Cultural references

Do I feel French or English, and how does this impact on my work? It’s a question I find difficult, because I know both cultures intimately and feel comfortable in both countries. As a matter of fact, I’ve lived here so long that I often feel closer to England, particularly because of my knowledge of popular culture; when I go back to France, it can be bewildering to see all the new faces on the television. However, this weekend for a good five minutes, I felt extremely French.
I was having lunch a local French-owned café on Saturday when I suddenly realised that they were playing the song “Laissez-moi danser” by Dalida. I looked up and was almost surprised to not be able to share a smile with any other customer; Dalida used to be very popular in France in the 60s and 70s, becoming one of those characters who leave their mark on a country’s musical history, like Claude François. Although by the time I was old enough to enjoy music, she was decidedly uncool among my generation, her songs are extremely familiar to me and I found myself happily humming along.
Discussing the song with my friends in the cafe made me think about the cultural references that we all take for granted. I sometimes find myself disengaged from friends’ conversations about old TV programmes, children’s sweets or singers who never made it outside of the UK.
While I am still very much in touch with what goes on in France, I now know current English cultural and political life so much better. I think I’m a much better translator for having lived in the UK for so long, because I really am able to grasp every nuance of an English document, which would be more difficult if I only limited my knowledge of this country to short visits. I think the things I miss out on in France are entirely superficial, and mainly related to the ephemeral popular culture. My main concern is to prevent English from contaminating my French.
So, French or English? I’d say a happy mix of both cultures. In fact, after my croque-monsieur on Saturday, the urge to have a cup of tea was too strong to resist. And it was lovely.

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:21+00:00 February 28th, 2005|Freelance Translation|9 Comments

About the Author:

Celine
I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.

9 Comments

  1. Andréas March 1, 2005 at 12:47 pm

    My situation is less common. Although I grew up and was educated in London, I was also brought up to be proud of my roots (Cyprus) and then in 2002 I relocated to Paris.
    Like you, I also feel particularly left out when people who grew up in France talk about things that they take for granted – the cultural references.
    I have learnt a great deal though by living here and being curious, asking around. For example, I learnt all about Claude François when the film Podium came out. At first, I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. (And, I still haven’t got over the fact that Sinatra’s My Way was not by Sinatra.)
    Another example: recently the theme of the music programme ‘Plus Vite Que La Musique’ was kitsch and Dalida was near the top of the ‘kitsch list’, along with Claude Francois and another guy whose name I forget but who had a big hit with La Jolie Poupée (do you remember?).
    I think I’m starting to ramble. In fact all I want to say is that , without a doubt, intimacy with different cultures is a real advantage for translators.

  2. céline March 1, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    If I remember Jolie Poupée ? What self-respecting French person could ever forget that legendary piece of music?! Bernard Menez (who died very recently) rightly deserves to be on top of that list with Dalida and Claude François. What a trio!

  3. Jim March 11, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    If I remember Jolie Poupée ?
    Oh please Céline, tell me this translationese is deliberate…
    My face aches from laughing.

  4. Jim March 14, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    OOpss…in another comment thread I denied commenting on “Jolie Poupée” and here I did it!
    Well, my comment really was aimed at the “if…”. You can’t form a question of this sort on analogy with the french “si je…”: it’s a “transfer effect” common among French speakers and Spanish speakers too. The English equivalent question would just be a light verb/do question: “Do I…” with a kind of implied “are you kidding?” at the end.

  5. céline March 14, 2005 at 6:49 pm

    I seeeee… Thanks for the explanation, I won’t say it any more! At least it made you laugh 🙂

  6. charles April 12, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    Guys i see where celine is coming from even though it’s hard not to focus on her translationese as jim puts it…
    as a French myself i will probably end up writing in a similar odd way so pls forgive me.
    i am a huge fan of claude francois’s and i very much regret that most of his lyrics or the reasons why he is so great are something i cannot share with my english friends.
    i am only 25 but start to feel that the good old days are gone forever and that never again on this earth will there be a place where dalida and cloclo are revered as they deserve… i feel so old and sad… and pathetic!!!
    diversity in languages and cultures are always said to be a great thing and i do agree with that devoting a great deal of my free time to the learning of languages and travelling but it is also very frustrating not to be able to fully share the things you feel passionate about with friends you otherwise feel really share your interests when not connected to cultural background + references.
    whenever i watch an old program here and my flatmates tell me how great they find that man in his awful 70s clothes talking things that are only mildly funny, i just dont get it but always try to think that that guy might be the local equivalent of this or that singer or comedian i used to so much admire back in france.
    it puts all your feelings in perspective. in the end u notice that this all has more to do with the fact that u have been exposed to faces and voices and names during your childhood and that seems to be the great thing about them rather than what the people behind them are really worth…
    life seems to be designed to make you crave for those great moments where you now feel history was being made and you just could not grasp it.
    re: podium, i would hope this film would be shown here and subtitled, do u know if it has?

  7. céline April 12, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    Hmmm I feel vaguely offended by the “translationese” comment… I don’t feel like I’m translating from French into English when I’m writing/speaking English. English is my second language and as such, I think I deserve some tolerance for the occasional mistake or clumsy turn of phrase.

  8. charles April 15, 2005 at 10:52 am

    i see, sorry for that

  9. charles April 15, 2005 at 11:03 am

    i see, sorry for that, i did not mean it in a bad way but realise it sounds harsh.
    no offense but being a french myself i notice among your phrases quite a few that sound like french translated, even though they would be used by native speakers as well. what i am saying is that when i read a text written by a native speaker, i sometimes find some phrases that would be expressed in the same way in French, in your texts i find a bit more than average.
    i guess that english people would probably not spot that, but let me take examples in ur first post:
    “I looked up and was almost surprised to not be able to share a smile with any other customer”
    “…becoming one of those characters who leave their mark on a country’s musical history”
    “would be more difficult if I only limited my knowledge of this country to short visits”
    or after the “if” phrase:
    “What self-respecting French person could ever forget that legendary piece of music?! Bernard Menez (who died very recently) rightly deserves to be on top of that list with Dalida and Claude François. What a trio!”
    Now this all sounds very French to me even though i am not saying it is not proper English.
    Which does not mean that your english is translationese, i was wrong to say that, it sounds excellent to me as far as i can judge, but again i would be foolish to compliment you on that, not being a native speaker myself.

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