sous les pavés la plage

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by Aupick, Jul 8, 2005.

  1. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    Moderator Note: Several threads have been merged to create this one.

    Can anyone tell me...

    did this phrase exist before Mai 68 or was it coined during Mai 68?


    is there a better way of translating it than the rather prosaic 'Under the paving stones you'll find sand' and such things?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2009
  2. josephboen

    josephboen Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    US - American English
    According to my French roommate it comes directly from "mai '68" and it means that under the oppressive rules of civilisation lies freedom. I'm not sure if there is an equivalent translation in English.
  3. anangelaway

    anangelaway Senior Member

    HI Aupick!

    Then in this case, you could say 'Under the paved stones lies liberty', no?
  4. josephboen

    josephboen Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    US - American English
    I like that take on the translation! I would translate "les pavés" as "cobblestone" so "Under the cobblestones lies liberty"
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Sorry to be slow, but is this a modern revolutionary reference suggesting that if we rebel against authority by lifting paving stones, or cobblestones, and throwing them at .... well, whatever we choose, we will win our way through to a new freedom?

    (This is a totally non-judgemental question - I am interested only in the meaning of the expression.)

    If that is correct, then the "under the paving stones you'll find sand" is missing the power of the original. "la plage" would convey not simply sand, but the freedom of life on the beach, away from the city.
    And I then understand anangelaway's and josephboen's comments - my choice would be freedom, rather than liberty, but each to his own.
  6. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    I kind of understand the slogan as meaning:

    a) beneath this veneer that we call modern civilisation, represented by the pavés, is a form of freedom that is represented by the natural world (la plage);

    (and possibly) b) we can reach that freedom by following the fine French tradition of pulling the pavés to build barricades to fight the government.
    'Under the paving stones lies freedom' seems like the best bet so far, but it's sadly abstract compared to the French. I was hoping there might be some natural image that could capture that (other than beach, if possible, since beach conjures up too many images of suntan lotion, parasols, beignets, jetskis, etc. etc.).
  7. Amityville

    Amityville Senior Member

    English UK
    'Under the paving stones lies the earth' ? In a sense it does, but you can almost hear the reply 'Yeah....?' or 'Well spotted, Einstein'.
  8. anangelaway

    anangelaway Senior Member

    ''Under the pavings stones emanate the beach perfumes''''Under the paving stones, the clear path to the beach''

    Just suggestions, I know it is not perfect... Not easy to keep the idea of la "Plage'', unless you are using the ocean/sand/waves, etc...
    Sorry, I just tried.. :(
  9. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    Hey, I like this, AnAngel. :) It's a bit of a twist on the original, but that's probably what's called for.

    I also think 'earth' is simple but effective, although maybe it would be better following the structure of the original: 'Under the paving stones, the earth'. This way it might just forestall the sarcastic comments...
  10. zazie Member

    USA, English
    I like cobblestones rather than paving stones. At least in America, whenever we talk about riots involving throwing these objects, we talk about cobblestones rather than paving stones.
  11. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    Hmm. The problem with cobblestones is that in the English-speaking world they tend to connote quaint winding streets in olde worlde tourist towns, even though cobblestone is exactly what a pavé is, whereas they're used all over Paris (because they're more durable than tarmac, I read once). But it's true you can't pelt riot police with paving stones. Hmm.
  12. zazie Member

    USA, English
    Now that I think about it some more, I hardly even associate paving stones to roads. When I think of paving stones, I mostly think of garden patios and walkways. But perhaps that's not the case for everyone.
  13. anangelaway

    anangelaway Senior Member

    Yes Aupick, they're used all over the country, and also in Montpellier. If I do remember you do have paved roads around La Place de La Comédie, or not anymore? Now the 'pavés' in the demonstrator's hands were the paving stones (des cailloux lisses en forme de pavé).

