The French Art of ‘Râler’
“L’essentiel, c’est de râler” — Michel Audiard
Such is France’s collective passion for the art of râler that had “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” not exemplified the spirit of the French Revolution, there is every chance Audiard’s mission statement would have swept in and claimed the title of France’s National Motto instead.
The image of the grumpy French râleur with his outward disdain for life as we know it is as much a timeworn cliché as the beret-hatted Parisian bicycling through Montmartre, baguette tucked underarm. But while the modern Francophone will rightly reject these stereotypes (and possibly tell you to go shove your baguette up… well, a bodily crevice that might prevent you returning home from the boulangerie à velo); there are few who could deny the French love to râler.
What they will fight (sorry, debate) you on, however — and rightly, so — is the definition of “râler”.
The Collins French-English dictionary offers the rather lacklustre translation of râler as “to moan and groan”, but spend any length of time in France and you will soon realize it is so much more. Like a Picasso painting or the French sport (*ahem* pastime) of petanque; to fully understand the joys of râler you have to look at it from a different angle.
Emily Monaco describes it perfectly in her article “Why the French Love to Complain” for the BBC: “In France, there are several words for “to complain”: there’s “se plaindre”, used for regular old complaining; there’s “porter plainte”, for complaining more officially. And then there’s “râler”: complaining just for the fun of it.”
And it turns out that it is fun.
It’s the freedom and empowerment to let off steam and express yourself. It’s a way to connect and empathize with others. It’s a way to make light of the minor frustrations, stresses, and disappointments that make up daily life by realizing that no matter what your social standing or political leanings, we can all come together to bemoan our mutual contempt for the mini roundabout or the devilish evils of l’Administration Français.
In a way, the very essence of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, non ?