English

A Dirty Weekend

The weekend had got off to a good start. My husband and I and a couple of friends had plans to hike to Marla, but as the Route Forestière leading up to Col des Boeufs was closed due to road-works we had decided to start by hiking across Grand Sable. After an hour’s trek we reached a junction in the path … only to find a big “footpath closed” sign. So we had no option but to turn round and go back the way we came, and then walk up the Route Forestière, before really starting the hike. All this meant that we arrived at Marla later than planned, as night was falling.

At the time there was only one gîte in the hamlet, and unfortunately it was being renovated, so the school was being used as temporary accommodation. The whole room was chock-a-block with bunk beds, only separated from each other by sheets of tarpaulin. As the four of us arrived last we had the only available beds left – my husband and I had adjacent top bunk beds, and the couple of tourists below agreed to move the bunk beds closer. We slept badly as they ‘made the most’ of being side by side, and found out the next morning that our friends, who were on the other side of the room, had been woken in the middle of the night to find their bunk-bed neighbour injecting himself, albeit with insulin.

It had also started to rain during the night, and we left the gîte under a downpour. To head back to Col des Boeufs we had to cross two gullies, which had been streams the previous day, but the overnight rainfall had turned them into raging torrents. Our two male companions crossed by jumping from stone to stone, but I – seeing my life flash before me if I was to slip and fall – decided I’d be better off wading across. In the first stream the water only come up to my thighs, and I imagined the second would be the same, but I actually found myself in chest-high water!

When we finally made it back to our vehicle we were all completely drenched, exhausted, and shivering with the cold. We put the heating on in the car, no realising that this would drain the battery however, and that when we wanted to start the car the battery would be flat. So our eventful weekend ended with one of our party – who shall remain nameless – back out in the rain, pushing the car to get it started, in their underwear

Vocabulary

to lead = mener
road-works = travaux
accommodation = hébergement
chock-a-block = blindé
bunk bed = lit superposé

tarpaulin = bâche
available = disponible
albeit = même si c’était
downpour = déluge
gullies = ravines

to slip = glisser
to wade = avancer dans l’eau
thighs = cuisses
chest-high = jusqu’à la poitrine
drenched = trempé

to shiver = grelotter
heating = chauffage
to drain = vider
however = par contre
underwear = sous-vêtements

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False Alarm

In January, my parents visited me in Reunion. I’d planned tons of great stuff. Going to the natural pools, eating delicious creole food, visiting the volcano and of course checking out the beaches.

My parents weren’t so keen on that last one. Unfortunately, when they’d looked up ‘La Réunion’ online, they were met with stories of shark attacks. After I explained that there are several measures to protect swimmers in the lagoon, they agreed. And once in the water with their snorkels on, they loved it. After an hour, they came out with huge smiles and finally it was my turn.

Fast forward twenty minutes and I was feeling completely serene, with only the sound of the water filling my ears. Suddenly, the serenity gave way to complete chaos when I lifted my head up out of the water for one moment. The next twenty seconds seemed like twenty minutes. The first thing I saw was my Dad standing on the sand waving at me with both arms and shouting. Then he pointed to where the waves were crashing behind me. There, where he was pointing, was a boat of people and next to it, dark red water. A bright red flare had been shot into the sky. Instant terror took hold of my body. In my mind, this was a shark attack, the red water was blood and the flare was a warning from the people on the boat. I swam as fast as I could towards the beach. I was so sure there was a shark on my tail that I swam through the shallow water full of sharp coral and cut myself all over my arms, legs and stomach. I figured it was too shallow for a shark to swim through. After what felt like an eternity of swimming, I reached the beach and, like in the movies, dragged my weary body up the sand.

After a few seconds of wondering why nobody had come to help me after my near death experience, I lifted my head up from the sand. Looking back at me was a beach full of confused people, and my father, doubled over with laughter.

It turns out there was no shark, or any danger at all. He had seen a group of marine biologists doing some drills in the water and fancied playing a prank on his daughter who was so sure that the lagoon was completely safe. So, good one Dad. You got me. And I’ve still got the scars to prove it!

