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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Politics of Perfumery: Jean Paul Guerlain Makes a Faux-Pas?

Perfumery is a minefield. It's not only perilous to make an olfactory mistake and distance your core audience, a communication faux pas might even trigger a campaign of boycotting your product. That faux pas can take many guises, but none is more "sensitive" than a random comment which can hint of racism. Jean Paul Guerlain, apparently unintentionally, just committed just that cardinal sin.
The whole incident took place in an interview to Elise Lucet concerning his work at maison Guerlain, where he created many masterpieces, Samsara among them. Concerning the latter, Jean Paul commented: "For once, I worked like a negro. I don't know if negroes have worked that much, but anyway..."

The word used in French was negro, but the translation is edgily close to the subversive nigger word (of which there is no French comparable).

The quote also inelegantly suggests that there might be laziness involved too. SOS Racisme and Cran have complained about this statement on France 2 this past Friday 15th October. (You can read the news and the original quote on this link) The reasons given for the outcry are mostly pedagogical, as they renounce the colonial cliches which are thus being perpetuated through such statements. Of course it's argued that these statements go against the values of LVMH and Guerlain in general, and action of distancing was demanded from LVMH, to which the behemoth company replied with a direct apology by Jean Paul himself on AFP via mail. In it Jean Paul Guerlain clarified that he is sorry for the statement and that it does not reflect his deeper thoughts. He also mentioned that he is not a representative of the company since 1996 and is not salaried since 2002, "taking full responsibility [for the faux pas], not wanting to hurt the company and its employees". His current position is of advisory to the head perfumer Thierry Wasser.
That was of course in response to the wildfire criticism which erupted on Twitter and blogs as well as perfume community fora (such as this one or that one) with proposals of boycotting the brand. It even reached CNN!.

As usual on Perfume Shrine, we dissect things to get to the bottom of it.
First of all, the first part of Jean Paul's statement is simple enough: "Work like a negro" is -unfortunately, but there you have it- a common idiom in many European languages (French being one of them, Greek also among them) in which it simply means "work very, very hard". Undoubtedly the French have it one better than us, having intimate knowledge of just how hard negroes might have worked because they have been colonialists for centuries, but I digress. The thing is very often the phrase springs up with no intent of offense; it's just an ingrained "memory" or "hearsay" (for those of us who never had any blacks in a colonial past working for our wealth). And anything can be interpreted the way one wants it to. The Holy Bible is filled with racism if you're willing to seek it from an objective point of view.

Blacks/Negroes have worked in plantations for many years as slaves, as recently as the previous century. This is deeply shameful, there is no other way around it. But certainly not to black people! Rather the ones who owned them and perpetuated this practice at a time in history when such a practice was not necessitated by ANY means (It's an agreed fact that slavery in antiquity falls under completely different parameters and not within our scope here). There even exist wonderful French patisserie creations that reference negroes, certainly through no desire to offend them.

The unfortunate correlation is that the word negro can be twisted into translation into the offending "nigger" word, which is undoubtedly derogatory. Which is exactly what happened on American media. This reminds me of the instance when Gérard Depardieu was a nominee for an Academy Award for Cyrano in 1990 which he eventually lost through a mass campaign smearing his name as "juvenille rapist". What had happened? He was giving an interview in French, recounting his troubled formative years in which he was seeing things on the streets. He mentioned, in way of example, witnessing a rape. His misfortune was the French verb "assister" which he had used was mistranslated out of context as "assisted" in the US press. From witness, he became accessory to the crime! Outcry ensued and Academy Award voters took the matter to heart...and decided to give a pedagogical lesson by denying him the votes. The trajectory followed was down-spiral...and the award went to Jeremy Irons for Reversal of Fortune (In no way am I intending to diminish his exceptional performance which I love myself). Thankfully Depardieu has remained unscathed since and the gossiping tongues claim the campaign was not so innocent to begin with, aiming to deny a non-English speaker an Academy Award for Leading role in a non-English speaking film. This is of course merely conjecture.
So far so good and this should be a lesson to us all on how to pick our words in a multi-cultural society such as the global one we're living in. And I wouldn't be giving any extended commentary, should the second part of the Jean Paul Guerlain quote not exist.

