The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fellah:
But more upon the just because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.
This daft ditty came into my head as a sudden shower threatened to stop our concreting efforts in the yard – we’re nearly ready to show you the final result – watch this space. And I thought – ‘If you, dear English reader of my blog, had been here with us, whether you know that verse or not, you’d probably have come up with some doggerel of your own – a nursery rhyme perhaps’:
Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain.
He stepped in a puddle
Right up to his middle,
And never went there again.
And then I realised that if instead you’d been with me, dear French reader, I wouldn’t have been talking about ‘just and unjust fellahs’ at all: lost in translation doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’m finding that more and more, I’m missing that shared cultural experience. By culture, I don’t mean the literature, the art and so on. To an extent you can mug up your Molière, get up to date with Gavalda.
I mean the shared heritage we all grow up with from childhood. In France I don’t know the equivalent of that whole children’s choosing routine that involves ‘one potato, two potato, three potato, four…..’, or ‘ip dip dip, my little ship, sailing on the water, like a cup and saucer…..’
Anyone in the UK, I guess, would immediately understand ‘I speak English. I learn it from a book’. That’s Manuel in Fawlty Towers. Astonishingly, a French woman actually said that to me last week. How could I have explained, if I’d given in to the almost uncontainable urge to burst out laughing?
Then there are all those people we feel we almost know, but who are probably unknown abroad. Anne Widdecombe and other politicians like her have gone from Scourge of The Left to National Treasure in the blink of an eye. In France, who cares? People like me rely on the likes of Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson to come up with new ideas for Thursday’s meal. Who does the job in France?
I’ve not heard programmes like ‘The News Quiz’ on French radio. It would be lost on me if I had. But then I can read ‘Private Eye’ with some enjoyment and comprehension. ‘Le Canard Enchainé’? Not a chance
Mine is the popular culture of an already bygone age. I know cream’s ‘naughty but nice’, and that ‘life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’ (it isn’t), but in the right company, I understand and am understood. Of course I’m not really complaining that I can’t go round France talking in clichés. What I do mind is that here, I don’t recognise the allusions that I do hear, and I certainly can’t make them myself. It’ll simply have to remain a closed book (or switched off TV).