It’s regrettable. But there really is, O Best Beloved, no alternative. This particular challenge to sense and sensibility cannot be gone over, under or around. Indeed, we’ve got to go through it. Once again, it’s necessary to inflict upon readers of a delicate disposition certain gros mots (definitively not large, big or even heavy words).
In the High and Far-Off Times, O Best Beloved (Day 70 of these jottings for those wanting The Story So Far) I set down a slender disquisition (far too slim to be even a Trifling Monograph) on the acute difficulty of translating, or even understanding, gros mots from another language. To wit swear words.
The delightful Four Weddings and a Funeral starts (in its French subtitled version) with the endless repetition of the word merde). Well, why not? Would you choose better?
Back to more recent gros mots. This time it’s our erstwhile Jupiterian President. Now not so much Jupiterian (since Jupe rarely came earthwards) but much more Zeusian (Zeus would regularly mortal-mingle). President Macron well and truly came back down to earth last week. Earthy language. Getting down and dirty, he employed Sarkozy-like terms, with the difference that the latter shoved his insult right in a man’s face.
Emmanuel Macron had gone to la France profonde. He was in Corrèze (President Hollande’s stamping ground in the south-west) inaugurating a training campus for civil engineering, and meeting the President of the Nouvelle Aquitaine Region. The visit was marginally inconvenienced by a handful of Revolting Workers.
[I don’t believe I’ve previously mentioned the GM&S dispute. An ailing car component manufacturer, GM&S, employed 300 or so as the 2nd largest local private employer. Their industrial relations problems troubled the last days of the Hollande Government, and came to the fore during May’s Presidential Election. Renault was then ‘persuaded’ by Macron’s Government to double its orders by €5m to €10m; Peugeot was also ‘persuaded’ to up its €10m purchases by €2m. However, in the end, GM&S died. Last month, but 120 jobs were maintained in the company, bought out by a company called GMD.
Last week, a few hundred metres away from the Presidential party, a few dozen people demonstrated against the outcome of this ‘rescue’. It’s reported they’d tried to meet the President, but the Elysée responded that time didn’t allow a face-to-face. Things got heavy. Tear gas was fired. Meanwhile, within the new campus, the Regional President was explaining/complaining to Emmanuel Macron about the difficulty of finding candidates for vacant jobs in the area.
Then President Macron came out with: ‘Some people would do better if, instead of foutre le bordel, they went to look where they could find work’.
Could this phrase become the hyped-up linguistic equivalent of a legendary Thatcherite Brit politician (here complete with Italian subtitles)?
So what might the phrase foutre le bordel actually mean? Dictionaries describe the expression as ‘fam.’ as in ‘familiar’ … definitely not familial.
It’s actually quite difficult hearing the offending phrase: it’s here (with helpful French sub-titles) in the opening couple of minutes:
But how ‘offending’ is this foutre le bordel phrase anyway?
An (on this occasion) less-than-useful online translator reverso gives me no less than 14 examples of this phrase translated as ‘make a mess’. I also found ‘create havoc’ – with the teensiest hint of something more edgy in the translations of the individual words.
Use of the verb foutre is, to start with, confusing. The expression va te faire foutre is translated variously as ‘piss off’, ‘to hell with you’ or even ‘fuck off’. Then the noun bordel adds difficulty: it’s a ‘brothel’ and it’s also a ‘mess’, while quel bordel (which many happily use) is given as ‘What a bloody mess!’
My go-to-translator (thanks Ben) gave me ‘shit-stirring’ as a colloquial translation of The Phrase In Question. But, as he so rightly points out, it’s all to do with the national context. Difficult to imagine a British politician using an expression like that: vive la différence. With typical British hypocrisy most politicos can say the crudest things (especially The Blonde Bombshell passim – and see below) … but a swear word, oh no.
Was the President calling out those particular demonstrators for ‘shit-stirring’ rather than ‘bike-riding’? Was this but another in the line of incidents where this President who oft claimed he was a man of both the right and the left, appears (as Neumann in Le Point put it) to be rather ‘deaf in his left ear’. While Thréard in conservative Le Figaro warned against the dangers of ending up satisfying no-one at all should the President continue to try to maintain his left-right balance … emphasising that, for now, his actions were accented to right rather than left. And Le Figaro‘s Bourmaud tweeted that Macronism is ‘like cycling. It requires pedalling first with the right foot, and then with the left. Stop doing that and everything comes to a halt’. QED.
