How To Be French

Who hasn’t heard the phrase “Je ne sais quoi”… In French: “I don’t know what.” It seems pretty insignificant at first, until you see it printed on T-shirts, and you hear it used as some kind of magical/undefined quality a person may have.

A certain “je ne sais quoi”

French women are often seen by their American counterparts as having a certain “je ne sais quoi.” A book called “Bonjour Happiness” was even written by Jamie Cat Callen on this very topic!

In the book, Jamie, an American lady, explains how she learned so much from observing her French grandmother: how to get dressed with taste, how to be sophisticated, how to enjoy each meal of the day and so on… in short, how to have “joie de vivre” or the joy of living!

We’re talking about a lady here, but don’t French men have that same “je ne sais quoi” quality? Oh yeah! They will make the hearts of American girls melt in no time. Just be prepared… your trip to France may very well change your life!

If you’re interested in reading Bonjour Happiness, you can get the book here.

Russian Music Legend Vladimir Vysotskii

Vysotskii's Grave

Ahem. And now, I would like to present to you… the first of the Russian “bards,” the cornerstone of the anti-establishment movement in the Soviet Union, and the greatest musical legend Russia has ever know, Vladimir Vysotskii!

Bards, A (Brief) History

The late 1950s and early 1960s were marked by an era in Soviet history known as the Thaw (the time after Stalin’s death when Khrushchev was in power). During this time, Russian culture began to produce singer-songwriters known as “барды (bardy)” or bards. Bards wrote, accompanied, and sung their own songs called “авторксая песня (avtorskaya pesn’a)” or “author’s songs.” This type of music focused on the words rather than the chords — in fact, chords were often the same from one song to the next. Most of these songs were about social or political commentary, which was often deemed anti-Soviet.

Bards published their works through the “самиздат (samizdat)” or underground self-publications. Prosecuted by the Soviet government, they performed their music not on the official stage, but wherever they could — in factories, clubs, and private apartments. Their music wasn’t recorded in studios, but by the very people whose apartments they performed in, and then transmitted from one person to another on illegal homemade cassettes (you know, those little reels of tape they used before CDs came out?). The greatest bards managed to “go viral” this way despite being constantly on the run from the KGB.

Vysotskii

Vysotskii's Grave

The most well known Soviet bard, and perhaps the most influential Russian musician of all time, is Vladimir Vysotskii. Writing about politics, war, love, and the human condition, Vysotskii epitomized the Russian concept of bard (although he preferred to call himself a poet).

His unique singing voice, musical style, and honest attitude towards Soviet life cemented his position as a musical legend in Russian culture. Although his music was never officially sanctioned by the government (with the exception of a few non-political pieces) or taught in schools/universities, his songs are nevertheless memorized by heart and sung to this day.

Vysotskii wrote literally hundreds of songs, most of which he performed with only self-accompaniment on the Russian seven string guitar. Much of his music contains difficult-to-translate idiomatic expressions or slang, as well clever political jibes or witticisms and difficult-to-grasp Soviet cultural concepts.

So why is this important?

When you travel to Russia, you’ll probably be invited to some parties or meet-ups. Invariably, these parties have guitars… and where there is a guitar, there is Vysotskii. Vysotskii is a household name across Russia — even today, many Russian anti-establishment musicians idolize Vysotskii and strive to emulate his effortless and honest musical style — so it’s important to know who this person was!

Sing-along!

Practice your Russian by singing along with this video! This haunting war song called “Он не вернулся из боя (On ne vernuls’a iz boya)” or “He didn’t return from battle” is about losing a comrade in battle, and only learning to appreciate him after he is gone.

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Want more?

Those of you who are more advanced in Russian, or just want to hear some more music from Vysotskii should check out this Grooveshark playlist of Vysotskii’s songs.

For a comedic song, check out “Сказка о несчастных сказочных персонажах (Skazka o neshchasnykh skazochnykh personazhakh)” or “A story about unfortunate fairy tale characters.” For a song about cold Russian winters, listen to “Гололёд (Golol’od)” or “Sleet.”

How to Fake French

You’re going to France, how exciting! France, the land of wine, cheese, baguettes… Let’s just hope you remember that high school French! Let’s see… you know how to say, “je t’aime.” Well, that’s a start.

Fake what you don’t remember

So, you’ve forgotten all of your high school French, and “je t’aime” may not pull you out of the fire this time. Alright, don’t panic! You can probably just fake the rest….

The alternative

…Or you could sign up for our language and culture learning service below, and actually learn French language and culture!

[Thumbnail picture credited to Megan Mallen]

Ready to dive into French language and culture?

Check out our France ForeignIQ service. Make the best of your trip to France by learning how to communicate and what (not) to do when you get there.

