Sunday 11 March 2012

Bullying is English

A few things I seem to have discovered since moving to Britain, 8 years ago, and which seem rather specific to this country.

The vomiting bug is one. Before, I used to think when someone is being sick then it was most probably that they ate something which did not agree with their stomach. Not anymore.

Marmite is another.  People love it or hate it. I love it!

Separate tax in couples/families. The UK politicians do not care if the person working supports a wife and three young children. That person would still pay the same amount of tax as a childless single person.

And bullying.

Not to say that people are not bullied in other parts of the world, but to start with there is no specific word in French for bullying. You could say "intimidation", though this rather means its English homograph. Similarly, the nearest French word to bully would be "voyou". Then again a thug would be closest in meaning to "voyou".

I think it is telling when a word seems to be culture-specific. It most probably denotes something that needs a specific denomination to acknowledge its presence and relative acceptance in that culture.

The danger of having a specific word for something that can otherwise be described with already existing words (mean, unkind, nasty, cruel, vicious) is that some people will accept this situation as a state of affair. I mean by this that people in general will think: here's a bully, how can we deal with this? Let's take the moral high ground and ignore it as the bully is not worthy of our attention. Or to the victim of bullying: oh poor you, please avoid this person, she's a bully.

If instead, the bully was called by its nearest French equivalent a thug, the attitude of the victim and the witnesses would be different. Would you ignore a thug? I don't think so.
A bully victim is by definition "weaker", and will only feel weaker unless they and society stand up to the bully and make them change their ways.

Lately, I have been having first hand experience of bullying. I do consider myself in this circumstance weaker, physically (I am much slighter than the bully) and mentally (I am a foreigner and an outsider to the setting). It all came to blows yesterday when I was called names. I just left the scene, shocked and upset. Everyone around was trying to calm me down, almost blaming me for attempting to retaliate.

Shall I be English and think I am above this and step away? Or should I be my Algerian headstrong and proud self and stand up to the thug? The jury is still out on this one.


  1. So sorry that happened! Be yourself and stand up for what you know is right. As an "essential outsider", you can confront things in the culture that are not just. We have the same problem in Berlin and in German it's called "Mobbing". I see my primary school students learning this behaviour at a very early age and I am doing my best to teach them to solve problems verbally and about the power of peace.

  2. Thanks Sheila for your kind words.
    I know bullying exists everywhere, I was tormented as a child in Algeria. It's just that I really dislike the relatively passive attitude I sometimes see where I live in England when "a bully" is identified.
    Refreshing to hear your efforts at identifying unacceptable behaviour and try to nip it in the bud by encouraging communication :)

  3. I too am fascinated by the fact that bullying does not translate easily in French. I remember having this discussion with students when i was teaching french.
    Stand up to them i say, but i am not British either!

    Oh and you love marmite??!

  4. Interesting Annabelle that you thought this too. Will keep everyone updated :)
    An yes, strangely enough, BK1 and I love marmite. I think it reminds me of "la levure de bière" (fresh yeast) which we used to get from the baker when I was a child, to make bread at home...

  5. Really interesting. I've never thought of it, but bullying doesn't exist in the french language. My 5 year old was bullied at school and I told her to be herself and be proud of who she is...although the bully may not understand where you're coming from, you will feel good because you followed your beliefs. (at least I hope so since that's what I tell my kids).

  6. Hey Reb, strange isn't it? I am tempted to look into this more in depth.
    By the way, loved your piece on your trip to England. Glad you felt a bit home :)


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