Vocabulary

tons = beaucoup
to check out = aller voir
keen = enthousiaste
measure = dispositif
my turn = mon tour 

fast forward = passons directement
suddenly = soudain
dark = foncé
bright = vif
flare = fusée

shot = envoyé
to take hold of = envahir
warning = avertissement
on my tail = juste derrière moi
to figure = se dire

shallow = peu profond
weary = faible
to be doubled over = être plié en deux
drills = exercices
prank = farce

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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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Carri Poulet

I have to admit that Creole cuisine is not my favourite. It’s not because of the flavour, it’s because of the bones. For those of you who know me, you know that I don’t enjoy eating meat off the bone. Give me a chicken breast over a chicken drumstick any day!

So when I first arrived in Reunion I was eager to try the local food to see what it was all about. When my friend invited me to her mother’s for dinner I jumped at the chance. My first Creole dinner cooked by a Creole lady, it couldn’t get any better than that! On the menu was a traditional carri poulet. ‘Great!’ I thought.

So I arrived and I was greeted by the family and we all sat around a very large table. After trying to decipher some Creole and follow a conversation unsuccessfully, my attention turned to the huge pile of rice, which was making its way to the table. I have now learnt that this was a normal amount of rice for any meal. After that the beans and the famous carri arrived – at this point I was starving!

So I was served a generous amount and was the butt of the jokes as I politely skipped on the rougail tomate. I couldn’t wait to stuff my face but being British I made sure my elbows were off the table and I ate with my knife and fork, something, which attracted attention as the majority of the family were eating with their hands…but that’s an entirely different story.

As I neared the end of my meal and ate the last bit of chicken I was just about to put down my knife and fork and then it happened. SLURPPPPPP!

I thought somebody was choking on a bone but to my surprise no! One by one everybody started picking up their bones and sucking and slurping over them. I didn’t know whether to look horrified, smile or even laugh! Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. It didn’t take long for someone to question me as to why I wasn’t doing the same. I just didn’t know what to respond to not offend anybody or be rude! But where I am from this is a no no! It is just as bad as licking your plate! I have never sucked on a bone at the dinner table nor would I ever do it, especially when invited to somebody’s house!

This was one experience I will never forget. I can still remember the SLLUUURRRPP even now!

Vocabulary

flavour = le goût
bones = les os
to enjoy = apprécier
chicken breast = blanc de poulet
chicken drumstick = cuisse de poulet 

to be eager to = avoir hâte de
to see what it’s about = voir de quoi il s’agit
to jump at the chance = sauter sur l’occasion de faire qqch
to decipher = déchiffrer
huge = énorme 

to be starving = avoir la dalle
to be the butt of the joke = être la cible d’une blague
to skip = passer
to stuff my face = s’empiffrer
elbow = coude 

to near the end = approcher la fin
to choke = étouffer
awkward = gênant
rude = mal poli
to lick your plate = lécher son assiette

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Unruly Neighbours

You know that saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’? When you long for something that you are so sure you want, until one day you get it, and it turns out to be hell on earth? Yeah, I’m pretty familiar with it now.

I moved into a flat 6 months ago and although the flat is great, it’s well priced and spacious, I quickly noticed that mine was the only flat inhabited in the entire building. That’s one out of a possible 6. The nights grew long and lonely and before I knew it I was posting ads trying to get the word out about the apartments to rent. And it worked! The next thing I knew, I was seeing people come and visit the flats on a daily basis. At this point I was feeling pretty smug, imagining myself chatting with my soon-to-be neighbours over a bottle of wine.

Well someone should have just slapped me right there. It didn’t quite turn out that way. That’s an understatement. A few nights later at about 2am, I was swatting off mosquitos half asleep when I heard what I thought was a burglar trying to break into my flat. Terrified, I jumped out of bed and grabbed my weapon of choice, which due to little choice was my hairbrush, and crept towards the living room. Lights on, no-one was inside. But the front door handle was moving up and down and I was freaking out. I looked through the peephole and what did I see? A woman, maybe in her fifties, crazily looking around her and talking to herself, laughing and shouting all at once. I genuinely thought I was in a scene from an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

I was preparing to call the police when through the peephole I saw the door from the flat opposite open and a young woman drag her inside.

