French Politics: Mixed-up Meanings, Metaphors and Minds

From the Mouths of Babes (or Their Husbands)...

October 28, 2015By David JaggardC'est Ironique!
Logically, since this article is about something he said, a photo of Nicolas Sarkozy should go here. But I just don’t like to look at him, so here’s a picture of a cat.

Even though he hasn’t held public office for more than three years, former President Nicolas Sarkozy still looms large on the political scene in France. This is due to the legacy of his administration, his ongoing leadership of the center-right Les Républicains (LR) party and, most importantly, his proclivity for expressing himself in sentences like this:

“I would like to say that we have received a kick in the rear, but even if you want to overturn the table you shouldn’t get out of the car for which you refrain from selecting the driver.”

This is an actual quote (translated as accurately as I could) (but whoa!) from a speech that he made in Limoges on October 14 of this year. The occasion was a rally organized to drive up support for a local LR candidate. And, apparently, to drive any simultaneous interpreters on duty around the bend.

Of course, this is the same person whose most famous previous quotes are “Bug off, a**hole!” (already discussed in C’est Ironique two years ago) and “Hey guys! I’m having sex with Carla Bruni! Really! No, really!!”

But back to Sarkozy’s aching rear. An article in the French newspaper Libération attempts to analyze what the ex-and-if-he-gets-his-way-future chief executive was trying, and failing, to say. Essentially the sentence was meant as a rebuke to LR party members who have been voting for the extreme right National Front.

The breakdown goes something like this:

• “Overturning the table” refers to the desire of some LR backers to adopt different policies — in this case, those of a more rightish, and in fact downright reactionary, party.

• The “kick” where the soleil don’t shine is the message to LR of the defectors’ dissatisfaction.

• And the “car” represents the country, with the “driver” signifying, of course, the president. The fact that, in practice, the president always has a chauffeur doesn’t seem to enter into the logic here.

Therefore, to “get out of the car” and “refrain from selecting the driver” are to spurn one’s usual party and vote for a smaller party with little chance of winning, providing a boost for the other big party, the Socialists, who won the presidency in 2012. And then balanced things out by making François Hollande the least popular president in the history of the republic. But that’s a different breakdown.

In other words, in plain Earthling language, what Sarkozy meant was, “We got the message, but people should not waste their votes simply because they want some policy changes.”

The Libération article goes on to report that Sarkozy is very fond of the “overturning the table” image, and has used it in multiple speeches over the years. My guess is that he saw A Streetcar Named Desire as a child and it made a deep impression.

So kick = message, table = policies and car = country. Wading through this made me wonder: what if Sarkozy uses all of those metaphors all the time? And what if, instead of being President of France from 2007 to 2012, he had been a different public figure at a different point in history?

In that case, some of the world’s most famous quotes might not have been quite so memorable (or comprehensible)…

Berlin, 1987:
Mister Gorbachev, tear this leaf out of your table!

Washington, D.C., 1961:
Ask not whether the car can drop you off somewhere. Ask when you can come over to wash the car. And maybe a wax job too, while you’re at it.

India, ca. 1940 (attributed):
You must be the table that you want to see overturned in the… What do you call those big trucks that carry lots of cars? Car haulers? Okay — that you want to see in the car hauler.

Washington, D.C., 1933:
The only kick to our rear we have to fear is… our rear itself. Oops — I mean fear.

China, 1927:
A revolution is a dinner party. But on an upside-down table.

Washington, D.C., 1901:
Wear soft-toed shoes and carry a big stick shift.

The floor of the Illinois Legislature, 1858:
A table flipped over on top of itself cannot stand. Honest!

Versailles, 1697:
I am the carriage. You know — the big, gilded one with lots of horses. That one.

Rome, 44 BCE:
Friends, Romans, chariotmen, bend over!

I realize that these spoofs may prove offensive to LR supporters. But, as Sarkozy himself would probably say, if you want to make an omelet you shouldn’t get out of the hot kitchen for which you refrain from selecting too many cooks.

Or something like that.

Note: In compliance with the principle of right of reply, I contacted LR headquarters to ask if they wanted to respond in kind. They have requested that I include one more “Sarkozy in history” line:

Washington, D.C., 1998:
I did have sexual relations with that woman. Really!


© 2015 Paris Update


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