National identity and a nanny named Becassine
One of the things that glues you to the people of your nation is shared childhood experience. It’s always an odd moment for me when I remember again that I do not have the same childhood tropes as most of my close friends. Some countries are more insular than others and the French have been careful to cultivate their own pop culture.
Let’s examine this familiar image of the affable, foolish nanny.
Not only did I adore this character, I had a large doll version of Becassine that I carried around so often one of her legs fell off.
[Sam Chardin, 4 years old. Paris, France.]
Bécassine is a character that originated in 1909 and remained popular through the years. The cartoon excels in the humor of French culture: laughing at rubes from Belgium and joyous slapstick.
She has a well-known theme song:
They’ve attempted animated versions dubbed into English. The English version doesn’t work. It is often the case that pop culture that works well in France does not translate to the Anglo-Saxon sense of humor. Only more serious movies seem capable of making the cultural leap. [See also: Le diner de cons / Dinner for Schmucks for further study.]
The movie Becassine: The Wackiest Nanny Ever is not wacky. Particularly in English.
In the live action version from 1940 you get a better sense of the humor. They’re mocking her oafishness, but she’s such a sweet naif that you love her as well.
French-speaking children adore Becassine because she is childish. When trying to navigate the strict societal regulations of French culture an oafish adult is a balm to the spirit of a child.
The name Becassine can mean “dolt” in French and I probably still relate to my old nanny doll. In fact, just this past Remembrance Day I accidentally used a men’s room at the armory. When I exited the stall I was greeted by the sight of three men in full military uniform against the urinals. How might Becassine handle a similar situation? Well, she’d assume they were in the Ladies’ Room and whack ’em on the head with her umbrella.
I dashed out without such fanfare.
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