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!


  1. Wow, I can barely follow... I'm a lame French! I'm so behind in terms of French culture these days. I only catch up with week-old Paris Match at Chapters...!

    1. Oh no - I was hoping you'd enlighten us all. Glad to hear it's cultural references and not just poor vocabulary that's holding us non-French people back though.

  2. I'm not even going to try, I know I'd fail! Getting the humour is one of the hardest things, plus I don't really follow the current events (getting better now with the free papers on the train though).

  3. I once tried to watch a few of Coluche's comedy sketches, but I didn't get very far. Comedy is the hardest thing for me to understand, because if you don't know the cultural references, you are never going to understand the jokes. And there is so much slang and idiomatic expressions - exactly the stuff I never learned in French class.

  4. Didn't get all the references, but laughed until I cried at the rest! Brilliant stuff... :-)

  5. Here is my "translation" between [].
    I hope you will forgive my poor english (if you want to make some correction ... ;-) );
    I didn't translate the very first pun which is about the name of his neighbour ... i don't know.
    Some parts are rude : sorry, but it's not me !
    Let's start:
    "Here is my "translation" between [].
    I hope you will forgive my poor english (if you want to make some correction ... ;-) );
    I didn't translate the very first pun which is about the name of his neighbour ... i don't know.
    Some parts are rude : sorry, but it's not me !
    Let's start:
    "le 28 février prochain sonnera l'heure de la retraite pour le grand gagnant de pape star [pape star instead of popstar : french song TV program] 2005 Joseph Radzinger, plus connu sous le pseudonyme de Benoit XVI, un nom de cène [" .... cène ", last supper of Jesus, instead of " nom de scène " which is the name used by artists instead of their real name], choisi en hommage à Benoist Apparu [1 - Benoist Apparu is a politic guy … who is gay - 2 - " Apparu " means " appeared " : that's why he says " apparu … comme la Vierge "] … comme la Vierge.
    En tant que guide spiritueux ["guide spiritueux " instead of " guide spirituel " : " spirituel " has the same origin as " spirit ", but " spiritueux " are alcools as cognac, armagnac, ...] du supplément, Messie [Messie=Messiah instead of " mais si "] , il me semblait évident de partir à la rencontre du souverain poussif [poussif =wheezy instead of " souverain pontife " , the latin " summus pontifex " or "highest pontiff"] , afin de savoir pourquoi ;
    pourquoi quoi (croix?), me direz-vous, c'est pas la question, mais bien la réponse que je me pose ;
    une fois n'est pas coutume [une fois n'est pas coutume : is a french proverb which means it's not because it occurs once that it is a generality] , et deux fois non plus d'ailleurs, ni trois, en fait on n'a jamais bien su à partir de combien c'était coutume [ which could be false : cf mathematics " la loi des grands nombres ";-) ]
    C'est en voiture … applauses
    C'est en voiture que je pris la route du Vatican, à bord d'une magnifique austin mini décapotée [décapotée : convertible car with its roof opened ; but he wants to mean without capote (condom)] , histoire de me faire bien voir dans le costume Lacroix [" Lacroix " : the french couturier instead of La Croix : " the Cross "] que je portais pour l'occasion.
    Comme l'Église n'était pas tout à fait au milieu du village, je me suis égaré [égaré : mislaid (from the religion) instead of « garé » parked for the car] au mauvais endroit, en fait je m'étais planté [m'était planté : means " i was wrong " (slang), and " j'avais planté " means (slang) " i made it crash " and " j'avais planté des fleurs " means " i have planted flowers "] dans le potager Papal [Potager **: where are vegetables but it can also be " je m'étais planté dans le pote âgé papal " ;
    " pote âgé " means " old mate " and then it has a very strong homosexual connotation] , au pied du basilic [basilic : a very perfumed plant used for salads in France and Italy, instead of " Basilique " kind of " church "].
    Comme j'avais l'air bette [bette vegetable instead of " bête " " stupid "], son pote âgé [cf supra] de 80 ans, le Père Sil [Père Sil : "Father Sil" but Persil is also a perfumed plant used for salads] m'invita à quitter les lieux et me guida dans les appartements papaux.

  6. Papaux [Papaux : plural of " papal " instead of " pas beaux "], mais assez jolis quand même ;
    entre deux caisses de déménagement, parmi les garde-meubles suisses ["garde-meubles suisses" instead of "gardes suisses" ; a " garde-meubles " keeps your pieces of furniture in stock] , qui faisaient les pitres [les pitres : "clowns " instead of " l'épître " " the epistle "] , j'aperçus enfin sa Sainteté dans ce fourbi, étourdi [fourbi, étourdi ;
    (fourbi means mess)
    (étourdi : Benoist is étourdi)
    i'm not sure of it : it could be
    « fourbi » instead of « fourbu » (tired), étourdi
    « fourbi, étourdi (instead of « et taudis »(hovel)] ; ..."
    reprenant ses esprits, oui il n'est pas encore complètement Saint-Saint [Saint-Saint instead of " zinzin " : " senile "] , il me proposa d'aller déjeuner dans la Taverne de Maître Cantique [Taverne de Maître Cantique (cantique means canticle) : the " Taverne de Maître Kanter " is a french chaine of restaurants and Kanter, a brand of beer], située à deux pas de là ["deux pas de là" : i'm not sure, but there is probably a kind of pun with " au-delà " (after death)] ;
    c'est plus près, donc moins Vatican [Vatican instead of fatiguant] pour lui ;
    une fois assis par terre, ou par douze [par douze : with twelve people, Jesus and the 12 apostles - par terre & par douze not being the same type of things, it's not good french] les jours de fête; il se releva, pris le pain, le rompi [rompi (maybe ?) which is a cheese, instead of " rompit " (broke)] , et le donna à ses disciples
    ?- ne faisez plus - ? [ ? i don't understand what he says]
    en disant ceci : ceci est ma mie [ma mie : the " mie de pain " is the bread without the crusts of bread ;but " ma mie " means also " my wife "] , il se rassit [il se rassit : he sits down, but for the bread, it means it becomes dry] et me servit un canon divin [un canon divin : " canon " one of the meaning is a kind of choir song, " divin " really magnifiscent (from God) ;
    but " boire un canon (de vin) " means drink a glass (of wine)] que nous bûmes à sa Sainteté [à sa Sainteté instead of " à sa Santé "].

