How a local Paris holiday turned into an international celebration, what happened to Frau Watzmann in the Bavarian Alps, and why Londoners bite the bullet, wear their hearts on their sleeves, read Dickens and are afraid of dickens



By Daria Knyazeva

Paris has a knack for filling its life with charming senseless things, and other cities later produce laborious attempts to install them in their life too, so as not to lag behind. They might be dances in underground stations on Thursdays, a sand beach on the concrete embankment of the Seine, rollers’ rides on night-time streets or ephemeral graffiti museums in the buildings scheduled for demolition… May is the month marked by two of those newly born traditions; one of them has already swirled through the world like an epidemic, while the other, quite fresh, is waiting for its turn, which should arrive any minute.

The neighbors’ holiday, which fell on May 19 in 2017, was invented in 1999 by the municipal official of the 17th arrondisement Atanase Périfan to fight the individualism and insularity of megapolis citizens. That Friday evening, the internal courtyards of condominiums turn into improvised bars, and those rare houses whose set of rules is loyal to fire-hazardous activities even have grill stands. Holding plastic wine glasses, the neighbors exchange phone numbers, schedule aperitif timetables for the next few months, badmouth the mayor’s office and recruit babysitters from among senior high school girls languishing by the wine punch vase. Everyone is happy, except the concièrge, who at the height of the party counts champagne poodles on the tiled floor and bemoans her missed free day.

This social startup is every promoter’s dream. The first neighborhood holiday, thanks to the district administration, covered 800 houses and 10,000 lodgers, while 30 cities of France decided to arrange it the next year. In 2001, the celebrants were officially joined by the structures of the so-called social dwellings, and the number of participants excelled one million. In 2003, the holiday crossed the national borders, changed its name to the European Neighbor’s Day and brought something like three million dwellers of ten European cities to the tables. In 2006, the occurrence became a worldwide event, counting up to six million people on five continents. The figures increase every year. On May 19, 2017, the Neighbor’s Day was celebrated in 36 countries, including Taiwan and Togo, and the number of participants was supposed to reach 30 million people.

The second initiative cannot even be considered wholly Parisian: even its name, Les Heurs Heureuses, is an honest loan from English — The Happy Hours, when bars offer beer and cocktails at lower prices. It wonderfully illustrates the favorite French business approach, though: take a good marketing scheme of the Wild West and, without changing anything at all in its business model, fill it with a deep social meaning. Thus, car sharing became “Bla-bla-car” here, appealing to safety (a talking driver would not fall asleep) and environment (less pollution) rather than to money-saving. Couchsurfing has long been known here as chambres d’hôtes — but the hosts do not just receive their guests, they introduce them to the regional culture (in other words, in order to obfuscate their selfish motifs, the owners of rented out real estate have to place at least a useless Limoges soup dish on the table). Some people call it a strawman fallacy, some call it capitalism with a human face, but in any case the French do it masterfully.

“Happy Hours” also use the neighborly spirit, but in a broader context. The citizens are invited to go out of their inner courtyard and inspect their quarter for nice establishments. The establishments in the meanwhile set traps for new customers under the disguise of a set of drinks and snacks which costs 2 Euros. The Mayor’s office of Paris even provides the so-called passports for the lucky ones, whose shiny pages show maps of gastro-routes next to food porn photos.

In May 2017, the “Happy Hours” engulfed Paris for the sixth time. The previous year, 300 establishments had participated, and the Mayor’s office splurged for a teasing promo campaign. Those who played by the rules — with the passport and marks in the route map — have noticed that the city administration invested a lot more efforts, resources and inventiveness than the owners of the establishments whose interests the campaign was supposed to promote. In other words, Paris is worth more than a bowl of peanuts or pistachios. Even though not every restaurateur understood that they were standing at the wellspring of a historical event, the Mayor’s office still hopes for a worldwide expansion of the initiative. For the guests of the city, this is a unique chance to find real local cafés, where the strictest gastro critics eat and drink, and they are the inhabitants of surrounding houses with a modest but inviolable holiday budget.