But the second part does exist, alas. Weirdly too, because Jean Paul is well-known for his good rapport and friendship with the inhabitants of the island of Mayotte, where Guerlain keeps ylang ylang plantations. Maybe his progressing age doesn't help too much in general?
That second part of the quote inelegantly attaches the stigma of laziness where none exists (and by association the "plight" some of the countries inhabited mainly by negroes is attributed to a fault of their own). Speaking with personal national experience, where critical geopolitical and precarious financial games are played on our backs by the superpowers, I can assure M.Guerlain (and everyone) that very seldom in politics anything is "through one's own fault". It's not school exams, you know. There's got to be someone assisting someone else's plight; someone else who is actually gaining something out of it. In this instance, it is colonialism and the wealth it accumulated for colonials. Too bad that France is still struggling to come to terms with accepting that heritage. Whatever... nevertheless a little more compassion to people who are not wholly responsible for what happened to them goes a long way.

And, before I forget, oh, I wish I could have forgotten about another unfortunate quote concerning other less privileged groups which I had critiqued on these pages back in 2008.
Because, come to think of it, what purpose is perfume accomplishing -refining us, giving us a veneer of sophistication and allure- if we forget to show basic human understanding for the misfortune of others? Let's refresh our Aimé Césaire readings.

For purposes of injecting a semi-relevant & controversial viewpoint on racial matters, France and the US, please read this blog post. Food for thought, and why not, comment!
NB: The pics are (clearly I hope?) ironic. The hypocrisy of white colonialism at its very highest.

44 comments:

  1. I think this has more to do with colonialism and advanced age than anything else. How old did you say Guerlain was? It is difficult for anyone who lived through the Civil Rights era to imagine how things once were. My own grandmother, who was raised with privilege in the US Canal Zone Panama, called blacks "Nigras," without the slightest malice, until probably the 70's. It was just the way things were. I have heard the expression "worked like a _____" many times in my life in the American South, although not in recent years.

    Here in the US, racism is still very much with us, only bubbling deeper, as it apparently is with the French. I believe that the "Tea Party" movement here is essentially about getting that________ out of the White House. It's too hysterical and nonsensical to be anything but that.

    Of course things are different, now, in France and here: there, people with dark skin do the hard work, and the whites complain about their status as guest workers; here, Here, Latinos do it, and the whites complain about all the illegal immigrants. Whenever someone starts that around me, I always ask them "When was the last time you saw an American nailing shingles onto a roof?"

    Guerlain was just being an overprivileged old colonial -- however well he got along with his workers on the plantation -- who slipped, and now he'll be tarred and feathered for it courtesy of LVMH flaks terrified of all the bad pr this will generate.

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  2. Russians also say "work as negro", which mean only "work very, very hard". These words are not disparaging at all. When somebody says 'I worked like a negro', he says 'I work so hard that you have to respect me and my efforts'...

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  3. kathleen14:38

    Thank you for the level headed write up. Some of us tried to say some of these things on MUA, yesterday, but were bombarded by people, each vying to be the most offended.

    I think he is a product of his time, and it's particular culture. Sometimes elderly people get stuck in a moment, and don't realize how things have moved on, and how important it is to dissect every syllable, lest you cause offence. Especially, with the American public.

    The fact that you wrote "nigger" instead of the baby talk "N word", also took some guts. Where it is an ugly, insulting, word, and no one should be described or addressed, using it, I can't see why it can't be used to describe what someone said.

    If I was to boycott Guerlain, it would be more for what they've done to the likes of Shalimar & Mitsouko, and the discontinuation of Djedi, than for the remarks of a retired perfumer.

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  4. Haven't got the time to read it all right now, but, in the meantime... 'I don't know if negroes have travelled that much [...].' Surely you mean 'worked'.

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  5. Anonymous15:13

    I find your article to be more insulting and hateful that what P. Guerlain said. Your choice of pictures for this piece leaves much to be desired.

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  6. Anonymous17:52

    Hi Elena,

    I have a movie rec for you....

