14 May 2010

The Maîtresse Speaks

Filed under: Culture, Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 8:58 am

When Kenzie was in the CM2 (which corresponds to the fifth grade in American schools and something else altogether in Britain), the survey of French history of course included the Middle Ages. Her teacher, Madame Brivet, explained feudalism in terms of an analogy that all the children could understand:

Medieval France was organized like our school. The Directrice is the Queen; we teachers are the Priests; your parents are the Lords. You, students, are the peasants. It does not matter how clever you are, how hard you work, how far you advance in your studies, how old you get. You will always be a peasant, and you can never hope to become anything above a peasant.



  1. Heh, heh. Iz dis not what zey call ze famous French wit?


    Comment by NB — 21 May 2010 @ 6:36 am

  2. Apparently it was received as wit by those students who weren’t afraid of Mme. Brivet, who comprised at least half the class. When some boy in her class answered a question incorrectly or did something foolish, Mme. Brivet would announce, in English (perhaps for Kenzie’s amusement), “stupid boy!” I may have mentioned this before, but Mme. Brivet told her class that the French do not celebrate Halloween because it’s a ritual invented by the Irish to ward off death, whereas “we French are not afraid of death.” She was quite a character. When we came back to the States for the summer we rented Truffaut’s 400 Blows. Kenzie was psyched: “It’s just like my school!” That gave us pause.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 May 2010 @ 8:26 am

  3. “When we came back to the States for the summer we rented Truffaut’s 400 Blows. Kenzie was psyched: “It’s just like my school!” That gave us pause.”

    They do love their masters, those Frenchies. I remember that Halloween quote. I’m afraid of death. Bet Mme Brivet is too in the hour of the wolf when the classroom is far away. Unless of course she and her class believes that there’s a fate worse than death; ie Mme Brivet’s class.

    Saw Chris Morris’s Four Lions yesterday, the comedy based on the London Tube bombers. Very good. These guys aren’t afraid of death – and what poor old wallies they are too. Check it out, if you can.


    Comment by NB — 21 May 2010 @ 8:41 am

    • They do love their masters, those Frenchies.

      Maybe, but that’s because they do tend to want technical excellence in all fields, and it does show. The English could heed this without losing any of their national charm, as, by comparison, things do have something of a slack maintenance. All great cultures ‘love their masters’, but I was just attaching your phrase to what is much more obvious: the Germans, and their love of masters. In mildly defending herself, although never feeling the need to strongly (even if she should have) Leni Riefenstahl talked about this in that bio ‘The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl’ (one of the stupidest titles I’ve ever run across, as if the makers had to apologize to their audience) as why the Germans would so easily follow Hitler. There’s also ‘Maadchen in Uniform’, but that’s surely another matter.

      Is that really an Irish ritual, Halloween? I do like the proclamation that ‘we French are not afraid of death’, it’s of no importance it’s bullshit, it shows real pluck. What a bitch! She sounds great. I think that may be an example of your ‘French sense of humour’, much like Mistral’s aunt, who claimed to have known ‘witch cats’ in your girlhood in Provence, and had once stroked one, who said to her ‘Vous avez touche Robert’. I was so inspired by this, that I named my cat ‘Robert’ for 2 or 3 years: She was also known as ‘Doglingual’, ‘Psyche’, and in her declining years ‘Mrs. Edwards’…although that tends to get more into your ‘English-eccentric sense of humour’, as when Beatrix Potter buried the real Peter Rabbit, and said ‘Throughout the years, he’d remained a warm and quiet friend’. Before Mrs. Edwards died, I wrote one of my old aunts this line without telling her I’d plagiarized it, and she knew instantly where it had come from!


      Comment by Anonymous — 21 May 2010 @ 9:40 am

  4. “Maybe, but that’s because they do tend to want technical excellence in all fields, and it does show. The English could heed this without losing any of their national charm, as, by comparison, things do have something of a slack maintenance.”

    This is true. Excellence is fairly reviled here, especially these days. Only quite recently do I think that Britain has become anti-intellecutual. Years ago, Bertrand Russell was a public figure. What ever people thought of him, he was that at least. The UK has moved from being non-intellectual (as opposed the the high profile of intellectuals in France, however pantomimic it may be these days) to seriously anti-intellectual. University is for creating useful graduates for business.

    I think Mme Brivet sounds great too. And I would have loved to have done some good old fashioned French/English-baiting with her!

    Also: her “stupid boy!” comment may have been an oblique and affectionate reference to a famous British sitcom Dad’s Army, in which the absurd Captain Mannering constantly, fatherly, calls Sergeant Pike “Stupid boy!” Chris Morris has compared the suicide bombers in his film to Dad’s Army.


    Comment by NB — 21 May 2010 @ 9:50 am

  5. Kenzie liked Mme. Brivet as well. She was the sort of teacher who prompted the horrified American moms to save their precious blooming flowers from their immersion in the French school and to place them gently into the safe harbor of the international school. The kids referred to Mme. Brivet as Mme. Brevet, the brevet being the exam all French kids take at the end of collège, sorting the smart ones onto the university-prep track for lycée while the stupid boys and girls were consigned to the tech track. It’s certainly possible that Mme. Brivet learned “stupid boy” from an English TV publicité, since it seemed to be one of the few English phrases she knew. Only the directrice spoke English at that school: she and Brivet were thick as thieves; we referred to her as Mme. Trunchbull, from Roald Dahl’s Matilda.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 May 2010 @ 11:49 am

  6. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/10/ipad-revolution/?page=1

    This is off-topic for most of your recent posts, so i’ll just be brief here, and say it’s definitely worth reading as this new boom in bookreaders begins to explode, which it seems to be doing. Reading newspapers and parts of magazines is one thing (although the bookreaders are different from just reading NYTimes on the net), but eBooks won’t interest me personally for some time, if ever (I still like vhs if i can get usable copies, for example, and I don’t do it to be ‘quaint’). I am only gradually making my way through Shelley’s ‘Prometheus Unbound’ because the library doesn’t have a circulating copy and I don’t want to pay. I don’t enjoy doing it, and wouldn’t want to read a screen for a long play-poem like that even if it were one of the ‘gorgeous formats’.

    I think you’ll find this fascinating, even though there are some nerdy parts doing detailed comparisons of the different bookreaders that dont’ much interest me, but reading habits of Americans, for example, and Steve Jobs’s miscalculations of these are all interesting in a general way, even if you don’t ever intend to download either free or for-pay books.


    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 27 May 2010 @ 11:25 am

    • It looks like Jobs had a very quick change of heart about reading. I’ve seen a Kindle, never an IPad or any of these other devices. The e-book is relevant to Carl’s latest post, in which he suggests purging libraries of old books and keeping just the electronic versions. Apparently this model is becoming popular in 3rd-world libraries, where actually transporting and storing physical books is cost-prohibitive.

      Like you, I’ve become a major patron of libraries, especially with interlibrary capabilities expanding the range of available titles. Most books I don’t really care about owning, since I rarely read them twice, and actually gave away about half of my books before moving to France. I keep the excellent novels and some nonfiction that I think I might refer to again someday. The artificially high price for downloading books, movies, and music suggests some other model of pricing would make sense for these sorts of cultural products.


      Comment by ktismatics — 27 May 2010 @ 2:44 pm

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