French Advertising

Posted July 29, 1999 at 2:18 am | No Comments

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Perhaps the only thing smaller than the typical French automobile is the typical French sense of prudery. Interestingly enough, one could accurately say the complete converse about Americans: the size of the average American’s car is eclipsed only the extent of his puritanism.What do I mean, exactly? Let’s examine this advertisement that I noticed on the side of a bus terminal. Next to a picture of a bare-breasted woman is printed the slogan “I am delicious and so is my jam.” Now, coming from the United States, I’m used to seeing advertisements that use sex to sell beer, cars, perfume, and even computers… but condiments? And that slogan? I suppose that the ad is less shocking when you’re accustomed to seeing topless women on daytime television.

Ah, France. I should have expected nothing less from a country in which even the roadside truck stop gas station restrooms have Eau de Cologne dispensers.

French Movie Titles

Posted July 27, 1999 at 2:17 am | 15 Comments

After a brief survey of movie theaters in Paris, Lyons, and Montpelier, I’ve decided that there are three ways in which the title of an American movie can be translated into French.

There are a few movies whose titles are translated quite literally.  For example, the French version of Message in a Bottle is simply titled Message dans une bouteille, and The Mummy becomes La Momie.  Literal translation presents a small problem when the title consists of an idiomatic expression that cannot be directly translated without losing the spirit of the title; in this case, a suitable French alternative is typically chosen.  Hence Face-Off becomes Volte-Face (About Face) and She’s All That becomes Elle est trop bien (literally, She Is Too Good). film1.jpg (22165 bytes)
film2.jpg (22294 bytes) In a second, far more prevalent form of translation, the title is translated not from English to French, but from English to English; a new English title is carefully chosen that consists of English words that the majority of the French public will understand.  Since this method of retitling preserves the movie’s American feel while ensuring its title’s comprehensibility, it seems at first like a good idea.  However, I’ve noticed that this method tends to substantially reduce the subtlety of most movie titles.  For example, the movie Dance With Me became Passion Dance, and Cruel Intentions turned into the rather blatant Sex Intentions.   Never Been Kissed was renamed College Attitude (in French, Middle School Attitude), and Varsity Blues became American Boys.   Perhaps my favorite example of a film whose title suffered from this translation method is the movie Wild Things, which was rechristened Sex Crimes.

A third type of translation, possibly the most common of all, is a form in which the English title is translated from English to French and then rather gratuitously embellished.  Thus Notting Hill becomes Coup de foudre à Notting Hill (Love at First Sight at Notting Hill), Air Bud becomes Air Bud, star des paniers (Air Bud the Basketball Star), and Patch Adams becomes Docteur Patch.  The most ludicrous example of this embroidered retitling is the renaming of the movie The Matrix to Les jeunes gens qui traversent les dimensions en portant des lunettes de soleil (The Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses).  Whoever is in charge of marketing American films to the French public seems to have decided that the French prefer the obtrusive and the revelatory to the implicit and the suggestive.

Eiffel Tower

Posted July 24, 1999 at 2:16 am | No Comments

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The Eiffel Tower, built in 1889 to
celebrate the centenary of the
French Revolution, is a
technological masterpiece in building-construction history.

Today my dad took me to see the Eiffel Tower and I took this photograph.  Isn’t it impressive?  Actually I had always thought that the Eiffel Tower was a little bigger, but my dad assured me that it wasn’t.  “Are you sure this is it?”   I asked him incredulously,  “I didn’t know that the Eiffel Tower was in the middle of a corn field.””Of course this is it, you idiot,” he glowered back, “Are you calling me a liar?”

“No sir,” I meekly replied.

Here’s what’s really strange: off in the distance, I noticed what appeared to be another Eiffel Tower connected to this one with a series of long metal wires.  Perhaps the French recently built a second, lesser-known companion tower.  I almost asked my dad about it but I was too scared.


Posted July 21, 1999 at 2:16 am | 1 Comment

It sure is frustrating shopping in Paris.  It seems like every time you find something nice, it’s already been sold.  We keep seeing storefronts with windows full of items that have already been purchased.

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When we went to Samaritaine, one of the most distinguished department stores in Paris, we found that the whole damn place had been sold!  How annoying.  We didn’t even bother going in.

