For example I had known sticky willy (cleavers) only as a nuisance in the garden. It makes your hands sore and sticks to your clothes. But like many wild plants you can eat it or make a tisane. It will act as a sedative. You can roast the berries as a coffee substitute. As a poultice it will help burns or stings. The Greeks used it to strain milk and it’s good to stuff mattresses as it doesn’t go too saggy. The roots will make a red dye. You can’t get more versatile than that.


Stopping to examine the wild plants

Stopping to examine the wild plants

Without Claire I wouldn’t have seen the Herb-Robert, a sort of wild geranium, or the early purple orchid and the honeysuckle. Or learned how to identify wild flowers according to their arrangement of leaves. Or the ones to eat in salads. Or discover the white flowers people used to dry to use in scented sachets like lavender.

Wild garlic

Wild garlic

 The wild garlic was plentiful, like a white carpet under the trees. And we didn’t need to be told about the wild asparagus. We picked enough to make an entrée for tonight’s dinner!

May 18, 2013

Gerard Thélier

Filed under: Events,People,Places — Tags: , , , — Mary @ 13:54


Gerard Thélier

Whilst in the market this morning we happened across Gerard Thélier, a great aficionado of Cluny with a big personality. Originally from St-Cloud, Gerard Thélier travelled the world before coming to settle in Cluny. He has worked as a documentary film maker, photographer and artist, and has written several books on the abolition of slavery and the history of Cluny, notably C’était hier Cluny. Now retired, he organises cultural and historical events and is a consultant for heritage exhibitions.

Gerard is going to be very busy all summer as he is conducting tours around medieval Cluny most Monday and Saturday afternoons at 1.30pm. He will not be hard to spot as he will be dressed as a knight of the 11th century.

He is also leading  tours by torchlight around the nearby Clunisoise villages. It will be the turn of Cortambert on 3rd July and 25th August, 8.45pm to 10.15pm. The times and dates of all the walks can be found on the Cluny tourism website www.cluny-tourisme.com.

Also new this year, you can hire a tablet from the Office of Tourism or just download the app that leads you on a tour round medieval Cluny. Call me old fashioned but I would much prefer to go with Gerard! He has such an engaging personality that I am sure his guided walks will be amazing.

May 10, 2013

The Randonnée des Roses – Cortambert 2nd June

Filed under: Events,People,Village Life,Weather — Tags: , — Mary @ 19:09


We’ve started preparing for the Randonnée des Roses which is to be held on Sunday 2nd June. There will be three routes of 8.7km, 15km and 25km which start from the foyer rural in Cortambert and head towards Donzy.


The men prepare the panneaux.....

Today’s jobs included preparing a couple of colourful doors that had been decorated for the Cluny 2010 celebrations. They are to be erected at each end of the commune in order to display information about future events, including the Randonnée des Roses. In addition we took all the direction posts out of storage and while the men did the woodworking the ladies were busy decorating them with roses.


while the ladies paint roses

The only thing we need now is to organise some good weather. But whether the weather be good or whether the weather be bad you can be guaranteed good company, excellent refreshments and some stunning views over the countryside.

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