Sunday, 24 February 2008

Unpresidential behaviour from Sarkozy

Monsieur le Président has been behaving badly. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, was caught swearing on camera yesterday morning. He visited an agricultural fair, and had a bit of a tiff with someone, as you can see from this footage, courtesy of Le Parisien.

He turns up and starts doing exactly what you'd expect a President to do: walking up and down, saying bonjour, shaking hands. Then, somebody heckles him:

Heckler: Ah non, touche moi pas ...
Sarkozy: Casse-toi alors!
Heckler: ... tu me salis!
Sarkozy: Casse-toi alors, pauvre con!

The heckler is shouting "No, don't touch me, you'll dirty me!" The BBC rather generously translates Sarkozy's resonse as "Get lost then you bloody idiot, just get lost!"

My Collins-Robert French Dictionary has a neat little labelling system for French slang words, to help English speakers avoid causing offence (well - more offence than they cause anyway, simply by daring to set foot in France whilst in possession of a UK passport):

* means that whilst it isn't standard French, and not acceptable for essays or formal letters, it's "used by all educated speakers in a relaxed situation".

** means a word should be "handled with extreme care" unless you're totally sure of the company you're in.

*** means "Danger!" - "liable to offend in any situation" - "to be avoided".

"Casse-toi" gets two asterisks, which probably puts it on about the same level as "sod off" in English. "Pauvre con" gets three asterisks, and I suspect the translation "bloody idiot" doesn't quite do it justice.

However you choose to translate the outburst, it really isn't very dignified behaviour for someone who, as Head of State, is supposed to represent his country to the world. You really couldn't imagine the Queen telling anyone to sod off in public, still less call them a - well, whatever translation you've settled on for "pauvre con".

More to the point, it's surprising that somebody could spend as long in politics as Sarkozy has done without learning how to deal with hecklers. He was elected to the Assemblée nationale in his early thirties, and held a number of cabinet posts, including minister for the interior and finance minister. By the time he ran for President, you'd expect he'd have had to deal with a lot of troublemakers, especially in a country with such a colourful and highly polarised political scene as France. Surely the best and most dignified strategy is to ignore them?

UPDATE: I spoke to my language tutor, a native French speaker, about this. She reckons that "pauvre con" is on about the same level as "f***ing idiot". Apparently, putting the "pauvre" in front of it makes it about ten times worse. That's the subtleties of the French language for you.

6 comments:

Jack Yan said...

I am not a Frenchman but I understand pauvre con can mean a wide range of things from dumb bastard to stupid c*** with the censored word relating to the female anatomy.

Jonny Wright said...

Yes, this is part of the problem. "Con" can mean the c-word under certain circumstances, but it can also be milder than that. My French course at university hasn't, so far, taught me how to tell the difference, although I've done quite a lot of Racine and Voltaire ...

hastalavistavista said...

I think it's refreshing when a head of state makes no pretence to be anything other than a human being with all attaching foibles, like the rest of us. Cavorting with glamorous models, swearing at random strangers in the street ... it's all a far cry from our own head of state. The Queen is such a slave to public expectations about "regal behaviour" that she can only speak in euphemisms. It would be bad form to just come out and say "B**** me, cock, I've had a s***y year!" She can't bring herself to express herself in English at all and escapes to "annus horribilis", a phrase the majority of her subjects can readily relate to.

Jonny Wright said...

What would have been wrong with the phrase "horrible year"?

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