Friday, January 27, 2006

France for beginners

I’m reading, among other things, ‘A Year in the Merde’, a present from my daughter. There’s a steady stream of French-bashing books in English these days, hardly any of them by anyone who knows anything about France – and I’m not even including the US-originating ‘why didn’t they help us kill more Iraquis after we saved their asses twice’ crap, which no thinking person takes seriously. I mean all that clichéd stuff about French food, or plumbing, or driving, or manners, or whatever.
I’ve lived in France, off and on, for more than 20 years, and think that nearly every one of the clichés, whether critical or Gene Kelly-style sycophantic, has turned out wrong, and the only criticisms I’ve found consistently to be true are – surprise surprise – those same ones that the French say about the Brits, and that everyone says about Americans: excessive and unreasoned nationalism, and arrogance.
There could be a message there. I’m not sure what it is but there’s something in the gospels about ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone'.
OK then – well - there is one thing. It’s the language. They’re funny about their language. (A French friend – a university professor in modern languages - said recently that she would never master English because it isn’t logical!)
The French will do anything to promote the increasing spread of the French language – including Presidential glad-handing of tin-pot African dictators – except for the one thing that might succeed: whish is to simplify it. Educationalists know this, but politicians, the Academie Francaise, the Conseil Superior de la Langue Francaise and the rest of the intellectual establishment will never hear of it. Their careers depend on it.
So, instead of simplifying it, they have created at least three languages: written, spoken – and young. Kids who want to ‘fastfooder chez Macdo’ (have a burger at MacDonalds) can only use such an expression to other kids.
So, while they strive to grow the language, it atrophies,
But as a crime, it’s nothing compared with fighting other people’s wars in exchange for a weekend at Camp David.

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