My tailor is rich. Where is Brian?

(Where is Brian? Learning English. B2+)

French comedian and actor Gad Elmaleh calls it the great existentialist question.

It’s a question that has traumatised millions of French people learning to speak English.

Where is Brian?

The answer is more architectural than philosophical. We all know Brian is in the kitchen. For many English learners who never got past the first lesson, Brian is still in the kitchen. Forever in the kitchen. His sister Jenny, however, prefers the bathroom. Brian does get to wander into different rooms if students continue to turn the pages of Speak English 6éme (for children in the first year of secondary school), first published in 1972 and popular throughout the 1980s in French schools.



Here’s Gad Elmaleh:



There is another weird piece of language that has embedded itself in the minds of generations of French speakers learning English:

My tailor in rich

My tailor is rich, (but my English is poor) was in lesson one of the Assimil method of L’anglais sans Peine, (English without Toil) first published in 1929.  It was also the very first spoken phrase in the first Assimil L’anglais sans Peine vinyl record released in the 1960s.

This was lesson one. Page 2.



Lesson one page 1 had useful phrases like.

Your cigarette is not finished.

Our doctor is not good.

Your flowers are not beautiful.



The phrasema tehya eez reesh’‘ (my tailor is rich) even appears in the French–dubbed version of the horror film The Exorcist (NB: not for the weak-hearted). A giggle amongst the horror.



The catchy phrase appears in the Astérix chez les Bretons comic book. It is the name of a musical group and the title of an album released by the Belgian group The Vogues.

It became a household term thanks to slapstick comedian Louis de Funès in the film Le Gendarme à New York released in 1965.



The programme Karambolage on Arte  made this linguistic homage to my tailor is rich in 2010.



Pretty weird!  These banal phrases have been scarily imprinted into the memory banks of many would-be English speakers.

They are neither the simplest, nor the most practical phrases to slip into a conversation, despite being lesson one, exercise one of two popular English learning methods developed for French speakers.


Le singe est sur la branche


Likewise, English speakers learning French are armed with equally brilliant first-lesson phrases such as le singe est sur la branche (the monkey is on the branch), le chat est sur la chaise (the cat is on the chair), and la souris est en dessous de la table (the mouse is under the table).

These are challenging phrases for English tourists. There’s not a lot of jungle in France and monkeys are rare in Paris. The UK comedian-actor-activist and executive transvestite (travesti executif), Eddie Izzard, explains (with some swearing):



Finally, here’s a song dedicated to Brian, forever in the kitchen. It was a pop hit, later used by IKEA to great success.

Man Like Me – You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties (written by and first performed by Jona Lewie, who appears in the video)




Short adventure turns into a near-fatal COVID nightmare

(COVID nightmare. A true story. Level B2- C2)


The worst night of his holiday in Africa, Roberto recalls, was the night the doctor came to his bungalow.

His body was racked with 41-degree fever. The chloroquine medicine prescribed by the doctor to fight the Coronavirus was triggering debilitating palpitations. He thought his racing heart would burst. On top of that, he’d had severe food poisoning and his insides felt they had been pulverised.

His eight-day adventure with friends to a country in Africa, which will remain unnamed, had spiralled into darkness and despair.

“I was thinking about recording my final words into my telephone to send to the person I love. I was, as lucidly as I could, framing my farewell,” Roberto said.

That night, Roberto (not his real name), a transformation and self-defence instructor from Geneva, said the doctor sat half-hidden in the darkness outside the bungalow. The doctor looked to his left and right to make sure no-one was within earshot. He then spoke to Roberto.

His tone was cold. All semblance of the Hippocratic Oath had gone. The voice from the shadows said:

“Now, this is what you are going to do. You’re going to buy me a car in Geneva and send it to me. Do you understand?”



Let’s be clear. This is a true story. It happened in April this year.

It was meant to be a short adventure. On-the-road again. Time to break the shackles of the pandemic which had grounded most of us.

Two couples, Roberto and his girlfriend and another couple, flew from Geneva to Belgium and onto their African destination where a mutual friend had planned an adventure safari.

It all went pretty well, until the four had their Covid tests before flying back to Geneva.

Three were negative. Roberto was positive. He reassured the others he would be back soon. Reluctantly, they departed, back to their busy professional lives in Geneva.


I felt like a chicken being slowly plucked and then slowly roasted.


Roberto was confident. He is a well-travelled man, fit and strong, physically, and mentally. He has undergone advanced military training and is a qualified instructor of Krav Maga, the self-defence method used by the Israeli army.

Despite his impressive pedigree, he was lucky to get home alive.

“I was a prisoner. I couldn’t leave without a negative test. I was a hostage. The hard reality came the night the doctor told me, if I wanted to get onto a plane to Geneva, I would have to buy him a car.

“I felt like a chicken being slowly plucked and then slowly roasted.

“I was helpless. I was in a zombie state in the 35-degree heat and with a 41-degree fever. I had no sense of taste or smell and I had eaten something that destroyed my insides.”

In the end, the 8-day adventure turned into a 32-day marathon. Roberto lost 6.2 kgs. When we spoke, almost two weeks after his return, he said his energy level was still at only 25 per cent.


“I knew that if I reacted angrily or violently in any way, shape or form, I would have more problems and probably end up in jail


“The worst was the mental torture. I was completely isolated and at the mercy of people who wanted to milk me for anything they could get. The doctor was accomplished. He knew how to play mind games. He had me on a string.

“I promised him I would do my best when I got back. Luckily, I couldn’t withdraw cash with my credit card. My cash reserves, of which he had taken most, were almost finished. I tried in my poorly state to remind him of the oath he had sworn when he became a doctor – ‘to do no harm’.

“I knew that if I reacted angrily or violently in any way, shape or form, I would have more problems and probably end up in jail. I had to keep my cool.”

Roberto had just enough strength to communicate with his girlfriend of nine years in Geneva, when the Wi-Fi was working. The heat played havoc with the keyboard of his iPad. One day it took him five long hours to fill-in an immigration-exit form.