    (Alan and I saw this at the Sundance Film Festival a couple of years ago. You would not believe how many people walked out during this film. My husband then explained to me about the tension between France and Haiti and the politics between them. I had never known about it until that film. Very interesting/controversial film. I have never forgotten it.)

    "Eat, For This is My Body"

    Synopsis: Set in his native Haiti, director/screenwriter Michaelange Quay's sophomore feature is a poetic, taboo-shattering meditation on the flow of power between black and while centering on a pale woman (Sylvie Testud) 's bizarre relationship with numerous dark-skinned children. As a group of young black boys slowly filter into the chateau of a ghostly French woman, the ritual that follows offers a haunting meditation on Haiti's colonial legacy. ~ Jason Buchanan


    Trailer for film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flREy0YyFBA



    ~Dawn

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  7. Bela,

    amazing!!!I did what the translators of Depardieu did! I was of course being swayed by "travallier" which is close to travelled: what got into me????
    I will of course edit it. Of course I meant "worked".

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  8. Anon,

    have you read the whole piece? Have you read the link I provided by an angry and eloquent African American on the bottom? One of the pics comes from his blog post and I strongly urge you to give it a read, btw. The pictures are of course completely ironic! I thought it was clear...

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  9. P/Olfacta,

    you raise a good point!
    I have no doubt that Jean Paul is old and he's not very mindful of what he says. Not that he should be so absent-minded because like I pointed out, two lapses in the length of a couple of years is starting to seem like he's deteriorating. He's in his 80s right now.

    It's true what you say about underprivileged groups doing the hard, menial work. After all, Greek immigrants did it too, so I'm not taking exception, especially when I see the complaints of xenophobia in my own culture today: It's ironic!
    I know that Latinos do lots of labour in the US but I suppose the optical barrier is less apparent sometimes. Plus standards have changed over the years, since there are so many (and deservedly IMO) blacks and Latinos in the media/entertainment/culture and the celebrity circuit. I bet 60-70 years ago things were VERY different and harder for black people to make their case.

    As to the Tea Party, a larger issue, but in a few words: I'm amazed such a notion even exists (and is code-named in such a term!). Then again, I am surely lacking in my info on how politics in the US is conducted these days.

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  10. Tatyana,

    glad to know that the expression is existent in other languages as well.
    That part of the quote, like I said, is innocent enough, not a slut. It's the second part which troubles me...
    Personally I certainly respect anyone who works hard to make ends meet. We have an expression here about being discriminated on: "Did I pee in the water well?" That about summons up my views on this.

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  11. Kathleen,

    thanks for chiming in and for your kind words!
    I'm sure that I will have people jumping up on my jugular (see, it's already happening, LOL) implying I am justifying an offensive statement. Actually, I'm not justifying it at all (if one reads to the end and carefully). I'm trying to understand how and why it was said. There's a difference!

    I also think Jean-Paul is a bit stuck in the moment. He didn't stop to think "hell, what am I talking about? Am I making sense? (Why would black people not work hard enough?)" Then it was too late....

    What I particularly don't like is how LVMH tarred him and left him to issue a public apology in fears of losing some sales. I mean, it's all very well to front the "retired since 2002" perfumer when you want to boost a new exclusive launch and bring cachet and gravitas to your brand, but it's another matter when he slips and says a nonsense like this, right?
    This actually drives me more off LVMH than Jean Paul, to be absolutely honest with you!
    I mean, show some backbone, LVMH!

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  12. Bela (again),

    if you do find the time to read through the whole thing, I would be most interested in your weighing of things, as someone who is both French and who practises translating for a living.
    (I want to hear your view on the Depardieu incident as well, if you recall that one.)

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  13. Dawn,

    thank you very much for the film rec! I have heard of this film and searched for it a while ago (the title had induced me with its theological/biblical connotation which hints at a controversial material) but to no avail. I hope they have provided it for us here through the rental circuit, I will definitely ask for it.
    Thanks for the trailer too! Looks ritualistic enough.

