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This article from The Telegraph (June 22, 2018) mentions that Emmanuel Macron called the teenager who was not respectful an "idiot"; emphasis is mine:

President Emmanuel Macron is facing criticism for giving a public dressing down to a teenager who cheekily called him “Manu”after it emerged the boy is hiding at home to avoid mockery at school.

Mr Macron reprimanded the boy on television this week after he shouted 'You all right, Manu?' as the 40-year-old mingled with the crowd at Mont Valérien fort near Paris.

A clip of the incident, in which Mr Macron called the boy an “idiot” and said he should call him “Monsieur” (Sir) or “Monsieur le Président” (Mr President), went viral online after the French leader posted it on his Twitter account.

I watched the clip, but it doesn't seem like he called the boy an idiot. Is there another clip? Why did they say Macron called the teenager an "idiot"?

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    Can you give a link to the video? Preferably one that M. Macron can't delete. – Nate Eldredge Jun 25 '18 at 15:16
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    In my experience, if a source is too lazy to indicate that what they denote with quotation marks is not a quote but rather their translation, you should be extremely skeptical about that translation. – thunderblaster Jun 25 '18 at 17:00
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    This really looks much more like a question about the accuracy of a certain translation, which is not exactly something we're good at here. – Mad Scientist Jun 25 '18 at 21:08
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    @thunderblaster: Be aware that some journalists use single-quotations for paraphrase, and double-quotations for transcriptions. – Oddthinking Jun 26 '18 at 0:09
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    @Taladris: The article says that Macron tweeted the video. The link in the tweet might go to a copy of the video that he controls (on his own site, uploaded from his YouTube account, etc) and could delete. He might also delete the tweet itself. – Nate Eldredge Jun 27 '18 at 13:17
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To summarise up front, he used the word imbécile which is more or less like "idiot", but he used it as an element of an idiomatic figurative phrase which means "you can play-act someone who doesn't care or doesn't know better" or "in a remarkably (and in this case inappropriately) juvenile way" -- not saying that "you 'are' an idiot", saying "you can 'play' an idiot".

In my opinion, this is different for three reasons:

  • It's literally different -- using the verb faire (Tu peux faire l'imbécile) instead of être (Tu peux être imbécile)
  • It means something different -- e.g. to 'be' an idiot is permanent and not a matter of choice, to 'play-act' was temporary (maybe even comic in the right circumstance)
  • In any language I've been told that it's better if a teacher criticises behaviour than criticises the person -- better to say for example "that was naughty behaviour (which you needn't perpetuate)", rather than "you are a naughty boy". And it's better to make constructive criticism.

Faire l'imbécile is a specific phrase:

s'amuser de façon espiègle, folâtrer

It's literally to "make (like) an idiot" or to act out -- he's not saying that the boy is an idiot -- he is accusing him of fooling around, perhaps of mockery.

Given the Chant des Partisans I take it that the occasion was a World War Two memorial, to honour and remember those who resisted and were killed -- and that M. Macron was there to represent the French State's honouring the fallen -- not a political occasion.

I understand (having attended similar ceremonies) why he might be prickly about it. I don't think he was especially prickly, more pedagogic. The boy's calling him "Manu" stuck out like sore thumb, and it's so informal that it's, in my opinion, obviously intended to be disrespectful, or at best inviting M. Macron to share the joke.1

Here is a transcript of the French:

"Tu es là dans une cérémonie officielle. Tu te comportes comme il faut", poursuit alors Emmanuel Macron. "Tu peux faire l'imbécile. Mais aujourd'hui c'est la 'Marseillaise', et le 'Chant des Partisans'. Tu m'appelles 'Monsieur le président de la République' ou 'Monsieur'".

My translation:

You are (there) in an official ceremony. You behave yourself properly (literally, 'as it requires'). You can play the fool. But today, it's the Marseillaise, and the Chant des Partisans. You (must) call me "Mister the President of the Republic", or "Mister (i.e. Sir)".

It's also worth mentioning that, in my opinion, the French have an old-fashioned notion of politeness and formality, beyond what I think is normal in the UK or the USA (see e.g. the LA Times' article on when to use Tu as opposed to Vous for example), and which is taught in schools and by adults.