By Anna Poryadinskaya

In the globalized era, the idea of a mother tongue, mentality and other kinds of connection to one’s umbilical cord become increasingly hazy. A French friend introduces to you her Mexican boyfriend on a Thai beach, and he turns out to be purely German. He might even smile as if saying ‘tequila’ every time or dance amazingly. But as soon as you address him with a notion of mountains and trekking, Miguel takes a notebook out of his trousers (or his straw hat, I am not sure), and, setting right his sunglasses (banana-shaped, I must hasten to add in his defense), informs us: May 25 is a holiday in Bavaria, he was planning a mountain outing for the time, so if I am still available (this was Christmas), we could join forces. The New Year celebrations were hardly finished when Miguel had already created a Facebook group with a description of the route, distribution of assignments and the established meeting place by the Munich city hall on May 24 at 19:15. It was so beautifully planned that falling ill or refusing seemed impossible. So at the said hour all seven of us appeared at the spot.

Вот вроде и улыбается, будто бы каждый раз произносит «текила!», и танцует так, что «ай-я-я-яй». Но стоит заговорить с ним о любви к горам и походам, как то ли из плавок, то ли из соломенной шляпы Мигель извлекает записную книжку и, поправив на переносице очки от солнца (в форме бананов – замечу в его оправдание), сообщает: 25 мая в Баварии выходной; он как раз планировал пойти в горы на четыре дня, так что, если я еще свободна (дело было на Рождество), можно сорганизоваться. Не успели мы отпраздновать Новый год, а Мигель уже создал группу в Фейсбуке, где расписал маршрут, распределил, кто за что отвечает, и назначил встречу в Мюнхене возле ратуши 24 мая в 19.15.

From Munich, we made our way to Berchtesgaden, the favorite resting place of princess Marie Elisabeth of Saxe-Meiningen which is also infamous for Hitler’s secret official lodgment. One has to be completely indifferent to the mountains if one does not pause wonderstruck, then at least sigh respectfully on Berchtesgaden’s main square, where behind the spires of the churches one can see the Watzmann, the third highest peak of Germany.

Actually, Watzmann is not simply a mountain, not even a rock massif; it is a bloodthirsty family. Legend has it that the neighboring country used to be ruled by a ruthless king called Watzmann (whose wife and children were very much like him). But one proud and brave peasant woman cursed them all so efficiently that the whole villainous family has turned into stone. From the north, one can easily discern the profile of Watzmann’s evil wife (Watzmannfrau) and their equally spoiled children (Watzmannkinder). According to the legend, even the Königssee lake is filled with the blood of the hated rulers, which is, I must admit, difficult to imagine while sitting near its emerald waters and eating freshly caught trout.

Telling a native from a tourist was very easy in those parts. All locals were wearing leather briefs or dresses with a generous cleavage. Some of the guests tried to mimic it, but they were so obviously uncomfortable that it could only evoke pity. This rule did not work in the sauna, where, conversely, the autochthones came stark naked, to the utter surprise of the less relaxed tourist community.

Finally all of us (except Miguel, of course) looked at the map and decided that we would not climb the highest peak — 2713 meters high and called Middle to confuse the foreigners. As well as the Southern peak, which is only one meter lower. Climbing from the northern side calls for stopping for the night on the mountain, which turned out to be somewhat uncomfortable for some of the participants, who happened to be four months pregnant at the moment. All we could hope for was heading for the Grünstein — a daytime outing to a peak that is not very high (1304 meters), but rich in dramatic views.

In the process, it became clear that to choose a route according to one’s taste is not so difficult. From the picturesque town on the Königssee one simply had to follow the signs for Grünstein, which were accompanied by signs which indicated the difficulty of the route, from A to D. Early on the way you could easily meet both mountain-climbers equipped for an arduous ascent and old men who planned to have a drink of refreshing Alpine quark. And, of course, Koreans in Tyrol hats and Lederhosen who were dreaming of a selfie with an Alpine cow or an Instagram photo of an edelweiss flower.