The rest of the night was a bit of a sleepless blur. When I left the flat the next day, I bumped into the same woman, who, seemingly oblivious to the events of the night before, introduced herself as my new neighbour. So there we go. I got what I wanted right? We don’t chat about our days or have a drink together, but every now and then I get the chance to hear her banging mistakenly on my door and I never feel alone, because she leaves rubbish in all of the communal spaces. Moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for.

Vocabulary

to long for = désirer 
pretty = assez
to move = déménager
flat = appartement
although = bien que

to notice = remarquer
to chat = bavarder
ads = annonces
smug = arrogant
to slap = gifler

understatement = minimisation
to grab = saisir
to creep = se faufiler
door handle = poignet
to freak out = flipper

peephole = judas
to bump into = croiser
oblivious = inconscient
mistakenly = par erreur
rubbish = déchets

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What a Waste!

Have you ever visited a sewage station? No, neither had I, and I wasn’t planning to either, until one day recently when I was leafing through the newspaper and saw that in honour of World Water Day it would be possible to tour one of Reunion’s wastewater treatment plants. Included in the list of possible sites was Grand Prado, which I had seen being built, and which I drive past almost every day. So my curiosity got the better of me, and I signed up.

A few days later at the meeting point we were equipped with hard hats, and divided into two groups: adults and children. Each group set off with its own guide and a tour that was adapted to the respective age group. We were told to pay close attention as there would be a quiz at the end.

During the visit we learnt all about the processes of treating wastewater: pre-treatment to rid the sewage of garbage, followed by primary treatment to remove heavy solids. Then comes secondary treatment, which changes the biology of the sewage using bacteria, and finally tertiary treatment to improve the water’s quality, after which it is classed as being of ‘bathing standard’ before being discharged into the sea. We were also shown from a distance the round white gasometers that store excess methane, which is a by-product of the treatment process.

The whole visit was surprisingly unsmelly; at one point two volunteers were asked to step inside one of the primary treatment rooms to see how pungent the smell could be, but that was as bad as it got. And a little old lady in our group kept asking if the tanks overflowed after heavy rain – this was obviously something she was very worried about!

We also learnt – or were reminded from our school days – about the water cycle, as well as the environmental importance of preserving the limited amount of freshwater we have on the planet. I had forgotten for example that 97% of the Earth’s water is seawater, and only 3% is freshwater.

At the end of the visit came the test. I had expected some sort of multiple-choice affair with answers to be scribbled on a piece of paper, but we were ushered into a small state-of-the-art auditorium with comfy, different-coloured seats for the two teams – in this case adults vs children. Answers were given using an electronic button system linked to each seat, and the pressure was on as the moderator could immediately see who had answered right and wrong! In the end, the kids’ team won, but we were all given freebies, and everybody present had benefited from learning, or being reminded of the importance water has in our daily lives.

Vocabulary

sewage = eaux usées
neither had I = moi non plus
to leaf through = feuilleter
wastewater treatment plant = usine de traitement des eaux usées
to drive past = passer devant en voiture

hard hat = casque de chantier
to set off = démarrer
there would be = il y aurait
to rid = se débarrasser de
garbage = déchets

whole = entier
unsmelly = inodore
pungent = âcre
tank = réservoir
to overflow = déborder

freshwater = eau douce
to scribble = gribouiller
state-of-the-art = de pointe
in the end = finalement
freebie = cadeau

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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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Idiots on the Road

Most people do it, and I’m sure most people hate it. Driving. The bane of my life since I got my license. I don’t know about you, but I find driving in Reunion an outright nightmare. Driving on the right, indicating when you overtake on the dual carriageway, fine, I can handle that. What I can’t handle are the thousands of other drivers out there who don’t know how to bloody drive!

I don’t know what annoys me most. Is it people who don’t know how to stay in their lane? That really grates me. No, I think what’s worse are those maniacs who drive right up your backside when you’re on the overtaking lane. As if their very presence would tempt me into forcing myself into the right-hand lane.