I'm not sure I'd call it "a public dressing down" even -- more like a correction. I get the impression from the video that M. Macron went on, went back, kept talking, in order to try to help, to find some good and agreeable advice to offer: "do things in the right order, first get your diploma."


Some people (in comments) are wondering why he talked so long.

It seemed to me that, having started their conversation on the wrong foot, "Manu" was trying to find something conciliatory, some common ground -- i.e talking about school, knowing this is exam-time, encouraging him to do well -- with body language like patting him on the arm, twice, as if trying for a rapprochement -- and asking him if agreed (d'accord?), and saying "I'm counting on you (to be exemplary in future)" -- he even said "je compte sur vous" (not "sur toi") by the time he got around to saying that, i.e. addressing him respectfully as an adult/citizen (or as representing a plural).

The Tweet says,

Le respect, c’est le minimum dans la République – surtout un 18 juin, surtout en présence des compagnons de la Libération. Mais cela n’empêche pas d’avoir une conversation détendue – regardez jusqu’au bout.

My translation:

Respect is the minimum in the Republic - especially on June 18, especially in the presence of the companions of the liberation. But that doesn't prevent having a relaxed (informal, friendly) conversation -- watch (this video) to the end.

Note the definition of respect

  • Sentiment de considération envers quelqu'un, et qui porte à le traiter avec des égards particuliers ; manifestations de ces égards : Manquer de respect à quelqu'un.
  • Sentiment de vénération envers ce qui est considéré comme sacré : Le respect des morts.
  • Considération que l'on a pour certaines choses : Le respect de la parole donnée.

My translation:

  • Feeling of consideration towards someone, which sustains treating them with particular regards ; or the manifestation of these regards : (example of the word used in a phrase) to lack respect toward someone
  • Feeling of veneration towards that which is considered sacred: (example of the word used in a phrase) respect for the dead
  • Consideration that one has for certain things: (example of the word used in a phrase) respect for the given word (e.g. for keeping a promise)

I think that M. Macron is (whether or not you agree) hereby implicitly disclaiming having been disrespectful himself.

Also there's a related phrase in French, faire le singe -- literally "make the monkey", figuratively "act like a monkey (or a clown)" or "to clown around" -- because it's a standard figurative phrase, you'd be missing some of the nuance if you only translated each word literally.


It might be worth mentioning the place, too, which according to the OP was Mont Valérien:

Du lieu de l'Histoire au premier des Hauts lieux de la mémoire nationale :

Lieu de culte médiéval devenu forteresse militaire au cours de XIXème siècle, le Mont-Valérien a été le principal lieu d’exécution de résistants et d’otages en France par l’armée allemande pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

La multiplicité des parcours des 1008 fusillés, nous permet aujourd’hui d’en décrire la diversité. Après la guerre, le site est choisi pour honorer la mémoire des morts pour la France de 1939 à 1945, et, le 18 juin 1960, le général de Gaulle y inaugure le Mémorial de la France combattante.

Ces hommes, assassinés parce qu’ils étaient résistants, otages, Juifs ou communistes sont autant de rappels à notre histoire qui firent naturellement de ce site le premier des Hauts lieux de la mémoire nationale du ministère de la Défense, aujourd'hui géré par l'Office National des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre.

My translation:

From a place in History to the first of the High (important, altar-like) places in the national memory:

A medieval place of worship, become military fortress during the 19th century, the Mont Valérien was the principal place of execution of the members of the resistance and hostages in France by the German army during the second world war.

The multiplicity of the itineraries of the 1008 people shot, allows us today to describe their diversity. After the war, the site is chosen to honour the memory of those who died for France from 1939 through 1945, and, on June 18 1960, General de Gaulle inaugurated there the Memorial of France at war.

These men, assassinated because they were resistance, hostages, Jews, or communists, were as such (or were so many) reminders of our history who consequently made of this site the primary of the High places of the national memory of the ministry of Defence, today managed by the National Office of the Veterans and Victims of War.


