quand on tient pas, on ne boit pas

Novanas

Senior Member
English AE/Ireland
Dear Friends, as we English-speakers all know, this verb "tenir" is often a problem, and the above is an example that I'm not sure of.

This is found in Bleu Profond by Alain Teulié. The narrator is a young woman who was once a diver (in swimming pools, not in the sea), until she had an accident that damaged some muscles in her leg and left her with a permanent limp. She's now working in a café.

Parfois seulement, il arrivait qu'un indélicat, me regardant aller et venir derrière le bar, me demande pourquoi je boitais. «Quand on tient pas, on boit pas», disais-je seulement, avec un regard aussi noir que possible.

One definition of "tenir" as an intransitive verb is "to hold out", and I believe that broadly speaking, that's what she means here. But I'm not sure of the specific meaning. Perhaps something like, "If you have so little self-control", or perhaps, "If you can't keep your mouth shut."

I've considered the possibility that what she means is, "Quand on tient pas l'alcool", but I'm not sure of that, because I think that if she meant "l'alcool", that's what she would have said.

At any rate, if anyone can help clarify this, many thanks.
 
  • Eef's

    Senior Member
    France
    hello !: You're absolutelyright in your guess, it refers to alcohol. "when you can't hold your drink, don't drink.." (<-- something like that)
     

    Novanas

    Senior Member
    English AE/Ireland
    Thanks for your reply, Eef's. I wasn't at all sure of that, but it seems to me to make more sense in the context.
     

    Cookie-de-pain

    Member
    France French
    I don't think this is what "tenir" means here.
    She says she's limping, therefore she means she has trouble standing. "Quand on ne tient pas DEBOUT, on ne boit pas".
     

    yael dans l'herbe

    Senior Member
    français
    Whatever interpretation it is, the barmaid's answer is odd for seeming incomplete. If you want to say 'je ne tiens pas l'alcole' you usualy don't say 'Je ne tiens pas' and as well for 'je ne tiens pas debout'.
     

    Flynnzane

    Senior Member
    french, english
    il boit tous les jours à s'en rendre malade, à ne plus tenir debout
    d'accord avec Cookie " l'indélicat n'a que bien se tenir
     
    "Quand on tient pas, on boit pas" is quite poetic, I mean in terms rhyme and syllables, rather than content. You have 2 x 3 syllables, both ending in "pas".
    If you add either "alcool" or "debout" you rather ruin this effect, subconscious as it may be.
     

    Novanas

    Senior Member
    English AE/Ireland
    Thanks to everyone for their contributions here. However, I have to say that I don't really understand this notion "quand on ne tient pas debout." I don't understand why the girl (her name is Olésia) would say something like that. The conversation would go like this:

    "Why are you limping?"
    "If you can't keep your feet, you shouldn't drink."

    That is, if we take "on" to refer to Olésia, she's saying she shouldn't drink. But the question was, "Why are you limping?", not "Why aren't you drinking?"

    Whereas, if we take "on" to refer to "l'indélicat", then she's basically saying, "You've had too much to drink. You should shut up." And for me that makes sense.

    To give more context: Olésia was a champion diver until about the age of 16 when she suffered an accident while diving and was lucky not to have been killed. After that, obviously, her diving career was at an end, and it was a serious blow for her. She became withdrawn, she cut herself off from her family. Now she's working in the bar, and she likes it because no one knows her there, and they rarely ask her any questions. She doesn't have to talk about herself or her accident. These "indélicats" may not be aware that her limp is permanent. They may think that she just had a little accident that she'll soon recover from.

    At any rate, it's quite clear from context that she doesn't like people asking her about her accident or her limp. That's why I take "on" to refer to "l'indélicat". When someone asks a question, she tries to shut them up.
     

    Punky Zoé

    Senior Member
    Pau
    France - français
    Hi there!

    The expression, out of your context, is clear: it does mean as said before, something like 'If you can't hold your booze, stay away from spirits!'? It is a maxim.

    But in your context, does the girl say something else? (if not, the link between the question and the answer is a bit obscure...)
     

