Supermarket French, Chanson French, and Arabic in repose

The French of Anna Sam and that of Juliette Gréco could hardly be more different.

The French of Gréco (pictured) is moody and melodramatic, as befits this veteran chanteuse. Her pitch swoops to low octave depths and her Rs rrrrroll,  as she sings of love, betrayal and Paris. The songs sound like personal confessions, but most are not:  she became famous by singing the poems and lyrics of Raymond Queneau, Jacques Prévert and others. Now in her 80s, Gréco is bringing her über-Frenchness to a London stage.

Anna Sam records the mendacious and the mundane that she overhears at the supermarket checkout.

Sam recently retired after eight years working as a hôtesse de caisse (cash till hostess) — that was her official title. Less officially, she was a beepeuse (a woman who beeps).  She was doing it to bankroll her university degree in French literature — not that the customers knew, or would have cared.

Anna Sam overhead humanity at its meanest and most idiotic. Couples surreptitiously kissing in the frozen food section, or having sex next to the detergents. People so umbilically attached to their mobile phones that that they didn’t stop to say “please” or “thank you.” Mothers telling their children: “If you don’t work hard at school, you’ll end up a like that lady behind the counter.” And when she clocked off and went home, Sam couldn’t stop hearing the beep…beep…beep of the scanner. She recorded her observations in a blog, which became a book, Les Tribulations d’une Caissière (translated into several languages including English).  Her fame may yet spread, with talk of a movie.

Also in the pod, the UN Security Council resolution that got lost in translation. Resolution 242. is one of the Security Council’s most famous documents, the so-called land-for-peace concept in the Middle East. The French and English versions don’t quite say the same thing. The result? Confusion and conflict, with no end in sight. Not a good advertisement for translation or multilingualism.

And to round things off, we hear from the founders of Meena, an Arabic-English bilingual poetry journal, out of the U.S. port of New Orleans and the Egyptian port of Alexandria. (Meena means port of entry). Arabic never did sound so sweet.

Listen in iTunes or here.


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7 responses to “Supermarket French, Chanson French, and Arabic in repose

  1. Christian Escobar

    Anna Sam has become famous not by just singing, but by putting emotion and drive into her music. In English, French or Arabic, its how she projects herself to an audience that captivates them and makes them feel apart of her music. No matter in what language she decided to sing, her music will be phenomenal because of her and her hard-work.

  2. Channa Heam

    I really liked the quote from the 83 year old singer – Juliette Greco “today’s culture is a poor child, and a little bit hungry”. Having seen the Paris cafe culture for over 60 years, I’m sure she has a lot of stories to tell. I don’t think we have anything quite like this in America. In my home country of Cambodia, the only gathering place I can think of is the marketplace. The exchange in the market is more of general gossip rather than art and music that Ms. Greco describes. Watercooler talk about the latest installment of “Mad Men” or whatever the current hot TV drama doesn’t seem to compare to French lyrics layered over imported American Jazz.

    What a contrast there is from the cafe scene and the earlier story about the French Cashier. While working at my college job, I too have noticed how customer service representatives become invisible when people are on their cell phones. It is sad that this kind of disrespect for others is common even in France – a country so famous for class and culture.

    NVCC Intercultural Communications Class Student – Channa Heam

  3. Abiel Nugusse

    this story further more proves the old saying “dont judge a book by its cover”. this a greater proof that people should take more time out of their busy schedules to speak with strangers and especially older folks because they always happen to have the most interesting stories of there experience.

    the only bad thing about this is that when anything poetic is translated into another language it loses its meaning and its poetic zeal. poetry in any form is mainly about delivery and word structur. when poetry is translated it sometimes loses its meaning and its strenght. hopefully she has found a way to keep to translate with out losing the message

  4. Uyen Phung

    It’s interesting to see how someone’s words can really affect you and perhaps change your life. After hearing the words of a mother to her child about how you don’t want to grow up and be a checkout person in a grocery store for the rest of your life, Anna Sam took it for granted and went out and wrote a best-selling novel about it. Working at a supermarket for eight years and then suddenly you become a best-selling author – it’s kind of shocking but in a good way. I hear those types of things everyday really… parents always telling their children, “do good in school or else you wind up working at McDonalds. That sort of thing can really change someone’s life for the better, just like Anna Sam.

    As for Greco, I’m surprised she’s still able to sing as beautifully as she did before. I guess age really doesn’t make a difference or as people put it, “don’t judge based on looks.”

    NVCC student.

  5. Lauren Cruz

    I’m another Northern Virginia Community College student taking a Intercultural Communications class. This podcast caught my eye because I studied French in high school and have just recently started studying it again in college. It’s a beautiful language with so much culture and history behind, much like any other foreign language. That saying “lost in translation” could not be any truer. We lose so much of the real meaning behind when we translate languages which is very unfortunate. Lost in translation also holds true for differences in communication styles among cultures. Sometimes we really have no idea how our communication is affected between cultures and we miss out on successful exchanges. In terms of Anna Sam, it is truly disheartening to hear people make nasty assumptions about you. I used to work at an upscale restaurant in DC as a hostess and I can’t even begin to explain how many people made rude comments along the same lines to me. It’s also the same way when you tell someone that you are a student at a community college, they automatically categorize you into a lesser ranking. That is one serious problem that is occurring far too often in the world today, too many people make assumptions/stereotype when they feel someone or something is below them. I think it’s fantastic that Juliette Greco has taken her singing career as far as she has. It’s a wonderful way to spread culture, and the power of language among others.

  6. Mai Huynh

    This pod cast gives me a lot of thought. The first part of the show is about bilingual. It reminds me about myself and many of my friends who are international students. It is so wonderful for us to have a chance to be here to study our careers and learn the language. We learn and discover many things, but it is challenging for us a lot whenever we have to write some essays. Sometimes, we cannot find what that word means in our language or we don’t know how to express our ideas correctly. I really feel bad for Anna Sam because I usually hear the same thing from my friend who works as a waitress. She had to say thank you many times a day, and some customers were so mean to her sometimes, but it was just a small problem. She likes the job because she thinks the same thing as Anna Sam thinks. Meeting with people is important. Meeting with people and having a little talk will make our lives become better. I really like the 83 year old singer. Her voice is so sweet. What make her become so famous? They are not the language or the music she sings. It is about herself. The importance is that she really loves her job and her culture. Those things really make who she is.
    NVCC Intercultural Communications class student- Mai Huynh.

  7. Michele Chounlamountry

    As a student working in a field providing customer service, I can relate to the story about how customer service is disregarded while people are on their cell phones. One is always told to do their best; to work hard; do well in school or else they would end up working in a fast food restaurant or even a grocery store for the rest of their life. Many by choice would not choose that option. Anna, for example worked in a grocery store for eight years then changed her life around and went out, wrote a book, and then became a best-selling author. It’s remarkable how one’s words and actions can have an impact on another persons life.

    NVCC communications student .

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