The sustainability of the french people / la durabilité du peuple français

lundi 3 août 2015, à 23:59 par Berlol – Enregistrer & partager

Voici mon petit discours en anglais, prononcé à l’université la semaine dernière dans le cadre d’un programme de développement de la faculté des langues. Cinq autres collègues ont pris la parole, quatre en japonais, un autre en anglais, avec, pour la plupart, des peauharpooing d’organigrammes démontrant le bien-fondé de l’offre de cours en indonésien, chinois, anglais, allemand et espagnol.

When I was invited to this little speech, I wondered what to tell you that you do not already know. I asked myself about the gap between the teaching of the French language and courses in French for art, culture or social issues. After trying a theoretical approach and preparing a list of differences, I thought it would be more useful and more enjoyable to take an example.

During the first semester of the first year – for the beginners, I mean – there is always a lesson with a text about the holidays. The students learn vocabulary, like “les vacances”, the holidays in French, or the equivalent expressions for : “going on vacation” or “to be back from holidays”. Usually, they like the topic, mostly because it’s about traveling, going to the beach, having ice-creams with friends, and so on.
Somewhere in the textbook, the conversation is like : “Oh, you’ve been in Spain ! It’s great !”, and the other one said : “Yes, but it was only for ten days…”
After an initial surprise, students wonder if they understand the words of the sentence. And yes, in French, “Mais c’était seulement dix jours”, exactly means : “But it was only for ten days”. With a negative form « but… only », clearly implying that ten days on holiday is a short period for a French.
But it’s not the moment to explain that most of the French have five weeks of paid leave per year, because the grammar of the lesson is waiting and other words are to be explained… That’s how we do in a language course for beginners, with at least two tests per week.

The same topic will be explored very differently with third-year and fourth-year students in an art history course on French song or French cinema. Listening some very famous songs or watching some classics of the French cinema creates a totally different learning situation, involving both – and paradoxically – a personal discovery and a necessary contextualization in history and culture where the work of art was produced.

For example, in the song called La Madrague, Brigitte Bardot, in 1963, sang the following words, here translated :

“On the abandoned beach, Seashells and Shellfish
deplore the loss of the summer which have since gone away
We put the holidays away in cardboard suitcases

Though I know the flowers will bloom again next year
But I am in sorrow now to leave the sea and my house”

This means she stayed on vacation much of the summer. OK, she was THE Brigitte Bardot, who created half the reputation of the French Riviera and the city of Saint-Tropez. But here, my students have to understand that it meant something for the French in 1963. Because they were used to do the same thing for at least ten years…
Singing this song, Brigitte Bardot just expressed the thoughts and habits of French, with a touch of dream because she lived in a beautiful house while the others were camping. But the duration of the holiday was the same.
After explaining the lyrics of the song, it is necessary to show, through the internet, some other songs on the same topic, but from other periods : the seventies, the eighties, the nineties… There’s a huge number of French songs about holidays ! And many similarities with the Bardot song, which is still the second in a ranking of French songs on the same topic.

But it’s also very important to explain, socially, politically, why the French have long holidays, with, in one hand the development of the tourism started by rich English families, followed by French rich families in the second part of the nineteen century, when hotels and railways were built, and in the other hand the laws of the Front Populaire government in 1936, requiring for companies to give an annual period of paid leave for workers. This could be done with bilingual pages of Wikipedia I had checked in advance.
There are many other pieces in the puzzle but it’s a good start to help my students to understand and feel what “les vacances” means for the French.

In my seminar on French cinema, I choose sometimes movies about the holidays. It’s also a convenient media to discover the French society and culture – as it is for other cultures, of course. Many movies have a Japanese edition, with subtitles, It’s a good help.
You may know the famous Jacques Tati’s Les vacances de M. Hulot (Mister Hulot’s Holiday, Boku no ojisan no kyuuka, in 1953), impossible to summarize but easy to remember, or the 1978 L’hôtel de la plage (Holiday Hotel), with a large clientele of families coming from different parts of France, but you don’t know yet this year’s Un moment d’égarement (One Wild Moment), when two friends take their daughters on vacation in a house like… La Madrague. For these three films, as for many others, the common point is the duration of the story told, I mean the time that the holidays last : one month, and most of the time it’s August.
In each story, the thirty-days constraint, or condition, is the volume of time during which the characters are living, according to the plot, some very important events : new friends and love stories, accidents and crimes, births and deaths. The audience may be surprised by these events but by the 30 days duration. If knowing the end is one of the conditions of tragedy, most of the time, the movies are tragicomedies, not to despair spectators… and to look like their own lives, in a way.
When we watch a movie, I ask the students to bring short notes on characters, places and important events to set benchmarks in their memory and for further discussion. I also ask them to gather information on the Internet or at the library, to share after and to use for their final reports. I push students to produce their own thinking and reasoning – some skills they need to make decisions in their own lives.

As you can see, the topic of the holidays is not a joke in this July meeting, but a very serious one, among many others. Especially serious for anthropologists and economists : they show that the productivity of the French workers is one of the highest in the world. And a big part of that productivity depends on the duration of the holidays for which their grandparents fought. The holidays are very important for the sustainability of the French people. Of course, the French paradox is a result of the French History, and cannot be given as a model for other countries. But for the students, it is one of the fastest and most enjoyable ways to get into the French culture.
Thank you for listening.

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