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Vending Machine Warnings

Posted July 16, 1999 at 2:15 am | No Comments
normalmachine.jpg (23293 bytes) The Coke machine on the second floor of Wean Hall is adorned with a bright orange warning label.  It states that rocking or tilting the vending machine may cause the machine to fall over, resulting in serious injury or death.
The Pepsi machine features a similar label with a unique twist.  Apparently this machine is designed in such a way that people who attempt to rock or tip it will not only be crushed underneath, but will also be simultaneously electrocuted by a  multitude of lightning bolts directed at their brain.  Perhaps this is a sacred vending machine, protected under the surveillance of God, so that blasphemers who attempt to defile its holiness will be struck down by His wrath. deathmachine.jpg (25013 bytes)


Posted July 14, 1999 at 2:14 am | 5 Comments

When friends embark on a weekend road trip, the matter of deciding who is to ride in the front passenger seat should not be treated frivolously.  With the elevated sense of comfort unique to the “shotgun” position comes a weighty burden of responsibility.

As we traversed rural Pennsylvania in Ethan’s navy blue Saturn, I was proud to undertake the capacities entailed by my position in the front of the car.  For at least half an hour, I scoured the airwaves for acceptable (i.e., non-country) songs amidst the changing array of radio stations.  When an attractive girl passed us in a red luxury sedan, I diligently scrambled for paper and pencil to fabricate a makeshift window sign reading “YOU ARE HOT”.  When Ethan became hungry, I dutifully turned to the back seat and ordered Danny to make him a ham sandwich.  And when we got lost on the outskirts of Breezewood, Pennsylvania, I fell sound asleep, snoring loudly, while Danny scrambled for the road map that had fallen out of my hands.  Without the aid of my direction, Ethan had no choice but to employ his typical navigational tactic of turning right everywhere (the maze traversal algorithm, for all of you computer scientists).   One such right turn brought us off of the interstate and into a parking lot adjoining a squat warehouse building bedecked with giant red signs reading “Phantom Fireworks Emporium”.  Intrigued, we had no choice but to stop inside to peruse the vast and colorful array of incendiary devices.

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I’m a little worried by the fact that
Ethan snapped this photo of me
sleeping while he was driving.

My own history with firecrackers has been one of conflicting influences.  My parents were rigidly opposed to anything more powerful than a sparkler, unnerving me with tragically horrifying stories of deaf children who had blown their fingers off with firecrackers and could now no longer even communicate in sign language.  Then when I was in tenth grade, I went on a boat trip with Vince, whose parents’ pyrotechnics policy ran more along the lines of “you should hold on to the M-80 until it’s just about to go off, and then throw it, because it’s cooler that way.”  I ended up opting for a rather cautious middle ground, gingerly lighting a fuse and scampering at least three times father away that was strictly necessary.  Since then, I’ve achieved a less skittish attitude, but I like to think that I always treat fireworks prudently, aside from one lapse in judgment two summers ago during which I managed to hit Paulajean’s neighbor’s car with a bottle rocket.  Note to my dad: this didn’t really happen.

Fireworks being illegal in Minnesota, my friends and I made the occasional pilgrimage to Wisconsin in early July to stock up on Black Cats and Roman Candles.  I was always amused by the incredible profusion of firecracker stores that materialized as soon as we crossed the border.  We’d be in a tiny town in Wisconsin, a town consisting of 10 houses, one church, and one bar, but nevertheless it was sure to have at least five shops selling fireworks when Independence Day drew near, all of them quite obviously catering to Minnesotans intending to engage in illegal firework trafficking.  But none of those tiny counter shops in backcountry Wisconsin had prepared me for the Phantom Fireworks Emporium.  This place had shelf upon shelf of fireworks.  Rows of fireworks.   Aisles of fireworks.

One shelf of fireworks stands out distinctly in my memory.  It was lined with massive cardboard tubes, each tube bearing an image of the Grim Reaper shooting blue lightning out of his skeletal fingers, his bare skull grinning emptily.  Below his picture was the word “DOOMSDAY” in dark block letters.  As I stared at the morbid label, it brought back glorious memories of a firecracker we had purchased years ago on one of our illicit voyages to Wisconsin.  The firecracker was called the Black Widow.

The Black Widow was no normal firecracker.  In fact, to call it a firecracker is a shameful understatement.  Firecrackers have warning labels that say “Caution: emits sparks.”  The Black Widow had a label reading “DANGER: PROPELS LARGE EXPLODING FLAMING BALLS.”  When we saw the label, we fell instantly in love.   It cost $25, a substantial investment at the time, but we knew that it had to be ours.  As we drove home, we were practically euphoric with delight at the secret buried in the trunk of the car.   “This,” we gloated with satisfaction, “is something of which even Vince’s dad would not approve.”