The best thing of all is that we, inexperienced wayfarers, managed to do everything: to gulp a jug of beer while hugging a cow near an Alpine lodge, to walk a dozen meters along a sheer cliff, grabbing the cable wire, to listen to the negotiations of local two-meter pipes, whose sounds arrive from the lake and are reflected by the mountains, and, most importantly, to see from above the reflection of St. Bartholomew’s church on the waters. The calm of Königssee, irrespective of the contents of bloodthirsty Bavarian legends, is endlessly serene, and the image of a snow-white temple with its red cupolas on a mirror reflecting the circle of mountains around would remain in our hearts for ever and ever.


By Anastasia Denisova

“For some reason I can’t use my bloody card in this bloody supermarket!” my Cambridge friend was shouting into the phone. “I should have taken some bloody cash!”

During the first months of British life, the migrants look warily at indignant locals. Instead of ‘foolish’, ‘crap’, ‘nasty’ and other adjectives of rage, the British seem to indicate that everything is covered in blood.

The word became popular a full four centuries ago. As “An Encyclopedia of Swearing” by Geoffrey Hughes claims, the initial phrase was ‘bloody drunk’ (in Russian, an analogous level of inebriation is expressed by an equally surprising expression ‘to the inner sole’). Soon, though, various respectful men, like Jonathan Swift of the Gulliver fame, started using ‘bloody’ everywhere, including romantic letters to the ladies: “It was bloody hot walking today”.

The Australians are also very enthusiastic about swearing the English way. In the former colony, even the authorities tend to overuse the adjective. As an Australian parliament member noted in the 1970s, “I never use the word bloody because it’s not parliamentary. I won’t have it in my bloody vocabulary!”

“The British are called a reserved nation”, says Martha the linguist (the one who had returned from the supermarket with ‘bloody’ potatoes). “That is why we manage to put a lot of different senses into one word: a joke, some irony and, in the perfect case, self-deprecation as well”.

You don’t want to write a report? Bite the bullet! The army slang idiom means ‘to do something unpleasant but necessary’. During WWI, soldiers were often cut open without anesthesia, and so the patients were given a bullet to bite to prevent them from shouting and deaden the pain.

Your neighbor is talkative and tells the details of his family life to the whole neighborhood? He wears his heart on his sleeve — this is what it is called since the Middle Ages. Almost a thousand years ago, a knight at a tournament used to tie a perfumed cloth provided by his lady — and to win subsequent victories in her honor. William Shakespeare immortalized the expression in the words of Iago from “Othello”: “For when my outward action doth demonstrate / The native act and figure of my heart / In compliment extern, ’tis not long after / But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve /For daws to peck at”. In Russian perhaps the closest expression would be an 'unbuttoned soul'.

“One of my favorite expressions is This is a dickens of a job”, says Martha. “Charles Dickens, the Victorian author, has nothing to do with that. Shakespeare, as usual, is more to the point. He put ‘dickens’ to replace ‘devil’ when he wrote in one of his plays “I cannot tell what the dickens his name is”.

The way the British swear says a lot about their ancestry. Even at the Buckingham palace, they say, it is okay to say something unprintable now and then. Queen Elizabeth II is reported to have an excellent sense of humor, hurling brief but to-the-point remarks. One could only guess how her grandchildren, William and Harry, share the news at family dinners.

One’s colleagues at an average London office provide no riddles to who has read Shakespeare and who has not, who is a family person and who is single. Young parents often have to replace the habitual swear words with something similar. ‘Sugar’ is very popular, because it replaces many things at once, and since the children are happy to repeat everything they hear, one can often overhear the shouts in a British sandbox to the effect of “Piece of sugar, where is my spade?”


Published on: February 26, 2018