He spent his days in feverish isolation on two phone apps – one to learn Greek and another to learn to play the ukulele. He watched bits of Netflix, of which he remembers nothing. He also prayed and meditated.


It was not unlike the pages of a Stephen King novel, where impending doom grows day by day, hour by hour


What was meant to be a relatively simple recovery became more and more twisted and dark, not unlike the pages of a Stephen King novel, where impending doom grows day by day, hour by hour.

He stopped taking the medication after he almost died twice, unable to breathe as his heart rate accelerated into techno beat. He didn’t tell the doctor.

“I was saved by my loving girlfriend, my two wonderful travelling friends, family and Touring Club Suisse (TCS). My girlfriend kept me sane, positive and fed me love. My friends spent hours listening to me rambling on. TCS called me regularly. They told me to immediately stop taking the medicine. They were polite, respectful and professional and contacted the doctor. It was no longer just mind games between him and me. The outside world knew what was going on.

“I owe them all a debt of gratitude. They kept me afloat.”

In all, Roberto had five COVID tests. The doctor told him he had to take two tests two days before his flight left on a Sunday. On the Saturday he paid for the tests. He finally got the results only minutes before he had to take the taxi to the airport.

“I still wasn’t safe. I had to pass through five security check points before I could get on the plane and the doctor who primarily worked at the airport had subordinates at each check point on the road and at the entry and inside the airport. I was very aware they might not let me get onto the plane. I was checked and double-checked and triple-checked. I was followed inside the airport. Luckily, I was flying business class so I could wait in a private lounge, away from the airport public area. I then tried to hide myself in the crowded section of the airport. It was a game of cat and mouse.

“As I got on the plane the doctor started calling, texting and emailing me. I turned off my phone.


I was sitting there in a fog of emotional exhaustion


“Only after we took off, I started to feel relatively safe. The flight attendant gave me a glass of Perrier with ice and a slice of lemon in a clean glass. It was surreal. I was sitting there in a fog of emotional exhaustion.”

“When I turned my phone on in Geneva the next day, there were 17 messages and videos demanding money. Just crazy,” Roberto said.

In hindsight everything is clear. Roberto says the decision to travel was immature and selfish and he paid the price for this.

“I did something stupid,” Roberto said.

He has plenty of suggestions for would-be travellers in these pandemic times.

“Map everything out before you leave. Make sure you have good insurance. Know where you can find reliable medical help. Know the contact details of the nearest embassy. And if you can, take medicine with you. Don’t go without a laptop. Prepare for the worst. Sometimes it arrives.”

There are more relaxing ways to learn the ukulele, Roberto said.


Check the meaning of the words in bold:


to be racked with – suffering great physical (or mental) pain

to pulverise – to feel crushed or defeated

to be within earshot – near enough to be heard. Opposite – out of earshot

the Hippocratic oath – the promise that doctors make to keep to the principles of the medical profession

to break the shackles – to unchain yourself, break free

to be grounded – cannot fly – the flight has been grounded.

pedigree – a person’s history, often used to talk about dogs of the same breed.

to pluck – to pull the feathers off a bird before cooking it.

ukulele – a small, four-string guitar – Somewhere over the Rainbow – Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole

in hindsight – the understanding that you have of a situation only after it has happened and how you would have done things in a different way.




The seven deadly, and very human, sins

(Level B1-C2: the seven deadly sins described in English: reading, expressions, quotes quiz, vocabulary quiz, and songs)

 Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, The Language House.


It pays to reflect on one’s sins (péchés) every now and then. Are you envious? If so, you are a sinner and you are suffering from one of the seven capital sins, according to Christian theology.

Christian theology has dictated the lives of millions of people for centuries, and it does not allow for grey areas; you are either a sinner or you are not. Since none of us is perfect, we are all sinners.

But it is not all bad: you can repent, confess and atone (expier) for your sins, one way or another. Or be punished. Just not the way it is described in Seven (or Se7en); one film noir I know I’ll never watch again, Brad Pitt or no Brad Pitt.

The seven capital sins are so bad that they can engender other sins. For example, if you are greedy, you could commit theft (a mortal sin) or you could think about theft (a venial sin). A mortal sin can be compared to a malignant tumour in your soul, and a venial sin to a minor infection.

Here is the parade of the seven capital sins – also known as the seven deadly sins:

(1) Pride: pride can be a positive feeling. You can feel proud when you have done a good job, or if your child succeeds at university (she’s “my pride and joy”), or if you have self-respect. But on the negative side, pride is the feeling you are better or more important than other people. You can also call it conceit, vanity, arrogance, pretension. A common saying: her pride will be her downfall. Many think pride is the mother of all sins. It can lead to (result in) tribalism, racism, vendetta and wars. Pride can be overcome with its corresponding virtue, that is, humility.


(2) Greed: greed is the desire to have more of something, such as food or money or power, than is necessary or fair. You can also call it avarice, covetousness, hunger. It is in my opinion the king of all sins. It can lead to corruption, theft, murder and. wars. And really bad politics. What would the world be without greed? Its corresponding virtue is charity.


See Garry’s recent blog: Madoff made off with billions. The name says it all.


(3) Lust: lust is a feeling of strong sexual desire for someone. Nothing wrong there – and a lot of fun, but it starts being wrong if you lust after your neighbour’s wife or husband. You can also call it lechery, sensuality, licentiousness. It can lead to adultery, sex addiction, and so many more undesirable acts – as well as the occasional STD (sexually transmitted disease). The corresponding virtue is chastity.


(4) Envy:  envy is when you wish you could have what someone else has. You can also call it covetousness, jealousy, resentment. There is a fine line between admiration and envy. Don’t cross that line, or you’re in for a roller coaster of unjustified anger, self-pity and murderous thoughts. It is also bad for your complexion, apparently – you could become “green with envy”. The corresponding virtue is gratitude.


