First and excerpt from an article, then an associated letter
to the editor. It appears the author is an American whom has been
infected by the snobbery:
The Michelin's Brit
The French have a special relationship with food. They compare it to
symphonies, arias and paintings. There is no French word for "grub."
The Michelin Guide, with its famous three-star rating system for
restaurants, is printed on stock known in the trade as "Bible paper." For
many French, the book is indeed a sacred text. Now, for the first time in
its 100-year history, the guide will be edited by a Briton. The French are,
"It's a scandal! The guide will lose all credibility," writes a food critic
at Le Point magazine, suddenly gripped with acid reflux. "England is the
European country where you eat least well. An Englishman will bring nothing
good," he predicts.
Letter to Editor
You are mistaken in stating that French has no equivalent for "grub." The
word tambouille, equally slang and equally unwelcome at the dinner table,
means roughly "slop" and should be familiar to anyone who has chosen ill at
a roadside creperie. You do the French a disservice in slighting their
Lecteur en anglais
Universite de Grenoble-III
Here's another one:
Linguistic Test Feeds Gallic Spirit
Millions watch nation's best French speakers
John-Thor Dahlburg, Los Angeles Times
Sunday, January 21, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle
Paris -- It was a cold but radiant weekend here, the nicest so far this
winter. The boulevards of the Right Bank were mobbed with people enticed by
post-New Year's sales. So why did hundreds choose to spend a glorious
sunk in the same red velvet seats at the Olympia music hall where audiences
have listened to the likes of Liza Minnelli and Jacques Brel? The improbable
answer is what for Americans is kid stuff: a national spelling championship.
For 15 years, host Bernard Pivot's televised linguistic brainteaser, which
aired Sunday, has been a French cultural event. Watched in hundreds of
thousands of households in this country, it is also beamed by satellite to
other French-speaking lands, from the Canadian province of Quebec to the
islands of Polynesia, and is posted on the Internet as well (at
Now spoken by only about 2 percent of the world's population, French is
under continuous threat from the English-dominated World Wide Web, Hollywood
and Madison Avenue -- or so many of the French believe. Pivot's contest has
become a modest but valued counteroffensive against these Anglo-Saxon
influences, and a reminder to the French of the riches of their own tongue.
The broadcast's sponsors, which include dictionary publisher Larousse, a
Paris bank and a government-owned TV channel, contend that it has grown into
the single most important event devoted to the French language.
Each year, Pivot, the suave and erudite emcee of France's most popular
literary talk show, concocts a text studded with grammatical pitfalls,
arcane vocabulary, humor and double-entendres. The text, known in French as
a dictee, is then read aloud, and contestants, who range from young children
do their best to transcribe it.
For an outsider, Pivot's broadcast, the "Dicos d'or," is an opportunity to
attempt to understand the singular relationship that the people of France
enjoy with their language. "The French confuse the ability to speak good
French with intelligence," a high-ranking U.S. diplomat stationed here once
As they sipped free champagne before the dictee, contestants and guests
agreed unanimously that a politician such as U.S. President-elect George W.
Bush, who has had problems saying what he means, could never be elected to
office here, whatever his other qualities.
Likewise, no French author has, like Mark Twain did, ever conjectured that a
writer's merit was inversely proportional to his ability to spell. Perhaps
only in a country where a youngster's test-taking ability can determine the
course of his entire life would grown-ups vie for the honor -- the only
tangible prizes given by Pivot are reference books -- of finishing first in
the same sort of didactic exercise they had to engage in at school.
To be present last weekend, one 15-year-old boy from Brest in the far west
of France got up at 4 a.m. to take a plane. The youngest candidate was an
11- year-old girl. An adult contestant, a retired doctor, said he had been
boning up on his vocabulary since 1987 in hopes of winning. "I read
dictionaries the way you read novels," one past laureate confessed.
"We have the feeling that the French language is living through difficult
hours," Helene Carrere d'Encausse, "perpetual secretary" of the Academie
Francaise, the bastion of linguistic purity, told winners of this year's
dictee. "When I see the efforts you are making, I say thank you. The
horizons are clearing. Thanks to people like you, I see that French is not
threatened and that the French language will live a long time in splendor."
In an interview, Carrere d'Encausse, a specialist on Russian history, said
she had made five errors in duplicating Pivot's text. Pivot confessed to
experiencing a "perverse" pleasure in devising the dictee, which took him
The treacherous test included the U.S. import "showbiz," used in French
since the mid-1950s. There was also a rare adjective of Greek origin,
"callipyge," a classical way of saying someone has a shapely derriere. Fully
61.4 percent of the 209 finalists muffed that.
Half a million French schoolchildren earlier took spelling tests to qualify
for the finals, as did more than 15,000 adults. Some cultural luminaries
also turned up to submit themselves to the final exam, including jazz
musician Claude Bolling, novelist Yves Berger and crooner Gilbert Becaud,
the warm-up act when the Olympia, the most famous music hall in Paris,
opened in 1954.
How to explain the durability of Pivot's broadcast? "It's at the limit of
the boring," said Line Avezard, who helps organize preliminaries for
schoolchildren in the rural Ardeche district, 400 miles south of Paris. "And
yet, it's watched by entire families, pen or pencil in hand."
Last weekend, Romain Santi, 13, of Vitry-sur-Oise emerged as the champion in
the youngest of six groups of finalists, with only 2 1/2 mistakes. (Such
minor errors as using an incorrect accent count as half a mistake.) Among
the adults, five turned in perfect papers.
"Magnificent," Pivot exclaimed.
On the other hand, the domestic audience for his broadcast has gone into
decline. From 2.6 million people in 1999, the audience shrank to 2.2 million
last year, about a quarter of the number who watch the French version of
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" This year, for the first time, the dictee
was taped the previous day and broadcast not in Saturday prime time but on
Sunday afternoon. Pivot said he hoped the new slot would boost family
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page D1