Monday, 14 February 2011

«Réponds à nos questions, McDonald’s, ou Ronald mourra!»

I felt like a change with today's French lesson, and so decided to attempt to translate a French news article into English.

The above image stuck out, and led to the selection of «Réponds à nos questions, McDonald's, ou Ronald mourra!» as the article for translation.

With the help of Google Translate (required much less than expected!) I produced the following:

times are hard for Finnish Big Mac fans. Their favourite mascot, a big statue of a smiling clown, Ronald McDonald, was kidnapped last week, then threadented to be executed by a group of activists fighting against junk food. The police conducted the investigation.

The kidnapping was on 31st January 2011, in a McDonalds restaurant situated in the center of the capital Helsinki. The gang who call themselves 'the army of liberation of food' --- repair the statue of Ronald

During the first hours after the kidnapping, people did not --- the disappearance of the station. But the day after, the gang launched a video where the threat is made clear: if Ronald doesn't respont to questions on the quality of the food from its restuarants before 11th February, they will decapitate.

Two other videos have been released on the internet at the beginning of february by the FLA. In the first , the gang ---. In the second, --- "why are we not transparent on the industrial processes, the first contents and additives used in your products? How much of tons of no recyclable waste do you produce chaque année? Have you illegal immegrants among your employees?

These videos have been watched by over 300,000 international customers in a few days. ---

"---" indicates where a sensible translation could not be offered, except for the last "---", which indicates that I could no longer be bothered :3

Obviously my translation doesn't read as well as the English version of the original article; sentence components aren't in the most sensible order, colloquial phrases haven't been noticed properly, etc etc, but upon reflection, the technique worked fairly well.

It led me to learn the days and months, for example.

This then led me to learn the words for 'next' and 'last' and combine them with temporal descriptors to make such phrases as 'last week', 'next year' etc.

Then I learned some location describing words ('dans', 'sur') and some sequential words ('durant', 'avant').

Now I'm about to figure out some question words. So far I have 'oú', 'comment' and 'porquoi', which I believe are 'where', 'how' and 'why' respectively. (Although I also saw 'combien' translated as how; not sure a) whether that's correct or b) what it means!)

Friday, 11 February 2011

ballet in Vienna

I'm trying to think of a relatively short story from my travels that I can recall entirely from memory. My first attempt was of the journey to and first few hours in Berlin, but apparently even that was too complex to commit to writing without referring to notes, photographs and other such material.

Hopefully this account, of a failed trip to the opera, will be more successful.

Although even now I realise I won't be able to remember the name of the ballet we saw.. *sigh*


Vienna is perhaps one of Europe's most culturally regarded cities. Mozart spent most of his life there, as have several other famous composers. There are numerous cathedrals dotted about the place. The White Horses are famous too although I can't remember why. Something about art.

With all this pressure to experience and appreciate culture, He'll and I decided it was time to make up for the unsuccessful opera trip in Budapest, and see an opera. We consulted our Couchsurf hosts and discovered that Vienna has at least two opera houses; one traditional and located in the city centre, the other more modern and located a short walk from where we were staying.

Aforementioned pressure led us to the traditional venue, as it fitted more closely with our preconceptions (or at least my preconceptions) of what opera should be like; people in fancy suits and dresses, plush red carpets, balconies, etc.

So we donned our smartest travel attire (casual shirt with jeans for me!) and headed into Vienna proper.

The opera house is a grand building, located near an art gallery and fairly close to the Horse Riding School (whose official name I can't recall..?). It is also surrounded by people dressed as Mozart trying to flog exorbitantly priced tickets to naïve tourists. No phoney Mozart was to trick me and Hel, though: we went straight to the queue for late release standing tickets 8-)

~45 minutes later, after reading and eavesdropping on a synopsis by someone else in the queue, we parted with €4 each for tickets to 'Onegin'.

We were yet to discover that 'Onegin' was in fact a ballet. (Also, note that I managed to remember the name after all!)

The show didn't start for a while so we sat in a hugely fancy quasi-restaurant (after claiming our position in the standing pen) and drank tiny expensive coffee while observing the clearly richer-and-more-successful-than-us patrons going about their pre-ballet business.

Then the show started. I was still vaguely bummed about our planned opera being replaced with inherently unmanly ballet, so it took me a while to get into it, but once I accepted dance as a method of storytelling / expression, it was amazing.

Like, really amazing.

The physical demands on the dancers are obviously intense, but watching them, you wouldn't know it. The elegance and ease with which they conduct themselves is captivating in itself, and then you have Tchaikovsky's (I think) music on top of that. It was awesome.

I'm not going to tell the story of the ballet on here, as it's not really relevant to the post, but you should check it out.

After the show we discussed how good it was over street-procured pizza.

Goooood night.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

On change

For those of you awaiting requests (it's cool being able to say that :D) please excuse this non-travel-related post: I worried that it might slip from my mind if it wasn't recorded fairly soon.

Also, excuse any spelling mistakes / shoddy formatting: blogging from a phone is less than ideal :p


I was thinking today about a) whether it's possible to change ingrained personality attributes and if so, b) how this can be achieved.

The issue I'll use for demonstrative purposes is shyness, because a) I('ve) experience(d) it, and b) from what I can tell, it's an attribute that lots of people find undesirable (whether in themselves or others).