(5) Gluttony: gluttony is the act or habit of eating or drinking too much. You can also call it greed, rapacity, voracity. The sheer amount of diet books and programs and alcoholic-related diseases out there says it all: we are, in the rich world at least, real gluttons. And our planet is suffering from the amount of hamburgers we consume. You only have to read about the farting cows. The corresponding virtue is temperance.


(6) Wrath: also known as anger, rage, or temper. Very frightening. It can lead to vengeance and violence. Angry people spread chaos and fear. Keep away from them. The corresponding virtue is patience.


(7) Sloth: so lazy it has to come last in this parade of sins. Sloth is laziness. It is the friendliest of sins: a lazy person is less likely to succumb to greed or lust or pride, simply because he can’t be bothered. But sloth will lead to a life of short cuts, sagging sofas, sweat pants and divorce. Nothing can be achieved with sloth. Set a little time aside for sloth if you need a break, but not too much … The corresponding virtue is diligence.



Note: the seven sins and seven virtues, e.g. pride, humility, greed, charity, etc. are uncountable nouns.


Vocabulary: all words in bold are in the vocabulary quiz below.



Pet Shop Boys – It’s A Sin (with lyrics)


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Expressions with the word “sin”

I wouldn’t buy that painting, it’s ugly as sin. (It’s very ugly)

He was a terrible person but now he wants to atone for his sins. (He wants to show he is sorry for what he did.)

We went to Sin City and lost a lot of money gambling. (Las Vegas, Nevada)

She was living in sin with her boyfriend. (They lived together but they were not married).

‘Strong, centralized government’ is a term that can cover a multitude of sins. (It does not reveal its true nature.)


Quotes about sin

Mahatma Gandhi, Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist, famously said the seven deadly sins are:

“Wealth without work,

pleasure without conscience,

science without humanity,

knowledge without character,

politics without principle,

commerce without morality,

and worship without sacrifice.”


Here are seven more quotes for you to match with their author:

  1. All of the seven deadly sins are man’s true nature.
  2. I am Envy… I cannot read and therefore wish all books burned.
  3. Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.
  4. Satanists are encouraged to indulge in the seven deadly sins, as they need hurt no one; they were invented by the Christian Church to insure guilt on the part of its followers.
  5. Social networks do best when they tap into one of the seven deadly sins. Facebook is ego. Zynga is sloth. LinkedIn is greed.
  6. Beware of monotony: it’s the mother of all the deadly sins.
  7. All the seven deadly sins are peccadilloes but without three of them, Pride, Lust, and Sloth, poetry might never have been born.


a. Reid Hoffman, American internet entrepreneur

b. Joseph Epstein, American writer

c. Christopher Marlowe, author of Doctor Faustus

d. Edith Wharton, American novelist (1862-1937)

e. Vladimir Nabokov, 20th Russian-American novelist

f. Marilyn Manson, American singer and songwriter

g. Anton Szandor LaVey, 20th American author and occultist



1:f – 2:c – 3:b – 4:g – 5:a – 6:d – 7:e




INXS – Original Sin (with lyrics)



Vocabulary quiz

Match the words in the text above with their definition:


  1. Commit
  2. Theft
  3. Venial
  4. Downfall
  5. Overcome
  6. Fair
  7. Fine line


a. a sudden loss of power, status, or success

b. to do something illegal or morally wrong: commit a crime, an offence, murder, a robbery, adultery, suicide.

c. to succeed in dealing with or controlling a problem

d. if there is a fine line between two things, they seem very similar and it is difficult to see a difference between them

e. The crime of stealing.

g. Not very serious, and therefore easy to forgive.

h. reasonable and morally right / where everyone is treated equally



1:b – 2:e – 3:f – 4:a – 5:c – 6:g – 7:d


  1. To be in for (something)
  2. Complexion
  3. Can’t be bothered
  4. Short cut
  5. Be no fun
  6. Tap into (something)
  7. Peccadillo


a. a way of saving time or effort in doing something, often a method that produces a result that is not good enough (in this context)

b. to understand and express something such as people’s beliefs or attitudes

c. used for saying that someone will not do something because they feel lazy or because it is too much effort (I said I’d go out with them tonight, but I can’t be bothered).

d. an immoral action that is not very serious or harmful

e. to not be enjoyable

f. to be going to experience something, especially something unpleasant (It looks as if we’re in for some stormy weather).

g. the appearance of the skin on someone’s face.



8:f – 9:g – 10:c – 11:a – 12:e – 13:b – 14:d



Lady Gaga: Sinner’s Prayer (with lyrics)

Music for the soul from radio France Culture

I have an odd relationship with the French public radio station France Culture. I am a little obsessed, not by their sage voices, but by their jingles, those short fragments of music that introduce different programmes.

I live with a Francophone who spends chunks of the evenings and weekends in the company of France Culture. I try. But it is difficult; all that Gallic pontificating, hour after hour. I am a linguistic cordonnier. I have large holes in my French. Black holes, some might say. But I get by.

When I hear the different musical intros to France Culture programmes, I have a Pavlonian reaction. Mercifully, I don’t salivate. Instead, I am filled instantaneously with joy. A rush of uncontrollable pleasure.

I now have a France Culture playlist. Highly recommended. The music is soulful, intelligent and it speaks to me. Perhaps I am over-compensating for my insipid connection with the spoken word that follows. The musical themes, mostly free of human voices, feature quirky riffs that communicate, as music does, in an other-worldly language that knows no barriers whether you are a shoe-maker, homemaker or falafel-maker.

When I first played my FC playlist to my partner, she was sick with Covid-19. She didn’t stop dancing for 15 minutes. She was masked, but she couldn’t mask her joy.


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Check the meanings of the words in bold in the text above at the bottom of this article.


It’s now your turn. Enjoy. Feedback welcome. Headphones recommended.