The Socialist Party emerged from its grave, tweeting that after referring to ‘people who are nothing’ and ‘layabouts’ the President ‘offends again’ with ‘shit-stirrers’. While the Socialists’ spokesperson (they really do have one) asked ‘What’s Macron’s problem with people who don’t pay the Wealth Tax?’
Shitstorm in a teacup
Spin doctors rushed to explain (or as left-leaning l’Obs put it – ‘to put out the fire’) spinning that the President
- was quoted out of context
- didn’t know he was being filmed and therefore his register of language was that used in private conversations (that was an Elysée spokesperson hyper-spinning)
- used language ‘surprising in the mouth of a President … These words, we all use them. French people use them … when at the bar even I [Government spokesperson Castaner] use them’. He went an uncomfortable tad further next day on Radio Classique saying ‘it’s possible to be cultivated and speak like the French people’
while within 24 hours the actual language Macron had used was said to be regretted.
Soon the President reacted to his own remarks. He put it all in context: journalists aren’t interested in matters like training, he’d been ‘talking about the real problems of real people, with real proposals so as to properly protect them.’
Harris Interactive conducted a near-instant online poll:
- 57% declare themselves ‘shocked’ by the way the President uses certain language
- 71% say the President’s use of crude words hinders the adoption of his ideas
- and, on the issue itself, no less than 66% say that, if a company is in difficulty, people should fight to maintain employment in their own company rather than go looking for work in another company
Not sure that sort of language endears him to anyone at all. But then ‘endearment’ is the last thing he’s after.
And what do the Brits do instead of swearing?
Well, if you’re the alleged Foreign Secretary you get stopped by the British Ambassador for offending Burmese sensibilities:
or, again, you can always claim that Sirte will be the next Dubai once ‘it clears the dead bodies away’. I’d prefer a swearword or three.
The Front National goes Back (way back) to Basics
‘The founding fathers of Europe are not Jean Monnet or Robert Schuman, but Homer and Charlemagne’ (Marine Le Pen). It’s now official that the FN have decided to drop everything about … dropping out of the Euro. Henceforward it’s back to the FN’s roots: ‘the tryptich of national identity, security and immigration’ (Soullier Le Monde).
Ex-FN N°2, Philippot, has (with 2 fellow-Patriot Euro-MPs), joined Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group. Philippot’s weekend comment on the FN: it’s now a ‘dead star’. As for his former chum (and boss) Marine Le Pen, he said that for 7 years ‘I only knew Marine, but over the last few weeks I’ve discovered Le Pen, someone I didn’t know, who has a brutal and inhuman side’. Slow learner, him.
Grogne of the week
As Le Figaro reported there is about to be a grogne sociale. Tomorrow’s ‘social discontent’ will be expressed by public servants uniting to express their opposition to the planned job losses/salary freeze/loss of sick pay. The Government will actually be faced by trade union opposition that hasn’t been so united for more than a decade. Even in Sarko’s time, we didn’t see every major public sector union out marching together proclaiming their ‘deep malaise’. Half the primary teachers will be out, hospitals will be affected, pharmacists and para-medics will be on strike and flights will be reduced by a third (much to Ryanair’s relief … someone else to blame).
Don’t be (quite) so ostentatious
Ouest France interviewed Ferrand, Parliamentary leader of the President’s La République en Marche party (the man over whom the threat of judicial action still hangs for alleged undisclosed employment of ‘friends and relations’). He explained that taxing high value houses, rather than any other sorts of wealth, was intended to get people to come and invest in France and persuade people to put their money to good use.
However, on reflection [and just possibly in response to the ‘Macron, President of The Rich’ meme] the LREM Deputies consider that the ownership of certain items does not contribute much to the ‘productive economy’. Hence the LREM will propose amendments to the Government’s budget (with the Government’s blessing):
- yachts more than 30m long should be taxed on a sliding scale from €30K – €200K pa
- super luxury cars should have an €8K extra tax
- the sale of ingots/jewels/high value art should be taxed at 11% not the current 10%