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What does "Cafard" mean to you?

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The following from Merriam Webster is more in line with what I learned inFrench classes.  

Definition of cafard



  1. :  severe depression or apathy —used especially of white people in the tropics

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Hello : Cafard is the cockroach . the name of the insect designed during the WWI all the depressive of trench army live . Le cafard was a negative spiritual mode , something very negative indeed . 

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The term was used in the 19th century by French troops in the colonies, most noticeably the Foreign Legion, with whom the term is associated in literaure and popular culture, and referred to more than just 'ennui' at times.  It was like the 'cabin fever' suffered by the early over-winterers in Canad's North and the symptoms ranged from depression and enuui to full out violent psychos - 'going postal' in modern US parlance.  I think the 19th century British Army term was 'dolally'.

P.C. Wren's stories of the FFL, with whom he served in the 1920s before writing Beau Geste, often use 'cafard' as the motive for anything from drinking binges to desertion and murder.  

Edited by peter monahan
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A hot, dusty cafe; beaded curtain hanging askew.  The smell of sour wine and sweaty, unwashed men.  The rank stench of thousands of stale Gauloises layered over the walls, the bar, the floor and the people. The mistral blowing in the desert grit, and an overhead fan stirring fitfully.  The noise of hawkers in the street, trying to sell useless, worthless trinkets, and in the background, the piercing wail of the azan calling the faithful to prayer.  Pierre and Kurt slumped in chairs in the corner, not a sou between them and still a week until pay day.  Lisette, the fat barmaid who occasionally performed "other duties"  listlessly swiping at the bar with a filthy rag, a greasy wisp of hair hanging down over her forehead.  

Who among us has not been there?

Edited by Hugh
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8 hours ago, Hugh said:

A hot, dusty cafe; beaded curtain hanging askew.  The smell of sour wine and sweaty, unwashed men.  The mistral blowing in the desert grit, and an overhead fan stirring fitfully.  The noise of hawkers in the street, trying to sell useless, worthless trinkets, and in the background, the piercing wail of the azan calling the faithful to prayer.  Pierre and Kurt slumped in chairs in the corner, not a sou between them and still a week until pay day.  Lisette, the fat barmaid who occasionally performed "other duties"  listlessly swiping at the bar with a filthy rag, a greasy wisp of hair hanging down over her forehead.  

Who among us has not been there?

Dang!...  I feel worse than ever now... :wacky:


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Or let me Petula Clark explain; (5 th line from the end!)

Quand je ne dors pas
La nuit se traîne
La nuit n'en finit plus
Et j'attends que quelque chose vienne
Mais je ne sais qui je ne sais quoi
J'ai envie d'aimer, j'ai envie de vivre
Malgré le vide de tout ce temps passé
De tout ce temps gaché
Et de tout ce temps perdu
Dire qu'il y a tant d'êtres sur la terre
Qui comme moi ce soir sont solitaires
C'est triste à mourir
Quel monde insensé
Je voudrais dormir et ne plus penser
J'allume une cigarette
J'ai des idées noires en tête
Et la nuit me parait si longue, si longue, si longue
Au loin parfois j'entends d'un bruit de pas
Quelqu'un qui vient
Mais tout s'éfface et puis c'est le silence
La nuit ne finira donc pas
La lune est bleue, il y a des jardins
Des amoureux qui s'en vont main dans la main
Et moi je suis là
A pleurer sans savoir pourquoi
A tourner comme une âme en peine
Oui, seule avec moi-même
A désirer quelqu'un que j'aime
pas cette nuit, pas cette nuit
Qui ne finira donc jamais
Mais j'ai trop le cafard
Je voudrais partir au hasard
Partir au loin et dès le jour venu
Mais la nuit, la nuit, oh La nuit n'en finit plus.
Oh oh oh oh, oh! la nuit ne finit plus

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It is true that the French do not have much going for them as far as entertainment, luxury or methods of relieving stress and tension overseas.

So if you are overseas for 4-6 months, in a really horrible place, the only distractions are duty, alcohol and cigarettes. Because of the "anonymous" thing the legion does nothing to facilitate any private life connections you may have, so possibly you may have no contact with family etc, unless a friend who is no longer "anonymous" relays the mail. After a while tensions come to the surface.

It does not take very much, and usually has more to do with boredom than with stress. i.e. when things are hgappening around you and life is exciting you are less likely to get Cafard, but when nothing is happening, things start to go wrong.

Elsewhere on the interweb there is a description by Erwin Rosen....

The Foreign Legion has manufactured a special expression of its own for this mental state “Cafard.”  The “cafard” reigned.  The cafard of the Foreign Legion, a near relative to tropical madness, is a collective name for all the inconceivable stupidities, excesses and crimes which tormented nerves can commit.  The English language has no word for this condition.  In “cafard” murder hides, and suicide and mutiny; it means self mutilation and plan-less flight out into the desert; it is the height of madness and the depth of despair.  All idiocy in the Legion is called “cafard”.  A legionnaire is gloomy, sitting sullenly on his bed for hours, speaking to no one.  If you ask him what is the matter, he will answer with a gross insult.  He sits thinking all the time and does the queerest things.  He has the “cafard.”  His madness may turn into a senseless explosion or fit of fury; men suffering from “cafard” will run a bayonet through their comrade’s body, without any reason, without any outward cause.  Sometimes they rush out into the desert, sometimes they tear every piece of their outfit into rags, just to vex themselves and others thoroughly.  The “cafard” is at its worst in the hot season when the sun burns down relentlessly from the cloudless, deep blue sky, with the strange greenish coloring of the horizon peculiar to Algeria.  Then the barrack-yard of the Foreign Legion lies deserted.  It is so hot that the stones on the yellow clayey ground seem to move in the glimmering overheated air. The legionnaire sentries wear the flowing white neck-protector, and have stuffed wet cloths
into their kepis




Here is an article in the Australian press from 1940...