Programme : A voix nue

Ibrahim Maalouf. Track:  Essentielles




Programme: Culture monde

Fakear: Song for Jo




Programmes : Affaires étrangères

Cliff Martinez: Arbitrage



Programme: Carbone 14, le magazine de l’archéologie

Massive Attack:  Unfinished Sympathy



Programme : La Compagnie des oeuvres

The Avener : Panama


Programme: La compagnie des poètes

Andrew BirdFingerlings 4




Programme: Affaires culturelles

Nicholas Britell: Succession (Main Title Theme)



Programme: Chrétiens d’Orient

Peter Gabriel: The Feeling begins (Music for The Last Temptation of Christ)



Programme: Le cours de l’histoire

Rone: Origami



Programme: Etre et savior

Petit Biscuit: Sunset Lover (Theme discontinued. Sadly)



Programme: Grand reportage

Bonobo: Kerala



Programme: La compagnie des œuvres

Curtis Mayfield : Fly



Programme: Plan large

Isaac Hayes: Ray Fay Run (Kill Bill film 1)




jingle(s) two meanings:

1. a sound like small bells ringing that is made when metal objects are shaken together

In this article:  2. a short song or tune that is easy to remember and is used in advertising

to pontificate (about/on something): to give your opinions about something in a way that shows that you think you are right

mercifully: thankfully, used to show that you feel somebody/something is lucky because a situation could have been much worse.

Mercifully (or thankfully) it didn’t’ rain during our three day walk in the mountains.

insipid: weak, dull, unexciting.

After an hour of insipid conversation, I left.

a rush of pleasure: a sudden and intense feeling of pleasure.

quirky: odd, strange, different, can be both positive and negative.

He has a quirky personality. I’ve never met anyone like him.

other-worldly: connected with spiritual thoughts and ideas rather than with ordinary life

Madoff made off with billions. The name says it all.

(Phrasal verbs and expressions with make B1+)


Sometimes a name can tell you a lot about a person.

For example, do you know what trumpery is?

It means “looking expensive but actually of little value.” A truer definition of a recent US president has never existed.

And then, there is Bernie Madoff, the Manhattan Ponzi czar, who died this week.

Question: How could you invest your millions in a man called Madoff?

Like his name, Bernie Madoff, made off with billions of dollars.

The dictionary defines the expression to make off with something as:

 “to steal something and hurry away with it”

For example, “Thieves made off with $30 000 worth of computer equipment.”

You are not stuttering (bégayer) when you say:

“Madoff made off with billions.”

Madoff will be forever known as the Ponzi king that made money from the rich and gullible.

You couldn’t make up a story like this.


They made out cheques to him, one after the other, one after another


He made himself out to be an investment sage.  Here was man who said he could make one dollar into two dollars. Just like that. He makes you wonder how people are so easily seduced by get-rich-quick schemes. They just made out cheques to him, one after the other, one after another.

We thought he was God; we trusted everything in his hands,” Elie Wiesel, the late Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, said at the time of his court case. Madoff’s scam cost Wiesel’s foundation $15.2m.

It makes for a sad story. It was all make believe. Smoke and mirrors. At the time of his arrest, fake account statements were telling clients they had holdings worth $60bn.

And in the end, he made off with billions, just as his name suggests.

It was impossible to make up for the lost money. His investors had to make do with just a fraction of even less of their investments.

Companies and individuals were made bankrupt, people committed suicide. Even his own son killed himself.

The crazy thing is that he was already a self-made man. He had made a mark for himself in finance as former chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange.

Bernie Madoff. The name says it all.


 Read more: To make or do, this is the question

If I won the lottery, I would buy you a…

Level B1+ (First and Second conditionals in English)

Written and compiled by Garry Littman and Benedicte Gravrand The Language House


Have you ever been to a dinner party where someone mentions the Euro Millions? I bet you a lottery ticket that you have.

Sebastien: “Remember that English teacher from the Valais? First time she bought a ticket and, holy cow, she won €6.5 million. Unbelievable!”

Pause. Smiles. Then someone asks: What would you do if you won Euro Millions? Aah… the great dinner party question!

And welcome to the conditionals – where the possibility of winning is conditional upon whether something is possible or not.

Theresa replies: “If I won, I would buy a chalet in Grimenz with a huge swimming pool. But, you know, I never buy lottery tickets. Waste of money, if you ask me.”

Theresa has no chance of winning/it’s impossible/ because she never buys tickets.

This is what we call the second conditional. These events and outcomes are impossible or just wild dreams.


Other examples of the second conditional:

If I were you, I would leave him.

If I was the prince of England, I wouldn’t live in the palace.

If I lived in Spain, it would definitely be in Mallorca.

If I was the boss, I would give myself a raise.


But, back at the dinner party, Janice has a different response:

“Funny you should ask that. I told Ibrahim in the shop yesterday, when I bought my ticket, ‘If I win, Ibrahim, I will buy both you and me a new car.’”

Janice has a possibility, however small. She bought a ticket. It’s possible she might win something.

“If I win even CHF 5, I will invite Ibrahim to dinner.”

This is the first conditional. There is a possibility. It might happen.


Other examples of the first conditional:

If the weather is warm tomorrow, I will go for a swim.

If I finish work before 6pm, I will meet you for a drink at the Ethno Club.

If I receive a bonus this year, I will give it to the Save the Seals campaign.



George, aged 12:

If I were president of Switzerland, I would introduce a three-day weekend. A dream not based in reality. (second conditional)

An ambitious politician named Pierre:

When I am president, I will introduce a six-day working week. It’s possible, it’s part of his cunning career plan. (first conditional)


The first and second conditional are the most popular forms of the conditionals.

They have their own special grammar rules.


First conditional: Real or probable situation in the future

We use the first conditional to talk about possible plans, promises, warnings, threats or to persuade someone.  Future condition + result

If (or when, unless) + present simple, will (or be going to, can, imperative) + infinitive

(or the other way around without the comma (,) in the middle)

  • If we play tennis, I’ll win – or – I’ll win if we play
  • Unless it rains tomorrow, I’m going to paint the window frames.
  • If you wake up early this weekend, you can study before lunch.
  • If the phone rings, I will answer


If you follow me, I will take you to her office…

Alan: Hello, I am here to see Mrs. O’Brian.

