The "plouc" : a negative representation of Bretons

At the end of the 19th century, a large number of Bretons left their region to settle in Paris, in search of a better life. Most of them spoke only Breton. For Parisians, this language is incomprehensible and crude. All they heard was the sound of "plou", which seemed to be omnipresent. This is how the Bretons became "ploucs" for  the Parisians.



Le plouc - Karambolage - ARTE


Bretons in Paris

On the eve of the First World War, an estimated 200,000 Bretons were living in the capital. Most of them were rough folk who didn't speak French. Parisians looked on them with disdain and condescension, but they were cheap labour who accepted the most thankless tasks. 

The better-off worked as domestic servants, the men as coachmen while their wives or daughters worked as maids. There isn't a good bourgeois who doesn't have his little Breton maid. 

When these Bretons were asked where they came from, it was always from plou... something:

In Brittany, in Finistère and Côtes d'Armor, there are some 70 localities whose names begin with Plou, 'plou' simply meaning 'parish'. 

As a result, in Paris, Bretons are nicknamed ploucs, with all the contempt that implies for their peasant roots and rather simple habits. 

Bécassine: the archetypal stupid Breton maid

This contempt was maintained and reinforced by a paper heroine, Bécassine. In 1905, a new weekly magazine for girls, "La Semaine de Suzette", appeared. A few days before the first issue was due to appear, a writer failed to deliver an article.The editor-in-chief, Madame Bernard de la Roche, found herself with an empty page. She came up with the idea of telling the story of a blunder made by her little Breton maid, and getting one of her friends to illustrate it. The result was Bécassine, with her green dress, white apron and headdress. She was a caricature of the brave Breton woman who had come to Paris, and clumsy, as the nickname Bécassine underlines. For while a Bécassine is a charming little wader, in everyday language she is above all a totally silly young girl.

Bécassine was a huge success, first in Suzette's Semaine and then in the form of 27 albums, well into the 1950s. Several generations of French children grew up with this image of the Breton peasant girl, a good girl but a bit stupid, both simple and candid, though cunning.

Bécassine confirms to the whole of France that Bretons are "ploucs". After a while, you can imagine that the Bretons couldn't stand this kind of caricature any more. And so Bécassine fell victim to an attempt on her life. In June 1939, three Bretons from Paris organised a commando to destroy her wax statue at the Musée Grévin. No, Bécassine was not their heroine, and even less their cousin. So if you're travelling through Brittany, it's best to avoid any reference to Bécassine, and even more so to this old "plouc" story.


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