Life in the Circus

Like so many of us today, I sometimes find that working can be stressful. Whether you’re an employee, executive, or freelancer like myself, you often feel like a circus performer: you could be a lion-tamer managing your boss, a high-wire artist trying not to fall, or an acrobat juggling a hundred different hoops at the same time.

Personally, the circus act I feel closest to is the plate-spinner. You know, they have a whole load of plates spinning on wooden sticks, and they have to keep rushing from one to another and back again to stop the plates from falling and smashing on the ground.

Of course, it depends on the time of the year. But just one glimpse at my timetable and to-do list for this week is a daunting challenge. I’ve three main activities: coaching, interpreting and translating so, in reverse order, this week’s plates have included translating the following documents: Air Austral’s in-flight magazine, a European regional funding report, a short film in Mafate and the finishing touches to the Musée de Villèle website and application.

As far as interpreting goes, I need to brush up on my technical vocab for next week’s Iomma, the three day Indian Ocean music market before Sakifo kicks off.

And as for the coaching, every week involves a lot of driving. As I work between St Louis and Ste Suzanne, I usually do an average of 2000 km per month. The companies where I teach business English at the moment work in fields such as sugar cane, automobiles, IT, tourism, construction and regional cooperation.

Ok, this might sound like a lot, but it’s not finished yet! I do my own admin, so there are all the quotations and invoices to send, money to chase up and, of course, taxes to pay! And not forgetting working on anglais.re’s podcasts and e-learning program with my fantastic friend and colleague Richard, and having the privilege of working with all my fellow English trainers, translators and interpreters. You know who you are!

Like them, I enjoy keeping myself busy. But I must admit it would be nice to work just a little bit less! However, once a plate has started spinning, you can’t let it stop and crash to the ground! Which reminds me, I have to go now, as my circus act is calling me, and there are a few plates which need my attention! That’s life in the circus folks!

Vocabulary

whether = si (oui ou non)
executive = cadre
lion-tamer = dompteur de lion
high-wire artist = funambule
circus act = numéro de cirque

plate-spinning = assiette tournante
to smash = éclater en morceaux
glimpse = aperçu
timetable = planning
daunting = décourageant

to brush up on = réviser
to involve = impliquer
average = moyenne
fields = domaines
my own = ma propre

quotations = devis
invoices = factures
to chase up = relancer
fellow = confrère
however = par contre

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Arrival

My arrival in Reunion is hard to forget. I remember the flight so well! Sat in the airport, I was so scared! When they announced my flight, I picked up my hand luggage and slowly joined the queue; it felt like I was in a dream, my head and body felt numb. But when they called my row of seats, I leapt from my apathetic state into action, rushing to the front of the queue.

I flashed my boarding pass and headed off down the corridor, the end of which I could see the plane’s open door. And then it happened. All the fear, all the panic, all the apprehension, every negative feeling I had had over the previous 12 months vanished into oblivion, and all the worry and dread disappeared. I was so happy, so excited, nothing was going to stop me. This was my adventure and no-one was going to get in my way.

On one side of my seat was a German kid on an exchange program. It didn’t matter. In front of me were his 30 schoolmates. It didn’t matter. On the other side was his moustached German teacher. It didn’t matter. I didn’t even mind him talking to me for 11 hours. I didn’t mind it when he kept getting up every 20 minutes to tell his kids to shut up. Nothing mattered. Nothing mattered but this indescribable feeling of freedom.

About six hours later, the darkness outside began to glow faintly, and then the sun began to rise. When you’re at 30,000 feet the sunrise is pretty special – I’m glad Wolfgang next to me kept me awake with his ramblings or else I wouldn’t have seen it. 4 hours later, we landed.

From my seat on the plane, I had no view of the island as we landed, and so my first glimpse was after having picked up my guitar and suitcase and departed the terminal. What a view! The mountains in the distance hit me first, and then the sunshine, and then the heat. Stifling’s the word, I think. I gave a thought to the folks back home as I slipped on the shades they’d given me, and I hailed a cab, jumped in, and headed off to a new world.

Three hours later I was sat in my hotel near the sea front – looking right out of my balcony I could see the most amazing mountains and looking left, the Indian Ocean. It was time to explore!

