Lève ton verre: French Drinking Songs Posted by Josh Dougherty on Mar 17, 2015 in Culture, Geography, People, Vocabulary, Wine
Tonight, many people around the world are partaking in a bit of drinking to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The French aren’t an exception. A few weeks ago, John taught you how to toast in French. Today we’re going to learn something just as important: la chanson paillarde or la chanson à boire (drinking song).
There are quite a few, but we’re going to focus on « Il est des nôtres » (He’s one of us). I’ll post links to a few other popular ones at the bottom, though. Just as it is in English, these songs are sung to encourage drinking and are performed in groups at parties, marriages, sports events, and other gatherings. This particular song follows a set of commands. Examinons chaque vers (let’s examine each verse).
The song starts out with calling out a friend’s name and telling him to raise his glass:
|Ami(e) [person’s name], lève ton verre,||Friend [name], raise your glass,|
|Et surtout, ne le renverse pas!||But definitely don’t spill it!|
Then, the song tells you to touch your glass to certain parts of your body. The body parts mentioned vary depending on the group you’re singing with, but you’ll almost always hear the forehead, the nose, the stomach, and the crotch. The chin is a quite often included, too. Another thing worth noting is that the words used are a mix of Latin and slang — it’s not les parties du corps (the body parts) you learned in class. You might even come across varying usages of the same word. For example, you could be told to place your drink against your ventribus or your ventarium. Different words, but they mean the same thing. Can you guess the body part?
In the lyrics below, I put the 4 parts I mentioned above, but I’ve also included other parts you might hear. I’ve never heard all of these sung at once, but I suppose that could become similar to a difficult game of Jacques a dit (Simon Says) if you’re already bourré(e) (drunk).
|Et porte-le du frontibus||And put it from your forehead|
|au nasibus||to your nose|
|(au mentibus)||(to your chin)|
|au ventribus [or ventarium]||to your stomach|
|au sexibus [or pissarium]||to your crotch|
|(au pedibus)||(to your foot)|
|(au dosibus)||(to your back)|
|(au coudibs)||(to your elbow)|
|(au fessibus)||(to your butt)|
|(au goulibus)||(to your lips*)|
* This “Latin” term doesn’t mean the lips exactly but is probably referring to un goulet (a bottleneck) — assuming you’re drinking a beer directly from the bottle.
After this charade, you start drinking. While you’re doing this, everyone sings the lyrics below until you’ve finished your drink. The longer you take, the longer your personal chorus sings. It’s best to go as fast as you can. No need to be rude and make everyone sing and wait. The word they’re singing, glou, is an example of une onomatopée (onomatopoeia).
|Et glou, et glou, et glou etc.||Gulp, gulp, gulp, etc.|
Once the mission is accomplished, you’re rewarded with another verse welcoming you to the family, but it’s quickly followed up by an insult. Just like real family. Bienvenue (welcome)!
|Il (elle) est des nôtres!||(S)he’s one of us!|
|Il (elle) a bu son verre comme les autres||(S)he finished his drink like the others|
|C’est un(e) ivrogne||(S)he’s a drunkard|
|Ça se voit rien qu’à sa trogne.||You can tell just by looking at his (her) face.|
Here’s a video of a studio recording of the drinking song. When you’re singing it at gatherings, there isn’t accompanying music, so don’t get used to that.
(Everything can be a teachable moment, so I’m going to point out the word nôtre. Listen to how its pronunciation differs from notre. That accent makes a difference! The ô is similar to a long English o and sounds like the French au. The French o (sans accent) is similar to the English u in the word “but.”)
Now let’s see it in action…
French tennis player and musician Yannick Noah drank a bottle of beer at a festival and asked the audience to sing him the song. Just goes to show you that most French people know this song! You can also see that people are calling different body parts (and different terms!) out at different times, but the standard parts were all sung. They also repeat the “lève ton verre” line a few times.
Buvez avec modération, chers lecteurs (drink in moderation, dear readers), unless your goal is to se bourrer la gueule (to get wasted). If that’s the case, please be safe and do not drive home! And make sure to sing the song!
Another common drinking song is Chevaliers de la table ronde (Knights of the Round Table). This song sings specifically of wine. You can find the lyrics in the video’s description on YouTube.
Drinking songs can be regional, too. Here’s a song from Bourgogne, the heart of France. Le Ban Bourguignon is a combination of simple lyrics (la la la la la la la lalère) sung to a fixed tune while flipping your raised hands from front to back. This cultural gesture has often been called the «l’hymne de la Bourgogne» (the anthem of Burgandy) and is done for more than just drinking. Check out comedian Kev Adams being praised with le Ban Bourguignon at the end of a show.
In the south in Marseille, a local drink called pastis (an anise-flavored spirit) has its own song using the most popular brand by name: Ricard. This song is extremely popular: you can sometimes hear it sung by the whole stadium in Marseille.
(Notice his slight accent? We’ll discuss that in another post!)
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