Thursday, December 05, 2013

Jentrification part 2

In this series, I log and explain new words which are springing up in the English language because of my relationship with a Swiss girl called Jen.

Don't worry, she has read it all and heartily approves. She has even liked this post on Facebook (or she will next time she leaves her phone unlocked).

Jentrification - the Dictionary, part 2

Jentry Level (noun)
Shelves which are low enough for Jen to reach.

"Andrew, can you get that paprika for me?"
"Sigh. Why do you insist on putting it up there where you can't reach? Put it at jentry level."
"The spices go on the spice rack. No matter how impractical that may be."

Jen Dobry (noun)
From the Polish greeting 'dzień dobry' - literally the act of Andrew suggesting a Polish girl - usually Joanna Krupa - should be added to what he calls 'romp-time'. Typically followed by a 'jenial.'

Hydrojen (noun)
The drool excreted by Jen while napping on Andrew's sofa.

Jenesis (noun)
Variously: Jen's birthplace or sister.

Pathojen (noun)
An infection enthusiastically hosted by Jen, which she attempts to spread by sneezing on people, using their pillow, sleeping on their side of the bed, and reducing their immune system with infusions of tofu.

Pidjen English (noun)
Near-English structures used by Jen, usually when tired. Normally involving conditional sentences or words which should be real (in her opinion) but aren't.

Jengoism (noun)
An adorable belief system through the prism of which anything Swiss is superior.

Jenlightenment (noun)
A significant time in human history of great intellectual accomplishment, as Jen realises that she has been wrong all along and acknowledges the truth that she had previously rejected.

"Hmm... tea is better with milk in."
"Hmm... mint sauce does make these potatoes more fun."
"Hmm... okay, so that isn't John Malkovich."
"Hmm... so I was wrong to get mad about the Jen dictionary. I now freely admit that it is sweet and charming and you can write on your blog that I said that."


Sunday, December 01, 2013

Asterix and the Great Crossing: Latin Jokes Explained

A bigger, better version of this article now appears on my new Asterix site - click the white link just above this article. The one that says 'Everything Asterix'.

I understand it's annoying to be directed here and have to go there, but I promise it's worth it.

The new site is extremely beautiful, by the way. It's probably going to win an award and be preserved by UNESCO.

The difference between this cramped, stuffy blog and that luxury site is the same as when you sell your one-bedroom flat in London and buy a six-bedroom villa anywhere else in the country. The furniture is better, the air is clearer, and you can stroll around your garden smelling flowers and sighing contentedly.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nice Things About Switzerland #6: They're a Lot Like Dwarves

Nice Things About Switzerland

If I asked you to describe the main characteristics of a dwarf - and I wouldn't, because I'm dating one so I'm a frikkin expert - I hope you'd say something like: "Dwarves like digging tunnels, they store gold in secret dens, make high-quality armaments, love mountains, are superior engineers, and even the women have beards."

All of which describes the Swiss, too. (Did Tolkein live here at one point? Sadly, there's no way to ever know.)

The main difference between dwarven engineers and Swiss ones is that dwarfs build traps and robots that try to kill me while the Swiss do things that make my life easier and better.

A mean robot that tries to kill you in Skyrim

The first piece of Swiss engineering that blew my mind was when I read that all bus stops in Switzerland cost a million pounds each, because they all used anti-puddle technology so that people waiting for the bus wouldn't get splashed.

Even more interesting has been watching a new train line being built from my local station to the city centre. There are already two lines but they're making it bigger regardless of the obstacles.

Obstacles such as the huge, historic building that was in the way.

Engineering Astonishment Case Study: They Slid a Building

They... what?

Instead of tearing down the building, or rebuilding it brick by brick, they just slid it down the road. It wasn't even snowing! 

The following pictures show the plan:

Those are kind of train tracks there, at the level of the building's foundation.
They had some pushy equipment to push it along. One millimetre per hour or something like that.

And that's where it is now.