How many times have I been cut off by people who just forget about their stop sign? Too many to count I think.

Naturally, I get angry when I drive. I shout at people, I show them various fingers in frustration, naturally. My wife sat beside me, doesn’t like it when I get angry. Especially when I’m at a roundabout and nobody knows where they’re going!

Her advice to me is as follows: ‘Be a rubbish driver too’. Ridiculous. Unimaginable. Me, stay on the right lane, no matter which exit I take on the roundabout? I suppose that would mean that I couldn’t get cut off, but that’s not the rule!

Thank you for listening to me vent my frustration. I’m finding this very therapeutic.

When self-driving cars become mainstream, I will be a happy man. I can just imagine myself sat there on the way to work, hurtling down the Tamarin road, drinking my tea and eating my rougail saucisse with the window open. Calling to fellow drivers “Good day dear sir, lovely day for a drive, isn’t it? Toodle pip!” I have a strange imagination.

A question for all of you; What annoys you most about driving in Reunion? Is it the idiots on the roundabouts? The fools who forget they have indicators? The psychos who drive “this” close to your boot? The dopes who run stop signs? I’d love to know.

Well, have a lovely week, stay safe on the road and don’t forget to use your flipping indicators.

Vocabulary

bane – fléau
license – permis
outright – carrément
dual carriageway – quatre voies
to annoy – ennuyer

to grate – agacer
backside – arrière
overtaking – dépassement
to shout – crier
roundabout – rond-point

rubbish – nul
vent – décharger
self-driving cars – voitures autonomes
mainstream – courant
to hurtle – lancer à vive allure

fellow drivers – compagnons de route
toodle pip! – ciao !
fool – imbécile
to run stop signs – brûler les stops
indicators – clignotants

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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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WTF is that!?

Imagine the situation. I went outside at 8pm to feed the cat. Dusk had arrived, a mist had settled on the horizon. The only sound is the rattling of the cat food as it dropped into the bowl. A bush rustled, “Must be Satan, the cat” I thought to myself. But out of the bushes came a giant tailless rat.

As it came closer, it actually looked kind of funny. It had a big fat hind which was wobbling side-to-side as it sauntered towards the cat food. It also had this minuscule face with a long coneshaped snout. It approached the cat food and, strangely enough, didn’t seem to mind me standing just a foot away from it.

So, that was my first experience of a tenrec. I went straight on the internet to look up some information about it. Apparently tenrecs are practically blind, possibly the thing came that close to me because it didn’t know I was there! Also, the reason that it took the risk to come so close to a house is that it probably just had a litter of children that it needed to feed. Tenrecs can have as many as 32 offspring per litter! Wow.

I’m certainly not going to chase it away if I see it again. I might even leave some extra cat food out for it and its family. I’m sure Satan won’t mind. I don’t intend to eat the creature either. Many Reunionese that I know have eaten tenrec and, to be honest, I’d eat pretty much anything in cari form, but after seeing its cute posterior swaying side to side; I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it.

Another incredible piece of information I found online: Despite their resemblance to hedgehogs or porcupines, tenrecs are actually closer genetically to shrews.

Fascinating animals. Here’s a last piece of information so you will go to sleep tonight as a more intelligent human being. Tenrecs hold a world record. Are you ready for this? This is amazing. Tenrecs hold the world record for the most amount of nipples on a mammal. Up to twenty-nine of them! There you go. You can share that information with the family when you’re having your rougail saucisse tonight. You’re welcome.

Vocabulary

dusk – crépuscule
mist – brouillard
to settle – se poser
rattling – claquements
to rustle – bruissement 

tailless – sans queue
funny – drôle
hind – derrière
to wobble – osciller
to saunter – se diriger vers 

cone-shaped – en forme de cône
snout – museau
tenrec – tangue
litter – portée
to sway – se balancer 

to bring oneself to – se résoudre à
hedgehog – hérisson
shrew – musaraigne
nipple – mamelon
mammal – mammifère

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