    (and yes, France has a lot of shady colonical past which it tries to exorcise)

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  14. TooWordyAndYellow22:15

    This was a reasonable explanation of the JPG bust-up but amidst the wordy write-up falls short of admonishing him. Also, not sure about the accompanying images, is this the right topic to impart a little humor at? This being my first time here, I scroll down and read the snark on display in the Spice & Wood review which, having tried it recently, is deserving of more detail and analysis than the half hearted 10 line "review". Ironic, considering that in this post you state "As usual on Perfume Shrine, we dissect things to get to the bottom of it." For some reason this blog feels very colonial French, and some brands discriminated against..is PerfumeShrine endorsed by JP Guerlain?

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  15. TooWordy,

    thanks for stopping by! And for commenting.

    Alas, we are not sponsored by any company, big or small. This might be why we blow caution to the winds and say whatever we think. :-)
    That said, we're not colonial French, but rather "colonial" Greek, washing dishes in Melbourne suburban restaurants for patronising bosses of "more" Caucasian orgins than ourselves, thank you very much! So, we have absolutely no horse in the race, any way you look upon it.

    Now this is clear, I need to point out that:

    1.I did include a link in which I chastised Jean Paul previously for another gaffe. It's at the end of the article and I am posting it here again for all to see (something tells me the system of links on this blog is not EVIDENT to readers that they're links):
    Jean Paul gaffe on beggars
    My admonishing of Jean Paul therefore has to do with his 2nd part of his statement (which implies that people suffer because of some fault of their own), not the first. I think the first ("work like a black man") was erronesouly mistranslated into the Anglo-speaking media with the offensive N-word, as stated in the body of the article.

    2.The pictures chosen were meant as an illustration of white hypocrisy. I do realise you have a point, nevertheless: this not a joking matter -absolutely not!- and you are right, I stand corrected on that one; maybe the visual was callous of me (although found on the linked blog post of a VERY eloquent African American whose post I urge you to read because he has some point re: French politics). BUT I decided to post them, they're already posted and I have to stand behind that decision and not back-pedal now out of cowardice. I think this is the stance of integrity. Much more than what LVMH does at the moment, I guess, trying to do damage control.

    PS. I found the new Creed not very memorable, so didn't devote more time and words than what I wrote. It's pleasant enough, so you don't read too much on what makes it bad (because it's not bad). You should dig a bit deeper, though, our reviews & articles are indeed a bit of an anatomy session (or a crime scene investigation) if I say so myself. You might find things to like! (start by the Labels or Quick Index)

    At any rate, hope to see you again and perhaps disagree on some issue! (Disagreeing is not a bad thing per se. Democracy is built on disagreement IMHO. We condone live dialogue here, as long as all parties remain civil)

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  16. Rappleyea00:34

    An excellent commentary on JPG's comments. When I read them in French, I wondered about the translation by the English press. But of course it created a firestorm, which sells papers.

    However, I read the second line differently than you did. I took it to mean that he was saying that he worked even harder than blacks, that even they didn't work as hard as he worked on Samsara. Sort of an emphasis on how very hard he worked. I don't mean to make excuses for him if he indeed implied something disparaging, and racial analogies aren't helpful anyway, but that was my read on it.

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  17. in argentina the expression "trabajar como un negro" exists, too, and it just means to work extremely hard. you can argue about its origin, but coloquially it is not a racist term at all. i agree with you that the 2nd part of the quote is much worse! it is unfortunate, but it shouldn't taint the legacy of guerlain as perfume creators. as priviliged heirs of colonialism, maybe...but oh well! we'll see if the PR damage control works, although i don't think it wil alter any true perfumista's love for the wonderful fragrances of the house...

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  18. I have just commented on NST and only repeat what I said there: the phrase ‘travailler comme un nègre’ doesn’t really have racist connotations. In fact, I would even say it is a testament to how hard black people, i.e. slaves, worked. Of course, JPG should have stopped there: as Six says, it’s the second part of the statement that is objectionable. I too thought, like Rappleyeah, that he just meant he had been working harder than black slaves, but he added ‘m’enfin’ (for ‘mais enfin’ = but still) and that’s what makes that part of the statement slightly offensive. I’m afraid I can’t quite explain why: it’s just the way it sounds in French.