A friend of mine introduced me to the concept of 'reframing', which is taking a situation and altering it to your benefit. The situation he used to demonstrate was arguing with a partner; something nobody wants to happen but ends up happening nonetheless. If not handled correctly it can descend into a shitflinging match leaving both parties feeling unnecessarily bad afterwards.

If 'reframed' though, it can be quickly resolved with little hard feeling. The argumentative mindset is directed at an issue, not the other person, and this is the most important thing to consider. In a 'traditional' format argument, the other participant(s) become 'conduits' of the issue, and you end up attacking them rather than the issue. This is when it ends badly.

From what I understand, reframing the 'traditional' argument involves acknowledging the issue (thereby relieving hostility associated with not 'understanding', 'caring', 'listening' or whatever else), tackling it together, and devoting the energy that would have otherwise been spent arguing to resolving the issue.

(I'm not trying to market this as a new theory by the way, just writing about it to strengthen my own understanding and clarify what I mean.)

Thinking about reframing in this context made me wonder whether it can be used elsewhere, and more specifically in the context I mentioned at the start of this post. I found that it works if applied through changing elements in an extended metaphor, as follows:

Metaphor 1: A model to ease understanding

A puppy needs to be toilet trained to prevent it 'emptying' itself on the carpet. At first you monitor the puppy's behaviour, identify when it's about to empty, and take it outside accordingly. It then empties, and you praise the correctly positioned emptying with a treat / game / fuss. The praise acts as positive reinforcement, and, over time, leads to the puppy emptying itself outside of its own accord.

Metaphor 2: Applied to reducing shyness

A person needs to overcome shyness to enhance their enjoyment of social situations. At first they monitor their behaviour, identify when shyness is about to strike, and consciously make efforts to reduce it by taking deep breaths / counting to 10 / whatever suits them. The social situation then unfolds successfully, acting as positive reinforcement, and, over time, leads to the shyness being reduced of its 'own' accord.

Obviously presenting something as a metaphor and applying it in real terms are two very different things, but what can be said is that both metaphors share the following:

  • identifying when the issue is about to take affect is part of the process
  • acknowledging this and taking action is part of the process also
  • through positive reinforcement, behaviours become more firmly established

It also seems to me that exploring something like this could have huge benefits and, as long as it's used well, relatively minimal downsides.

(There's a tiny bit more I want to write but my fingers hurt from Blackberry typing so I'll add it later ;) )

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

a reflection

Note: Though the tone of this post isn't necessarily positive ( :p ), it doesn't contradict yesterday's post! Just something that crossed my mind today and I thought worthy of thinking about.

"Your problem isn't that you make bad choices, it's that you identify the good choice and then intentionally do the opposite"

Particularly observant Scrubs-watching readers among you may recognise the above quote; said of Dr Cox by his therapist in the episode 'His Story'.

Seems to me to be an undesirable trait.

The worst thing about undesirable traits, though, is when you recognise them in others (in this case, a fictional character), make efforts not to let them manifest in your own behaviour, then later catch yourself doing them:

I had the opportunity to enter a travel writing competition recently. It came to my attention in November, and the deadline was yesterday (31st January). Writing, and specifically travel writing, are interests of mine - to the point of having been considered as 'career' options in the future. Yet despite this, despite writing two separate plans, formulating a basic structure and fleshing out with photographs to support the planned text, I managed to have only a thousand words (out of five thousand) written on the night before the deadline, and managed to persuade myself to postpone the submission of my entry until this time next year.

The issue here is twofold; firstly, there was ample time between November and the end of January to write the piece. There was also time to have it proof read two or three times, make necessary changes, leave it for a few days, then read it one last time with a more removed mindset, as a final screen for errors.

But instead it didn't get done.

Secondly, that I persuaded myself it would be 'easier' not to do something important to me. This is such a pointless and irritating thought process, and it's the one I'm most keen to rid myself of. I don't know if anyone's encountered it before? An example could be knowing that you have an appointment in half an hour, and that it takes twenty minutes to get there. The ten minutes between are spent thinking about reasons not to go to the appointment, even though there is no intention in the first place not to go.

It's hard to explain, and impossible to justify. There really is no reason for it to happen, and as I said before, it's the thought process I'm keenest to rid myself of.

If anyone has ideas of how to do so it'd be interesting to discuss them!

it's a beautiful day, so mannequin away

I'm feeling good about February, and indeed about life in general from this point onwards. (Not that life before this point has not been to my liking, of course.)

It feels like a lot of knowledge I've picked up recently, whether from friends, blogs, books or experiences, are coming together in a good way.

The thought of a 'milestone' date with regards to changes in attitude / habits / lifestyle isn't something I think is vital, but one seems to have arrived today, February 1st, nonetheless.

As well as being the date chosen by myself to embark on the 'rejection challenge' (Google it if you're interested; I haven't figured out how to post links from my Blackberry yet)*, I've also just received an email informing me that my application to be a 'giver' on World Book Night has been succesful, and I will be receiving 50 free copies of 'Cloud Atlas', a fantastic book, to distribute accordingly.


So keep checking this space. Hopefully I'll be able to share some interesting insights / amusing stories over the coming month.

*Edited 1/2/11: added link