Saved For A Rainy Day
Despite William the Conqueror invading England in 1066 we do not generally speak French, apart from using thousands of French words we inherited like “impossible” and “serviette” that invaded our mother tongue. They are pronounced as we think fit since it is not the wont of Brits to learn other folks’ languages: we expect everyone worldwide to learn ours.
Unfortunately the French have a similar attitude and are loathe to speak English to us in France, even if they’re fluent (and many French folk have a better command of our language than we northerners). They believe you should address them in their native tongue whilst on their soil and it certainly makes for an interesting and fascinating visit, and not unlike experiencing an alien planet. The holiday seems infinitely longer too.
I took French at school but was too busy reading Picturegoer magazine under the desk to pay much attention. Our master, Mr Jones, was approaching retirement age and was easily sidetracked, so that we successfully coaxed him into telling us stories about his WW1 experiences in France and teaching us French songs.
That was how we came to learn an old traditional ditty – En passant par la Lorraine avec mes sabots which tells the story of passing through the area of Lorraine wearing clogs.
In 1982 I finally went to France and stayed in one of those historical backwater Normandy towns with pretty half-timbered architecture, punctuated with pattiseries that have you salivating, set around an ancient square.
One day it was raining heavily – an opportune time to use the launderette. While waiting for the lengthy washing cycle I joined three ladies at the only table available and got out my dictionary.
The hour went by pleasantly enough as we each took turns at communicating with the aid of the book when suddenly I had a great urge to honour Mr Jones and I burst forth with a couple of verses of “En passant par la Lorraine avec mes sabots”. https://youtu.be/CotZfnKGWHM
Their immediate reaction was one of great mirth and afterwards they explained as best they could, and with much sign language and charades, that it was not unlike them singing Greensleeves for me.
Mr Jones would have been amazed, and pleased, that he hadn’t entirely wasted his time. Our efforts to communicate with the dictionary had been amusing but pathetic, so that my fluency with En passant par…….. surprised even me. It may have been over fifty years since I’d sung it out loud but it was certainly hard-wired into my long term memory – and just waiting for that rainy day.
Mike Kingdom-Hocking, who lives in France has sent me the following information about the song “En passant par la Lorraine avec mes sabots”
Cette magnifique chanson a été créé lorsque les armées françaises du roi Henri II sont entrées à Verdun en 1552, ville qui appartenait à l’époque à l’empire germanique !! Depuis cette date, Verdun est une ville française et elle le sera définitivement avec le traité de Westphalie en 1648.
This song was written at the time the armies of French King Henri II entered Verdun in 1552. At that time, the city was part of the German Empire, but was taken by the French. It did not formally become part of France until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.
Here’s an introduction to Mike………
– used to blog about France
– now writes e-books and paperbacks published on Amazon, under the name Grandpa Mike.
– lives ‘a bit to the left of the middle’ of France, south of Limoges.