La ballade des gens qui sont nés quelque part

Posted in Journal at 22:58

In a twist that would likely inspire him to write another song were he still alive, Georges Brassens is considered one of the icons of modern French culture for his poetry and music. One of his pieces in particular applies quite well to the current climate. Any English translation is difficult as the plays on words are numerous; bear with me in my attempt.

The Ballad of People Who Were Born Somewhere

C’est vrai qu’ils sont plaisants, tous ces petits villages
Tous ces bourgs, ces hameaux, ces lieux-dits, ces cités
Avec leurs châteaux-forts, leurs églises, leurs plages
Ils n’ont qu’un seul point faible et c’est d’être habités

    How pleasant they all are, these little villages
    All these towns, hamlets, boroughs and estates
    With their castles, churches, and beaches
    They only have one weakness: people live in them

Et c’est d’être habités par des gens qui regardent
Le reste avec mépris du haut de leurs remparts

    People who look down from atop their walls
    With contempt for others

La race des chauvins, des porteurs de cocardes
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    A race of partisans and flag-wearers
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Maudits soient ces enfants de leur mère patrie
Empalés une fois pour toutes sur leur clocher
Qui vous montrent leurs tours, leurs musées, leur mairie
Vous font voir du pays natal jusqu’à loucher

    Shame on these children of their homeland
    Finally impaled on their bell tower
    Who show you their skyscrapers, museums, town halls
    Who have you look at their birthplace until you’re cross-eyed

Qu’ils sortent de Paris ou de Rome ou de Sète
Ou du diable Vauvert ou bien de Zanzibar

    Whether they come from Paris or Rome or Sète [NdT: Brassens’ birthplace]
    Or from the middle of nowhere or from Zanzibar

Ou même de Montcuq il s’en flattent mazette
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    Or even out of Montcuq they don’t give a damn [NdT: Montcuq sounds like “mon cul” which means “my ass”]
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Le sable dans lequel douillettes leurs autruches
Enfouissent la tête on trouve pas plus fin
Quant à l’air qu’ils emploient pour gonfler leurs baudruches
Leurs bulles de savon c’est du souffle divin

    The enveloping sand in which their ostriches
    Put their heads could not be finer
    As for the air they use to fill their windbags
    The bubbles they blow are of divine breath

Et petit à petit les voilà qui se montent
Le cou jusqu’à penser que le crottin fait par

    And bit by bit their noses rise higher
    Until they believe that even the dung

Leurs chevaux même en bois rend jaloux tout le monde
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    Of their horses, even wooden, is a thing to be envied
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

C’est pas un lieu commun celui de leur naissance
Ils plaignent de tout coeur les petits malchanceux
Les petits maladroits qui n’eurent pas la présence
La présence d’esprit de voir le jour chez eux

    Where they were born is no ordinary place
    They feel so badly for the unlucky
    Those incompetent folk who didn’t have the presence
    The presence of mind to see the light at their home

Quand sonne le tocsin sur leur bonheur précaire
Contre les étrangers tous plus ou moins barbares

    When the bell tolls for their precarious happiness
    Against foreigners all more or less uncivilized

Ils sortent de leur trou pour mourir à la guerre
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    They come out of their hole to die in wars
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Mon Dieu qu’il ferait bon sur la terre des hommes
Si on n’y rencontrait cette race incongrue
Cette race importune et qui partout foisonne
La race des gens du terroir des gens du cru

    My God it would be a fine earth for humankind
    If this odd race were never encountered
    This wearisome race that proliferates everywhere
    The race of local folk, of true patriots

Que la vie serait belle en toutes circonstances
Si vous n’aviez tiré du néant tous ces jobards

    How wonderful life would be all around
    If You had not created these fools from the nothingness

Preuve peut-être bien de votre inexistence
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    Perhaps it’s proof of Your inexistence
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Ma roue est voilée !