Bertrand: Certainly, sir. If you follow me, I will take you to her office.

A: Very well.

B: If you wait here, sir, I will get you an application form.

A: Oh, I am not here for a job.

B: If you are not here for a job, then why are you here?

A: I have an appointment with her.

B: If you have an appointment with Mrs. O’Brian, then you are going to have a job interview.

A: No, that’s not it, you see…

B: And she can only see you if you fill in the application form.

A: Well, let me explain..

B: And if she cannot see you, please leave.

A: But Mrs. O’Brian is my wife, you see, and I am here to take her to lunch. Today is our anniversary…

B: Oh, I see. So, if you are Mrs. O’Brian’s husband, then I am going to let her know straight away.


Your turn!

Fill in the gaps with the verbs in brackets, conjugated in the correct tense.

Cathy: If I … enough time tomorrow, I … and see you. (have / come)

Debra: And if you …  and see me, what … we …? (come / do)

C: If I … tomorrow, we … go and see that new cabaret. (come / go)

D: A cabaret? What about a restaurant instead?

C: Sure, but if we … to the restaurant, it … my treat. (go / be)

D: That’s really nice of you. And if you … the bill, … I … the restaurant? (pay / can/choose)

C: No.

D: But if we … the bill, I … the restaurant, right? (share / can/choose)

C: Sure. We’ll go Dutch.



  • go Dutch” is an expression. If people go Dutch, each of them pays for their own meal, drinks, entertainment etc. when they go somewhere together.
  • You say “my treat” when you pay for something for someone else. I’d like this lunch to be my treat.


Answer key:

Cathy: If I have free time tomorrow, I’ll come and see you.

Debra: And if you come and see me, what shall we do?

C: If I come tomorrow, we can go and see that new cabaret.

D: A cabaret? Mmm… What about a restaurant instead?

C: Sure, but if we go to the restaurant, it will be my treat.

D: That’s really nice of you. And if you pay the bill, can I choose the restaurant?

C: No.

D: But if we share the bill, I can choose the restaurant, right?

C: Sure. We’ll go Dutch.



If I sing you a love song, Bonnie Tyler (with lyrics)



Second conditional: Unreal or improbable situations

We use the second conditional to talk about an improbable or hypothetical situation and its consequence. Improbable condition + consequence

If + past simple, would (or could, might, should) + infinitive

(or the other way around without the comma (,) in the middle)

If we played tennis, I would win – or – I would win if we played tennis.

If I knew her name, I would tell you.

If I were (subjunctive of “was”) rich, I would spend all my time travelling.

If I had another £500, I could buy a car.

If you asked me nicely, I might get you a drink.

What would you do if you lost your job?



If I were a rich man – Fiddle on the Roof (with lyrics)



If I were rich/ if I became president…

Edward: Tell me, what would you do if I told that I could one day become the president of the country?

Frida: I would tell you, you might be dreaming…

E: Well, I might well become the president one day.

F: Is that so? Tell me more.

E: I have just registered as a candidate.

F: Right, so you are a long way to becoming a president. What would you do if you became president?

E: If I became president, I would replace the cabinet of ministers…

F: I guess they deserve it…

E: And I would start a programme to colonise the moon.

F: That’s strange. Why would you do such a thing?

E: If we colonised the moon, we would solve the global warming problem.

F: That doesn’t make sense. If we were to colonise the moon, we’d consume a lot of fossil fuel just to send people there.

E: Well, that’s my plan. If I became a presidential candidate, I would promise the moon.


Note: “promise the moon” is a phrase which means making extravagant promises that are unlikely to be fulfilled. E.g. interactive technology titillates and promises the moon but delivers nothing.



If I Were A Boy – Beyoncé (with lyrics)



Your turn!

Fill in the gaps with the verbs in brackets, conjugated in the correct tense.

Greg: What … you …  if you won the lottery? (do)

Henrietta: I … a house, and a yacht. And a private jet. What about you? (buy)

G: It depends. If I … less than a million, I … (win / travel)

If I … several million, then I … properties in different countries. (win / buy)

H: Where … you … them? (buy)

G: I … a house in Madagascar and a house in Canada. I … in Canada, but … the winters in Madagascar. (buy / live / spend)

H: If I … the lottery, I … also … money to my family and to some charities. (win / give)

G: That’s good. But if you … money to your family, you … be careful. (give / have to)

H: Why?

G: Because if you became rich, they would always want more. (become / want)

If I … the lottery, I … to keep a low profile. (win / try)


Note: “keep a low profile” is a phrase that means to try to stop people from noticing you, e.g. He was advised to keep a low profile in court.


Answer key:

Greg: What would you do if you won the lottery?

Henrietta: I would buy a house, and a yacht. And a private jet. What about you?

G: It depends. If I won less than a million, I would travel. If I won several million, then I would buy properties in different countries.

H: Where would you buy them?

G: I would buy a house in Madagascar and a house in Canada. I would live in Canada, but spend the winters in Madagascar.

H: If I won the lottery, I would also give money to my family and to some charities.

G: That’s good. But if you gave money to your family, you would have to be careful.

H: Why?

G: Because if you became rich, they would always want more. If I won the lottery, I would try to keep a low profile.






‘A splendid income’: The world’s greatest drug cartel

England’s national flower is the red Tudor rose. But the prickly truth is that the English owe much of their wealth to another flower; the poppy.

The British empire was bankrolled by the highly addictive drug opium, the milky fluid of the flower of the breadseed poppy (papaver somniferum).

During the 1800s the empire managed a massive drug cartel based in British India that was both state-sponsored and under Royal patronage.


Plantations of poppies in India

The British controlled massive fields of poppies farmed by Indian slave labour. They built industrial-scale opium factories. They then smuggled hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the highly addictive drug into China during much of the 19th century.

