Grenouilles de Bénitier

This is a lively one from Patricius – Parish squabbles…

My wife has often mentioned three ladies who sang in her childhood parish at Chouzy sur Cisse near Blois, actually, where she and I were married by Archbishop Hepworth with permission from the local Roman Catholic authorities. They were nicknamed La Moustique Femelle, La Chèvre et La Tarte. Sophie does a wonderful imitation of their warbling vibrato voices, constantly singing flat and completely absorbed by the task in hand.

The French have the term grenouille de béniter to describe very devout and bigoted ladies who tend to get the upper hand in a parish if the parish priest and men let them. The image is dramatic, that of a neglected church and a holy water stoup that is green with algae, and a pair of amphibian eyes popping up now and again above the surface. This image is unconnected with the fact that frogs’ legs are eaten in this country (a bit tasteless and awkward to eat, even with a garlic butter sauce, in my opinion).

grenouilleThis odd holy water stoup in the collegiate church of St Paul in Narbonne is carved with a representation of a frog. The legend goes that the frog was a real one and started croaking during Mass and was petrified by God. C’est minion!

I have known some real characters along the way, but it would be unkind of me to mention names. Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.

Actually, I am very modern about many of these questions. Whatever is wrong with one sex can be found with the other. Where you get dominant men, bullies and guys without any empathy for other people, you get the equivalent in the feminine sex too. Both men and women were guilty of heinous crimes against humanity in the Nazi concentration camps. Many women were tried and executed after World War II, one of the most notorious examples being Irma Grese. When women are evil, it is that much more shocking, since we expect men to be evil, but surely women are soft, gentle, compassionate and tender. Not always. The problem is not gender or sex, but simply human nature.

Parish priests can be just as plagued by interfering men as women. The only difference seems to be that men and women in a parish usually have different interests. Men would be more fastidious about the liturgy, and women about what “feels” best to them and what is most “relevant”. I am married, and think I have some experience of relating to the opposite sex. I don’t think men and women will ever really understand each other, but they do respect us if we stick to our guns and show character – and the other way round.

angry-wifeDomineering women can be terrible. My wife and I know one who runs a choir here in France, and also runs her local parish. My wife stuck it out longer in that choir than I did. I managed to get the nickname Whacko stuck on her – because of the double meaning between the ever-punishing English comedy schoolmaster and the meaning of the word without the “h” – someone who is a little soft in the head! Nicknaming is something we do to relieve tension and relativise the tyranny a dominant person exercises over others. The lady in question is in her 60’s, about five feet tall if that, and you can imagine the rest…

I have had quite a bit of experience of parish life, and some people can be real “control freaks”. Certainly some men are more interior and self-effacing, but no all by any means. Some women are dragons, but not all by a long chalk.

We can get awfully cynical (modern meaning of the word) about women and excessive emotions, whims, attention to detail to the detriment of the whole. For example, Sophie and I decided to give the kitchen a complete clean last Saturday (yes, we do the household chores together), and she launched into all the details. My question to her was how much time we were going to put into the job. When that was agreed, she realised that some kind of compromise between getting the job done and doing it well had to be made. For most things, it just takes a bit of communication and reasoning things out. But we men can get tired of having to negotiate everything! That is when we get impatient.

There are female characteristics in terms of psychology as well as the physical differences. They have different hormones than we do, and they relate to children and pets differently from men. I’m not talking about stereotype “macho” men, but just ordinary guys like most of us reading this blog. When women get “bad” in church, like in married life, they can really put us off. The essential thing is communication, and when that is not possible, the technique of the “time-out”. When children are naughty, you send them to their rooms until they calm down. With a wife, you walk out of the room and refuse to feed the poison (or whatever image you choose). Women often forget everything the next morning, and a domestic tiff is not worth a vendetta. They too have their self-justifying devices, and you sometimes just have to ride it like a roller coaster.

I would not like to be a dominant man who dominates women and other men. I have a profound belief in gentleness, softness and tenderness – qualities usually attributed to women (except when their hearts are as hard as industrial diamonds). We all have our animus and anima (as in C.G. Jung’s theory) and we seem at our happiest when we find the balance. Many of these problems can be solved by communication and reasoning out a conflict, even if a time-out is needed to get over the emotions.

The important thing for us all is having a sense of empathy and the other person’s good at heart. When someone is so self-absorbed that no empathy is possible, then it doesn’t seem to matter whether the “poison” is male or female.

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2 Responses to Grenouilles de Bénitier

  1. Patricius says:

    Irma Grese looks a bit like my sister.

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