Posted in Cycling at 19:11

Achter im Fahrrad

[Not my wheel – public domain photo by Immanuel Giel]

On my last ride home, I noticed the sounds characteristic of wheels going out of true: my V-brakes started going “shwish – shwish – shwish” on the front wheel, and when nearly home, a more alarming “scraaatch – scraaatch” on the rear wheel. I stopped using the rear brake – it’s better to use your front brake primarily anyhow – since I was afraid abrasive gravel or dust had gotten on my brake pads, which could damage the rim.

Once home, I cleaned my brake pads. Still the same gritty scraping noise. Ran my fingers across my rims, didn’t feel anything out of order, cleaned them anyhow. I have plenty of cotton scraps thanks to sewing, they work great for that sort of thing. Tried the rear brake again, and it still scratched a bit, but less than before. Holding the brake lightly, I finally noticed: it was scratching a very slow wobble, and when I tested more carefully, it was definitely once each full turn. I flipped my bike upside down and spun the rear wheel, standing still to watch for wobble. Sure enough, the wheel was slightly out of true.

I shuttered plans to commute the next morning. While I probably wouldn’t be in immediate danger from a brand-new wheel a few millimeters out of true, it is nonetheless one of those things that’s best repaired, since continuing to ride could stress the wheel inordinately at certain points, which could eventually lead to a nasty rim failure or spoke breakage down the road.

Naturally, then, the next item of order was to phone the local bike shop to let them know my wheels were out of true, and ask when I could take in my bike for truing. You can learn to true wheels yourself, but an LBS, as “local bike shops” are called for short in the cycling world, only charges 10-30 dollars/euros to true a wheel or two. It’s a quick job for someone experienced, and a good shop does it well. Then I realized… I have no idea how to say “out of true” in French. Google searches didn’t help much, so here is a mini-glossary! Sheldon Brown’s site has an otherwise excellent English-French cycling glossary.

wheel out of true = roue voilée
out of true (noun) = un voile (masculin, voile avec un e)
true a wheel = dévoiler une roue
damaged rim = jante endommagée

My rims aren’t damaged; I’ve been treating my bike very well. Thought I’d throw it in, though, since it does often go hand-in-hand with a wheel being out of true! For useful sentences:

My wheel is out of true = Ma roue est voilée
… by a few millimetres = … de quelques millimètres
The rim is damaged = La jante est endommagée
It’s very out of true = Le voile est prononcé
Truing the wheel will take a bit of time = Le dévoilage prendra un peu de temps

You may have noticed that le voile is a noun whereas our English “out of true” is used as an adjective. The closest translation to a similar noun in English would be “wobble”, though un voile is a technical term, not colloquial. As such, my phrase le voile est prononcé would rather literally be “the wobble is pronounced”, or turned in more natural English, “it has a pronounced wobble”.

It’s normal for brand-new wheels to go a bit out of true after several hours of riding. All will be repaired this Thursday, and I’ll be back in the saddle.

Vous et tu

Posted in La France at 21:38

Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, I had a post on the finer points of the French second person pronouns “vous” and “tu”, which can be second person formal (for a single person) or second person plural, and second person familiar/informal (only for a single person), respectively. I get quite a few visitors to my site from searches and old links to that “vous versus tu” article, so thought I’d write a newer version.

When you learn French, you’re usually taught that “vous” is used to address groups, or, when applied to just one person, someone who’s older, an authority figure (for instance your manager, senator, president, etc.), or someone you don’t know well. And “tu” is used with a person you do know well: relative, friend, colleague, child, and so forth. When it comes to children under the age of 17, I’ve never heard anyone call them “vous”; it’s always “tu”.

Then there are the more subtle implications that come with these pronouns. In my own, now ten-year experience, I would characterize “vous” as the “respectful pronoun”, and “tu” as the “friendly pronoun”. While these meanings go along with the “formal” and “informal” descriptions, “respectful” and “friendly” are closer to the true sensation given when they’re used. That said, although an authority figure may call you “tu”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re friends and can address them with “tu”! The general rule of thumb is to call an authority figure, such as your manager, “vous” until they say “on peut se tutoyer !” which means “let’s address each other with ‘tu’!” and is the polite way to, basically, let you know that you can use “tu” as well, since they’ve probably been using it all along.