Vocabulary

flight = vol
scared = effrayé
hand luggage = bagages à main
numb = engourdi
to leap = sauter 

to rush = se précipiter
worry = inquiétude
dread = effroi
it didn’t matter = c’était sans importance
schoolmates = camarades de classe 

darkness = obscurité
to glow = luire
sunrise = lever du soleil
ramblings = incohérences
glimpse = apercu

suitcase = valise
stifling = étouffant
the folks = les proches
shades = lunettes de soleil
to hail = héler

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Vegetarian Meltdown

As a Brit, I am used to being around vegetarians. Both my sisters are veggies, as are my nieces, brother-in-law and countless friends. In Britain, nearly 12% of the population are either vegetarian or vegan. You would never invite someone to dinner without asking them if they were vegetarian, and every wedding menu includes a dish without dead animals. (And yes, fish are animals). Every restaurant provides vegetarian options, and being a veggie isn’t laughed at, frowned upon or ridiculed.

If only this were the case in Reunion! The reaction from people can be mind-blowing, from restaurant chefs to guesthouse owners. Check this out:

Last month I was in a beautiful river-side restaurant in the east, and we asked what vegetarian options there were. Now I won’t name and shame the establishment, but it has (or used to have in my book) an excellent reputation.

The waitress’s response was awful. Embarrassing and totally unprofessional. She said one word: “Rien.” Not even “Rien, Madame”. I insisted – couldn’t she just ask the chef to prepare something simple without meat? Her second response? “Ici, c’est Créole, on ne cuisine pas avec des legumes.” I translate: “This is a Creole restaurant sir, we don’t cook with vegetables”. Now please allow me to translate once again so you can understand what she really wanted to say: “We can’t be bothered to cook something different for you and couldn’t care less if you went away and never came back.”

Me being me, I insisted further: “Come on, the people in Mafate do this without batting an eyelid! And you can’t?” She eventually came out with a plate of rice, beans and palm heart salad, looking about as happy as a bulldog chewing a wasp. A bargain at twenty euros.

Of course, this experience was not a one-off: all over the island we are met with similar displays of incompetence. One chef refused, saying if “you want to buy a pareo, you don’t go to a couturier.” I wanted to reply: “well if it’s so simple, then why can’t you do it?” But I didn’t. I simply paused and slowly said: “But what if we didn’t eat meat for religious reasons?”Ah!” he said, “that’s different!!”

This made me furious! On one hand, a client who doesn’t eat dead animals just because it’s written down in a book is treated with respect, whereas the client who does this through choice and a conscientious empathy for other living animals is turned away and treated like an idiot…

But I am confident this will change. As the numbers of people who eat less meat and fish grows, these so-called professionals will have no choice but to adapt. It’s just a question of tolerance…

Vocabulary

to be used to = être habitué à
brother-in-law = beau-frère
countless = innombrables
dish = plat
frowned upon = être jugé

mind-blowing = époustouflant
guesthouse owners = gîteurs
to name and shame = montrer du doigt
in my book = à mon sens
waitress = serveuse

awful = affreux
can’t be bothered = ne pas avoir le courage
couldn’t care less = s’en foutre royalement
without batting an eyelid = sans sourciller
a bulldog chewing a wasp = un chien mâchant une guêpe

a one-off = un cas unique
display = (ici) preuve
on one hand = d’une part
whereas = tandis que
to grow = croître

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The Fourth Cirque

Ask anyone, just ANYONE, the question: ‘How many cirques are there in Reunion?’ and everyone, I mean EVERYONE, will say ‘three?’

Wrong! There are four. You have probably only heard of Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos. This is because the fourth cirque, or ‘caldera’ can no longer be seen as it was completely filled up one day by a massive eruption of lava. And what is its name? It is called Cirque Des Marsouins. Marsouin means ‘porpoise’ in English, but you won’t find any of those here… And where is it? Well, it is located between Salazie and La Plaine des Palmistes.

Hang on”, I hear you cry! “That’s the Forests of Bébour and Bélouve!” Exactly. Over 150,000 years ago, our lovely Piton des Neiges was warming up for her swansong, preparing to give one final explosion of sulphurous ecstasy! Turning the taps on full flow, the vast crater was filled up to the brim with molten rock, fire and brimstone. This explains why, when you come up to the Col de Bébour, the wonderful panoramic view shows a forest which looks completely flat! And you’re standing on top of what used to be a towering cliff!