Going back to the quoted definition, i.e.

s'amuser de façon espiègle, folâtrer

If I paraphrase these definitions of espiègle and folâtrer, then (together with my own understanding of the phrase), the definition says, more or less, "to amuse oneself" ... comic; transgressive but not mean, almost innocent; doesn't know better; unworried -- the implication is that the boy ought to show more respect than to act that way here -- it may also imply that we are not amused.

That's close to how Europe1's reporting after the fact characterizes the boy's greeting:

Alors que le président de la République saluait plusieurs jeunes attroupés derrière des barrières, l'un d'entre eux, après avoir entonné les premiers mots de l'Internationale, s'est amusé à apostropher l'hôte de l'Élysée d'un "ça va Manu" ? Mais le jeune homme a été immédiatement repris par Emmanuel Macron. "Non, non", a-t-il rétorqué, alors que le jeune garçon, semblant vite regretter cette familiarité, s'excusait : 'désolé monsieur le président".

My translation:

As the president of the Republic was greeting several youths who were trooped behind barriers, one of them, after sounding the first words of the Internationale, *amused himself by abbreviating2 the host of the Élysée by a "ça va Manu?" But the young man was immediately taken up by Emmanuel Macron, "No, no", he replied, while the young boy, seeming to quickly regret this familiarity, was excusing himself: "sorry (or 'abject apologies') Mister President."


One more thing, he wasn't just criticising the boy's behaviour -- he was criticising his French, which I think of as normal and as natural as breathing, it's how people (children) learn French. There are varieties or registers of French, and you're taught to use the right register on the right occasion.

Where I'm living it's normal to say "Bonjour Monsieur !", "Bonjour Madame !", "Bonjour !" to everyone you pass on the street. I once absent-mindedly said "Bonjour Monsieur" to an approaching child, and the enormity of what I'd said made him catch his breath and correct me: "Je ne suis pas un 'Monsieur' ! Je suis en enfant !"


1 A comment below tells me that when the boy says, "ça va Manu?", that "Manu" is an abbreviation of "Emmanuel (Macron)". So it's a bit analogous to greeting the Queen of England or the Prince of Wales as, "Hey Lizzie!", or, "How's it going, Chuckles?"

2 The French verb apostropher dosn't even have an equivalent in English that I can think of. Its definition is, "Adresser brusquement la parole à (qqn), sans politesse", i.e. "address speech to someone brusquely, without politeness."

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    Indeed, French formality even extendes to their pronouns. You can insult or disrespect someone by referring to them with the informal/familiar pronoun “tu” (meaning “you”), rather than the formal pronoun “vous” (meaning “you”, but denoting more respect.) – HopelessN00b Jun 26 '18 at 1:07
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    +1 for the translation. For the last paragraph, Macron said "Si tu veux faire la révolution, tu apprends d’abord à avoir un diplôme et à te nourrir toi-même", so "if you want to do the revolution, first learn to get a diploma and get a paying job". So I wouldn't call his words "good and agreeable advice" ;-) – Julien Lopez Jun 26 '18 at 7:01
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    @HopelessN00b Another thing is, it seems to me is that (knowing and) expecting and teaching proper behaviour, correcting school-children's misbehaviour, is accepted as a job of adults collectively -- teachers, parents, whoever is in charge, bystanders -- again, contrasted with UK and USA where the attitude might be more like "strangers shouldn't tell children what to do". And the kid clearly knew he was being transgressive -- when M. Macron replied "No, no no no" then the kid apologised. It was after that that "Monsieur le président" went on to tell him what he should have said, and why. – ChrisW Jun 26 '18 at 7:35
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    Perhaps a more idiomatic English translation would be "You're making a foll out of yourself" – Emilio M Bumachar Jun 26 '18 at 12:54
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    @EmilioMBumachar I agree that would be more idiomatic in English. I get the impression however that the French is criticising the behaviour and not the person -- i.e. criticising the foolery, not the "self", not the boy ... so I don't think he's calling the boy an idiot, even if he is characterising the behaviour as undignified or disrespectful. – ChrisW Jun 26 '18 at 13:19
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The French word Macron used to address the teenager was "imbecile", although in an advisory form: "You can act like an imbecile, but..."