    Novanas

    Senior Member
    English AE/Ireland
    Hello, Punky Zoé. No, the girl has nothing else to say here. I'll agree that the link between the question and the answer isn't entirely clear. But in the preceding paragraph, she does make it clear that she doesn't like personal questions.

    So, if it's agreed that "Quand on tient pas" means, "If you can't hold your drink," then, as I said, it seems to me she's saying that the man has had too much to drink, and that's why he's asking about her limp.
     

    pointvirgule

    Senior Member
    langue française
    Perhaps something like, "If you have so little self-control", or perhaps, "If you can't keep your mouth shut."
    I'm wondering if that's not what she means. Quand on ne tient pas [sa langue] → When you can't keep your mouth shut. ?

    Edit – On reflection, the deliberate absence of a direct object could very well mean that she implies both senses: can't hold your mouth shut and can't hold your liquor. I think it could be translated directly: If you can't hold, don't drink.
     
    Last edited:

    Punky Zoé

    Senior Member
    Pau
    France - français
    Edit – On reflection, the deliberate absence of a direct object could very well mean that she implies both senses: can't hold your mouth shut and can't hold your liquor. I think it could be translated directly: If you can't hold, don't drink.
    I'll go for that, a litteral meaning and another one hidden.
     

    Novanas

    Senior Member
    English AE/Ireland
    Well, we've got all sorts of options then. I could accept there being two meanings here. Given that I'm not a native French-speaker, I don't count as an expert here. The only problem is that "If you can't hold" is meaningless in English.

    If we're going to deliberately leave things a bit vague, I might be tempted to go with something like, "If that's the best you can do, you shouldn't drink"--meaning "If that's all you can think of to say." Or perhaps, "If that's the way it's going to be, you shouldn't drink"--meaning "If this is what we must expect from you."

    This is wandering a bit from the original French, but if the French isn't entirely clear, then perhaps we're justified in wandering a bit and just going with what an English-speaker is likely to say in this situation. At any rate, it appears there's a number of options here.
     

    guillaumedemanzac

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England Home Counties
    I think it is a rather black humour joke by the waitress. In effect, telling the drinker not to make personal comments (when drinking) to strangers.
    The phrase in English and French is "If you can't hold your drink, don't drink."
    Unfortunately the pun boit and boite dosn't work in English, only in French - "on boit et puis on boite". Un regard noir and then a cutting remark. She is simply telling an old drunk to shut up and not make personal comments.
    guillaume
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I understand it the same way as guillaume - which is to say, rather straightforwardly.

    You aren't supposed to draw attention to people's infirmities. However, drink loosens the tongue, as we all know far too well... I think the elided logical step is "If you can't hold your drink - i.e. if you get drunk enough to make comments about things that shouldn't be talked about - then you shouldn't be drinking in the first place." You know that the narrator thinks that any discussion of her limp is a social error because she describes those that say things about it as "indélicat."
     

    KaRiNe_Fr

    Senior Member
    Français, French - France
    Salut Seneca the Duck,

    Je me demandais... est-il possible que l'accident de cette femme ait été dû à la boisson ? Sait-on si elle a eu un accident de voiture par exemple ? Elle, ou bien le conducteur aurait eu cet accident en état d'ivresse ? :confused:
    Ça pourrait expliquer sa réponse avec un regard noir lancé au buveur...
     

    Novanas

    Senior Member
    English AE/Ireland
    No, the accident had nothing to do with drink. She was diving--doing a very difficult dive and she hit her head on the diving platform. She was knocked unconscious and was lucky not to have been killed, but she damaged her leg when it hit the water at an awkward angle.
     

    hampton.mc

    Senior Member
    French
    Je suis d'accord avec lucas-sp, elle le remet à sa place en lui faisant remarquer que s'il n'avait pas trop bu il ne se serait pas permis de lui faire une remarque sur son infirmité. L'alcool le rend indélicat, il ne tient pas l'alcool ou il ne sait plus se tenir (se comporter normalement et donc poliment) une fois qu'il a bu.
     
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