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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

February 23, 2007

Over the top? C'est la totale

This site has now moved to Salut!

News reports in France sometimes recount allegations, usually but not always from outside, that the French are "champions" at this (taking time off, consumption of pills, being prone to complain) or mauvaises élèves at that (learning languages, courtesy on the road and so on).

You don't need to be excessively francophile to doubt the accuracy of the claims in the first place.

But can I raise another possible contender? Are people of other countries as given to hyperbole, in everyday conversation, as the French?

When I first arrived in Paris as a new resident back in July 2004, I described my wife's way of combining comprehensive knowledge of English swearwords with a total failure to moderate their use according to strength of curse each situation warranted.

This is not just to do with the occasional domestic dispute that would arise in any household a chic, vivacious and tidy-minded Frenchwoman shares with a dishevelled, football-supporting folkie.

It is simply the case that whenever she swears in English, she starts pretty high up the range.

Her sister is one of the most mild-mannered people I know, but was a nightmare to be with when she first started driving, berating just about every other road user with a non-stop flow of shouts and insults from the inside of her Citroën 2CV.

I suppose encounters on the road don't count so much, and I am certainly not sure that French road rage is worse than the British version.

But I have witnessed countless examples of the phenomenon, from the fonctionnaire's utter exasperation at the omission of some piddling detail from a form to the platform attendant's unrestrained abuse aimed at some late-arriving passenger.

A slight nip in the air and it's inevitably "freezing". A minor lapse in manners at the table and papa launches into a tirade, with or without accompanying claques, as if a line of cocaine had tumbled from his child's pocket.

On today's lunchtime news, a little girl on a school ski-ing holiday was interviewed as she lay in bed while her friends enjoyed the snow.

She seemed a long way from death's door, but complained of stomach ache, headache and nausea before adding gravely: "C'est la totale."

Her phrase enriched my knowledge of French - a function, I suppose, of not having children living at home to keep me in touch with their everyday use of the language.

But was her reaction to minor ailments just another isolated instance, no more characteristic of the French than the stiff upper lip is of the English? Or does experience lead others to believe the French are les champions of exaggeration?

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This site has now moved to Salut!

20 Comments:

At February 23, 2007 6:45 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

I haven’t notice much hyperbolic ranting here in Grenoble – they’re a bit of a cold bunch on the whole. But when I lived in Aix-en-Provence, the air was often as blue as the sky…I remember a mother screaming at the headmaster of the primary school that she was going to blow up the place with all the p***** de c*** de teachers inside because her little boy had been punished; a customer in Carrefour yelling at the cashier that he was a biological error; an elderly lady claiming her right to go to the front of the p***** de queue, calling the man who challenged her such filthy words, I didn’t know where to look and a motorist calling my friend – a mild-mannered grandmother – a vieille c***asse because she had had the effrontery to cross the road on a zebra crossing.

It was a bit more *$%§!@ lively than here, anyway.

 
At February 23, 2007 7:01 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

It gets all the aggression out into the open, though, which is probably healthier than being polite and restrained and then going home and whining. A stiff upper lip isn't necessarily an admirable thing.
Anyway, I think Colin's exaggerating...

 
At February 23, 2007 7:08 PM, Blogger Louise said...

I very rarely swear in English - out loud there is the odd 'bloody hell' - but my swearing in French is far more prolific - like your sister in law, mainly done in the car, fortunately...

Maybe when one starts to learn another language (and children do this all the time), one tends to pick up the swear words first...my son has the usual adolescent repartée of French words but actually knows virtually none in English, as I don't use them...

My father, God bless him, never swore and if we did he would tell us that we were lacking in vocabulary!

 
At February 23, 2007 7:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless your father. A gentleman.

 
At February 23, 2007 7:39 PM, Blogger Robert Marchenoir said...

What a load of bollocks.

Er... I mean, such a refreshing point of view.