ForeignIQ is a unique subscription service that shows you how things get done in foreign places. Need to shop for clothes? Get directions? Schedule a meeting? ForeignIQ will get you ready.

Inspired by Iceland

Taken hold by wanderlust? Take a look at Iceland. Iceland’s awesome natural features (glaciers, geysers, and gorgeous mountains) combine with its unique culture to make it one of the best travel destinations for the adventurer.

Be funky and get inspired by Iceland

Check out this funky video from Inspired by Iceland, showing off some of the best Iceland sights, along with some of the most ridiculous dance moves ever!

What the French Are Saying About Americans

The differences in French culture vs. American culture leads to stereotypes on both sides. We may be falling a little bit into the old clichés here, but a lot of French people may have those stereotypes in mind – consciously or unconsciously – when meeting Americans. What better way to break them than actually being aware of them…

  • The first one, you probably know already: Americans are loud!
  • Second, they eat fast food all the time and don’t know what real ‘Cuisine’ is all about. They just don’t know how to eat properly.
  • Third, in America, you’re either very poor or very rich. If you’re traveling in France, what category do you fall into?… The loaded one of course! That means you tip really well!
  • Fourth, Americans are not good at learning languages. You can’t expect them to speak French.
  • Finally, Americans are superficial and smile all the time.

The American Dream seen by the French

While it’s true that the French tend to be very critical of the American culture, America still makes people dream. Hollywood movies paint a very appealing portrait of the country. A lot of young ambitious people are, if not fascinated, at least attracted by the US.

So even though there is some anti-Americanism in France, many young businessmen see America as an opportunity rather than the opposition. Do what you can to destroy those negative stereotypes and be the best ambassador of your country. Start by learning French!

Want to dive into French language and culture?

Check out our France ForeignIQ service. Make the best of your trip to France by learning how to communicate and what (not) to do when you get there.

ForeignIQ is a unique subscription service that shows you how things get done in foreign places. Need to shop for clothes? Get directions? Schedule a meeting? ForeignIQ will get you ready.

Russia By Rail

As the two major population centers in Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg are a world all their own. Yet there’s much more to this massive country than what is contained in these two centers.

Trans-Siberian Railway Adventure

NPR’s recent special “Russia By Rail” seeks to document the lives of Russians outside of the major city centers, where hundreds of different ethnicities and identities are joined together by a unique past. NPR’s jounalists traveled the full length of the Trans-Siberian Railway, from Moscow to Vladivastok (6000 miles), capturing candid photos of Sibera and honest interviews with the Russian people.

Yaroslavl Station in Moscow

[Picture credited to Jim Linwood]

Complete with slideshows and audio reports, the “Russia By Rail” projects shows us a piece of Russia’s history, and documents what the Russian people hope to see in the future of their country. Check out the stunning “Russia By Rail” collection to get a glimpse of what Russian culture and Russian people are like outside of the major centers.

Groom Like a Parisian

French women have a refreshingly natural take on beauty and grooming. If you are planning a trip to Paris take a cue from one or all of these low maintenance beauty looks and groom like a Parisian.

Le No Makeup Look

This natural look with regards to makeup is key when staying in France. French women highlight their features with very minimal makeup. The good news for you is you don’t have to spend hours in the morning getting ready! Simply even out your complexion with a tinted moisturizer or light powder, define those eyes with mascara (or if you’re feeling adventurous, eyeliner), swirl on some blush for that romantic look and dot some color on your lips.

Et voilà! You are polished and perfected for the day but no one will be able to tell you are actually wearing makeup (they’ll just think you look really good). So ditch the smoky eye, the heavily applied bronzer, the overly done lip. In France, the natural look is in, toujours!

Mannequin

[Picture credited to MadEmoiselle Sugar]

Hair

Take a cue from le no makeup look described above and sport a very effortless, easygoing hairstyle. A good blow dry will get you far in France. Just make sure your tresses are healthy and clean. No need for teasing, too much hairspray, crazy highlights or extensions. Medium to short hair, simply styled is key to fitting in.

Nails

Ditch the acrylics, and go au natural with short, filed nails. Parisians love to wear neutral shades on their hands and feet. (May I suggest Essie Mademoiselle? The ultimate French shade…) If you are feeling dramatic go for classic red. If you are pressed for time go for a clear top coat of polish. Grooming of one’s nails is imperative here- short, filed and with nary a hangnail or stray cuticle in sight. Make sure your hands are generously moisturized as well to highlight those pretty nails.

Skin

Clear, radiant skin is très important in France– perhaps more than anything else. This is what allows French women to pull off le no makeup look so well. Take the utmost care of your skin by drinking lots of water, using the best skincare you can afford, getting (or giving yourself) regular facials, moisturizing to perfection and always applying spf (yes darling, even when in St. Tropez!)