It might seem like a long way to drive – but if you live in the south, it is only one hour from St Pierre, and if you’re in the north and you fancy some exercise, the drive to Hellbourg only takes an hour from St Denis. From there you can hike up to the wonderful Gite de Belouve with its stunning view over Salazie, and the short walk to the famous Trou de Fer. While I’m on the subject of the Trou de Fer, I would formally like to invite everyone in Reunion to stop translating it as ‘The Iron Hole’. This means nothing! The French word ‘fer’ here does not mean ‘iron’, but ‘horseshoe’, because of the U-shaped configuration of the many waterfalls. Granted, ‘horseshoe hole’ doesn’t sound much better, so why don’t we go for ‘Horseshoe Falls’? Please pass this information on to EVERY helicopter pilot you know!!

Anyway, coming back from our horses to our porpoises, I have to admit that the Cirque des Marsouins is the one part of the island that I have explored the least, and just looking at the names of places and hikes to do there is enough to get my running shoes and camelback on! So, I’ll see you in the Cirque des Marsouins – may the Fourth be with you!!

Vocabulary

anyone = n’importe qui
everyone = tout le monde
wrong = faux
no longer = ne plus
to fill up = remplir

located = situé
between = entre
to hang on = attendre un instant
to warm up = s’échauffer
swansong = chant du cygne

taps = robinets
to the brim = à ras bord
molten = en fusion
brimstone = souffre
flat = plat

towering = gigantesque
to hike = randonner
stunning = éblouissant
granted = effectivement
anyway = (ici) bref

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Why (did I stay in) Reunion?

In a previous podcast I answered the question that so many people ask us native English speakers: ‘Why did you come to Reunion?’ For this week’s episode I’m going to answer a question which for me is much more important: ‘Why did you stay?’

Answering this is quite emotional, for I realize that, after sixteen years on the island, the reasons for staying have shaped my entire life. I would say there are two groups, the first being a list of quite specific points in no particular order:

The food, the beaches, snorkelling at Boucan, the outdoor lifestyle, the impossible blue of a cloudless Reunionese sky and the fact one can spend 10 months of the year wearing just a pair of shorts. Not at work, of course. What else? The amazing people who have become my friends and the hardworking colleagues and clients with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work, and the warm and open population.

The second group of reasons is more general – here’s my top three in ascending order:

Number 3) People born in Reunion grow up with this stunning surrounding scenery, but I often feel it’s important to point out just how phenomenal, outstanding and singular the geographical relief of the island really is. Looking out across Mafate from Le Maido, the volcano from Oratoire St Therese or Cilaos from Le Piton des Neiges are privileged moments which make me feel at one with nature and truly alive. These are feelings that I have rarely had in England or Mainland France.

Number 2) Much like the landscape, some fail to realize just how unique it is that a place in the world exists where people of all races and religions live together, not only peacefully but also with mutual respect. This makes Reunion a fantastic place for children to grow up, and the fact that my children, two little ‘Portoises’, have had this opportunity will help to make them tolerant and accepting human beings.

And number 1) I guess that big cities where I have lived such as London, Paris and Valparaiso (in Chile) seem so impressive and awesome at first, but this doesn’t mean that choosing to live in Reunion is an easy alternative. As they say, size is not important – big cities soon lose their attraction and the awe turns to boredom. People have asked me if I feel claustrophobic on a small island. In reply, I ask ‘how far away is your horizon? Can you see past the next building?’ I’ve been either hiking or mountain-running at least once a month for all these years, and there are still loads of footpaths left for me to discover…

Which I guess brings me to my conclusion: living on Reunion is a constant adventure, and isn’t that exactly what we all wish from life?

Vocabulary

to answer – répondre
native English speakers – Anglophones
to realize – se rendre compte
to shape – façonner
snorkelling – palmes-masque-tuba

outdoor – extérieur
hardworking – bosseur
ascending – croissant
stunning – époustouflant
outstanding – remarquable            

at one – en symbiose
landscape – paysage
peacefully – paisiblement
to grow up – grandir
human beings – êtres humains

impressive – impressionnant
awesome – formidable
awe – admiration
boredom – ennui
hikling – randonner

footpaths – sentiers
to wish – souhaiter

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Why (did I come to) Reunion?

