Sunday, December 22, 2013

Reading the French Tea-leaves

( Judging from the substantial page-view response to our essay of earlier today, La plaisanterie du Président, it seems to have fallen to our lot to serve as a helpmeet in the socio-linguisto-political interpretation of France and of America, the one to the other.  Accordingly, we expand upon the linguistic aspects of that recent post, to which we refer the reader for scene-setting particulars.)

While France is absorbed in such insipid distractions as the latest entry in the palmarès of “The Wit and Wisdom of François Hollande” (which, however, next to the Tweet that Riveted the Morons of America, towers in the annals of diplomacy) -- some genuine events are unfolding in Françafrique, following in the wake of much bloodshed, and heralding more bloodshed to come:

Plusieurs milliers de musulmans, sympathisants de l'ex-rébellion Séléka, ont manifesté dimanche à Bangui contre l'opération militaire française Sangaris, après la mort le matin même de trois combattants Séléka dans un accrochage avec des soldats français lors d'une opération de désarmement.

A reader comments, calmly but ominously:

On y est, guerre de religion et les français sont les Croisés. Le djihad va être déclaré en France. Êtes-vous prêts ?

Another reader wisecracks:

Bangui? Dans quelle ville se trouve cette citée?!

And here you might desire some linguistic assistance.
Going only by your high-school French, or rust-encrusted memories of L’Etranger in college, you might be nonplussed at this:  The fellow seems to be asking, with regard to Bangui, in what town that city is.   Which would be either indicative of profound mental confusion, or else a roundabout ironic way of scoffing that Bangui is BFE (Beyond Effing Egypt, in military slang), so why get involved there;  and while the latter is indeed the consensus among Frenchmen,  e.g. (comments from the same page)

Voila pourquoi aucun président normal n'a voulu se mettre dans ce bourbier...
Sortons nous de la bas! Aucun intérêt à y rester, que des coups à prendre. Laissons ces gens la régler leur problèmes et rentrer dans l histoire à leur manière.

that is not the sense of our wiseacre’s remark, which points rather to the opposite:  Not, that the French soldats in RAC are (to resort once again to an expression familiar in the history of our own overseas armed services) “F*cked and Far from Home”, though indeed they are  that  as well, but rather, that the tense French - African face-off  far off in the jungle, is reproduced much closer to home, in the very banlieue of Paris.  For, these days, cité (as it is properly spelled) refers not to a “city” in the American sense, nor to “the City” in the London sense, but to high-rise subsidized public housing, in and around the major metropoles of France, occupied largely by Africans, and which have become  each  a world apart, and dangerous no-go zones :  reports of a hostile anti-French demonstration by thousands of Muslims, could just as easily be pulled from the local fait-divers, as from foreign headlines.

Note:   Realizing that cité might be one of those notorious faux-amis ever lurking in the semantic shadows for the undoing of the unwary American, our hypothetical ex-collegian might have reached for, say Mansion’s Shorter French and English dictionary, which for many years was the only French dictionary I owned.  There he would find, in addition to “city”,

    cité ouvrière  workmen’s garden city

Nostalgically redolent of another age!   But the contemporary translation would be:  the Projects.


Further socio-semantic   Gallic chestnuts to crack :

A consulter aussi:  Leçons de géometrie hexagonale.

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