Saturday, 5 April 2008

La Visite de Monsieur le Président

No, don't get excited - he's not coming to Preuilly (at least, not as far as I know), but he has just had London scrutinising his every move, so I thought I would offer my 2 cents worth.

I rarely watch television and even more rarely watch the news or current affair shows. I do, however, get to take in the Today Programme (presented by Grumpy Uncle John on BBC Radio 4) with my breakfast every morning and I read a lot of newspaper articles (online - why does anyone buy a newspaper these days?)

Of course, even with my limited visual exposure to the Presidential entourage, I was struck by how charming and elegant Carla is (and how much taller than her husband she is) and how stylish and attractive Rachida* and Rama* are.

But I wasn't so dazzled as to not take in some of the things M. Sarkozy actually said. For instance, I noticed that he began the answer to every question put to him with 'Ecoutez' or 'D'abord' or even 'Ecoutez d'abord'. The translator, the skilled professional you would expect, did not begin each of his sentences with 'Listen up', but cleverly rang in the changes with 'Well', 'In my opinion' and 'It seems to me', knowing that 'écoutez' has a different nuance to 'listen' as an opening gambit.

I also hope that the English were listening when he addressed Parliament and said that the French will never forget what the British did for France during the two World Wars. Having lived for ten years in East London and Essex, I am saddened (and increasingly exasperated) when I hear the old 'the French just rolled over and allowed the Germans to walk in' routine for the umpteenth time, usually from someone too young to have been there at the time. I am saddened, because although I am aware that the War and the Blitz in particular was an awful and terrifying time to go through, there often seems to be no empathy from ordinary English people for the experiences of ordinary French people, living as they did with enemy troops on their land, in their villages and in their houses. They too saw friends and relatives killed and maimed in unspeakable ways, and very often they could not even speak out about it.

Simon made the point to me that Nicolas Sarkozy is part of the first generation of politicians in France not to have been directly influenced by de Gaulle. Sarkozy clearly wants to change things and that's why people voted for him. It remains to be seen what happens when he actually tries to change something - all those people who voted for him will suddenly find their conservative streak, I'll wager (note the small "c" - in France the conservative position is socialist).

Finally, I would like to thank M Sarkozy for, a few weeks before the visit to London, giving all us newbie Francophones a useful new phrase - 'Casse-toi alors, pauvre con', which I believe, translated into Anglo-Saxon, is the equivalent of 'Piss off then, you prick'. I yearn to be fluent enough for this to be the phrase that automatically leaves my lips in my moment of real need. In the meantime I practice hard to master colloquial French with a regular dose of Sarkostique. (My French is just about good enough to get the gist of some of the jokes.)


PS I read recently that English is the result of a Saxon warrior chatting up a Celtic barmaid - I'm paraphrasing somewhat, but it's good, innit?

*Rachida Dati, the Justice Minister and Rama Yade, the Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights.

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