Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Drs. Isabelle van de Calseyde and dr Sjef Houppermans presented with high French honour

“Very French and very impressive.” Those are the words drs. Isabelle van de Calseyde used to describe the reception at the French embassy residence in The Hague on 2 June 2015. There, she and dr. Sjef Houppermans were presented with an distinction for their remarkable services to the French language and culture. Both were named Officier de l’Ordre national du Merité.

“Very French and very impressive.” Those are the words drs. Isabelle van de Calseyde used to describe the reception at the French embassy residence in The Hague on 2 June 2015. There, she and dr. Sjef Houppermans were presented with an distinction for their remarkable services to the French language and culture. Both were named Officier de l’Ordre national du Merité.

Houppermans is attached to the programme French Language and Culture, and is primarily occupied with French and Francophile literature from the 17 th century up to the present day. Van de Calseyde was, until recently, lecturer of professional and judicial French here in Leiden, where she had been teaching for fifteen years.

Gallantry, gastronomy and inspiring speeches

Drs. Isabelle van de Calseyde expressing her gratitude

Houppermans was also very impressed by the reception: “The gathering surrounding the ceremony was very classy. We were given the opportunity to invite numerous guests, who were all welcomed with plenty of French gallantry and gastronomical finesse.” Both Officiers were also very impressed by the speeches of the French ambassador Laurent Pic. Van de Calseyde: “His story was well-structured and featured a fantastic choice in words, while the subsequent appointment as Officer in the National Order of Merit – regardless of how you interpret it – was very imposing.”

Geographically close, but inherently different

Both scholars greatly cherish the French language and culture. Van de Calseyde is especially interested in the differences between the two languages and sees the bridging of the cultural and linguistic divides as a constant challenge. “France and the Netherlands are quite close to each other in geographical terms, but the languages and cultures are vastly different. When looking at various aspects in detail, such as the way time is experienced in writing and conversation, the perception of hierarchy, the experience of certainty and uncertainty and way the masculine or feminine characteristics of society are perceived, you quickly find out that the two cultures are mirror opposites of each other. And there are numerous other examples studied by sociologists that could be named.”

Studying the French language reveals similar patterns, Van de Calseyde argues. The French language features open syllables, while Dutch consists of closed syllables. “That has far-reaching consequences for both languages and, for instance, affects the correct pronunciation.” With more than twenty-five years of teaching experience in Dutch professional circles, Van de Calseyde enjoyed the challenge of teaching French while convincing Dutch businessmen or lawyers that they are dealing with another culture. “And language is one of the ways this difference becomes visible.” During her work at the French department in Leiden, she particularly enjoyed discovering the many facets of French society alongside students. She has been especially interested in the different ways Dutch and French people express themselves in professional and judicial circles.

From an enigmatic modernist to playful Minuit actor

Literature has always played an important role in Houppermans’s passion for France, though landscapes, nature, architecture, music, theatre and gastronomy are all ‘reasons that spark a desire for France.’ In his acceptance speech, Houppermans also named five authors that, for various reasons, have always been very important to him.

The first author named was Raymond Roussel, “the enigmatic modernist”, about whom Houppermans wrote his thesis. Houppermans also translated some of Roussel’s work, an author who continues to fascinate him to this very day. Next up was Marcel Proust, “who authored one of the richest oeuvres of the twentieth century and whose depth and stylistic perfection constantly led to new discoveries.” After Proust, Houppermans singled out Claude Simon who, he argues, was able to capture an author’s quest for the intertwinement of the individual and history like no other. Samuel Beckett, “the Irish Frenchman or the French Irishman whose plays and novels are unmitigating, yet not emotionless, in addressing human error”, also makes the list. Finally, he named Jean Echenoz, whom Houppermans called the playful French actor from the Minuit school, who playfully captured our society and media with one stylistic display after another.

Not a personal achievement

Both scholars were pleasantly surprised when being contacted by the French Embassy in The Hague in November 2014. Van de Calseyde: “I never concern myself with the possibility of winning awards; you do your job and you the best you can. What’s more, you are always working within the context of a larger group of people. You’re dependent on them, so an award isn’t something that you alone are entitled to.”

Houppermans also emphasized the collaborative effort behind his work, and considers the award an official appreciation for all the projects he was able to be a part of. “With colleagues in education, in research and organization; with students in lectures and especially in courses; with colleagues from other universities in the Netherlands and elsewhere with whom I organized or attended congresses and symposia and guided PhD programmes; and with publishers and editors responsible for publications and journals.” Houppermans hopes to continue with most of these projects after retiring on 1 December 2015.

Finding advantages in differences

Do ‘our’ officers in the National Order of Merit have any new ideas about optimizing exchanges between France and the Netherlands? Houppermans: “It’s very important for all kinds of contacts, including on a bilateral and European level, that the Dutch maintain their level of knowledge of the French language and culture. This definitely requires high level research, adequate financial resources, as well as a positive climate within academic circles. It is also essential that French remains an integral and high quality component of secondary education programmes.” He further argues that high quality translations of a wide array of literature could greatly stimulate that knowledge of the French language and culture. “I am, for instance, thinking about the mesmerizing writings of Patrick Modiano, who won the Nobel prize for Literature in 2014, or about the new translation of Proust, but also about the intriguing works of Michel Houellebecq.”

Van de Calseyde would like to share the following message: “in Pilote de Guerre, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry says the following in chapter XXV, « Si tu diffères de moi, mon frère, loin de me léser, tu m’enrichis ». In other words: being different from one another can be enriching. If we keep that in mind, we are already heading in the right direction.”

This website uses cookies. More information