I had no idea you could just slide buildings around, but apparently it's quite normal here. I'm told that Wollerau, a small town renowned for having the lowest taxes in Europe, was built on a giant hover-cushion and can be floated to another county within 48 hours of any change in the tax regime.

Also Impressive: How They Build Those Thingies

I nearly didn't write this bit because I don't know any of the words needed to describe any of the things and it was hard to find a good photo.

But look at this and I'll try to explain what's what.

That's a giant BUILDER THING and once it has been installed, you see it for a while and then suddenly there's all concrete inside! In the shape of a train line! Then they move the BUILDER THING to the front and repeat... 

...and thus it crawls across Zurich like a snail, but instead of leaving goo in its wake it leaves INFRASTRUCTURE.

Other Stuff

I should also write about the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the general build quality of flats and offices. And some other stuff. But I should be writing my book, so I'm going to go do that now. (Read about the Base Tunnel if you like that sort of thing - it's very impressive.)

More Nice Things About Switzerland here


Friday, November 08, 2013


Having a long-term (i.e. more than a month) girlfriend has changed me in many ways. Example: I spend much more time trying to appear comfortable in health food shops, and much less time dribbling ice cream into my belly button.

The lucky girl is called Jen, and thus the process of her changing me for better or for worse, accidentally or on purpose, is called Jentrification.

As an English teacher, I'm interested in how this process of change leads to change in my vocabulary. I've been recording any new words that I've created, and publish them here for the purpose of possible future patent applications.

Jentrification - a Dictionary

to jen (verb)
The act of looking the wrong way when crossing the road.

"God! That car nearly hit you! Why were you looking the wrong way?"
"Because I'm speaking English! Last time I spoke English I was in New Zealand and they drive on the left."

How Jen sees roads

Jenuary (noun) 
The month of Jen's birth.

"When's Jen's birthday?"
"I know that one! Jenuary. Easy."
"Which date?"
"Come on! You can't expect me to remember that. She's only had one birthday since I met her."

jentilation (noun) 
The act of letting minor annoyances build up over time so that they can be 'vented' in an explosive fury, normally while on holiday.

"Did you hear that woman raging at that guy last night?"
"Yeah, we're in the room next to them. Apparently he uses the fridge light to light the kitchen, holds the cheese grater the wrong way round, and recounts his bowel movements with linguistic relish not heard since Finnegan's Wake."
"Mother of god! He had it coming."

to see Jen Malkovich (verb
The process or ailment of thinking all male actors might be John Malkovich.

"Is that-?"

jeneration gap (noun
The age difference between Jen and her boyfriend, as calculated by Jen. 

"I was born in January. You were born in June. So I'm only two months older than you."
to jenstruate (verb)  
The act of turning into Annie Wilkes for seven days a lunar month.

What do you mean, there's no more chocolate?

"I'm your biggest fan." (Ten minutes later) "I don't CARE if you're about to complete Skyrim: I want you to tell me a STORY."

jenshamen (noun) 
Similar to the German word fremdschämen (meaning 'feeling ashamed on someone else's behalf') but the person you're ashamed for is your boyfriend. 

"Andrew, please don't introduce me to your friends as 'the chick I bang'."

jenocide (noun) 
The act of murdering your boyfriend after reading his latest blog.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nice Things About Switzerland #5: The Last Croissant

It would be a damned dirty lie to call the Swiss polite. Their attitude to queuing is downright primitive and if you try to exit a lift, navigate through a supermarket, or get on a tram, you can't, because there's a Swiss guy in your way. If I had to get married, (most likely as part of a tax wheeze or elaborate prank), I wouldn't do it in Switzerland, because there would be Swiss people blocking the aisle, blowing foul cigarette fumes over me as I tried to sidestep them.

But one aspect of politeness is alive and well. No Swiss person will ever, ever eat the last croissant.

Which is great for me, because I have zero shame. I'm this guy:

Hold the doughnut aloft

My work often takes me to offices, which is great because people in offices have meetings, and meetings are powered by coffee, croissants, and cookies. I don't drink coffee but the rest is manna from heaven. Free grub!

