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Teaching English and Art together, putting on the GospelCafé concerts, prayer, meeting with our new French friends. It's a good life!

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Une Poule Sur Un Mur

There is a story behind this cute little figurine. Carol and I had a favorite Boulangerie/Patisserie (Bakery/Pastry shop) in Kansas City where we could order something sweet, relax and relive memories of Paris. The last time we were there I bit into the pastry du jour—and found this waiting for me. I was a bit embarrassed to call the shop's attention to it, so I pocketed it with the thought that I'd call the shop later and ask if it was of some sentimental value to anyone. It had obviously found its way into the batter by accident and made it through the fire. Unfortunately the shop didn't, because shortly thereafter it burned to the ground. We lost our getaway but kept this as a reminder of both the shop and our ties to Paris.
     A few days ago, out of curiosity, I finally translated the phrase printed on its base. 
     What you can't make out in the photo are the faint brick or block patterns behind the lettering. Very strange. Why would anyone go to the trouble of stating the obvious? Does it have some sort of cultural significance? After all the national symbol of France is a rooster. Does it matter? It certainly got my curiosity up. Even with the literal translation, courtesy of Google Translate, I was still clueless.
    Turns out it's a French nursery rhyme:
          Une poule sur un mur (A hen on a wall)
          Qui picote du pain dur (Pecking some dry bread)
          Picoti, picota (Pecky, peckay)
          Lève la queue (Raises her tail)
          Et puis s'en va. (Then goes away.)
     In France there are books (even translated into English); tapes; video games; action figures; and apparently, more of these cute little figurines, all of which are instantly recognizable and in demand by French children. There is even an upscale Parisian restaurant named Une Poule Sur Un Mur.
     We often take for granted the things that we need no explanation for. Our cultural context is a safety net we fall into unawares every day. Even our sense of humor is culturally based. Abbott & Costello's routine "Who's on First", wouldn't be nearly as funny if you'd never heard of baseball. Some of you are even now saying to yourselves, "Abbott & Costello? Who's on first?…" If so google it.
     All of us need to be reminded once in a while that there are things we take for granted. We cannot live without dealing with a certain amount of ambiguity. The question I'd like to pose, and get some feedback on is, "How ambiguous is too ambiguous?" Or stated another way, "Just how heavily do you rely on your cultural framework to maintain productivity and stay sane?"
     In France, we are going to be surrounded by things that look familiar but don't make sense. Please pray that we can navigate through the days filled with ambiguity, removed in large part from our familiar American cultural framework.


  1. I think this is working now.

  2. I think we rely on it constantly without being aware of it. One time when I was in Scotland I came home and said, "I'm pooped." My flat mates were so confused by my statement, asking if I had just proclaimed that I had pooped. I couldn't even tell them where the phrase came from or if it was something that was said throughout the United States!