I went on holiday to New Caledonia and I took a notebook with me so I could note down all sorts of amusing anecdotes, but here I am looking at the notebook with “the sexual politics of airline flight” scrawled on it and wondering exactly what it was that I was thinking of when I wrote that. So instead I shall ignore the notebook and instead delve into the inner recesses of my mind. Please also note that I bought a duty-free Polaroid I-Zone camera.
The hotel I stayed at was classy, in a very three-and-a-half star kind of way. It had all this Gauguin copies all over the hotel. In my room I had two paintings of topless Tahitian vahiné staring at me. I woke up one morning at about 5.00 am and the sun had started to come up. All I could see were the ladies. Terrifying.
Booze ‘n’ fags
They speak French in New Caledonia. It’s such a classy language, it makes everyone who speaks it classy. Like on the way out from the airport I spotted a billboard reading “Winfield en 25 – Valuer Imbattable”. In English, “Winfield in 25 – Unbeatable Value” is pretty boring and (if cigarette advertising was legal in New Zealand), it wouldn’t really do anything to make people want to smoke. But in French it sounds so cool, no wonder everyone smokes.
That’s one of the cool things about a country with French culture. Everyone smokes. No one asks if you want smoking or non-smoking in a restaurant, because every table is smoking. Maybe someone could organise tours for smokers to places where smoking is allowed?
Where there’s fags, there’s booze. Booze ‘n’ fags. What does the hip tourist drink in New Caledonia? Why, local brew Number One, of course. I was wondering why they don’t call it Numéro Un. Then after a bit of contemplation, I realised Numéro Un sounds like a little little sigh, while Number One is a mighty battle cry. Number One! You can buy Number One every where, but, like most cheap lager, it goes best with pizza.
New Caledonia got itself a McDonald’s a few years ago. This was quite exciting for me after seeing the famous “Royale with Cheese” scene in Pulp Fiction. I was going to mosey on in like Vincent Vega and order a Royale wit’ Cheese.
But imagine my shock and horror when I saw the menu board. It just said Big Mac, not Le Big Mac. And what was the Quarter Pounder with Cheese called in this part of the world? Simply a Royal Cheese. In the end I decided to order an M&M McFlurry, or a Meek Flaaree Aym Und Aym, as they say (they didn’t even make it properly, not utilising the mixing power of the McFlurry machine to its full extent).
Now, it is an undisputed fact the the coolest French actor in the entire universe is Vincent Cassel. I was thinking it would be really choice if a film he was in was screening, but as fate would have it, there wasn’t anything. So instead I went to le cinéma and saw “O Brother, Where Art Thou” the latest offering from the Coen brothers. But unlike the version that will end up being screened in Aotearoa, this version (known as “O’Brother”) was dubbed en français.
At first it was weird seeing George Clooney and company speaking French, but after a while it didn’t really matter. I was able to follow the plot without too much trouble. I probably missed some of the finer details, but good on the Coen bros for making a good film that didn’t rely on long passages of dialogue to move the plot.
But I was not to leave the theatre without glimpsing Monsieur Cassel. The last trailer shown before O’Brother was for a French flick titled “Les Rivieres Pourpres”, starring Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel. Hoorah! Coming soon to the foreign section of a video store near me.
The food was good. New Caledonia is really expensive so for breakfast most mornings I had some cereal called “Fitness and Fruits”, but a couple of times I had a traditional French breakfast of café au lait (a great wacking big bowl of milky coffee) and pain au chocolat (not unlike a chocolate Danish, but made with similar pastry to that of a croissant).
The best French food item, though, was the croque monsieur. Sold mainly at snack restaurants, the croque monsieur is essentially a ham and cheese toasted sandwich, but classier. All the ones I had were made with real ham, not processed meat. The cheese wasn’t processed either, it was gruyére, which just happens to be my favourite cheese. Yes, I have favourite cheese.
The French have a phrase for food like this: miam miam!
One thing that appeared to be cheaper in New Caledonia was bottled water. Evian came in these really cool bottles with a big plastic loop on top so it’s really easy to carry when walking around. The best thing is bottled water didn’t seem to have the same wanker status that it does in New Zealand. h2eau, and all that.
You know what was the worst thing about New Caledonia? The tourists. Specifically, the Australians and New Zealanders. The baddest of the bad can be summed up by a couple who I will name Bruce and Doreen, because that’s what they seem like.
They were sitting at a table near me in a restaurant. Sitting with them was a French woman, who I shall name Madame Coco. Bruce was fat and sunburnt, Doreen was fat and sunburnt. Madame Coco was slim and tanned. Doreen was slurping down fruitie mixed drinks. Bruce was drinking beer and telling Madame Coco about the native people of New Zealand, “The Maoris, they called the white people Pakehas which means “white pig” and they called them that because they were canibals. Do you know what that means? They used to eat people. And they thought that the white people tasted like pigs.”
The meaning of Pakeha has caused much debate over the years, but the pork-related potential translation is “long pig”, not “white pig”. But then, if Bruce and Doreen wanted Madame Coco to think of them as white pigs, then so be it.
I did a couple of years of French in high school. I was hoping to put some of it to use in New Caledonia, but given that most people who work in the tourist industry speak English and Japanese as well as French, I didn’t really get the opportunity. Once I said to a waiter, “Je ne parle pas français,” after he started speaking to me in French.
It’s cool being able to say bonjour back to people, and merci or au revoir when leaving somewhere, but anything else was too hard. I think I said merci way more than I’d normally say thanks. My written French was much better, I could pick my way through the menus and brochures I came across that weren’t subtitled. I came to the conclusion that I spoke good French, but I just didn’t have a very extensive vocabulary.
As I picked up more French words I started to get worried that I was forgetting English. That maybe there’s only enough room in my brain for one language, so the more French I learned the less English I could remember. I was trying to think of a word for sheds that you’d find on a wharf (does such a word exist?), and became convinced the the recent additions to my vocabulaire had forced out some English.
There were lots of amusing English translations, the kind that end up on hilarious email lists. My favourite instance of franglais was a nightclub by the name of Startruck. I don’t know who named it, or what they were thinking, but it’s a doozy.