The last biscuit: mine

The last croissants: mine

Thanks, Switzerland!


The doughnut picture is taken from the book 'The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide' which is full of handy tips about how to survive stuff. Mostly serious, but with some lighter entries like 'How to Break Up with a Vampire'.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Asterix and Caesar's Gift: Latin Jokes Explained

A bigger, better version of this article now appears on my new Asterix site - click the white link just above this article. The one that says 'Everything Asterix'.

I understand it's annoying to be directed here and have to go there, but I promise it's worth it.

The new site is extremely beautiful, by the way. It's probably going to win an award and be preserved by UNESCO.

The difference between this cramped, stuffy blog and that luxury site is the same as when you sell your one-bedroom flat in London and buy a six-bedroom villa anywhere else in the country. The furniture is better, the air is clearer, and you can stroll around your garden smelling flowers and sighing contentedly.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Swiss Army Knife (3)

What can the Swiss Army Knife (SAK) tell us about Switzerland? A generous student gave me one. It has 21 functions and by trying to find a use for them all, maybe I'll learn something about Swiss culture. Or maybe I'll just make up some outrageous lies and pass them off as fact.

Click here to read part one or part two. I'm writing about the functions in the order I use them. I'd hoped to write a post about all 21 functions, but I have written about the small knife 3 times already. 

Function 15 - Wood Saw

What the Wood Saw teaches us about Switzerland is that the Swiss are AWFUL at movie trivia.

I was watching In Bruges with my Swiss girlfriend, Jen. From the moment Željko Ivanek came on, Jen kept saying, "Is that John Malkovich? It is, isn't it?" And I kept saying no, of course it wasn't.

One of these men is John Malkovich.

She wouldn't admit defeat, so I did an image search for John Malkovich and invited her to compare the image on the phone with the image on the screen. She fell silent.

"BOOM!" I roared. "Uh-huh, uh-huh!" I did a jiggly squirm of victory. "One nil!" I punched the air. "And still undisputed conversation champion of the world... Andrew... Gi-raaaaarrrrrrrrrrrr-din!" I sang the Rocky theme and did some shadow boxing, stopping only when the shushing noises from the other moviegoers got too insistent.

I sneered the word 'Malkovich', sat back in a complacent pose, and followed that with an excited: "I just realised!"
"Shh! What?"
"That was my 100th conversation victory over you!"
Jen disputed many parts of that sentence, but it was true. My conversation record was 100 wins, 2 defeats (I let Jen win on her birthday and Christmas).

To celebrate, I treated myself to a cigar. I normally gloat via pizza, beer, or ice cream, but once every 7 years I have a cigar.

The best bit was that I got to use the Wood Saw. My project to use all the functions of the Swiss Army Knife is all very well in theory, but I neither whittle nor own a shotgun, so in a normal world I have little need of a saw.

Sawing a cigar is messy but effective. Look:

By the way, the cigar was absolutely awful. It stank up my flat for days and I had a cough for a week.

Worst four Euros I've ever spent.

Function 6 - Bottle Opener

Watching the American version of House of Cards, Jen said, "Is that John Malkovich? It is, isn't it?"

It wasn't.

One of these men is John Malkovich.

After taunting her an appropriate amount, I celebrated with a beer:

(Notice I'm drinking an American beer there. I mostly drink German wheat beer, but wanted to try that Sam Adams stuff because it's sold in my local supermarket. Swiss products are normally superb, but the two most available beers are called Feldschlossen and Calanda. Both taste like they were brewed in a sock. Avoid.)

Function 2 - Small Blade (Again)
Jen wanted to spend some time with me, and I wanted to play Master of Orion on my computer. As a compromise, I let her lie on the sofa where she could look at me and ask if I was winning.
Every half hour I checked if she wanted a cup of tea or whatever. "I want a treat," she said in a whiney little girl voice.
"How about an apple?" I said in my talking-to-a-toddler voice.
"Meh," she said. "That's not fun."
"What if I carve a picture of a horse into it?"
"Yes, okay."