Video here: Emmanuel Macron tells teenager: 'Call me Mr. President'

The rest is a matter of translation, I suppose. CNN (in the above link) translated it as "fool", or more precisely "you can play the fool". I'm not a native French speaker, but in my experience the French use the "imbecile" word more easily than an English speaker would, so the connotation is less melodramatic.

Also "faire l’imbécile" is synonymous with "faire le fou", so the "play the fool" translation seem the more idiomatic translation. "Fool around" would have been another possible idiom for the translation.

  • Here's another link with the video and a transcript (untranslated): europe1.fr/politique/… – Fizz Jun 25 '18 at 17:17
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    +1 Wow, thanks for the video. That seems like one hell of a long response to a mere "ça va, Manu?"... was that lecture something he was trying get that off his chest or something? (Mostly referring to the second half of what he said... it seems an awful lot to add to the first half unless the kid had previously said something to that effect... unless I missed something else he said here?) – Mehrdad Jun 26 '18 at 8:54
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    @Mehrdad: Macron was (also) pissed that the teen was humming the Socialist Internationale. – Fizz Jun 26 '18 at 9:20
  • Ohhh huh, that would explain it, thanks! I didn't see this in the video. – Mehrdad Jun 26 '18 at 9:50
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    @Mehrdad: I think none of the videos posted captured that part. It's what the papers said though. – Fizz Jun 26 '18 at 9:52
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No. The correct interpretation is fool, not idiot.

French is a very contextual language.

As has been already highlighted Faire l'imbécile is a specific turn of phrase.

The best definition comes from l'Académie française who state in their dictionary:

Faire l'imbécile, commettre des excentricités, des sottises, ou, en particulier, faire celui qui ne comprend pas.

It is quite clear from the definition provided by l'Académie française that its not remotely possible to construe Faire l'imbécile as meaning idiot. It is clear from the above definition that the terminology relates to acknowledgement of a state of pretence rather than a direct accusation of inferiority.

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There was a time when psychologists categorized people with low IQs into several different categories.

Moron - IQ 51 to 70.

Imbecile - IQ 26 to 50.

Idiot - IQ 0 to 25.

As compared to an average human score of 100.

The term imbecile was once used by psychiatrists to denote a category of people with moderate to severe intellectual disability, as well as a type of criminal.1 The word arises from the Latin word imbecillus, meaning weak, or weak-minded. It included people with an IQ of 26–50, between "idiot" (IQ of 0–25) and "moron" (IQ of 51–70)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbecile2

In common language moron, idiot, and imbecile are used as synonyms, but if someone is an idiot by that old technical definition calling them an imbecile or a moron would be complimenting their intelligence.

I presume that a stupid person would have an IQ over 70 but significantly lower than the average of 100.

Thus I am amused when people accidentally compliment the intelligence of things like computer programs by calling them stupid.

Thus saying in French that someone behaves like an imbecile is not the same thing as saying in French that they are an imbecile, let alone saying in English they are an imbecile, let alone saying they are an idiot.

Note that the sign language using gorilla Koko (1971-2018) has been alleged to have an IQ of 90.

http://fathersmanifesto.net/koko.htm1

Or to have an IQ between 75 and 95.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koko_(gorilla)3

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    -1 because this answer presume it's meant literally -- but Faire l'imbécile is a standard figurative phrase. – ChrisW Jun 25 '18 at 21:55
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    How does this answer the question? First, the French word imbécile has been in the language since the 15th c. and English borrowed the word from French soon after. So the fact that it gained a technical meaning in the psychological literature of the early 20th century is irrelevant. Second, as the other answers clearly state, Macron did not in fact call the kid an 'imbécile', he used an expression 'faire l'imbécile' which is not the same. Third, the fact that 'imbecile' has a particular meaning in English has no bearing on its meaning in French. – Alan Munn Jun 25 '18 at 21:55
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    -1 for assuming that the modern meanings of words match their etymology. (That the etymology is wrong is another issue.) – Oddthinking Jun 26 '18 at 0:14
  • @SáT: That language isn't acceptable here. – Oddthinking Jun 26 '18 at 13:01
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    +1 for alot of effort, We all make mistakes, and you clearly tried to do research – Peter verleg Jun 27 '18 at 14:29

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