    However, JPG did *not* use the ‘n’-word: ‘nègre’ does not translate here as ‘n*****’ here. There is no French equivalent of that word: the context determines how the word ‘nègre’ is to be translated.

    If he’d used the more common phrase ‘travailler comme un forçat’ (to work like a convict, like someone condemned to hard labour), there would have been no hoo-ha. The fact that he didn’t use that innocuous phrase is probably significant.

    Still, I wonder how many commenters (here and elsewhere) are black: surely, they, and only they, have the right to say whether they find what JPG said offensive (after being told the exact meaning of what he said, not the version meant to provoke outrage). I am Jewish and no one who is not Jewish can tell *me* whether someone’s statement is or isn’t anti-Semitic, or can be more upset than I am by it when it is.

    As for the Gérard Depardieu incident, it showed that an inaccurate translation can have awful consequences and that people who are not proficient in a particular language should not jump to conclusions: it's not always as bad as it looks at first glance.

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  19. Sorry, but I'm french, 37 now and I had never heard before this phrase "travailler comme un nègre", and it shocks me and sounds really rude in 2010. So I checked and yes, it used to be said, meanning working like a slave, without being respected. But, still it sounds a bit old age and colonialist to me. And after seeing M. Guerlain on youtube, IMO he's statement is mostly stupid, the kind of stupidity of heirs and wealth people who have never really worked hard to live.
    He talks like an old colonialist, like when all those pricey raw materials where produced in foreign and almost always poor "under-developped" countries, for rich white ladies to smell good.
    Colonialism is still an issue, not only for France, underlying racism too. The people who grow cocoa have never eaten chocolate, the finest the, coffe, spices are sent to "developped countries" and richness and consumption still goes the same way.
    I feel privileged to wear good perfumes, and I know I worked hard, ( never like a negro/ slave), to earn money and spend it in my futile luxury.

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  20. I'm not sure, but I think you were responding to my comment, Anatole. I am French too, but I'm 62 and a literary translator of 35 years' standing. I am stunned you've got to the grand old age of 37 and have never heard (or even read) the expression 'travailler comme un nègre'. Anyway, it isn't that phrase that enraged the French - there is no racist slur in it; it's the second part, which seemed to intimate that black slaves had never worked as hard as he had. As for the Americans, they were outraged because 'nègre' was wrongly translated into the n-word.

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  21. I miss the 'what about the children' trope in this uproar. /sarcasm

    Alrighty alright, I grew up in a white monoculture in a rather small town and somehow, my parents and teachers failed to teach me to think whatever bad stuff is popular elsewhere about foreigners, coloureds and who else. I thus constantly fail to get what.the.hell. So, what the hell? I wonder why people take the pains to invent an opinion on other people with different content of melanin? Isn't that easier just to argue about politics with them if one needs to snark on them? And, why all that outrage? Any language is full of politically incorrect idioms, sayings, similes and connotations. Shall we ban languages because they're inherently evil?

    And, I must admit that the everpresent discourse on PC bores me to death. My conscience is clean - I talk whatever way I like and I'm being nice to the world in my deeds if not in every of my words and possible implied meanings, and now I suggest we get back to perfumery, thankyouverymuch.

    Yours truly
    Stupid Blonde

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  22. Anonymous22:06

    my first take was "who cares?" because, i mean, really... is he or his comment really that important?

    idioms are idioms. they are colorful. even if some of them are outdated and ought to be retired.

    soooo tired of the politically correct police trying to sanitize everything. give it a rest.

    cheers,
    minette

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  23. I have taken translation gaffes with a grain of salt since I was a child. President Jimmy Carter was giving a pleasant greeting to the citizens of Poland, but the audience was shocked and dismayed. Turns out that his statement that he hoped to cooperate more with the Polish people came through in translation that he hoped to have intimate relations with the Polish people! Thanks for this interesting and incisive post, Elena. People who would condemn JPG must be people who never make a mistake when they're talking - in other words, people far better than moi.