Very often, when we native English speakers meet people for the first time here in Reunion, one of the most common questions we get asked is: ‘why on earth did you come to Reunion?’ It’s funny, you don’t hear the same question for people who have come from Mainland France, but I guess that’s because its commonplace. But when we say ‘I’m from Melbourne’ or ‘London’ or ‘Texas’ the reaction of people is often this amazed look on their face, going wow! Why would someone as cool as you come to a place like Reunion?

Well, we all have our different reasons. For me, it was a collection of about five or six. First and foremost, I was living and working in London, but it felt so boring, predictable and I was having a fun time I suppose, but I knew that if I didn’t leave then, I would never leave, and the prospect of spending the next fifty years in the same place scared me to death.

Number two was that it was also 1999, which meant that I wanted to mark the beginning of this new millennium with an outstanding experience, one which would really put me to the test.

The plan was to spend six months here, and then see how I felt afterwards. 99% of me thought I would be back in the UK within a year, but there’s always that little 1%, that little spark which leads us to do adventurous things, to take new risks, and also to break the mould. Like many people, society expected me to get a job in the same place I was born, and follow the crowd.

But that would have meant staying in England…

Which brings me to reason number three: the climate. I’ll admit it: sunshine makes me happy. Rainclouds and gloomy skies get me down. Before London I had lived in Beziers and Montpellier, and had fallen in love with the south of France. And reason number four was the language. What’s the point of spending four years studying a language and never using it? I had to get back to the strange and exotic world of croissants, fine wines and the joys of the subjunctive tense.

So it was a classic example of when you know exactly what you want, and you go for it – my criteria: somewhere hot, French, adventurous and unique. Someone suggested a tiny place in the Indian Ocean, and off I went. Reunion Island it was.

They say that the rest is history, but the second question I often get asked, and this will be Part II of this podcast, is ‘Why on earth did you stay…?’

Vocabulary

native English speakers – anglophones
funny – marrant
commonplace – courant
amazed – étonné
first and foremost – tout d’abord

predictable – prévisible
scared – effrayé
outstanding – remarquable
afterwards – après cela
spark – étincelle

mould – moule
to expect – s’attendre
crowd – foule
gloomy – lugubre
what’s the point – quel est l’intérêt?

you go for it – tu te lances
tiny – minuscule

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Mafatenglish

Welcome back to Mafate for another Mafatenglish. It’s been another great couple of days. I think the thing that stands out for me here in Mafatenglish is in fact having three different roles when I come down.

First of all as a teacher, first and foremost. It really is a great pleasure to come here and see the progress that the people of Mafate are making. Yes, their level is not fantastic – we’re talking false beginners, pre-intermediates, but they so want to learn. And let’s not forget, here in Mafate, they need it so much more than other people around the coast who may never see a tourist in all their lives.

The second role that I feel I’m playing here is also one of a tourist. Because when we come down and do our Mafatenglish sessions we do a lot of roleplays and dialogues, pretending that I’m the tourist, and they are themselves of course, and we enact the dialogues to see how they’ve learned their vocabulary. And as a tourist I look around and I think ‘wow, this really is exceptional.’ It’s a beautiful place, it’s clean – really clean! This always impresses me. Even though there are some people who may criticize certain parts of Reunion, saying it’s not clean – here, everything in Mafate I’ve seen has been spotless.

Let’s not forget that I started in Le Maido, I’m in La Nouvelle, going to Aurere, going to Lataniers, so I see pretty much a lot of the main footpaths…… Another thing I notice is that sometimes people say that La Nouvelle is too touristy. Well I think, yes, there are a lot of gîtes being opened, but I think the fact that we have so much choice now is wonderful. We have different choices of beer, different choices of wine, even champagne if you want it – we saw that this lunchtime. Cobie did want to buy a bottle but I persuaded her not to. She’s probably got one in her bag, though…

And I think the third role for me is as a runner, a mountain runner. I wouldn’t describe myself as an athlete – my years of athletics have gone, but the fact of running across Mafate gives one this sense of liberty, a sense of freedom. Sometimes people say “God, are you crazy? 10 hours or 15 hours of running, doing sport?” Possibly, yes! But some people like paragliding, some people like collecting ceramic unicorns, I just love running in Mafate. So once again, it’s been a wonderful experience, and I look forward to coming back here as soon as possible.