 
At February 23, 2007 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a man in England.
Who's children he taught to speak.
Not English,French or German.
But words that were complete.
Complete because to speak them.
His children had to learn.
The care of being a person.
The lesson of discern.

They knew by way of choices.
The better way to speak.
Their fathers' gift, a lifetime.
Of ideas, friends and Greek.

 
At February 23, 2007 9:56 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

It's joie de vivre. Painting pictures with words, arms, hands, shoulders. Put on a show of outrage but of course never lose your sense of humour. And absolutely nothing vulgar. unless it's vulgar chic.

It's marvelous and it's fun. Does my picture have more brilliant colours than yours, or does yours have a je ne sais pas de quoi de chic?

Anyone for a dull, flat, monotone, boring life enlivened only by alcohol and war?

 
At February 24, 2007 11:33 AM, Blogger anne gilbert said...

Colin Randall.

40,000 steps we've walked together.
Strong winds, rainy days, sunshine and foggy weather.
The time has come to take down my flag.
Keep flying your own colours from seashore to crag.
Fair winds at your back, sunshine overhead.
Best wishes Colin Randall, where ever you tread.

A sincere and grateful thank you, for having shared your blog with me.

Anne

 
At February 24, 2007 3:40 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Does this also mean goodbye to the anonymous bible-thumper?

 
At February 24, 2007 5:27 PM, Anonymous Lacombe Lucien said...

The French are constantly fuming at each other over one petty issue or another.

I think it's because their history of conflict with other nations is characterised by one embarrassing failure after another.
They instinctively understand that they need create as many futile disagreements with each other as possible - so they can practice fighting without any risk of incuring yet another humiliating defeat for France.

 
At February 24, 2007 6:08 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

That's as outrageous a blanket statement as anything Richard has ever said about England and the English.
And, anyway, since when was a nation's true worth to be judged by its history of conflict?

 
At February 24, 2007 6:28 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Funny how when there is a whiff of a fight on the blogs, Richard Marchenoir and lacombe lucien suddenly make an appearance...do they have computers that can 'smell trouble'?

 
At February 25, 2007 5:05 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

They seldom get involved in the battle, though, Louise. Have you noticed? They prefer to snipe from the sidelines and then sidle off.

 
At February 26, 2007 2:02 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Sounds like a piece of earth-shattering news, Colin - a little girl ill in bed on holiday. Wow!
I think the term 'news' is an exaggerated term for such an item, myself.

 
At February 26, 2007 2:46 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

I am told, Sarah, that they thought of leading the bulletin with it.
Seriously, though, my fault for not adding that it wasn't a news item but part of a little series of reports following one school's vacances d'hiver.

 
At February 26, 2007 4:16 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

A survey released today, as part of a European Community examination of social wellbeing, claims that Danes are happiest, followed by Dutch, Belgians, Irish and Swedes, Luxembourgers (or whatever the collective noun is)and Finns. The French are said to be happier than Germans but not as happy as Brits (no apparent differentiation among England, Scots and Welsh). Least happy are Romanians and Bulgarians.
It might be interesting now to study their swearing habits and see if there's a correlation.

 
At February 26, 2007 4:45 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

I do believe that the c-word, the t-word and the f-word are of Scandinavian origin. Just a bit of trivia for you as I tip-toe through the blogs today.

 
At February 26, 2007 4:58 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

The thing is, that it COULD have been an item of news, akin to the one recently on cockle-hunting at the year's low tide somewhere in Brittany. The 'fait-divers' section seems to be longer than the 'news' section often.

 
At February 26, 2007 5:07 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Most of the tabloid press would appear to be made up of 'fait-divers' anyway - my mother, yes I hate to admit it, reads the Daily Mail, and when I was over there if I didn't go and buy a real paper, I had absolutely no idea what was happening in the world!

 
At February 26, 2007 6:00 PM, Blogger Roger said...

Louise, I share the same shame. My Mother claims she only buys it for the crossword. I have offered to buy her a book of puzzles as a replacement - but still she buys the dreadful daily wail.

 

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