Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Marianne m'a tuer

Recently I read a book by Bernard Wittmann titled: Marianne m'a tuer. According to the critics I actually expected a book about the history of the Alsace but instead read how governments in Paris had subdued and still tuent (kill) - according to Wittmann - the Elsassdütsch. This German-Alemannic dialect spoken by the local population is choked to foster (or force) the French language.

Bernard chose the book title - it surely is the most interesting part - for publicity. At the origin is a well-known catch phrase in France: Omar m’a tuer. (Omar has killed me).

Living in her villa in Mougins, South of France, a distinguished widowed lady employed a Moroccan gardener called Omar. One day in June 1991 she was found stabbed dead in her cave. On the door written in blood the police read: Omar m'a tuer. The gardener was arrested and indicted for murder. Soon the prosecutor was in a dilemma. How is it possible that an educated old lady writes such a grammatical blunder: tuer instead of tuée?

A similar mistake is neither possible in English nor in German. In these languages there is a distinct difference between the infinitive and the past participle of a verb, i.e. kill and killed or töten and getötet. In principle the same is true in French. However the pronunciation of tuer and tuée is exactly the same and uneducated Frenchman and -women are known to have difficulties choosing the correct grammatical form. But if the educated lady did not write the grammatically incorrect phrase with her own blood had there been a third person putting the blame on an innocent Omar?

Fact is, the 5000 francs the victim had kept at home were gone and Omar had been in need of money as he had gambling debts. On the other hand Omar had an alibi for the time of the murder. To make a long court case short he was condemned in 1994 for first degree murder to a prison sentence of 18 years although Omar was defended by the best council for the defense in France Maître Vergès. Vergès - in his since then famous last words - went back in history reminding the court of the Dreyfus affair: Il y a 100 ans on condamnait un officier car il avait le tort d'être juif, aujourd'hui on condamne un jardinier car il a le tort d'être maghrébin. (Hundred years ago one condemned an officer because he had the flaw of being Jewish, today one condemns a gardener because he has the flaw of being Maghrebian). It is known that many people in France applauded Omar’s sentence in the way as a good friend of mine felt when he once told me: Tu sais Manfred je ne suis pas raciste mais je n'aime pas les Arabes (You know Manfred I am not a racist but I don't like the Arabs).


The following cartoon somehow complements the old story or was even initiated by it.

The text War Selbstmord (It was a suicide) convinces one officer while the other shouts: Feierabend !

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