Thursday, January 24, 2008

La Vie C'Est Pas de Glander

A delightful article appears this morning in the blog of Le Monde's proofreaders. It explains the origin and varied uses of the verb glander, which has become a staple of the Elysian vocabulary since Fadela Amara blamed the problems of the suburbs on la glandouille, or loafing, hanging out (Americans will be reminded of William Foote Whyte's classic Street Corner Society). Of course the French word sets up interesting resonances because of its sexual connotations. Le gland is the male sex organ as well as the fruit of the oak tree. The dictionary provides a memorable example of this usage, taken from a novel by Sartre:

Latex sortit son sexe de sa braguette : − Regarde! dit-il, et tire ton chapeau : j'en ai fait six avec. − Six quoi? − Six lards. Et des beaux, t'sais, qui pesaient à chaque coup dans les vingt livres; je sais pas qui va les nourrir à présent. Mais vous nous en ferez d'autres, dit-il, tendrement penché sur son gland.

So when Sarkozy visits the fortuitously named suburb Sartrouville (!!) and tells the youths lolling about streetcorners there that "la vie, c'est pas de glander," it's as if the president of the United States were to go to Watts and tell a group of young idlers that "life is not about standing around and scratching your balls."

And how did the youths respond? One of them, apparently referring to Sarkozy, said "Oui, ça craint!" in what the proofreaders refer to as "a remarkable intransitive use of a traditionally transitive verb." Because of this and the use of the impersonal subject ça, this beautifully succinct judgment of the president and his entourage is virtually untranslatable, but one might venture this: "Yeah, they be afraid." Afraid no doubt that the exhortation to work more in order to earn more isn't going to be enough to get anyone to stop scratching his balls absent the 45,000 new jobs that Fadela Amara has pledged to create out of thin air.


Anonymous said...

Fabulous! Thanks not only for the article, but the connection to les correcteurs du Monde.

I'm so exhausted from listening to the SocGen debacle all day; this brightened my day.

Unknown said...

Yeah, well, I feel a bit guilty about not saying anything about SocGen, but basically nobody seems to know anything except that a 31-yr-old guy was allowed to put the bank on the line for 40-50 BILLION euros in bond futures, and they want us to believe that NOBODY knew about it. Sheesh. And I have to turn in receipts to get reimbursed for a $5 hamburger when I travel to give a lecture somewhere. La vie, c'est pas glander et c'est pas juste non plus.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's becoming too easy to criticize Sarkozy. For example, this French Politics blog itself over a period of months after his election often highlighted positive elements with the negative ones, often proposed that wait-and-see was the right attitude about proposed reforms.

The criticism of Sarkozy quoted on the self-sacrificing impulse in fervid religious belief is correct in the sense that it seems to neglect the capacity for self-sacrifice among seculars (among them not least many French Communists over the decades). But Sarkozy's commitment on the place of religion in society is much larger than trying to single it out as the quotation seems to do. It seems to me too broad and genuine to forget - it deserves serious observation as things go on. (including how his religious convictions may or may not fit with the Carla romance and President bling-bling.

On the Fadela Amara plan - perhaps it won't succeed very well, especially in the current economic and financial chaos (little of which is due to Sarkozy). But it seems unfair to imply that there's no serious thinking and determination in its formulation. Fadela Amara has a remarkable record in this regard.

As to the remark about la glandouille -- perhaps demagogic but perhaps useful demagogy. Once again, Fadela Amara has a record to look at (let's not even discuss Christine Boutin).

Finally, as much as I had doubts about Sarkozy parachuting in like Zorro to debate angry fisherman on the quai in Normandy and striking train workers in a Paris train station, the France 2 footage showing Sarko-Zorro debating young people in Sartrouville about jobs and job training at least shows persistence in taking risks that put his credibility and the dignity of the presidential office on the line. The general mood was that Sarkzy is blah-blah,he replied (more or less), 'you'll have the right to job training and then we'll see if you get up in the morning to go to work...'

It's of course difficult to judge from here (the U.S.) whether Sarkozy is getting any traction with these sorties sur le terrain. But undeniably it's a radically new approach to governance and presidential involvement with society. No French president has ever taken this road - nor has any president shown this energy and determination in laying his body (Foucault's 'royal body'?)on the line.

There's still time before one should be concluding that the Sarkozy era is basically a mess.

Unknown said...

I take your point about the inadvisability of ceding to the temptation to score easy points on Sarkozy. I do strive for generosity of interpretation, although I also feel it is possible to be overly generous. Cynicism is not healthy in politics, and I don't subscribe to the tous pourris thesis. Still, I find it surprising, not to say shocking, that eight months have passed since the election without significant action on suburban problems. This is arguably the most serious problem that France faces, and it deserves better than a quick visit to Sartrouville and a dog-and-pony show in Vaulx-en-Velin. Perhaps better will appear on February 8, when Sarkozy is scheduled to give us the Amara plan about which Amara appears still to be in the dark. If so, I'll be the first to applaud. But thus far I'm particularly disappointed with his approach to this policy area, where he needed to do the most repair work.

Anonymous said...

In my book "Ça craint" would translate as "This sucks."

Unknown said...

Yes, you're right--that's better.

Anonymous said...

I was also going to point out that "ça craint" means "it sucks" (and for once, French isn't the language using a sexual word).
Also, I've always thought (and still think, but am now considering that I might be wrong) that "glander" came from "glande" rather than "gland".