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A love letter to France Posted by on Jan 11, 2022 in Culture, Language, Television

The French, in my experience, uniquely love language and eloquence. A new(ish) television show – and an addition to the infamous bac! – highlight this.

Photo CC0 from Paulo Marcelo Martins www.pexels.com

Le Grand Oral

Airing for the first time in 2019, Le Grand Oral1The big recitation is a program on France2 “[qui] met en scène douze candidats [dans] un grand concours d’éloquence2that features 12 candidats in a big competition of eloquence

Lors de [l’emission] trois épreuves départagent les candidats : les solo, la demi-finale et enfin, la finale, qui désigne le gagnant du Grand oral3During the [show] three challenges separate the candidats: the solo, the semi-final, and finally, the finale, crowning the winner of the Big Recital.

The most recent edition (March 2021) was remporté par4won; carried by the young “Sébastien [qui] a pour particularité d’être croque-mort dans la vie, et a tenu un discours sur “les métiers que vous ne voulez pas voir”5Sebastian [who] has the unique job of undertaker and who delivered a speech about “the careers that you don’t want to see”. You can hear his discours via Twitter here.

What really caught my attention though was the speech below from Season 1 winner Bill François, doctorant en physique6doctoral candidate in physics entitled Ma France à moi7My France. I’m not going to transcribe the full video here, since you can follow along with the subtitles, but I will highlight a couple of passages that I found particularly clever, funny, or moving such as:

Right off the bat (at 00:18) when he quotes Victor Hugo “J’aurais aimé n’être pas français pour pouvoir te choisir ma France8I would have liked to not be French so that I could choose you, my France,
Or (at 1:22) “Le français, jamais a l’heure mais toujours râleur, te critique en permanence, c’est sa façon de t’aimer.9The French(person), never on time but always complaining, never stops criticizing you, that is their way of loving you.,
And (at 2:12) “cette façon dont tu maries l’inutile au sublime sans jamais te prendre au sérieux, ca te rend belle et c’est pour ca qu’on t’aime”,10the way that you marry the useless with the sublime without ever taking yourself seriously, makes you beautiful and its for that reason that one loves you
And (at 3:00) “tu essaies d’apporter de manière équitable, la joie au Petit Prince autant qu’aux Misérables11you try equally to bring joy to The Little Prince and to Les Misérables.

It’s just a taste and I’m afraid I’m not doing Bill justice. His choice of words, the way he juxtaposes ideas and plays with imagery can’t fully be conveyed in translation … but I hope you’ll take the time to listen and enjoy!

Le grand oral bis

As mentioned in the intro, le grand oral is also une nouvelle épreuve au baccalauréat12a new ‘challenge’/stage in the French baccalaureate. While not everyone supports the new épreuve, for the minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer “S’exprimer à l’oral, c’est quelque chose que vous avez à faire en permanence dans la vie13Expressing oneself through speech, that’s something you have to do all the time in life.

For some, the hope of the new épreuve is also that it will force students to really be prepared for the bac (and for life) and not just pass the test as a result of what has come to be known as le bachotage … cramming for the test!

Another reason to love France?

It seems that France can finally assert it’s claim to les frites … or as they have always14Ok, except for a brief and embarrassing moment when some through “Freedom fries” would be a better name! been known in the U.S. French fries.

The true national origins have been debated for years but as we roll into 2022, it’s thanks to a Belge, Pierre Leclercq, historien de la gastronomie, conférencier et membre du Centre de Gastronomie de Bruxelles15historian of gastronomy and member of the Gastronomic Center of Brussels that the French can now (re)claim their frites.

  • 1
    The big recitation
  • 2
    that features 12 candidats in a big competition of eloquence
  • 3
    During the [show] three challenges separate the candidats: the solo, the semi-final, and finally, the finale, crowning the winner of the Big Recital
  • 4
    won; carried by
  • 5
    Sebastian [who] has the unique job of undertaker and who delivered a speech about “the careers that you don’t want to see”
  • 6
    doctoral candidate in physics
  • 7
    My France
  • 8
    I would have liked to not be French so that I could choose you, my France
  • 9
    The French(person), never on time but always complaining, never stops criticizing you, that is their way of loving you.
  • 10
    the way that you marry the useless with the sublime without ever taking yourself seriously, makes you beautiful and its for that reason that one loves you
  • 11
    you try equally to bring joy to The Little Prince and to Les Misérables
  • 12
    a new ‘challenge’/stage in the French baccalaureate
  • 13
    Expressing oneself through speech, that’s something you have to do all the time in life
  • 14
    Ok, except for a brief and embarrassing moment when some through “Freedom fries” would be a better name!
  • 15
    historian of gastronomy and member of the Gastronomic Center of Brussels
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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.


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