After dinner that evening, we took our new baby to the parking lot of an obscure little park on Pierce Butler Road.  Our theory was that the park was isolated enough that police officers wouldn’t be roaming around anywhere nearby.  Delirious with excitement, we set the Black Widow in the center of the lot, lit the fuse, and retreated to a good 10 yards away…

The results were nothing short of spectacular.  You may find it hard to believe that 40 seconds of pyrotechnics could be worth 25 dollars, but I felt as if our money had been repaid three times over.  For the entire duration of those fabulous 40 seconds, we stood rapt at attention, our mouths hanging open and our eyes wide as saucers, captivated by the power and the beauty of the Black Widow.  But when the last flaming ball had exploded, the spell was broken.  We were hit with the sudden realization that we had just lit off a glittering beacon that would draw the police from everywhere within a two-mile radius.  The faintest sound of a siren seconds later (probably just a faraway ambulance) sent us sprinting to our cars and screeching out of the lot and down the road.   We knew then that the Black Widow was to become the ideal against which all future fireworks would be judged.

Phantom Fireworks was selling a number of firecracker candidates that looked as if they could live up to the Black Widow, but since I didn’t have much money to spend, I had to settle for six boxes of sparklers (the influence of my parents, I suppose) and a 12-pack of bottle rockets labeled “Battle of San Kwai Rocket Ship”.  I’ve always loved the names of firecrackers because they’re badly translated from Chinese, sort of like the chopstick label in my February 21 update.   They all have names like “Happy Glow Jade Blossom Spider Snake” and “Magic Chopping Hummingbird Crimson Flower Shark Stick”.  By far the best name we encountered was “Star Ball Contribution”.  We think that the designers probably intended something like “combustion” or “conflagration” but it’s really much funnier when it’s called a “contribution”.

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Ethan picked up a six-pack of Star Ball
Contributions.  They’re actually really cool.

“Say, what state are we in right now?” I asked the woman at the checkout counter as we paid for our fireworks.  I figured that I had probably been sleeping while we had crossed over a state border, since I knew that fireworks were illegal in Pennsylvania.  When the checkout clerk told me that we were still in Pennsylvania, I was confused.

“Wait, then isn’t this, like, colossally, mind-blowingly illegal?” I inquired.

“No, see we don’t sell to Pennsylvania state residents,” she explained.   “That’s why we checked your driver’s licenses at the door.  Had you been from Pennsylvania, we wouldn’t have let you in.”

“But I don’t get it,” I replied.  “I’m from Minnesota, and fireworks are illegal there too.”

“Well, we expect you to take responsibility for the laws in your own state,” she said.  “We’re allowed to sell to anyone as long as they’re not from this state.”

“So,” I wondered, “what do all the Pennsylvanians do when they want fireworks?”

“Well, they usually go to Ohio.”

“But aren’t fireworks illegal in Ohio?”

“Sure, but the stores over there don’t sell to Ohio residents.”

At this point I started laughing uproariously.  The clerk explained everything as if it were common sense, but I had never encountered quite so beautiful a legal loophole.   Ohio residents went to Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanians went to Ohio, and even though fireworks were completely illegal in both states, everyone was able to buy them.   “What a great country,” I thought.  “This fourth of July, I will blow shit up with even greater national pride in the depths of my heart.” starball.jpg (6808 bytes)

Magnetic Poetry Remainders

Posted July 8, 1999 at 2:13 am | No Comments

Ethan and I recently paid a visit to “QED”, my favorite shop at the Monroeville Mall.  It sells things like logic puzzles, Frisbees, Wallace & Gromit videos, magic sets, brainteaser books… in short, everything that appeals to pretentious geeks like me.  QED will always have a special place in my heart because it was the store at which I purchased my first Rubik’s Cube.

I noticed that QED was having a clearance sale on some of its more obscure Magnetic Poetry Kits.  These were the kits that were so bizarre that nobody wanted them, kits like “Golf Talk”, “Dog Talk”, and “UFO Talk”.   Since I couldn’t resist the “Buy One, Get One Free” offer, I opted for “UFO Talk” and “Dog Talk”, adding them to my shopping basket.

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My new Magnetic Poetry Kits, one canine-themed
and the other extraterrestrial-themed.

I’m really excited to have all of these poetry tiles for my refrigerator, but I’m a little concerned about the quality of the poems that will result from the theming of the kits.  My roommates and I may find it difficult to write about anything other than  paranormal cocker spaniel warlocks from Area 51.  Here’s the first poem I wrote:

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At least now I can write a poem describing my kidnapping by veterinarian-worshipping telekinetic dachshund werewolf yetis.  That’s why I haven’t updated in so long — I blame those fucking supernatural bigfoot dachshunds.

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