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Can henhouses blow up? The conclusion


"Blimey...hope mine isn't going to blow up!"


A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about exploding henhouses. It turns out I got some of the facts wrong.

My sister didn’t believe me

Last week, we went to visit my uncle Georges (88) and his wife, my aunt Marie (84) in Toulon (my hometown). Both are still mentally sharp. The day before, I had talked to my sister about the exploding henhouse incident. She did not know anything about it. She, in fact, expressed some doubt about the whole story!

Visit to Toulon

So, the next afternoon we went to the old family house where uncle Georges and auntie Marie live. After a while, I asked my auntie what she remembered of the crate of grenades exploding in her henhouse while she was feeding her hens.

She had no idea

“What are you talking about?” she asked? She did not know anything about the grenades. So, I explained to her the whole story: my mother asked my two uncles (one of them being uncle Georges) to get rid of a crate of grenades my late father used to keep under the matrimonial bed during the war,  years ago.

“Is this true?” she asked

After I finished relating this strange episode, my auntie turned to my uncle to ask if this was true. With a wry smile, he nodded. My auntie was absolutely flabbergasted. So was my sister, my wife, my cousin Andre (uncle Georges’ and auntie Marie’s son), and myself.

It seems that my uncle Georges never told the truth about the exploding henhouse to my auntie Marie. But even more surprising, for over 50 years, it seems that my auntie Marie thought that her exploding henhouse had been a natural phenomenon!

How weird is that? How could you live most of your life thinking that henhouses can spontaneously explode?

Just a thought -there’s still no news of the gun my uncle Georges also agreed to get rid of as a favour to my mother…

Can hen houses explode…?

Happy French hen

Can henhouses blow up?

Yes, they can and in fact they do (sometimes). Ask my aunt Marie. She can confirm it.

I can hear you thinking: “Who is this fool? Hen houses do not explode. It would make the news or something.”

I think I’d better explain my statement about exploding hen houses.

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The French started their election before the UK

Presidential Candidates 2017


French Presidential Candidates

I have just received a very thick envelope from the French Embassy. It contains a 4-page document for each of the 11 candidates for the French Presidential election. The first round is this Sunday (April 23rd, 2017). The top two candidates will go to a second round (May 7th, 2017) as it is very unlikely that a candidate will get 50% of the vote + 1 on the first round. None of the seven previous presidents of the 5th Republic (the current) were elected during the first round. The closest to do it were General Charles de Gaulle in 1958 (close to 45%) and François Mitterrand in 1974 (over 43%).

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It’s critical to give your translator clear instructions

Ensure you tell the linguist what you mean

It is important to give the translator specific and detailed instructions to avoid any mistakes – sometimes, embarrassing ones! For instance, in 1991, a competitive fighting game called Street Fighter II: The World warrior launched in Japan. It was a sequel to an arcade game released a few years before.

The translator didn’t know the context

When translation was done from Japanese into English, the translator only got the text. He had no idea of what was really going on on the screen. He (or she) had to translate the following sentence: “If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!”. The Japanese characters for “Rising Dragon” were interpreted by the translator as “Sheng Long”. The translator thought a new character called Sheng Long was being introduced!

It drove gamers crazy!

Gamers went wild trying to find this non-existent character. The year after, a famous gaming magazine carried out an April Fool’s joke. They published a series of complex instructions to find Sheng Long. Obviously to no avail… a good laugh, though.

I wonder how many hours were thus wasted!

Are translators psychic?

It is amazing how some clients can assume the translator knows what is inside their head. We aren’t famous for being psychic – although I think you develop it a bit over the years…

How native French speakers remember gender

Language challenge

My wife is a native English speaker, which means we often have debates of the “is it le or la?” variety when in France, or when translating into French. Questions like “How can a table be female?” are often asked. For English speakers, where all inanimate objects are gender – neutral, it can be hard to remember which it is. (I do often remark: “Huh! What about German, where it could be feminine, masculine or neutral?!”).

How I learned “le” or “la”

It’s a challenge to answer. Like most people whose first language has genders for nouns, I don’t remember being rote-taught the rules. I never chanted at school: “La table, le jardin, la pomme, le stylo”. It feels like I just absorbed it through my skin…

Don’t split the words

We did spend some time discussing this issue as native speakers of French and English respectively. Finally, we concluded that when foreigners learn French, they kind of separate out the article from the noun, eg “table (f)” or “stylo (m)”. But I never learned my vocabulary this way as a child. I learned the words as if the article was part of the word: “lestylo”, “latable” etc. So, because the article and the noun were never separated, it was easy to remember which gender it was. It became instinctive and automatic – as language should be.