If you happen to get a blemish, apply a spot treatment (my favorite is Benedetta Control Crème blemish treatment), and conceal until healed. If you do have a breakout- don’t let it get you down. Attitude is everything in France- throw self consciousness out the window!

Picture credited to Jennifer L. Scott

Perfume

And lastly, no French woman is complete without her signature scent. Make sure yours is something you love that really speaks to the essence of who you are. Remember in France people greet each other by leaning in for a kiss on the cheek. In this situation your perfume of choice acts as your aromatic calling card!

Don’t over spray– just a hint on the right side of your neck and on your left wrist is enough. Spray the perfume in the air and walk into it if you must. Your signature scent should never be overpowering, just delicate enough to stir up faint emotions in whoever is lucky enough to greet you.

More lessons from Madame Chic

Jennifer L. Scott is the writer and editor of The Daily Connoisseur. She is also the author of the bestselling lifestyle book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris. To learn more visit www.jenniferlscott.com.

Ready to dive into French language and culture?

Check out our France ForeignIQ service. Make the best of your trip to France by learning how to communicate and what (not) to do when you get there.

ForeignIQ is a unique subscription service that shows you how things get done in foreign places. Need to shop for clothes? Get directions? Schedule a meeting? ForeignIQ will get you ready.

Tomorrow’s Special Guest

Picture credited to Jennifer L. Scott

Get ready! The ForeignIQ blog has something special planned for tomorrow… a guest blog post from Jennifer L. Scott, who will give us her take on how to fit in during your trip to Paris. Here’s a sneak peak!

Picture credited to Jennifer L. Scott

Jennifer Scott is the writer and editor of The Daily Connoiseur and author of the bestselling lifestyle book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris. Whether you’ve always wondered how French women so effortlessly pull off that mystical “je ne sais quoi,” or are just looking for some Paris travel tips, keep an eye on this space tomorrow!

Bicycles in Paris

Wanna cycle away in the streets of Paris so that you can go back home not only speaking French but also showing off those sexy legs of yours? Or maybe you just want an easier way to travel through France’s beautiful capital city. Well, you can do that with Velib!

What is Velib?

Velib (Vélo En Service Libre) is a city-wide self-service system by which you can rent bicycles at a very cheap rate. Pretty sweet. Say ‘thank you’ to Delanoe, the mayor of Paris who encouraged these environmentally friendly public transportation initiatives.

To use the Velib, you have to buy a daily or weekly pass, but the service does accept Navigo cards and now American Express. Even better, the first first half hour is free, which is often enough time to get from A to B. Don’t try to cycle up and down the mount of Montmartre within that half hour though – unless your calves perfectly fit the occasion!

Rental Info

All the rental information/tickets are available at the Paris Velib site. But to sum it up, you can just grab a bike at any ‘velib station’ any time of day or night, and start discovering Paris by bike. Just watch out for traffic! Paris has lots of bicycle lanes, but it can still be dangerous to bike in some places with trucks on the road! Better safe than sorry (or as the French would say “mieux vaut prévenir que guérir”)!

Want to dive into French language and culture?

Check out our France ForeignIQ service. Make the best of your trip to France by learning how to communicate and what (not) to do when you get there.

ForeignIQ is a unique subscription service that shows you how things get done in foreign places. Need to shop for clothes? Get directions? Schedule a meeting? ForeignIQ will get you ready.

Nciku, Chinese dictionary and learning tool

nciku

It’s no secret that learning all of those Chinese characters is a difficult task. Fortunately, there are online tools available that can help. Whether you’re new to Chinese and looking for a place to start, an intermediate learner who wants a bit of practice, or even an advanced learner just wanting to find the right word, Nciku is a good destination!

Chinese dictionary

Nciku is first and foremost a great Chinese dictionary. Offering a range of options for word lookup, it gives you many options for when you just can’t remember that tricky word. The dictionary goes both ways (English-Chinese and Chinese-English), and allows look up by English, Pinyin, Chinese character, or radical.

nciku

Each entry is accompanied by all the necessary basic information (and sometimes more). Translations, a picture representing the word, a phonetic transcription, a male and female voice recording of the word, examples of usage, and a clip showing correct stroke order for the Chinese characters are available for each entry. Some entries have videos representing the word, character decomposition, and synonyms.

Learning tool

Apart from the dictionary, Nciku also contains some learning tools to help you master Chinese. Short conversation snippets are offered up in the “Conversation of the Day” section, the “Learn Chinese Characters” section has a reel of characters with stroke orders of each character, the Q&A section allows visitors to pose and answer questions in a forum… vocab lists, quizzes, blog, free bilingual books, iPhone/Android apps… the list goes on and on.

Oh, and a Japanese dictionary is also forthcoming!

The only thing Nciku seems to be lacking is a stroke order practice section. For that, you might want to check out Skritter.