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  24. Thank you for the level headed write up. would hope that you will have plenty of articles or such, and more! Your article helped me a lot! Thanks!

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  25. D,

    you know *flashbulb lighting up over my head prompted by your comment*, you make an interesting point. What if he did mean it that way? Although I have to say it doesn't sound too much like it, much as I'd like to think it.
    The thing is now we'll NEVER know, because any further attempt to explain would be construed as him trying to justify what he said, thus blackening his name more. So even if that was the intent, it's among himself, God and his family and friends...

    Thank you for commenting!

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  26. Mel,

    thanks for providing yet another piece of data on languages containing that idiom.

    I admit I have always failed to see the relation between a despicable attitude and a piece of artwork. I do listen to Wagner, even though he was a passionate anti-semite. In times past, when homosexuality was less accepted by the society at large, should the Italian Masters be burned at the stake or their works denied because of their personal views? I don't think so...The art work/object can exist without its creator. Otherwise, if it relies on PR and acceptance of the creator by the masses, it's lesser art to begin with IMHO.

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  27. Bela,

    thank you for your commentary. Much appreciated!

    As I suspected, this was the feeling I got as well. The translations surfacing on the Net have twisted the word from an (obsolete) term into an undeniable racial slur, thus skewing the blame from the second part of the quote into the first. Which is rather stupid but perhaps also cunning, as that twist does sell more papers!

    Re: black people reading. I wonder how many of them here read French and grasped the original quote instead of the mistranslation.
    Of course there is no desire to offend them here, never was. If they have been offended by the word, I hope they have realized this is not a word I'd use ever, but which has been circulating in the media regarding the incident I am reporting.
    Still I kinda feel how they believe that a racial description is not particularly desirable in ANY way and should be avoided. After all, it's a bit silly unless filling out a medical form or something... Not to mention that if black or yellow people are considered "coloured", then what does that leave the rest of us? Colourless? I'm not so sure this is a desirable attribution, LOL

    Then again, the fact that " black" and "slave" have been equated in such idioms is definitely something that perpetuates a functionality in language (and I presume if language perpetuates a notion, then by the token that Logos stands for both language and mental processes, it means it produces a real effect in time of crisis) . From that point of view I understand how a black person WOULD be offended!!

    My personal stance is that one doesn't need to be of a particular group to understand (to some degree, I will grant you that) how another might get hurt by something. Of course nuances do escape us, this is only human nature we're talking about, so it's always interesting to hear interpretations and see the HOW and WHY something is offensive to specific people.
    But sometimes people are outraged by some connotation that didn't exist or which wasn't implicitly or intentionally inferred and the more they think it over, the more enraged they become to the point that the original semantics "sign" loses all meaning and the offense has become the result of reacting to an intermediary transmitting the message rather than the original instigator of the message (same as happened to the Depardieu case; fascist regimes knew that technique well> "accuse, accuse, something will remain at the end").

    Am I making any sense, here? :-)

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  28. Bela,

    thank you for your commentary. Much appreciated!

    As I suspected, this was the feeling I got as well. The translations surfacing on the Net have twisted the word from an (obsolete) term into an undeniable racial slur, thus skewing the blame from the second part of the quote into the first. Which is rather stupid but perhaps also cunning, as that twist does sell more papers!

    Re: black people reading. I wonder how many of them here read French and grasped the original quote instead of the mistranslation.
    Of course there is no desire to offend them here, never was. If they have been offended by the word, I hope they have realized this is not a word I'd use ever, but which has been circulating in the media regarding the incident I am reporting.
    Still I kinda feel how they believe that a racial description is not particularly desirable in ANY way and should be avoided. After all, it's a bit silly unless filling out a medical form or something... Not to mention that if black or yellow people are considered "coloured", then what does that leave the rest of us? Colourless? I'm not so sure this is a desirable attribution, LOL

    Then again, the fact that " black" and "slave" have been equated in such idioms is definitely something that perpetuates a functionality in language (and I presume if language perpetuates a notion, then by the token that Logos stands for both language and mental processes, it means it produces a real effect in time of crisis) . From that point of view I understand how a black person WOULD be offended!!

