In 1981 I turned 21 and instead of throwing a big party I asked my parents if I could go to France on a family home stay. I was studying French at the University of Zimbabwe at the time, and my parents agreed. They must have thought it a wiser option than having all my friends over trashing the house and getting drunk, which is what we seemed to do in our youth. It wasn’t such an extravagant request as it might sound – my father worked for an airline so I got a discounted ticket and had to travel on standby. I don’t want you to think that I made outrageous demands on my parents.
It was the northern winter at the time so, fearing the European cold, I picked the most southerly destinations I could find, staying with two lovely families and in Toulon and Montpellier. I don’t know if I learnt that much French in the month that I was there. But trips of these nature force you to speak the language, and in doing so you gain some confidence, and lose your shyness and fear of making embarrassing mistakes.
I first heard one of my favourite French singers, Renaud, on that trip. He had just released an album at the time, Le Retour de Gérard Lambert, and I heard a lot of it on radio. I remember being struck by his voice – he had the sort of deep sexy male French voice that I wanted to acquire myself so I could sound sexier, and perhaps more charming. Renaud is something of a satirical street poet, the voice of the working class, of the everyday strugglers. He uses a lot of slang in his work and it can be difficult for students of French as a second language to follow. I bought the LP and when I showed it to my host family in Montpellier, they immediately asked me if they could listen to it. We sat around the record player in the lounge, they chuckled along and I had no idea what they were laughing at. My favourite track, and one of the funniest, was Mon Beauf, beauf being abbreviation for beau-frère, or brother-in-law. Basically, his sister has married a gauche idiot.
There aren’t many postings of it on YouTube; the one I have chosen below will require your patience as it has a one minute plus preamble (using the Star Wars theme), but once it gets into the song itself the pictures will give you some idea of the satire involved. This is French humour, after all.
The lyrics (“paroles” in French) to this song and many other can be found on the paroles mania website. They are too complicated to discuss in full here. But I will mention some of my favourite lines.
Le jour où les cons s’ront cuisiniers c’est lui qui préparera les sauces
The day when the idiots are chefs he is the one who will prepare the sauces
Y’a dans sa discothèque tout Richard Clayderman, Y trouve ça super chouette c’est l’Mozart du Walkman
In his record collection he has every Richard Clayderman, he finds it super cool, it’s the Mozart of the Walkman.
Quand l’soleil brillera que pour les cons, Il aura les oreilles qui chauffent
When the sun shines for the stupid idiots, he will have hot ears
This is the fun side of Renaud. But much of his music was melancholic, and he had a particular gift for capturing the hardship, hurt and heartbreak of a human existence. We will save that for another post.
- Richard Clayderman L’italienne Instrumental Piano (nobackgroundvocals.com)
- A Warm Welcome to Montpellier! (austinandkaitlin.wordpress.com)
- Montpellier (steinstudyabroad.wordpress.com)
- Steamy Montpellier (tanyaintransition.com)
- Avignon and more of Montpellier (asmallgirlsbigworld.wordpress.com)
- Goodbye, la France (maybeanadventure.wordpress.com)
- Best Day Ever! (cjawells.wordpress.com)