These lithographs below, published in the Scientific American in 1882, show the British opium factory in Patna in the eastern state of Bihar. The first is entitled The Drying Room. The football-like shapes in the foreground, stretching back as far as the eye can see, are thousands of balls of opium.


opium drying room



the examining hall



the stacking room



the opium balling room


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Opium smuggling to China

Opium smuggling to China increased from around 200 chests (coffres) in 1729 to more than 40,000 chests (2,160 tonnes) in 1832. After the second Opium War this amount rose to as much as 80,000 chests (4,320 tonnes) per year.

The operation was managed by the British East India Company, a trading company owned by wealthy English merchants and aristocrats, which operated under Royal charter.

Indian author Amitav Ghosh says opium formed as much as 20 per cent of the British Government colonial revenues.

Listen and watch here

Amitav Ghosh interview with BBC


Each chest of opium (above) contained about 54 kilos of semi-processed opium.  An average ship could transport about 1,000 chests from Calcutta to the port of Canton (Guangzhou) in 25 days.


Why opium trafficking?

The imbalance in trade was eerily similar to that of China and the US today.

Back then, European demand for Chinese tea, silk and porcelain was soaring. However, the Chinese were relatively self-sufficient and demand for European goods was almost non-existent. The Chinese demanded payment in silver which began to put pressure on the British coffers.

The extraordinary idea of using a narcotic to redress the massive imbalance in trade was conceived by the first Governor General of British India, Warren Hastings, in 1780. Within 10 years, demand for the highly addictive drug had begun to spread and multiply.

The British East India Company circumvented a Chinese ban on opium by sub-contracting opium transportation to ‘country traders’ – a delightful euphemism for smugglers. These private traders were licensed by the company to take goods from India to China. They sold the opium to smugglers along the Chinese coast for silver and gold which was then paid to the British East India in China. The company then used the silver and gold to purchase goods that could be sold profitably in England.


papaver somniferum



By the 1830s the balance of payments had swung back in favour of the British, but at a devastating cost for the Chinese. There were an estimated 12 million opium addicts in around the coastal regions, where an estimated 80 per cent of males under the age of 40 were addicted to opium.  Society, business and government began to collapse.


The Emperor Daoguang, denounced the English as “a Christian nation devoid of four of the five Virtues


The reigning Emperor Daoguang denounced the English as “a Christian nation devoid of four of the five Virtues”. He appointed the respected statesman Lin Ze-Xu as the Canton regional Commissioner.

Commissioner Lin calculated that in the fiscal year 1839, Chinese opium smokers consumed 100 million taels‘ worth of the drug while the entire spending by the imperial government that year was only 40 million taels.

He wrote “if we continue to allow this trade to flourish, in a few dozen years we will find ourselves not only with no soldiers to resist the enemy, but also with no money to equip the army”.

Lin forced the merchants to handover nearly 1,200 tonnes of opium stocks. It took 500 workers 22 days to destroy the opium. The British reacted swiftly and went to war; the first of the two Opium Wars, which the British won easily with their superior arms and ships.


China was forced to give over the island of Hong Kong

The spoils of war were immense. China was forced to give over the island of Hong Kong (it remained under British control until 1997), open five ports to Western trade and residence, grant Great Britain most-favoured nation status for trade, and compensate the merchants whose opium had been destroyed.

They were also were forced to legalise the opium trade. It was the start of what Chinese historians refer as the “century of humiliation“.

In 1888 Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, write a short essay about production at the Ghazipur Opium factory. He finished his essay with this sentence:

And this is the way the drug, which yields such a splendid income to the Indian Government, is prepared”.

More reading:

Sea of Poppies (2008) is the first of three novels by Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh which is set in India at the time of the first Opium War.

NB: The poppy worn in memory of those killed in the First World War is the red-flowered corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

This article is a modified version of an article first published on the website of the Swiss magazine Bilan.

Sick and shameful culture in the highest office in the land

Imagine for a moment:

A young woman who works in Federal Parliament in Berne is raped in the office suite of the Minister of Defence and for two years the incident is covered up.

A group of parliamentary aides share videos of themselves masturbating on a female minister’s desk.

The highest legal authority in the land, the Attorney General, is named by many reputable people as the alleged rapist of a woman, who has since committed suicide.

Imagine, if you can, that a prayer room inside the Parliament is used for sex among staff and politicians, and for sex workers who are brought into the Parliament for the pleasure of politicians.

The leader of the country then refuses to address a rally of thousands of angry women, but in a national press conference says that women should be thankful they live in a vibrant democracy because “such marches like these are being met with bullets in countries not far from here.”

No, you can’t really imagine that you, can you? I am sure many women can.

Well, welcome to Australia in March 2021. Forget the pandemic; there are almost no cases.


Australia is grappling with a run of misogyny and violence against women which has shocked the nation and will, in the months to come, cause irreparable damage to the country’s reputation


You can also forget the bush-fires, floods, storms, poisonous snakes, mice plagues, drought, venomous spiders, crocodiles snacking on tourists and sharks snacking on surfers.

Australia is grappling with a run of misogyny and violence against women which has shocked the nation and will, in the months to come, cause irreparable damage to the country’s reputation.

It has surfaced, not in a seedy football or rugby club, but in the corridors of its Federal Parliament in Canberra, the bastion of the boys, or “the swinging dicks”, as named by a former female Foreign Affairs Minister.

Women are furious. The men in power have so far proved to be tone deaf. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a Christian evangelist who is often parodied as the “daggy Dad” or “Scotty from marketing” is out of his depth. Drowning. Scrambling.

More and more revelations of alleged rape, indecent assault and organised in-house sex are coming to light almost every day. Two of the most senior ministers in the government, the Defence Minister and the Attorney-General, both on stress leave related to the above incidents, face sacking.

The scandal is unprecedented, but it has been boiling under the surface of Australian politics and society for years, even centuries. Many readers will remember that famous “misogyny speech” by the first Australian woman Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2012. You can watch it below.



But even this speech sounds lame compared to the incidents of the last month.

It began with the alleged rape of woman staffer Brittany Higgins, aged 24, exactly two years ago, who worked for the Liberal party, the ruling conservative government.