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Fist-Bumping

In a previous podcast, Jen spoke about the weird and wonderful world of ‘la bise’, which for new-comers to France is never easy to manage, especially if you’re a girl in St Gilles-les-Bains and you don’t particularly fancy kissing the local tramp

As for us boys, we have a similar dilemma related to greetings, but this one is very specific to Reunion: the fist-bump. Question 1: what exactly is it? Well, the perfect well-oiled fist-bump is a thing of beauty, with both participants ready to first slap hands, then form a fist and bang them both together, with style and nonchalance. But for new-comers to Reunion, this is rarely as easy as it seems.

This brings us to question 2: why is it difficult? Well, the problem is that you never know if the other person is going to fist-bump or simply shake hands. Like normal people. Which means you either end up going for the formal hand-shake and grabbing a wet fish which is already slipping away and preparing the fist-bump, or, horror of horrors, you end up slapping a firm handshake and the fist-bump hits the ends of their bemused fingertips.

So, question 3: how do you know which one to do? THAT is the trickiest of all! Charting my own progress, I would say that after two weeks in Reunion, I thought the fist-bump was a comedy reference to gangster rappers by the Erasmus students I had met in St Denis. After two months, I was joining in but getting it wrong every time – I was either horribly unfashionable or painfully embarrassing. After two years, I started to get it right. For once, it’s not all about watching the other people around you and copying them – someone may bump fists with their friends, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the same treatment yourself.

Anyway, at first I felt awkward – it is NOT a very British custom, as most Brits would rather look like Borat than Booba. But after fifteen years here, I now know that it means many things, such as friendship, acceptance, and complicity.

A final question: where does the fist-bump come from? I’m sure there are several theories, but most people I have asked say that it comes from teenage boys at school here, with different groups having their own secret handshake. As they left school, it continued. This must have been a long time ago, because I sometimes see guys in their fifties who greet each other like that.

But, like with Jen’s kissing experience, it’s just another part of Reunionese life. As the saying goes, When in Rome, do as the Romans. Or rather, ‘When in Reunion, chill out and bump fists.’

Vocabulary

to fist-bump = checker
weird = bizarre
new-comers = nouveaux arrivants
tramp = clochard
well-oiled = bien-huilé

to slap =  claquer
fist = poing
to shake hands = serrer la main
to grab = saisir
to slip = glisser

bemused = perplexe
fingertips = bout des doigts
the trickiest = le plus difficile
to join in = participer
awkward = gauche

the fifties = les cinquantaines
greet = saluer
as the saying goes = comme dit le dicton
to chill out = se détendre

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Service With a Smile

Our island is famous for many things: stunning scenery, beautiful landscapes, cultural and ethnic diversity, and scrumptious food. However, nothing is perfect. Sometimes, the service in Reunion is far from satisfactory. Sometimes, it is very near to satisfactory. But the experience I had at a restaurant in the west of the island last month was so awful, so bad, so atrocious, that if ‘Satisfactory’ were a town, I can say that the service would have been so far from Satisfactory that I could have found myself in another galaxy.

There we were, five adults and four kids, all enjoying a Friday night meal ofmussels and chips.

Halfway through the meal, one of us discovered, in the bottom of the pot, amaggot. A big dead maggot. Now, you’re wondering what a ‘maggot’ is. Have a look at the vocab. Got it? I know. I nearly threw up. We told the waiter. He told the boss. The boss told his waiter to apologise. “No harm done” we said, “these things happen”.

Then my friend ordered a rum. Inside was something dark. Something crooked. Yes, it was the leg of a cockroach. I had had enough! My friends were being far too patient, so I picked up the cockroach leg and went to see the boss.

Typically British, I felt that all this was clearly my fault. But my Gallic side took over, and my guilt disappeared. “Erm, after the maggot, we have this…” I showed him the offending object. “It’s part of a cockroach.” He replied ‘no, that’s a bit of vanilla.’

I said, ‘I’m not an expert on vanilla, and I’m not an expert on cockroaches, but THIS is part of a cockroach.’

