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Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Ça se laisse vivre" : my daughter, lily of the valley

This little phrase cannot be translated properly.
So... instead, I will explain the context to you.

Two hours ago, I took my 19 year old daughter to register at the local "community college", a place filled with retired people, hungry for knowledge, classes in a relaxed environment, with no tests, no papers, no "evaluation".
I encouraged her to go there, because I thought (think???) that it is a place where she can escape the merciless pressure that French society applies systematically, and in foot tons, on its population in order to force us to be "productive" (from the cradle to the grave, of course...).
"Productivity" is an IDOL word here, one that triggers Pavlovian responses in all members of society. (Of course, the French are number ONE in productivity in Europe, I think, and what good has this done "us" ? Just ensuring that MORE and MORE people get laid off, as the depression worsens, and fewer and fewer of us have to do more and more work, be more and more productive, exhausted, while the others wallow daily in enforced, debilitating (to self esteem) idleness.)
She was talking to the sewing teacher, an older woman, who promptly proceeded to ask her :
Are you a student ? (no)
Are you employed ? (no)
Dramatic pause...
Now is the instant when all of a sudden, the person you are talking to is in front of an uncharted continent : HOW CAN THIS BE ???? A young, vital, woman who is... not working, not studying, just WHAT is she ? (When you think about it, this holds true at any and every age...)
That's when the verdict falls : "Ça se laisse vivre".
It's a sign of... open, unadulterated... CONTEMPT. A judgment without any appeal.
These days, I have decided to turn the world and stand it on its ear, and I encourage my daughter to do so. (I tell her that if you work, you can turn EVERY insult into a... COMPLIMENT, and this is true. Think about it... zero sums oblige, Thai.)
As it turns out... her father and I are delighted to be able to offer her one/two years with NO SOCIAL/ACADEMIC pressure, for her to just enjoy... learning how to... BE. To be... HER. To learn how to enjoy learning, far away from the concentration camp environment that the French school system surrounds its youth with.
HERE... school has to be... WORK. The school system is a training ground for that ultimate experience, along the lines of the ideology that says "but you MUST be USEFUL to society, you must suffer and work until you drop in order to earn that filthy lucre that will enable you to put bread on your table". You MUST suffer to do this ; it MUST be difficult and unpleasant.
She will meet with much resistance here when she says who she is and what she's doing.
She is a lily of the valley : she toils not, and neither does she spin.
And that makes her elders want to shout and stamp and scream.
It's really very ugly, you know. Very very ugly.
I should point out : she NO LONGER has the starry eyed expression on her face that Thai's youngest has.
She has already seen TOO MUCH...
(My apologies if I am repeating myself...)


SS said...


As I know French I have an advantage over the others in understanding the opprobrium, dds the seamstress really say Ca se laisse vivre? Rather than Elle se laisse vivre? which would have been bad enough. Were there others in the room? Who was she talking to? The correct response could have been, "Vivre est a la portee de tout le monde," I've found these kind of repartees said with "hauteur" work in disarming the French which is why I'm less fidgety about their rudeness than I might otherwise be. It does get old, I'll admit. That was particularly vicious.

For Thai and Dink maybe one could translate as "Another welfare case?" not a literal translation but sort of captures it.


Thai said...

What a great and terrible story. Agree with SS, that is vicious!

But in the mean time if this helps your maternal fears and anger at all Deb, it sounds like she will do just fine and common wisdom is just that- common.

Education is a bubble, of that I am absolutely 100% positively sure and the internet has nailed its coffin shut forever.

... Though reading this I do not see why you say fascism is MORE a problem in the US?... unless you are saying more a problem in the US vs. what the US once knew?

Your story kind of reminds me of network theory- lattice vs. scale free networks, etc... And come to think of it a novel sort of on this topic (at least from my point of view) that I once read by Iain Pears titled The Dream of Scipio which come to think of it also takes place in Southern France.


By the way Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost is another I would squeeze on my top three all time best books list if I could add yet another; it is a historical murder mystery equivalent in some ways to Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver if you have never read it Dink.

So many subjects, so little time

Debra said...

Actually, SS, my daughter had the best response possible : she just flashed one of her beautiful, disarming smiles !!
Nothing quite like being super nice to vicious people to send them into conundrums... some wisdom from my Grandma.
You've lost me on the network theory, Thai... I know nothing about it whatsoever.
As I said in the post, the real triumph is in turning insults into compliments...

SS said...

You're right about the super nice theory I've used it on occasion myself, works great. Unfortunately I don't always have the patience.


Debra said...

Actually, I may have been wrong about the sewing teacher. MAYBE... it wasn't a judment.
Maybe it was a statement.
Who knows ? It's always best to keep an open mind, right ?

Debra said...

I have decided that I was initially RIGHT about the sewing teacher.
It's almost always best to trust your first instincts.
I only regret not having thrown out the phrase "Oh, I forgot, ARBEIT MACHT FREI".
But... was she old enough to remember the context, or educated enough to know what I referred to ???
I'll never know, now.
Now, it's just water under the bridge...

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
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  • Time Bandits