    Notre discussion pouvait enfin démarrer sous les meilleurs Hospices [sous les meilleurs Hospices (Hospices were kind of Hospitals created by Catholics) instead of " sous les meilleurs auspices " which means " in the best conditions "] ;
    Je demandais alors à notre père qui est soucieux [notre père qui est soucieux:[soucieux : " "worrying " instead " Notre Père qui êtes aux Cieux " Catholic sentence meaning (approximatively) " Our Godfather who are in Sky "] , si sa position démissionnaire [position démissionnaire : his position of resignation ; in fact said for the " position du missionnaire " is the " classical " sexual position, man on woman.] ne risquait pas d'ébranler [d'ébranler : instead of " de branler " well, well … :( … let's go : " give a hand job " (the journalist says " non, non)] une Église entachée [entachée : " tache "stain of … ; means also " with a tainted reputation " ( about morals) (she makes the cross sign)] par des affaires de mœurs ;

  7. je vois alors le Souverain pensif [Souverain pensif (thinking) : as supra instead of " Souverain Pontife "], car nous avions convenu d'éviter les sujets qui fâchent, tel que la religion et tout ce qui touchent à l'existence de Dieu, en particulier et aussi en général d'ailleurs ;
    en même temps, poser des questions pas très catholiques [pas très catholiques : in fact, it means now " not correct, not fair ", no more religious signification in the common language] , c'est un peu la B. A., BA [la B. A., BA : the first thing to know (in fact " le " and not " la " : i don't know whether it's a volunteer mistake or not)] du journalisme.
    Après réflexion, dans un silence religieux [silence religieux : deep silence, no more religious signification in the common language] , chaussant ses lunettes dernier Christ [dernier Christ : " last Christ " instead of " dernier cri ", " most recent fashion "] , car il est lui aussi à stigmates [à stigmates : " with (Jesus) stigmata " instead of astygmate] , il me dit ne pas être inquiet, car avec ses dix-huit sous-papes [dix-huit sous-papes : " eighteen Pope assistants " for " dix-huit soupapes ", " eighteen (motor) valves "], l'Église ne risque pas d'être en perte de vitesse [loss of speed ] ;
    me fixant droit dans les yeux, longuement, il n'avait Dieu que pour moi [il n'avait Dieu que pour moi : instead of " il n'avait d'yeux que pour moi " " he couldn't do without staring at me "] , il me précise qu'il mettra un point cardinal [un point cardinal : " an essential point " ; i think that " un cardinal " is also " a cardinal " in english (kind of bishop) ;East, West, North and South are also the four " points cardinaux "] à organiser sa succession, avant de se retirer à Castel Gandolfo, la résidence d'été de Barbara Gandolfi [Barbara Gandolfi : ex wife of Jean-Pierre Belmondo, french actor], là où les prélats se prélassent [les prélats (ecclesiastics) se prélassent (to lounge ?) ] ;
    ben oui, après la pluie le beau temps [après la pluie le beau temps : reference to the movie "Don't change your Husband" ?] ;

  8. moi qui pensais qu'il irait dans un couvent, et ben non, il a refusé d'aller dans un mona-se-taire [un mona-se-taire : " mona-shut-up " doesn't exist but monastère does] car il a encore des choses à dire et la bonne parole d'Ève Angeli [la bonne parole d'Ève Angeli (Ève Angeli : fairly nice french woman, not known because of her appearing intelligence) - instead of " evangeliste "] à propager ; avant de partir, alors qu'on nous sert un café carême [café carême (carême : catholic celebration) instead of " café crème " " coffee with cream "], Benoit me confesse [confesse : probably said with the allusion of the two words " con ", which at the origin is a slang word for the sex of women, and " fesse "] qu'à l'issu de son pontificat, il sera à nouveau un homme parmi les hommes, redevenant simplement Joseph ;
    nous voilà bien marris [marris : sad, sorry ; of course said for Marie … and Joseph] , et que pour fêter son départ, il veut organiser un grand bal Mosquée [un grand bal Mosquée : a big masquerade ; " mosquée "(mosque) used instead " masqué " (with masks)] , où je serai cordialement invité ;
    il doit penser que je suis un chouette mec [probably something, but not understood] ;
    comprenant que la messe est dite [la messe est dite : expression meaning that everything is done, determined, finished ; no more religious signification in the common language] , je le laisse rejoindre les routes du paradis, pendant que je m'empresse de reprendre l'un des chemins qui me mena à Rome [l'un des chemins qui me mena à Rome : french expression " Tous les chemins mènent à Rome " = il existe plusieurs moyens pour arriver à une même fin] , ben oui, parce que c'est pas tout ça, mais moi, j'habite pas l'apôtre à côté [j'habite pas l'apôtre (apostle) à côté : the original expression is " j'habite (je n'habite) pas la porte d'à côté " " I live far away from here "].

  9. Didier, that is amazing! Thank you for all your explanations!