Red, White, and Blue! (And, regarding the sign over the door... we trust this ship is now on course.) Today we are talking about where we were when we witnessed the historic inauguration (see today's story column). Please join in, in the comments box!

le serment (sair-mahn) noun, masculine
    1. oath
    2. pledge

la prestation de serment = taking the oath, the inauguration
prêter serment = to take an oath; to be sworn in
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "serment" and read the examples: Download Serment Download Serment


"La Prestation de Serment"

Here in France our family listened, by car radio, to the inauguration of America's 44th president. We were en route to an R&B concert (Chris Brown) in Marseilles, when we heard Senator Barack Obama prêter serment.*

Listening to the oath was a challenge from the start, as every time Obama said a word, the voice of French translation arose... and garbled it! This posed a dilemma: whether to concentrate on the version originale*... or the French echo that quickly obliterated it. Just when I resolved to listen to the version française,* in piped the President again, overriding the French!

Adding to the confusion were the pint-size political commentators in the back seat. (Particularly amusing to our kids, were the seconds in between the Presidential changeover. When the clock struck 6 p.m. here in France (12:00 in Washington, DC), Max announced that the United States was now sans président. "Attention aux coups!" he warned.

"Shhh! Listen, they're about to swear in the vice president, I replied.
"Qu'est-ce que c'est un "vice president" Max wanted to know.
"Un vice president..." Jean-Marc began, thoughtfully....
"Shhh! Let's listen!" I said.

We had reached the outskirts of Avignon when Obama began his pledge:
"Je jure solennellement..."*

...only, the kids queries continued!

"Est-ce que Obama aime la France?" Jackie wanted to know.
"Oui, Obama aime la France," Jean-Marc assured her.
With that, I issued a reminder: "Please! I would like to hear the oath!"

I had just missed the English, but caught the tail end of the French translation, where Obama promised to do "tout ce qui est en mon pouvoir pour préserver, protéger et défendre la Constitution des Etats-Unis".*

With that, cheering could be heard from across the Atlantic, thanks to modern technology (our trusty radio).

"Maman, you now have two presidents!" Max pointed out, referring to (and including) our French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"Yes, that's right... now please, let's listen!"

Obama's speech had already begun, but I would hear only fragments of it--no thanks to the political babbling, which continued from the backseat.

"Papa, est-ce que t'as jamais voté pour quelqu'un qui n'a pas gagné?"*
Jean-Marc cited the 1988 French presidential election in which Jacques Chirac lost.

"Please! I am trying to understand what the President is saying!" I persisted.

As Jean-Marc, Max, and Jackie, along with Barack--and that motor-mouth French interpreter--competed for attention, I felt myself begin to snap and it only took one more question (this, from my daughter) for my hands to fly up into the air and my mouth to fly open along with them.  "GAAAAHD!" I thundered.

Silence fell over the car, but for the screaming shame emanating from the passenger's seat.

With my family shocked silent, President Obama's words could now, effectively, be heard. Only now, he seemed to talk directly to my family, reminding us of values such as "...the force of our example..." and "the tempering qualities of HUMILITY and RESTRAINT."

The president's words washed over me, turning me around in an abrupt "about face" with my daughter. Now reaching to the backseat of the car, I was about to witness how a child's example of forgiveness would bring to life our President's words about truth and character:

"I am sorry, Jackie," I apologized. To my outreached hand, my daughter offered her own, unreservedly. Her next gesture took me by surprise. She lifted my hand, high up, and kissed it!

Like that, in her generous way, my daughter had offered more than forgiveness: she showed unwavering faith and respect. Even more, her actions underlined an underlying theme in Obama's speech: humility.

Mr. President, I missed parts of your message. But I heard it when you said that, by our actions the world will know us, not by our words. So I am no longer worried about the words that I have missed, for I have seen the spirit of your message written across my own humbled hand, delivered there by the sweet lips of a child.

P.S.: Mr. President, Jackie would like you to know that France likes you too!

Where were you when you heard Barack Obama take oath? What parts of his speech spoke to you the most? Share your thoughts in the comments box.
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box. Merci!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
prêté serment = took oath; la version (f) originale = original language or version; la version (f) française = French language version; Attention aux coups! = watch out for (any) attacks!; Je jure solennellement... = I solemnly swear"; ...tout ce qui est en mon pouvoir pour préserver, protéger et défendre la Constitution des Etats-Unis = ...to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States; Papa, est-ce que t'as jamais voté pour quelqu'un qui n'a pas gagné? = Dad, have you ever voted for someone who (eventually) did not win?
My daughter has been teaching me from the day she arrived--at the maternity ward in Aix-en-Provence... Read about that, and learn some of those lessons, here in this book:

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love...

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