Young France: the Gallic teenagers of 1965 | life and style
OOn the eve of the French presidential election of 1965, Observer Magazine (November 28, 1965) on the way across the Channel for a special issue on the cultural and social phenomenon of Young France: what has changed now “one in three French people is under 20”?
The teenage revolt in France was deemed “surprisingly docile” and French teenagers were “generally harmless”. They don’t bother with strong drinks. Their fashions are far less extravagant than the exotic hairstyles and wacky clothes of their British counterparts. However, the student revolt of May 68 would hit France like a Molotov cocktail thrown over a barricade only three years later.
Then like today, Gallic fashion skewed towards the classic, not the subversive. Girls with shiny hair were photographed in “English and Shetland tweed” and neatly buttoned woolen coats. The boys “dreamed…of Anglo-Italian elegance” and, nicely, a recent craze for umbrellas had “boosted the production of black brollies”.
A report on the escapades and exceptionalism of the golden youth of the Ecole Polytechnique, the Oxford PPE of French life, has nuances of Bullingdon. Fortunately, rock’n’roll injected a hint of sex and danger into Gallic life. The French teenagers (“Les Yé-yé as the adults call them, half-contemptuous, half-envious”) grooved to the Beatles, Stones and Dylan like their British counterparts but, of course, Johnny Halliday was mentioned. “President de Gaulle listened to Johnny Halliday at least once. He is reported to have remarked approvingly, “It’s loud, like an army band.
A dictionary of French slang for teenagers also provided key phrases to accompany it (in the moment): “Ca chauffe: the rhythm is hot”, “Ca a fait tilt: we sympathized” and “Smart: intelligent”. .
Three weeks later, de Gaulle, then aged 75, won the elections. The earthquake of French youth was not yet done.