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Andrew Girardin's Summer Sumo Plan

The Summer Sumo Plan

Girardin-San - Sumo Teacher, Diet Guru

Hi! I'm Andrew Girardin and I'm the creator of the Summer Sumo Plan. To think that this time last year I was trying to lose weight! I cheerfully lost 5 kilos and was looking forward to losing 5 more. Funny old world.

Of course, these days I work as a Sumo trainer and it helps to have a large, corpulent body. So I developed a series of easy-to-follow weight-gain principles which my students and girlfriend have used with great success, and which I will let you buy from me at the end of this article.

But first I'll tell you what NOT to do! Because what not to do is what I, stupidly, did, back when it was my target to get my weight under 80 kilos.

I ate more vegetables. Less pasta. Fewer pizzas. As little sugar as possible. A touch less alcohol. Ate soup to make me feel fuller.

Huh? There has to be more!


What about exercise?

Doesn't matter much. In the six months after publishing my Flab Loss Mastery post I trebled my training. For many months I was doing ten or twelve hours of sport a week. My weight barely changed!

But when I reduced my intake of carbs, the weight dropped off me. I stopped eating a loaf of bread every day and bought - and used - a wok

On days where I just had to pig out, I had a small pizza instead of a medium, or two beers instead of three.

I kept 'sins' to one a day. Chai latte or wine. Ice cream or cheesecake.

Bam! Result! I woke up one day and was 79.9kg. Victory! I was delighted - until I realised my low weight was hindering my career in Sumo.

Now, if you think putting on weight to become Sumo-compatible would mean doing the opposite of everything I just said - (drinking booze; wolfing down lots of rice, pasta, and bread, unfettered gorging on sugary treats) - you *might* be right. But before I tell you how to give me money, read this inspirational Case Study.

Case Study: You Yes Can Sumo

Your dream, ever since childhood, has been to wrestle Sumo. Now's your chance. You've chucked flour around the doyho and your big white nappy is moist with sweaty anticipation.

Left leg, right leg, squat, go! Tora, tora, tora! You and your foe collide.

"You no can Sumo."

"No," says a wizened old Japanese man.  "You no can Sumo."
"But why?" you ask, your lip wobbling.
"You no flab. You no make slap when Sumo."
"Make slap?"
He claps his hand twice, and two giant Sumo dudes line up against each other, race forward, and, at the moment of impact their bodies say "SLAP."

For days you marvel at the memory of that sound. SLAP! How did they slap so good?

Because they had flab-aplenty. You stare unhappily at your six-pack and toned arms. You must turn your attention to getting some serious deposits of fat. "I need to flab up, and fast. Then I can become a Sumo, and make good slap."

Hunched over your laptop you find the internet is bitterly divided on the subject of how to gain weight. At first, it seems you should do less exercise and eat more fatty foods. But that doesn't feel right. So you dig a little deeper.

Bingo! You've found the site you're looking for. It's called Andrew Girardin's Summer Sumo Plan and it guarantees results without scientific mumbo-jumbo, stress, or expense. Great!

Following his plan, you do as much Sumo training as you feel like, while gorging yourself on rice, bread, pizza, ice cream, and chocolate. Your legs are stronger, but your body weight has doubled. And it isn't all useless muscle either. It's good, hearty flab. Girardin was right!

The old Japanese Sumo-master is impressed by your new body. So impressed that he palpates your man-breasts for a good four minutes, all the while saying "Hai!" Inspection over, you cover yourself with flour, adjust your big white nappy, and charge into your opponent.


There's a well-deserved standing ovation. Everyone knows how much Sumo means to you. One man strides forward to shake your hand. He introduces himself as Andrew Girardin. You envelop him and say 'thank you, thank you,' over and over again. He downplays his role in your transformation, and says that you have inspired him. He's fucking awesome.

For more information about the Sumo Diet, including details of his book tour and Sumo coaching, follow Girardin on Twitter using the link on the top-right. Or insert the thingy  into one of your doodads.