Here’s some background:



The fury is mounting. You can hear it in the white cold reports of journalists from the national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the most credible and fearless source of news in a media landscape dominated by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

The Australian Government initially reacted to some of the allegations by announcing it would sue the messenger, in this case, the ABC. But that threat has become yesterday’s news, as day by day more extraordinary incidents come to light.

The prominent and respected journalist Laura Tingle captured the anger of many women and men in Australia with this national report about the “sick culture” of Canberra, aired on the ABC this week.



Really, you can’t imagine it, can you?  Unfortunately, yes, we can. It happens. It happens in “vibrant democracies” at the highest level. It happens almost everywhere.

The Prime Minster, on whose watch it all happened, offered another feeble tin ear apology.

“Blokes don’t get it right all the time,” he said.




Restaurants… We can thank the French revolution. Vive les restaurants!

(The origin of the restaurant. Level B2+)

Food. Glorious food. It’s one of our great pleasures and an eternal subject of conversation. Many English words that concern cooking and eating come from the kitchens of France. Terms such as cuisine, omelette, entrée, sauté, au gratin, cordon bleu, toast, vinaigrette, paté… have slipped seamlessly into English like an oyster down a diner’s throat. I could go on, but I may start dribbling on my keyboard.

And, of course, the restaurant. Remember restaurants? A favourite place to be, armed with a knife and fork and with a napkin, (not a mask), tucked under your chin.


A restaurant was originally the name of a soup


The word restaurant was originally the name of a soup. It was the term used for a meat soup or bouillon – made from concentrated meat juices and considered to be quasi-medicinal back in the 16th century . It was a dish to restore/restaurer the strength and health of the diner. The English called it a beef tea. A dictionary of 1708 defined restaurant as a “food or remedy that has the property of restoring lost strength to a sickly or tired individual”.

Thanks to the French revolution – restaurants, as we know them today – started to take off. Royalty and nobility lost their heads in the guillotine and their chefs and kitchen staff lost their jobs. To put food on their own tables they began opening their own restaurants.


Thanks to the French revolution – restaurants, as we know them today, started to take off. Royalty and nobility were rendered headless and their chefs and kitchen staff rendered jobless.


It is widely believed, and disputed by some, that the first restaurant was opened in 1765 by a Parisian named Boulanger. Boulanger’s establishment on rue des Poulies, near the Louvre, served mostly bouillons or restaurants, in other words, meat soups or broths.

Boulanger painted on his shop window the Latin invitation: “Venite ad me omnes qui stomacho laboratis et ego vos restaurabo” (Come to me all who suffer from pain of the stomach and I will restore you);  a play on the words of Jesus found in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

But, it was not the French that introduced the concept of a à la carte menu to a youthful United States of America in 1837. It was Swiss immigrants; two brothers Gian and Pietro Del Monica and their cousin Lorenzo Delmonico from Tichino, the Italian part of Switzerland.


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Delmonico’s in it’s heyday in New York


Delmonico’s Restaurant was the first à la carte luxury restaurant in New York, and for almost 100 years defined “haute cuisine” in America. Delmonico’s introduced to America the French concept of a menu, with a range of plates at different prices. Patrons could dine at any time. Food was served on fine china. The menus were in French and English.

Prohibition (the criminalisation of alcohol consumption) spelt the end of restaurants like Delmonicos. The only place to drink a glass of wine was in safety of your own home with the doors locked.


Delmonico’s also introduced the luxury of private dining rooms where discreet entertaining was the order of the day. The basement held the largest private wine cellar in the city – an impressive 1,000 bottles of the world’s finest fermented grape juice.

Delmonico’s was legendary, not only for its food, but for its high prices and its celebrated patrons. US presidents, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Morgans, the Astors, the Goodyears, the grand dukes of Russia, the Prince of Wales, Napoleon III, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain all tucked a napkin under their chins in this fine establishment.
The Delmonicos were quite brilliant at marketing. Legend has it that the pillars at the entry to their restaurant came from the ruins of Pompeii.


Delmonico’s menu April 1899


“Delmonicos:  Good enough for every President since Lincoln”, was their wonderful marketing line.

By the 1880s there were a chain of 10 Delmonico restaurants in New York.

Prohibition (the criminalisation of alcohol consumption) spelt the end of restaurants like Delmonicos. The only place to drink a glass of wine was in the safety of your own home with the doors locked and the curtains drawn.

Delmonico’s Restaurant still exists today and feeds off the legacy of its entrepreneurial Swiss founders.

Great film performances of the 21st century: Denis Lavant as Mr Oscar

It was a film you either loved or hated.

Holy Motors (2012), from French director Leos Carax divided the critics. But almost all were in awe of the performance of French actor Denis Lavant as the chameleonic Mr Oscar. This month, the esteemed film critic of The New Yorker Richard Brody, published an article titled the Best Movies Performances Of The Century So Far. Brody ranked Lavant’s Mr Oscar as the fourth greatest performance of the century so far…

Lavant has one of French cinema’s most instantly recognisable faces – a real sacrée gueule.

You may not know his name, but you will know the pock marks, scars, crevices and wrinkles that plough his face. You’ve probably seen them in the sewers of Paris with Lino Ventura and breathing fire on le Pont-Neuf with Juliette Binoche.

In February 2014, I ran into Denis Lavant in a sandwich shop in Bd Georges-Favon, Geneva. Panini ordered. And there he was. Right in front of me. It’s Denis Lavant, the unmistakable, in a rumpled Chaplinesque suit and green woollen hat with dangling pom-poms reminiscent of those worn by Moliere’s bedridden hypochondriacs.


Everything is imprinted on my face – all the scars and joy. It doesn’t hide. It reveals. In Paris people often look at me with distrust.


A few days earlier I had watched, for the second time, the extraordinary Mr Oscar, an actor who travels Paris at night in the back of a long white limousine full of props, wigs, costumes, prosthetics, make up and a dressing room mirror, transforming himself into 10 wildly different characters, including the diabolical Monsieur Merde who kidnaps Eva Mendes from a fashion photo shoot in a cemetery and takes her down into his lair in the pungent sewers (égouts) of Paris, where in a state of sexual excitement, eats her hair as she sings lullabies to him.