    I found this site, it is quite interesting, the title as well.
  14. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Not so.
    All you need is a tool to lever up the edge and a big strong guy to smash the paving stone.
    Result, a pile of weapons that have been used all too often in my part of the world.

    anangelaway: Your link will not work for me?
  15. David

    David Banned

    The problem is that the pavés are neatly cut, rectangular blocks, paving stones, while cobblestones are round stones set into mortar to form a pavement. Cobblestoned streets are different from streets paved with stone blocks. Nous sommes tous indesirables...
  16. anangelaway

    anangelaway Senior Member

    Sorry Pan, not sure what I did, but right now, it should work...:(
  17. Gil Senior Member

    Français, Canada
    sous les pavés, la plage = slogan dating from the 1968 student riots and referring both to the paving stones thrown at the police and to the ideal of a more fulfilling life beyond the confines of drab conformity
    Copyright © 2000, Harrap's Multimedia, © 2000, Havas Interactive

    After having read all the posts and the Harrap's explanation, my try:
    "Under the pavings stones, a better life"
  18. benebene New Member

    English, US
    why not use a very direct translation?:
    under the paving stones, the beach

    i don't see why the second half presents such a problem. the beach is understood as having the connotations in English of freedom, enjoyment, pleasure, etc. somehow it seems like the objection is that beach is too frivolous, too pleasurable, too leisure-class etc. but remember the slogan from debord & jacques fillon (potlatch 1954):

    The valorization of leisure is not, then, a mere pleasantry. We remind you that this means inventing new games.

    leisure here, as in the slogan has a revolutionary, transformatory potential.

    remember also, it is a slogan, so the fewer words, the less abstract, the better.
  19. Cedders New Member

    English - Southern England
    The poet Oliver Bernard, who has published translations of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, has the English version as "UNDER THE COBBLESTONES -- THE BEACH". It recently (May 2008) appeared in the Banksy London exhibition sprayed on tarmac as "Beneath the pavement, the beach", which conveys less of rioting, and more of guerilla gardening. Without knowledge of the riots, it may appear simply poetic to English ears.
  20. A Random Design New Member

    This is one of those phrases whose literal translation doesn't not translate the actual meaning.

    It means that the possibilities are endless.

    BBC World Service had a great podcast/broadcast about the student movement in France during the 60s. You can find it here. It talks about this phrase and its meaning.

    I'm not allowed to post url's yet, but look for a podcast called "Philosophy in the Streets" on bbc's world service site. It is one of their documentary archives, produced on or around May 6, 2008. One can find it via bbc or via itunes.
  21. imaimedthemoon New Member

    Why not diverge from the literal translation, and go for "Underneath the boardwalk, the beach"? It has the advantage of maintaining the alliteration of the French original (pavés - plage) and retains some of its meaning (that there is a choice between the fixed paths bourgois society tries to lure you to by promising an easy stroll and the harder-won freedom of the unpaved beach).
  22. pozzo

    pozzo Senior Member

    inglés canadiense
    I would have said "beneath the pavement lies the beach". While pavement could mean concrete or tarmac instead of cobblestones, most of the literal meaning seems to be there. I wasn't there in May '68, but my suggestion conveys clearly to me the message that I get when I hear it in French: that by deconstructing what's been built, you can reveal what is hidden beneath. I got my understanding of it from the BBC documentary that Random mentions which is at
  23. The MightyQ Senior Member

    English, Canada
    The seeds of freedom lie under the paving stones.
    [If you tear up the stones, then freedom can grow.]
    Or liberty if you prefer.
    But as A.R.D. sys, endless possibilities!
  24. dhyandeva

    dhyandeva Member

    London, UK
    UK English
    Apparently it originated because they found sand under the paving stones or whatever they were, when they took them up to throw or whatever. British paving stones certainly used to lie on top of sand too. They may have changed that method since.
  25. Kalense New Member

    English - England
    Cobblestones in mainland Europe are mostly either cubical or brick-shaped, and usually arranged like bricks in a wall. They are not quite as nasty to cycle over as the UK / US cobbles, but they make some stretches of some cycle races exceptionally horrible. Belgium has many such streets.

    It's true that pavé translates as paving stone, but it also translates as cobblestone, and in the plural, one would normally understand "cobbles" in metropolitan French.

