Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Ultimate French Test?

Six years in France have given me numerous opportunities to test my knowledge of French in tricky situations. Controlling a class of unruly 8 year olds, arguing for a reduction at the garage and agreeing to have internal organs removed while under the influence of heavy painkillers all place demands on a person's linguistic capabilities which are far beyond those required to pass a final honours year exam. But perhaps the hardest challenge I have yet encountered comes in the form of a four-minute comedy speech aired in Le Supplément on Canal+ on a Sunday morning.

The series is called Retour vers le Futur and in it, the actor, Stéphane de Groodt, describes a meeting with someone who has been in the news that week. Most of the humour is based on puns, which are delivered in such rapid succession that even the studio audience and the presenters don't manage to catch them all. You also need a pretty good knowledge of French current affairs to understand all the references, making this a test of culture as well as language.

The episode below, where de Groodt describes his meeting with Benoît XVI, is one of the easier ones to follow, with jokes such as him ending up in the Pope's vegetable garden, at the foot of the basilique/basilic3 and the reference to a café carême / crème being fairly straightforward to understand, but how many others can you spot? I think I got about 8 or 9 the first time through, but judging by the laughter, there are about double that. Put any you find in the comments box and let's see if we can get them all!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Finding Jesus in the Mairie

I was so taken up with reflecting on the serious aspects of the civil baptism that Understanding Frenchman and I attended the other week that I forgot to mention the funny part. It's hard to live in France for any length of time without becoming aware that the separation of church and state is very important to the French. Hence a church wedding has no legal status, there's no RE in schools and you can't wear any sign or symbol of your religion if you work in the public sector. It's something I agree with in principle, but France being France, there are also endless anomalies. Pentecost, Ascension Day and the Feast of the Assumption are public holidays. Town halls put up Christmas decorations and there is state funding for Catholic schools.

And at the non-religious baptism in the mairie, I spotted another exception to the rule. Hanging on the wall was a painting of a woman spinning by her baby's cradle, and printed on the wood of the cradle was a small picture of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. One of the other guest's daughter was asking about the painting, and, having been lectured on laicite for the past twenty minutes by the government official, we had a bit of a chuckle over it.

Later, over lunch, I happened to mention that we had seen Jesus in the town hall.

"Tu as vu le petit Jesus dans la mairie?" said one of the other guests. "Does Understanding Frenchman know about that?"

To understand why this had the rest of the assembled company in fits of laughter, you have to know that a "Petit Jesus" is also a kind of sausage (which nobody seems to find offensive at all) and, well, I'll leave the rest up to your imaginations!