Unforgettable. Beautiful. Frightening. Ecstatic cinema.

The next day, armed with fresh sandwiches, we met for an interview.


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Holy Motors is his fifth collaboration with director Leos Carax:  Boy Meets Girl in 1984, Mauvais Sang (Modern Love) with Juliette Binoche  in 1986, Les Amants du Pont Neuf  (Lovers on the Bridge) again with Juliette Binoche in 1991 and Tokyo! in 2008.

It is one of French cinema’s most enigmatic relationships.

DL: It’s a strange relationship. I don’t really understand it. I provoke something in him. I thought our first film together Boy Meets Girls was a sort of failure. Then two years later Leos contacted me and says he has a new film and he has written the main role for me. Thirty years later we are still making films together.

Leos is a year older. He is like my big brother. I am his muse (laughs). I am the conduit for his vision. We often don’t speak a lot about the film. He gives me the script and I try to find a scene which I can relate to and start to build a character. It is often only when I get to see the film at the end that I discover the poetry in his imagination.

Holy Motors was filmed over just two and half months. Lavant’s characters include a captain of industry, assassin, beggar woman, monster and family man.  It took three make-up assistants five hours to construct some of the characters.

Some critics cried Bonkers! (crazy), but most cried weird, wonderful, wayward, rich, strange and  surreal, and several deemed Holy Motors the best film of the year.



While Carax is reclusive and media shy, Denis Lavant, is a talkative effusive ball of eccentric energy.

He is a physical actor; small, wiry and wired. Theatre is his great passion, but the camera loves the topography of his furrowed and pock-marked face, bushy eyebrows and wispy wild hair.

DL: It’s a sacrée gueule, sculptured by work and life. Everything is imprinted on my face – all the scars and joy. It doesn’t hide. It reveals. In Paris people often look at me with distrust. In bookshops they look at me as if I have stolen a book (laughs). But when I speak it calms their perceptions of my appearance.

His characters live in life’s margins on the streets and in the lanes and alleyways and bridges; running, dancing, staggering and breathing fire.



DL: At the age of thirteen I started walking on my hands, learning acrobatics, riding a mono cycle and juggling. Motion was my poetry. I wanted to live in motion. I wanted to walk into the classroom on my hands. I was inspired by the work of Marcel Marceau, Buster Keaton, Harpo Marx and, of course, Charlie Chaplin, whose early work was totally punk, a real anarchist. I loved it.

I began studying drama and acting but the passive reading of classic texts left me curiously cold, and after a year I dropped out and joined a Belgium street circus.

In several films Lavant leaves the streets and descends into the underworld of the sewers.


We are both monsters. We understand each other. She is also a monster; a monstrous star and model of monstrous beauty.


He first played in the sewers as Montparnasse, the young vagabond turned assassin in Les Miserables (Lino Ventura 1982). In this case ‘the sewer’ was a theatrical set shared with 100 rats.

DL: In Holy Motors we shot part of the film in the actual sewers of Paris. They are massive. The stench was incredible and you could see the debris and tracks of the illegal immigrants who traverse the city.

The underground gnome, Monsieur Merde first appears in the film Tokyo! and resurfaces from the subterranean sewers in Holy Motors; blazing red hair, blind in one eye, long gnarly nails, his own gibberish language, and an appetite for bank notes, flowers, fingers and the goddess-like Eva Mendes who he carries over his shoulder down into the sewers.



DL: There is a strange complicity between the two of us as we lie together amid the stench. We are both monsters. We understand each other. She is also a monster; a monstrous star and model of monstrous beauty.

Carax, speaking about Lavant at Cannes in 2012, said:

I don’t think there are many actors of this generation that can portray such a creature. Maybe Lon Chaney or Peter Lorre or Chaplin, but not that many actors today—and Denis is one. So I’m lucky to have him.


You can just put him on a chair and film him for twenty minutes


I’ve known him since he was 20 years old, and I kind of know what he’s able to do, and I kind of know how to drive him someplace. Of course, he’s special in many ways, but one way is that he’s both a dancer and a sculpture: he’s good at physically moving, but he’s also very solid. You can just put him on a chair and film him for twenty minutes.

Lavant says Carax is his captain on the film set.

DL: When you make or shoot a film it’s like going out to sea on a boat and you have to trust the captain because you know that you might face a storm or rocks. With Leos, it’s not always an easy journey.

Les Amants du Pont Neuf was a perilous voyage.  At the instigation of Carax, Lavant  prepared for the role of Alex the homeless fire eater, by spending three vodka-soaked days and nights in the streets of Paris. It was an ominous beginning. The film took three years to finish. It went way over budget.



DL: It was a nightmare, a real catastrophe. At times I feared for my mental well-being. Leos created a kind of Actors Studio dedicated to life and misery on the street. We suffered. We drank. We tried to find the truth.

Leos wanted to open people’s eyes to the suffering of the homeless in Paris. He pushed us so hard, that I went into auto-destruction mode. It is very disturbing to live in squalor. It’s a black spiral. The only way is down.


I was completely lost and depressed, no longer an actor, wondering what I was doing there


There was a time when we totally lost sight of our goals and we could no longer understand what was real, what was fiction, and what was the aim of the characters. It was a true madness.

In one scene I was watching Juliette Binoche’s character washing herself in the park and I was completely lost and depressed, no longer an actor, wondering what I was doing there. When Leos watched the rushes of the scene that night he said me: Look! Look at your face! That’s perfect! (he jumps up laughing and claps his hands). That’s our relationship – a dual perspective (laughing).


More : Listen to Denis Lavant on France Culture.

Denis Lavant appears in the Philippe Lacôte film,  Night of the Kings, to be released this year

You can read Richard Brody’s 30 standout performances of the 21 st century here.

The above article is a modified version an interview first published on the Bilan magazine website.