Language

Strasbourg is in France so it stands to reason the people who live there and in the Alsace-Lorraine region all speak French. Right? Wrong. As a city just one bridge away from the border, German is almost as common as French.

The linguistic issue is somewhat further confused by the addition of a series of local dialects that come under the generic heading of "Alsacien". With a resurgence of regional pride, these Germanic-sounding dialects are no longer out of fashion. In fact, they've recently assumed such cultural importance that new plays and songs are being written in the dialects.

We are not suggesting you rush out and learn Alsacien...but the locals might appreciate your recognizing that their distinctive dialect is not German.

World Cup Warning

Come June, France will be up to its muddy ankles in World Cup soccer...arguably the world's most important sporting event. And as it only comes round every four years, the fans are already reaching a fever pitch of partiality and fanaticism.

The French themselves will be cheering loudly and lustily for their own national team, nicknamed "les Bleues".

As the games are being held at venues all over France, we recommend you check in advance to make sure your visit does not coincide with one of these international matches.

Alternatively, you could visit Alsace-Lorraine. No World Cup games are being played there, and the tourist authorities are currently touring France in a bus touting the region as a "soccer free zone" under the banner "Go - Cordon-Bleues"!

Storks

You'll find masses of stork memorabilia in Strasbourg stores...but no sign of the actual birds themselves.

Sad to say, these elegant and gregarious birds -with their legendary (but mythical) reputation in human obstetrics - are having a hard time surviving in the very region that incorporates them in so many legends and folk stories.

Hunting and natural predators in their African migration homes, plus the draining of Rhine marshes, have taken an enormous toll on Europe's stork population and they are now close to extinction.

A major "save the stork" campaign was launched just in time, and through a program that includes artificial incubation, hand rearing and wing clipping, the reduction has been temporarily halted. Only 50 pairs are known to exist in the region.

Storks build their messy nests atop roofs, steeples and obelisks and are also helped by the local population who attach metal cartwheel structures to tall buildings for their housing convenience.

Winters in Africa. Summers in Strasbourg. Next time round, we're coming as storks.

April 1998