    I think I might go for "under the cobbles, life". It captures the metaphor and has a little of that same dual sense as plage, though admittedly not the same two senses.
  26. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    This is absolutely true. The cobbles (sometimes called setts in the north of England) which in Paris are about six inches square and eminently throwable, were and probably still are bedded into a base layer of sand. Most people don't know this (clearly most people on this site didn't) and so when the students dug them up they were delighted to see this metaphor and coined that slogan. If "cobbles" sounds too rounded in your part of the world, you might choose "paving-blocks".

    Change it to "paving stones" "boardwalk" (utterly wrong, you don't throw boards at policement if you have stones handy), "freedom" or anything else and you lose the message.

    Why complicate things when the simple translation is so beautifully appropriate - Beneath the cobbles, the beach/sand. Have you no homes to go to?
    Last edited: May 8, 2009
  27. LILOIA Senior Member
    First two guys discover that under the cobblestones / paving (whatever) lay yellow sand (used to steady the stones) and as they used to open the water-pumps against the CRS' grenades, the sand was wet, hence the idea of the beach. The first attempt was "Sous les pavés, l'herbe" but as it meant "hash" too, they dropped the idea. So, at the start, it was literally, and not figuratively : under the paving / cobblestones (whatever), the beach !
    Last edited: May 8, 2009
  28. nibs New Member

    English - Canada
    i am obviously very late on this, but i think that both a direct and a less literal translation are appropriate...side by side.

    for the direct one, i like the above "below the cobbles, the beach".

    as for indirect, trying to capture the feel of a the atmosphere the phrase emerged from is hard. I am partial to something like "away from this life, a better one"

  29. pozzo

    pozzo Senior Member

    inglés canadiense
    I stumbled across this thread again, and reading it through, I feel that I would replace pavement in my suggestion with paving stones or cobblestones as many have put. Otherwise, I mostly think of pavement as solid concrete or tarmac, and the important aspect of the pavement being made of stones that can be dismantled by hand mostly isn't there (or at least isn't obvious).
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2015
  30. franc 91 Senior Member

    English - GB
    Les pavés in question are square paving stones, dressed by hand from a very hard local stone called grés, that comes from the South of the Ile de France - the quarries are still there together with the carefully stacked paving stones. Grés in English is sandstone and you get a lot of sand where you find the stone - in the Forêt de Fontainebleau for example - donc dans la nature il y a souvent la plage sous les pavés. Perhaps the original idea came from what people saw on trips out to the Forest, a favourite weekend destination for parisiens.

    Under the stones there's always the beach - (my humble suggestion)
  31. Uncle Bob Senior Member

    British English
    As KB wrote, the cobbled strrets were originally constructed* by laying the cobbles on a bed of sand, so that when a cobble was levered up (for other use) there was sand (the beach) beneath it. The phrase was therefore humorous as well as romantic.

    I don't think both can be conveyed by a translation since the reference was only obvious at the time.

    * That method is still used, only with cobblestones that are too large/heavy to throw more than 50 cm.
  32. Chitalpo

    Chitalpo New Member

    english - U.S.
    A good thread. I was searching for "best English translation of sous les pavres la plage" which, for the various reasons above, doesn't ever seem to translate into American English as well as we wish it could... Under the pavers, the beach. "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" is familiar and somewhat parallel in both sentiment and time frame, but lacks the revolutionary urgency of actually ripping up the asphalt and building barricades.
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2017
  33. Kecha Senior Member

    French (France)
  34. whackerican Senior Member

    American English
    Here's a negation of this phrase I found:
    VIDEO. Cinquante ans après, les leaders de Mai-68 sont-ils restés fidèles à leurs idéaux?
    that might clarify the translation.

    In the context of 1968 radicals, a paragraph heading reads, "Beaucoup ont fini par découvrir sous les pavés non pas la plage, mais le marché."

    My figurative translation would be to translate "la plague" by the good-life, "Many [radicals] that rebelled didn't discover an easy, carefree life, but involved themselves in business."

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2018

Share This Page