    My personal stance is that one doesn't need to be of a particular group to understand (to some degree, I will grant you that) how another might get hurt by something. Of course nuances do escape us, this is only human nature we're talking about, so it's always interesting to hear interpretations and see the HOW and WHY something is offensive to specific people.
    But sometimes people are outraged by some connotation that didn't exist or which wasn't implicitly or intentionally inferred and the more they think it over, the more enraged they become to the point that the original semantics "sign" loses all meaning and the offense has become the result of reacting to an intermediary transmitting the message rather than the original instigator of the message (same as happened to the Depardieu case; fascist regimes knew that technique well> "accuse, accuse, something will remain at the end").

    Am I making any sense, here? :-)

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  29. I didn't want to comment yesterday because I thought this might turn into what you called people getting at your jugular (or mine for that matter for not sounding incensed enough by what JPG said). There is the same saying in Croatian about working like a ...
    There's also a whole lot of other sayings including people of European descent that in my opinion are not meant as an offense against those people but as inherent part of my language are colorful ways of saying different things.
    Luckily for me, there is not much need for political correctness here and I agree with Liisa, I am tired of listening everyone get terribly upset over it. You can be PC and still offend people by how you act and without using a vocabulary that isn't PC. I find those people more deserving of public outrage than people who don'z think twice before uttering some nonsense.

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  30. Anatole,

    I realize the point of view from which you mention what you say. Please see my comment above to Bela.

    However, we have now ascertained that there are at least 4 different languages that have the same idiom (French Greek, Russian, Argentinian Portuguese), so if it exists, there's got to be something there. Not that what is there is justifiable, mind you!! It's not a nice thing to say for the reasons I explained (it's as if we're perpetuating something that is done with and rightly so!) But it does come to the tip of the tongue, through long use.
    In our day and age (and especially in what concerns younger people) such idioms are unacceptable, but older people are accustomed to them. It's perhaps upon us to say "oh shut up grandpa!"

    Now, as to luxury. Ah....another vast issue!

    But I would hesitate to equate plutocrats with racists. The microbe of racism (or discrimination in general) knows no bounds of social class or money. And it's (historically proven) more dangerous when it comes from people who have come from the lower strata...it tends to produce dictatorships and other such "delightful" situations....

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  31. Bela,

    you did an accurate summation of the situation indeed. That is what happened.

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  32. Liisa,

    hi there! :-)

    Indeed there are colourful expressions in languages and the sanitation of PC extricates that very colourfulness. Sometimes this is an exaggeration.

    As to the "children" coming into this, well, it's assumed that our kids should be protected from hearing bad words, getting bad notions into their heads etc. Theoretically this is a noble stance, but it somehow doesn't exactly prepare the child for the world (giving them the means to reason why and how someone is trying to hurt them through language) nor equip them with the proper means of dealing with it, in a direct or indirect way. What can you say to someone calling you "ugly" when you're whole life you have been described as "looks-challenged"? Or what do you say to someone saying you're "dumb" when at school you were given As so as not to hurt your feelings? I sometimes believe a more balanced approach towards children is best. Not to bring them down, but to gently teach them that not everyone is best at everything and that people are different and not homogenized/pasteurized like milk. And those differences are acceptable and is what makes us human.

    But you see, as Socrates well knew, it's enough to mention a pedagogical harm and the person responsible is tarred and feathered....works every time!

    PC speech makes communicating really difficult: I had been having a conversation with an outspoken, feminist and socio-conscious American blogger about something and every two words I used I had to explain myself and insert a disclaimer, lest she would be offended. It became so tiresome, I dropped the (otherwise interesting) conversation because I didn't feel like arguing for things beside the current point.

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  33. Hello Minette!

    It's true, some idioms should be retired. But it's perhaps too much to ask of papas in their 70s and 80s to do so. Let's start doing it ourselves rather (I know you and I do, I mean in general)

    As to political correctness, please see my reply to Liisa. It gets to the point when words lose their meaning. And "when words lose their meaning", I'm reminded of Thucydides....

