The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Word of the Day: Ratonnade

After work at the restaurant I sometimes sit have a drink and chat with the team or the clients. I met some nice French folks the other night. I had a couple beers, and they were very generous with the champagne, so I was quite tipsy by the end. Had some good coherent discussions nonetheless. They were quite surprised to learn I did politics but was uninterested in joining a political party. The wife was quite insistent whenever she spoke about Sarko asking me if I thought he would do well and I was quite uncommitted and ambivalent, to not say skeptical, about his chances. She insisted and finally got to "...but do you believe in him?" Sarko may be the new Dieu... (I will say this, he does have a cabinet of champions)

The conversation drifted to previous, notably de Gaulle, of whom it was enlightening to hear an older client (who was alive at the time) talk about. He told us we forget how controversial de Gaulle was at the time, for his authoritarianism, for his Petain-like coup, and above all for Algeria. He even said that if de Gaulle had let the hardline generals (who led a coup in Algeria in 1961 in protest to de Gaulle's moves towards independence) have their way Algeria would have been sorted. ("Bon, il l'a pas fait.") It was controversial, he said, there were even the ratonnades in Paris.

I paused. Ratonnades? What the heck's that? Two and two together: raton is a small rat, a French racial slur to refer to Arabs, ratonnades is, yes, for a mob to attack and kill Arabs. The most famous incident was in 1961 when de Gaulle's police attacked a peaceful pro-independence demonstration in Paris. They were beaten and tossed into the Seine with between 70 and 200 dying. The crime went unpunished, was a taboo topic for 30 years, and only recently was token justice dished out to the (by then very old) police chief of the time, Maurice Papon.

I, personally, can't get over the fact there's a word for it. De Gaulle once claimed that even the Arabs of Algeria were all "des Francais a part entiere"... even Arabs in France have never been seen as French.


Anonymous kev said...

Very nice little story craigy, Good old sitting after work and having a couple of beers,never gets old. Are you still the ┬┤dishwasher guy/plongeur┬┤ or they moved you up to waiter ? =)

4:22 PM  

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