I have tested this language theory on speakers of Spanish and Italian and it seems to be similar for them.

English doesn’t have genders

English learners usually just memorise the noun, as the article is always the same : “the”. This is why learning different genders is more of a challenge when you aren’t used to it.

So there’s the answer if you are learning French. Embed the vocabulary in your brain with the article as if it is part of the same word. Hope it helps!

Finding customers after Brexit

Brexit – remember that?

Well, all the hoo-ha following the referendum has died down a bit. We are in the somewhat scary no-man’s-land between Vote Out and How to Deliver.  I’m really glad it’s not my job to sort that one out…

What’s the future for British businesses in this new scenario? One thing’s for sure – businesses like yours are ahead of the game. How do I know this? Because you’ve already had documents translated into French, haven’t you? You are aware that there customers who want to read about your products in a language other than English.

Where is French spoken?

French speakers aren’t just in Europe.  There are many other countries around the globe where French is a main language. Lots of them have fast-growing economies: Algeria, Canada, Rwanda, Morocco, Cameroon, Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Senegal to name a few. Around 388 million people speak French around the world. Businesses presenting their offer in French as well as English can reach a lot of extra customers.

Easy way to find new customers

If you are actively seeking to find new customers overseas, it is well worth your while signing up here:

This government site will automatically send you details of relevant business opportunities around the world. Sounds good, pointing out directly for you, potential customers, doesn’t it?

I hope it’s useful to you – have a good November!

The French are like the Italians!

Here are ten ways they are similar:
Words and language

They have lots of vocabulary in common – because the languages come from the Latin eg “sud” for”south”. Being French translators, we can often guess the meaning of signs in Italian.


They both like very expensive pastry and croissant-like things which are outrageously pricy, and they eat these things for breakfast!
Both countries grow very delicious tomatoes, unlike the pallid, crunchy drink of water types we have in the UK.

On the road

There are some real nutcase drivers on French roads, and even more on Italian roads (mostly on motorbikes). Translators spend a lot of time helping foreign drivers who have accidents on French or Italian roads!


Both the French and the Italians are predominantly Roman Catholics and even small villages often have churches which resemble cathedrals!

Culture and attitude

The Italians and the French both have many heartfelt songs about love – and it’s the words and story that really matters – eg the opera.

The French and the Italians are equally proud of their food and their wine.

Identity and politics

Both the Italians and the French describe their flag as the 3-coloured flag – the tricolore, spelled the same (but pronounced differently).

Both France and Italy are relatively recent republics.

In both France and Italy, local government (commune – the same in both languages) power is often vested in the local mayor who can have significant decision-making power and responsibility even in small towns.

And here is a very important 11th – the French and the Italians enjoy much more sunshine than the Brits!

French dogs are more amenable than English dogs!

More differences between the French and the English

Something which always puzzles us when we are travelling around in France is the number of dogs you see hanging around without a lead, including in towns.

Several times we have seen really quite young puppies (no more than 3 months) obediently following their French owners while they trot along the street. Quite often you see a French dogs, NOT TIED UP, sitting quietly outside a shop. They are waiting patiently for their owner to make his/her purchases and come out.  I really don’t understand how they manage this. I know some dogs are amenable in this way in the UK but you don’t see so many owners confidently expecting them to abide by the rules of the road/pavement. We have had two labradors. The last one could be 100% trusted to walk alongside you and not run off, whatever the temptation. The current one, however, is given to taking unreasonable dislikes – extending to murderous intent! – to other dogs on a pretty random basis and has been known to shoot off ignoring frantic calls to come back when attracted by, say, a squirrel or any kind of food.

Dogs welcome in restaurants

The other thing which is quite different between French and English dog owners is that you quite often see French dogs sitting in restaurants and cafes, even sometimes at the table! Shops in the UK (food or otherwise) nearly all have signs forbidding entrance by dogs except guide dogs. Does this mean that French owners are more inclined to see their pets as equal family members, in the same way as they see them being entitled to wander around the street without being on a lead?