As Prince Aage says, the amazing thing
is that, in this incomparable unity, all
differences of education, of nature, of
character, persist. The miracle is that
they converge towards the same goal. It
is by living for the Legion that each
Legionnaire lives for himself and gains
The Cafard.
The Legionnaire marches, makes high-
ways of adventure, throws bridges across
torrential "Oueds," cuts away mountains,
(Ights lawless sons of the desert, resumes
his long marches, and still manages to
laugh in between times, for "La Legion"
is cheerful. "I have never arrived at a
camp," says a French officer, "when 1
have not boen greeted by the 'wit' of
the squadron with one of those sallies
of which they hold the secret. Good
humour sparkles like a gun powder fire,
along the columns, and it is expressed
in many languages."
But there are times when this cheery
courage smokes, burns, and goes out. It
is as though a wind of melancholy swept
along the lines. The old chiefs of the
Legion feel the change In the atmosphcin
long before any tangible proof of the
"cafard" hos shown Itself
Tiifling incidents are soon aggravated
by a sullen gioueh an ineitia takes hold
ol even the most valiant, symptoms of
boredom oi neurotic tendencies appear,
a general iriitability or an cxcessivn
politeness becomes obvious It mav lie
by neglect of the most elemental y discip-
line (and then the wise officci clos"s
his eyes) or it may be an almost caiica
tunl displav of marks of respect (and
then the wise chief keeps a warv look-
out! Then to one s astonishment tlw
taciluin begin to talk the chatteibo.es
aie silent voices aie hcaid to sing which
were nevei known to hum The more
gentle natuies become brusque and lough
-using the stlnup on theil mules till
they dtaw blood The violcnt-tempeied
fall into an apathetic sort of stupoi
At these signs, and many olheis, an
exnerienccd chief
recognises that the
black mood of the
cafaid is about to
descend upon h i i
What is the re-
medy'' Some ofnceis
distnbute an e\tia.
i ation of w hie othel s
advance the tioops
money on theil pay
That may succeed in
getting them ovei
the mood of oepies
sion but it may not
The cine is often
vvoise than the 111
It is the match which
sets fiie to the povv
dei Some offlceis
tighten up the dis-
cipline Some exact
at those times an
txtra efToit by put-
ting tilth men to a.
difficult task - the
mote difficult the
bettei Othcis favour
test and a complete
iola xa (ion of autboi
IIj I suppose the
sin endest await
events bending later
to tlie storm It is
pel haps the only
thing to do
That mood of de
piession which stiikes Legionnaiics
singly or in gioups (how easily gloomi-
ness, like chcenness can be communi-
cated when a community of people
are affected bv baioinetnc conditions
or by lack of »specific ¡nteiest or
aim). Is never apparent when the Legion
is on the march or goin* into battle
Then the recklessness the disdain of
dangei that has caused so many of the-e
men to bleak away from the beaten hack,
fiom the laws of their eounltv at some
time or other makes daring, feailess
soldieis of them
Although nianv seek lo escape when
stationed at Algci or Sidi-bcl-Abcs all
love the Legion and stand fast to its
tiadition when theie is leal soldiers' work

to be done


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I'll just go drink some absinthe then step in front of a trolley!  'Depression porn' sums it up perfectly!  Any nineteenth century writer who visited/lived with troops [or, I suspect, prison inmates] knew cafard well.  Kipling has a story of a Gunner, stationed in India, going mad, stealing a rifle and some rounds and shooting a couple of comrades before being tackled by an officer, who risked his life to take the man alive.

Where I was stationed in Nigeria in the early '80s, there was a 'dust fog' which hid the sun and dropped the temperatures for 3-4 months and was ended only by the rains.  legend has it that crimes committed during that period were regarded in a different light due to an assumption of some equivalent of cafard being at least partially at fault. 

BTW, Hugh, I assume that is Wren you're posting.  Which story, please?

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The equivalent malaise amongst British troops in India was 'Doollaly Tap', from a notoriously unpleasant transit camp at Deolali, 100 miles north east of Mumbai, where troops awaiting return to the UK were held. 'Doolally Tap' was a form of madness brought on by boredom and the conditions, and from it the name 'Doolally' came to be used for any form of eccentricity or insanity - "He's gone Doolally"


Edited by Bilco
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Charles Schütz from Kaiserslautern, Joined the Legion in Feb 1914 and was sent to Algeria. At the outbreak of the war he was one of the german Legionnaires who stayed in North Africa.... Transfered to Morocco in Jan 1916 he commited suicide in April 1916 and was buried at Fez.... About as "Cafard" as one could imagine. he was from my regiment, different Epoch of course....

Inspite of the state of war it seems his possesions (Pocket knife, Military Pass, Dog tag, shaving mirror and a grand total of 1 Franc 50 centimes), were returned to his family in Germany......

A rather sad grouping....leg1.jpgleg2.jpgleg3.jpgleg4.jpg


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  • 2 weeks later...
19 hours ago, Michael Johnson said:

But then there's Deborah Harry: 

J'ai le cafard,
Je t'en pris viens voir,
Ce que ton amour représente pour moi


Is that what she says......!?? 

Never understood that, and I realy tried, every time I heard the song!


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