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  34. Pitbull friend,

    LOL! Thanks for that!!
    I also remember J.F.Kennedy's Berlin speech! (less "intimate" though)

    You see, sometimes the tongue slips. I think Jean Paul didn't really realise what he said till after he said it.

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  35. Ines,

    thanks for commenting! We take all opinions here and a lively dialogue is in fact encouraged. So even if people jumped up on you, as long as they did it civilly and with logical arguments... :-)

    I agree that one can be PC and be more hurtful than otherwise. For instance to bring it perfume-circle-wise, which is worse: saying "oh, that's a lovely perfume you're wearing, what is it?" when in fact you think it stinks and want to avoid it (thus fooling the poor person into continuing to use it and augmenting maybe the dose) or saying "please, could you mind switching your perfume? It annoys me, I think it smells really bad". I would have preferred the second stance, even if I would be temporarily embarrassed...

    Or think of those auditions where people are told "maybe you should stick to your day job". Maybe, just maybe, sugar-coating everything isn't always doing someone good in the end.

    Of course since race is something completely different and ingrained into one's DNA, there would be absolutely no point in bringing it into conversation. Would it? Which brings us at the top....interesting trajectory though, eh?

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  36. Racial terms are a minefield here in the U.S., so I can't really condemn the man given my country's history. One should always think before they speak though.

    This somewhat reminds me of Crystal Champagne bigwig - Frederic Rouzaud - who in an interview seemed to lament the enthusiastic African-American use of the product. After his comments were published, rappers and other Af.Am. stars boycotted the beverage in favor of Grey Goose or Dom Perignon. But, apparently sales didn't hurt Crystal.

    ~ Susan

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  37. I just caught up with the official apology from Guerlain on Wim Janssen's Guerlain Facebook fanpage.

    They are clearly mortified by the whole incident and furiously - and understandably - putting some "clear blue water" between JPG and the current company.

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  38. The sad thing, it all become political, not just social. But I will say that where I live we "used to say" work as a negro meaning work very hard. Really right now this is politically incorrect, so we don't hear this, just maybe in some houses when people feel at ease and know they are just saying something that doesn't mean anything bad. Black people really worked hard in time of the colony. The second sentence JP Guerlain says is what really made the fire burn, but he is not a young boy who follows the "morals" of our political society, so I think he just said it as if saying ok, you know, I think I really worked hard in this perfume. The problem is that now everything is labelled and we should be more open to the nowadays ideologies under so called democracies. Because if he said that, he shouldn't but this is should not be an issue that calls SOS Racisme and many groups to ban and untolrate this brand that is genuine. Sorry for JP guerlain but yes, he worked as a n. Only that now this sounds so bad. But I know of black people who really don't take this such offensive. But politicians.. like to take it this way. He felt at home, this is his sin..I am not judging, he knows he shouldn't have said it. but now... crucifixion... it is really going to far. I love Guerlain perfumes. Yes!

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  39. Anonymous18:28

    Wow, there sure is a lot of white privilege and white 'explaining' going on in this post and comments.

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  40. Brownie,

    indeed they are. I wonder whether actions should be more monitored rather than words, although words can hurt, that's for sure.

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  41. V,

    they have distanced themselves and it's natural. I do wish they had done so if they had full knowledge of such beliefs before something like that happened, though.

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  42. VL,

    I'm always extremely cognisant of the political aspect of any social incident. Man is not an island and there is an influence between us. To deny it is pure folly.

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  43. Anon,

    you may have a point. It's not that we're trying to justify him because there is any "race" common thread though, I believe it's because we have come to love the refined perfumes and what they stood for and can't accept that someone who has made us dream so much can have cruder aspects than we anticipated.

    Of course I defer to your more acute understanding of the offences made, if you're black. I can assure you nevertheless that not one of us is a denier of colonial slavery. Least of all me, since I'm an historian. The mere thought that "it didn't exist" (if people really do believe such things) is seriously backwards and asinine.

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  44. Adding to the above to clarify:
    If indeed the inherence made from his second sentence is that black people didn't work hard as slaves (which I think it was what he left open to be understood as such).
    I might have misunderstood the whole thing!

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