It’s fairly trendy to be a geek nowadays.
There are all sorts of infographics on the web, explaining how people can tell if they’re a geek, nerd or dork. There’s even a web-wide scandal (sometimes I wonder what people in 1999 would think of us…) as to whether hot girls dressed in cosplay are to be considered fake geek girls.
I’m not planning on participating in that particular conversation, except to say that as someone who started wearing coke-bottle glasses at the age of four, was so socially inept that I hid under my desk in the fifth grade to avoid dealing with unwanted attention, and used my free periods in high school to hang out in the language lab, I feel that I’m entitled to be at least somewhere on one of those Venn diagrams, though if I’ve achieved the nirvana of geek or if I’m to be relegated to dork-dom is yet to be decided.
I’m getting to a point soon… I swear. But first, I’d like to tell you a story about the aforementioned language lab.
When I was at boarding school, we had a language lab where people in lower-level language classes had to go to watch videos and do interactive activities for homework. It was in the basement of the language building, and it was one of a selection of places — including the music building, library and computer labs — that we were allowed to be signed into during study periods in the evenings. Starting in my junior year, I added a second foreign language — Spanish — to my schedule, and so I began frequenting the language lab to watch episodes of Destinos.
But when my Destinos-watching was over, I started venturing into other folders with other language titles, including — of course — the French one. The beginners French classes were using French in Action, a delightfully 80s series of videos, whereby a man in a turtleneck and a blazer sits at a desk, and he and his classroom of adult students make up a story about French people in Paris. It’s because of videos like this that I was convinced that all French teenagers hang out at cafés all day long, which, in my experience, they have neither the time nor the money to do.
In the first French in Action episode, the man at the desk tells us that bonjour doesn’t mean hello. This startling piece of news was surely a surprise for me, who had by then been studying French for nearly eight years and who may have had a few issues when deciding whether to use the passé composé or the imparfait but who was convinced beyond a doubt that bonjour did, indeed, mean hello. But I kept watching, and I finally understood what he meant, which is, essentially, that translation is a futile exercise. The words that we have in one language don’t necessarily have an equivalent in another.
Yes, bonjour kind of means hello. But as I lunched with the Law Professor last week, and he detailed his recent trip to San Francisco, he expressed surprise at how many of the locals were asking after his well-being. People he had never met before. After some time, we came to the conclusion that English’s “Hello, how are you?” is the equivalent of France’s “Bonjour,” a conclusion I wonder if the turtleneck-man behind the desk would be content with as well.
It all comes down to the fact that cross-culturally, everything is different, right down to the simplest of simple things: greetings. We don’t notice much of it — perhaps because we’re constantly seeking to understand and make ourselves understood. We’re willing to overlook minute differences between simple words in different languages, but the truth of the matter is, “How are you?” is a phrase much more frequently said in English than in French, and “bonjour” doesn’t mean “hello.”
Even a concept as simple as soup doesn’t merit a direct translation between the two languages, not even when there’s a word in French — soupe – that looks mysteriously like soup. When I first told the Country Boy that I was planning soup for dinner and served up a bowl of chunky minestrone, he was perplexed. Here, soup is always puréed and creamy; Campbell’s Chunky Soups wouldn’t do so well at Monoprix. That being said, I like the boxed soups you get at the grocery store here for a quick dinner. I make bread dough the night before and pop it in the oven when I get home from work. Heat up a bowl of soup, and dinner’s ready. Bon appétit.
Yeasted Dark Beer Bread (based off an original recipe first published by Food Loves Beer Magazine)
1 tablespoon dry active yeast
1 scant tablespoon sugar
¼ cup warm water
12 ounces dark beer, lukewarm
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
In a wide bowl, sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the water. Leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes, until the yeast foams and triples in size. Add to the beer and stir to combine.
In a large bowl, sift the flour. Make a well and add the liquid ingredients. With a wooden spoon, stir to combine the wet and dry ingredients. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 15 to 20 minutes, until you have a smooth, pliable dough. Flatten the dough and sprinkle the salt over it. Knead the salt in for at least 10 turns.
Grease a bowl with the melted butter. Form a dough ball, and roll it in the butter until it is well-coated. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap, then cover with a kitchen towel. Leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 90 minutes. Punch the dough down and cover securely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
When you’re ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator and form a loaf in a loaf pan. Allow the dough to reach room temperature and double in size – about 1 to 2 hours, depending on how cold your refrigerator is and how warm the room is. To speed up the process, place it near a preheated oven, set to 450 F.
When the dough is ready, bake it at 450 F for 30 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.