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In The Last Lesson, written by Alphonse Daudet, there is this paragraph:

My last French lesson! Why, I hardly knew how to write! I should never learn any more! I must stop there, then! Oh, how sorry I was for not learning my lessons, for seeking birds’ eggs, or going sliding on the Saar!

What is the meaning of "sliding on the Saar"?

I searched the meaning of Saar in online and found this:

  1. A river, about 245 km (150 mi) long, rising in northeast France and flowing north and north-northwest to the Moselle River in western Germany. The river's valley, also known as the Saar Basin, is a highly industrialized region.
  2. See Saarland.

This is the meaning of Saarland:

A region of southwest Germany in the Saar River valley on the border with France. Because of its extensive coal deposits, it was long contested between Germany and France, especially after World War I, when the League of Nations assigned the administration of the newly formed Saar Territory to France. After a 1935 plebiscite, Saarland became a German province, but it was again placed under French control in 1945. Autonomy was rejected by the populace in 1955, and the region officially became a state of West Germany in 1957.

But I am still unable to understand the meaning of the word in the context.

If the Saar refers to the river, I have never heard of people "sliding" on a river. Also, I don't think it makes sense to say one slid on Saarland.

Can somebody please explain?


You can read the full story here.

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The Saar (actually la Sarre in French) in this story is a river near the border of France and Germany. The story is set in Alsace, which is bordered by that river. (As I wrote in my previous answer about this short story, Alsace has long been a bone of contention between France and Germany.)

The "sliding on the river" is based on the following passage in the French version of the story, La dernière classe:

Comme je m’en voulais maintenant du temps perdu, des classes manquées à courir les nids ou à faire des glissades sur la Saar !

The "glissades" refers to water sports or what the French call "sports de glisse aquatique" (or use this search for "sports de glisse aquatique"). These sport types include surfing, rafting and kayaking. Since the story is set in the 19th century, the "glissades" probably refers to time spent on the river in a little boat.

Update: The English translation suggests that the intended meaning may be ice skating, and as Gareth Rees pointed out, the Saar could freeze over. However, as the story's second paragraph makes clear, the story is set in late spring or (early?) summer and the "glissades" are mentioned in one breath with "seeking birds’ eggs", which would not be a winter activity. For this reason, I have rejected the interpretation of "ice skating".

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  • If the Saar freezes in winter, "sliding" might be a good translation of "glissades" (and I suspect that's what the translator thought "glissades" meant here, as you don't "slide" down the river in a boat, although you can "glide" down it).
    – Peter Shor
    Sep 3 at 19:46
  • @PeterShor I am aware that rivers can freeze in winter, but how many references to skating can you find when searching for glissade rivière? When you search for glissade rivière, by contrast, you find lots of references to water sports. And when you search for patiner "la sarre" glace, you find that the ice skating is done on ice rinks, not the river. Hence the water sports.
    – Tsundoku
    Sep 3 at 19:58
  • Meanings change. Here is a 1920s French textbook for English speakers that contains La dernière classe and which defines la glissade as to slide and faire des glissades as to go sliding. Either the authors of the book didn't know English very well or they were talking about sliding (probably not skating) on ice.
    – Peter Shor
    Sep 3 at 20:55
  • @PeterShor The Saar is a navigable river. If that river really did freeze over to allow ice skating, I think the event would be so memorable that it would the reference to it would be more specific than just "faire des glissades sur la Saar". The textbook example you site shows that "faire des glissades" can have other meanings (e.g. with a car on a roundabout) than aquatic activities (which I have not denied). (...)
    – Tsundoku
    Sep 4 at 9:47
  • @PeterShor (...) But one would need to show that the Saar froze over at least once during Daudet's lifetime to convince me that "ice skating" is the correct interpretation here.
    – Tsundoku
    Sep 4 at 9:47

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