His wife appeared from the kitchen. She looked very angry indeed. “It’s impossible. We have no cockroaches in our kitchen!” she announced proudly.

“Are you suggesting that I go out to restaurants with bits of cockroach in my pocket for fun?” I countered.

Her reaction? She took a close look at my finger. Then grabbed the cockroach leg. And then yes, my friends, she put it in her mouth and she ate it. Like Luke Skywalker, I shouted ‘Noooooooooooooo!’

Chewing away, she went back into her kitchen shouting “you see, perfectly good!”

The boss then advised ME to go and sit down, as he was concerned that I wouldlose my temper. I was just trying not to throw up…

What could I do? What would you have done?

I didn’t want to annoy them. I just wanted to inform them of the problem. These things happen, even in 5 star hotels, it’s not the end of the world. But it’s all about how the situation is handled. And the way this situation was handled was light years from satisfactory.

Vocabulary

stunning – époustouflant
landscapes – paysages
scrumptious – succulent
satisfactory – satisfaisant
awful – affreux

far – loin
mussels – moules
maggot – asticot
to throw up – vomir
no harm done! – ya pas de mal !

crooked – crochu
guilt – culpabilité
cockroach – cafard
to grab – saisir
to lose your temper – perdre son sang froid

to handle – gérer
light years – années lumières

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Bringing James Bond to Reunion

Not so long ago, I was talking about the notoriety of Reunion to someone at the IRT – that’s the Reunion Island Tourism Board. I believe we need to do something radical to put the island on the world map, and I told him I thought we needed to be more ambitious, saying: ‘if you look at the celebrities who come here to promote the island, they’re usually only famous in France. People like handball player Jackson Richardson, actress Josiane Balasko and for big events like the Sakifo Music Festival, the headline acts are singers like M and Mano Chao – hardly big names on the world stage.’

Fair enough’, he said, ‘but we don’t have the budget to bring U2 or Madonna, do we? What do you have in mind?’

I said: ‘What about having part of a James Bond movie filmed here? That would be amazing!’

He burst out laughing, and said ‘Ok James, I challenge you – you go and bring James Bond to Reunion!’

So that evening, I got started. I was taking this seriously! Obviously, I wasn’t going to be able to call up Daniel Craig and say ‘hi Daniel, will you come to my party please?’, but I went online, found the name of the location scout who had worked on Skyfall, googled him and discovered that he lives in the south west of England and that he’s a surfer. My brother-in-law also lives in the south west of England, and is also a surfer. I called him up, and he knew the guy! Within a week, we had chatted on the phone and, after a lot of persuading, he finally came to Reunion, his packed 7 day trip organised by the IRT and the Agence Film Reunion. We saw the whole island, including a magic helicopter ride.

The objective was to wow him with Reunion’s stunning natural sights so that maybe, one day, he would bring a film crew back here to film part of a blockbuster.

The first part was definitely successful – he loved it here. As far as the second part goes, the IRT were contacted about a year later by the people who were working on the latest Bond film, Spectre. Apparently they were looking for scenery with savanna and colonial houses, which we have, but not in the same place. Better luck next time.

Anyway, time will tell. This location scout really was blown away by the scenery here, especially the valley of Takamaka and the Forêt de Bélouve. As we ventured through the undergrowth, he said ‘oh, it’s such a shame I didn’t come here one year ago – there’s a new film I’m working on: they would have LOVED this place!’

‘What film is it?’ we asked.

‘I can’t tell you, I’m afraid. I’ve signed a secrecy contract.’

‘Come on man, what film is it?’

He said nothing, but held his two fists in front of him, as if he were carrying a sword, and said ‘jjjjjjjjjiinnnnnng’: the unmistakable sound of a light sabre

Vocabulary

headline act = tête d’affiche
hardly = à peine
fair enough = d’accord, effectivement
in mind = en tête
to burst out laughing = éclater de rire

obviously = évidemment
location scout = répereur
brother-in-law = beau-frère
to persuade = convaincre
packed = rempli

to wow = impressionner, émerveiller
crew = équipage
scenery = paysage
blown away = époustouflé
undergrowth = sous-bois

such a shame = c’est vraiment dommage
secrecy = confidentialité
fists = poings
sword = épée
unmistakable = unique

light sabre = sabre laser

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