Les bourgeois – Jacques Brel

The Bourgeois[1]

By Jacques Brel

This a song about the changes which age bring: specifically, the change from radical youth to conservative middle-age. As is so often the case with Brel, there’s a type of surprise ending, and the verses have a parallel structure that is almost, but not quite, the same. The differences matter. To see and hear it, go here for a peppy version, and here for a slower one that may be easier to follow if you don’t trust your French.

Le coeur bien au chaud
Les yeux dans la bière
Chez la grosse Adrienne de Montalant
Avec l’ami Jojo
Et avec l’ami Pierre
On allait boire nos vingt ans
Jojo se prenait pour Voltaire
Et Pierre pour Casanova
Et moi, moi qui étais le plus fier
Moi, moi je me prenais pour moi
Et quand vers minuit passaient les notaires
Qui sortaient de l’hôtel des “Trois Faisans”
On leur montrait notre cul et nos bonnes manières
En leur chantantLes bourgeois c’est comme les cochons
Plus ça devient vieux plus ça devient bête
Les bourgeois c’est comme les cochons
Plus ça devient vieux plus ça devient c…Le coeur bien au chaud
Les yeux dans la bière
Chez la grosse Adrienne de Montalant
Avec l’ami Jojo
Et avec l’ami Pierre
On allait brûler nos vingt ans
Voltaire dansait comme un vicaire
Et Casanova n’osait pas
Et moi, moi qui restait le plus fier
Moi j’étais presque aussi saoul que moi
Et quand vers minuit passaient les notaires
Qui sortaient de l’hôtel des “Trois Faisans”
On leur montrait notre cul et nos bonnes manières
En leur chantant

Les bourgeois c’est comme les cochons
Plus ça devient vieux plus ça devient bête
Les bourgeois c’est comme les cochons
Plus ça devient vieux plus ça devient c…

Le coeur au repos
Les yeux bien sur terre
Au bar de l’hôtel des “Trois Faisans”
Avec maître Jojo
Et avec maître Pierre
Entre notaires on passe le temps
Jojo parle de Voltaire
Et Pierre de Casanova
Et moi, moi qui suis resté le plus fier
Moi, moi je parle encore de moi
Et c’est en sortant vers minuit Monsieur le Commissaire
Que tous les soirs de chez la Montalant
De jeunes “peigne-culs” nous montrent leur derrière
En nous chantant

Les bourgeois c’est comme les cochons
Plus ça devient vieux plus ça devient bête
Les bourgeois c’est comme les cochons
Plus ça devient vieux plus ça devient c…

Hearts nice and warm
Eyes in our beers
At Fat Adrieene de Montalant’s pub
With my friend Jojo
And my friend Pierre
We went to drink to our twenties
Jojo thought of himself as Voltaire
Pierre thought of himself as Casanova
And me, me who was the proudest
Me, I took myself for me.
And when, around midnight, the notaries[2]
Left the bar at the Three Pheasant hotel
We mooned[3] them and showed our good manners
By singing to them:The bourgeois are like pigs:
The older they get, the dumber they get
The bourgeois are like pigs:
The older they get, the dumber….

Hearts nice and warm
Eyes in our beers
At Fat Adrieene de Montalant’s pub
With my friend Jojo
And my friend Pierre
We went to burn up our twenties
Voltaire danced like a vicar
And Casanova didn’t even dare
And me, who had remained the proudest
I was almost as drunk[4] as me
And when, around midnight, the notaries
Left the bar at the Three Pheasant hotel
We mooned them and showed our good manners
By singing to them:The bourgeois are like pigs:
The older they get, the dumber they get
The bourgeois are like pigs:
The older they get, the dumber….

With hearts at rest
And eyes fixed firmly on the ground
At the bar of the “Three Pheasant” hotel
With Mr. Jojo[5]
And with Mr. Pierre
Just three notaries, shooting the breeze
Jojo spoke of Voltaire
And Pierre of Casanova
And me, I had remained the proudest
Me, I still spoke about me.
And then, when we leave around midnight, Officer
Every night, from Montalant’s pub
These young buttheads[6] show us their bottoms[7]
And sing at us:
The bourgeois are like pigs:
The older they get, the dumber they get
The bourgeois are like pigs:
The older they get, the dumber….


[1] “Bourgeois” refers to the French middle class—the merchants, artisans, and professionals. This usage is well known due to its pejorative use in Communist polemic. I’ve kept it as “bourgeois,” for the same reason: nothing really captures the sense quite as well. And, given the 1960s when Brel was writing, Communism was very much a live issue, even in France and Belgium.

[2] These are the bourgeois, the proper, uptight, pillar of the community types, who come out of a much swankier bar associated with a hotel.

[3] Literally “showed them our asses.”

[4] “Saoul” is a bit slangy: “wasted,” “blitzed,” or “sloshed” might be a better idiomatic translation.

[5] Literally “Master Jojo,” and “Master Pierre”— a title suggesting that they have definitely come up in the world. The three roustabouts have become the notaries and community pillars they mocked so ruthlessly in their younger years.

[6] “Peigne culs” contains the same French obscenity “culs” as in the previous lines in which we “showed them our asses.” So, “three young assholes” might render the spirit better. We are supposed to notice the use of the same vulgar word, but in a quite different context now. Compare footnote 3.

[7] Notice the use now of the more proper (and quite stogy) “derriere” (bottoms) instead of “culs” (asses).

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