This is where the complications come in. Rule number one: Use “vous” with clients. Even if/when they tell you that you can use “tu” with them. Even when they insist that, really, they feel uncomfortable with you saying “vous” while they’re calling you “tu”, and you get along with them famously. Always. Address. Clients. With “vous”. Except when you use “tu”. Now you’re saying, “what?? But you made it rule number one and said ‘always’!” Yes, but I live in France, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this country, it’s that when someone says “always” in France, it means “most of the time, except for the times when it’s okay, which you just sort of have to intuit, and if you’re mistaken, it’s your fault, but if you’re right, it makes things go much more smoothly.”

Example: When chatting about how things in general are going, if you know a client well and they’ve been using “tu” to address you (and, I would add, they’re not a Chief Head Director Manager), you can slip in a “tu” and see how they react. If they tense up, pretend that you didn’t really mean it by switching back to “vous” immediately, and don’t do “tu” again for a while, unless perhaps they invite you to. If, on the other hand, the person relaxes and talks to you more openly, congratulations! You can use “tu” safely whenever you’re not chatting about work. In any case, always use “vous” when discussing business matters. Why? “Vous” is a sign of respect, and also a sign of distance. In a professional context, it says, “you don’t need to take what I say personally, this is business.” “Tu” is always personal.

This can also protect you in professional life. Imagine, hypothetically speaking, that a client goes ballistic on you, using “tu” and calling you names that have nothing to do with your work, but are, instead, of a personal nature. If you respond angrily, but use “vous” and choose your comments with basic respect in mind, you’ll be fine. But if you use “tu”, even with essentially respectful responses? You can be written up or even fired with cause. Remember: “vous” is respectful, “tu” is personal. Practically anything (except clear insults) you say when using “vous” is tinged with respectful restraint. This is especially true in a professional context. (However, if you were to use “vous” with a friend, it would still be seen as distancing, and rude, since true friends always use “tu”.) On the other side of the coin, I’ve rarely seen anything good come out of fights that degrade into pointed “tu”s shot like arrows (the French have a peculiar way of pronouncing “tu” and “toi” when they’re really pissed off that makes it clear how little they think of the person they’re aiming it at). There are middle-of-the-road disagreements with “tu” just as there are in English, mainly between friends, but a civilized duel between people using “vous” will never attain the same unrestrained, in-the-dirt depth of brawls that only “tu” can reach.

In everyday life I’ve had to deal with a few difficult neighbors, and using “vous” with them has been instrumental: it can calm them down to simply point out, “moi, je vous vouvoie, alors vous voyez qu’il y a du respect, quand même !” which means “I’m calling you ‘vous’, so you can tell there’s respect, okay!” This almost always worked on a loud upstairs neighbor I had in my previous apartment. He would get drunk, turn on football (soccer) matches at two in the morning, throw around furniture, and inevitably I’d open my window and say, “baissez le son, s’il vous plaît !” (“Turn it down, please!” using “vous”.) He’d usually reply, “comment tu me parles, toi !!!” (Literally, “how are you talking to me!!!” but it has rather aggressive undertones in French; it’s more like asking “just who do you think you’re talking to!!!”) To which I’d respond with the “I’m calling you ‘vous’.” He’d calm down and say, “oh. Excusez-moi, madame,” which is the “vous” form, see!

As regards “vous” among relatives, it’s rare to see people still address family members with “vous”, but I have experienced it. My ex-grandfather-in-law was an exceptionally neat person, who, among other things, had been clarinettist in the Lyon National Orchestra and had fought in WWII as part of the French Resistance. (He would get terribly sad when telling stories about it, never proud; he’d always seen it as his moral duty to be a résistant.) When I first met him, I called him “vous”, as is the norm. Although he later said I could call him “tu”, I never could bring myself to do it; I felt too much respect for him. He had earned his “vous”. There are some families where grandchildren will vouvoyer (use vous with) their grandparents, so it wasn’t entirely unusual, but that is changing.