Any truth behind this WWII story?

My French teacher in high school told us about an American hiding out in occupied France during WWII. I can’t remember if he was a spy or a downed pilot, but he spoke fluent French and had posed as a local with some success.

As the story goes, he was captured by a Gestapo agent, who thought there was something suspicious about him. But after hours of deft questioning, he hadn’t made a dent in the guy’s cover story. Not willing to break out the thumbscrews and rubber hoses just yet, the agent sighed in exasperation and made as if he was going to remove the guy’s handcuffs. Suddenly he raised his foot and brought it down hard on the “Frenchman’s” toes. When the guy said “ouch”, the agent knew he was dealing with an imposter. Because, after all, a genuine Frenchman would say “Aiiii” or something similar, but never “ouch.”

Is this just a scene from a novel, or did it really happen? Anybody know?

It is difficult at best to prove a negative. I would note that it is a common theme in books. For instance, in Huckleberry Finn, Huck is disguised as a girl, but when a lump of lead is dropped in his lap, he blows his cover by clamping his legs together on it.

It also sounds similar to a scene in The Great Escape. Several escaped prisoners who speak fluent French are boarding a train. The suspicous guard returns their papers and says “Good luck!” in English. The escaped prisoner automatically replies “thanks!” and the jig is up.

Prove a negative? How does that apply here?

An assertion that the incident described in the OP didn’t happen would require proof of a negative.

I don’t see where he made that assertion. He asked if it was true. That would be a yes or no question, based on whether or not any of the witnesses are still alive. I mean, it’s possible we can’t prove or disprove it, but I don’t see how it’s “proving a negative.”

It’s pretty simple. I’ll try again.

  1. I never said the OP made the assertion. I said “an assertion that the incident described in the OP didn’t happen…”

  2. You are correct in stating that the OP asked a question about the truth of a story. My use of the word “assertion” refered to a possible answer to that question. See (3) below.

  3. The logical chain that follows from that OP post goes like this: (A) The OP posted his question in GQ, which means he was looking for a factual answer; (B) Two factual answers are theoretically possible --(i) "Yes, the incident really happened"and (ii) “No, nothing like that incident ever took place.”; (C) Answer (i) may be proven with evidence. For example, there may be a recorded eyewitness accout of the incident; (D) Answer (ii), however, cannot logically be proven with evidence. Doing so would require proof that the incident never happened, anywhere in German-occupied Europe over a 5-year period; (E) This is a recognized logical difficulty, which is commonly called “proving a negative”, and known as something that sometimes cannot be done; and (F) The situation presented by Answer (ii) is therefore a classic example of the “proving a negative” problem.

Said another way: proof that an event never happened is proving a negative.

Yeah yeah, stop overtalking it, people :slight_smile:

Sounds like an unlikely scenario at best. Even if the German interrogator were so clever, it’s questionable whether you could predict in advance what a person with a stomped toe would yelp, or base an accusation of espionage on.

There’s a town around Vichy (Billezois?) with a memorial to an American pilot who was downed over it and hid by the villagers for some time. It’s a fairly popular story, perhaps your teacher was thinking of something similar…

I don’t buy it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an English speaker reflexively say “ouch!”. It’s usually “ow!” or “ugh!”.

Lots of such stories on the theme of the small inadvertent culture-specific reaction that gets the poor spy/fugitive caught. Another example: the 1946 movie O.S.S., where an American spy is spotted by the Nazis because he switches his fork from hand to hand while eating instead of keeping it always in his right hand, European-style.

Sound effects- *when written- * display a significant cultural effect. In various languages, the same sound is replicated in American by bow-wow or woof-woof, a French dog’s by woah-woah, and a Chinese dog’s by wang-wang, etc.

However- generally, a dog (of the same breed) makes the same noise. “Hwowf” is how I might try and duplicate it. YMMV

But that’s only how the sound is represented in writing. When a human is hurt, he might well say a word- “fuck” “verdamdt” “merde”. But the noise will be about the same. True, since we have been subjected to media, I might- if I have a chance to think about it- actually say “ouch!”. But if I cry out in pain, it won’t be “ouch”. “Oww” maybe.

So, the story is thus very likely false.

If the story is true, it might be possible it was cleaned up for general consumption, like General McAuliffe’s alleged “Nuts!” response to the German demand that the 101st Airborne surrender. The pilot may actually have said something like "owwwWWW mother%$@&!*.

Now, I’d believe that! :smiley:

Maybe so, but you’ll never hear an American use one of the colorful expressions of pain our mainland European friends use.

I remember my German cousin would say “ow-ah” whenever he hurt himself.

I still chuckle thinking about it.

It’s technically known as a “shibboleth,” and the use of this goes back to the bible. It’s a word or pronuciation that differentiates one group from another.

“Shibboleth” was a word meaning “stream.” Gileadites pronounced it with the “sh” sound, but Ephraimites didn’t have the sound in their language, so pronounced it “sibboleth.” After they Gileadites won a battle, they determined who were escaping enemy soldiers by requiring they say the word “shibboleth” pronounce it with the “sh.”

The word has taken on a broader meaning, but the original meaning is still there.

I remember Richard Attenborough and Gordon Jackson trying to board a bus when Jackson was too polite. Tim Carroll’s book “The Great Escape” has a similar incident in its chapter eight “The Führer’s Fury”, when two escapees were at a Gestapo checkpoint outside Saarbrücken. The English response was “Thank you”, and the Gestapo took the two to Gestapo headquarters. Perhaps the Germans made note of the incident (I don’t see a source for Carroll’s anecdote).

That should be: everywhere-in-the-world-except-the-US-style. Outside the US I’ve only ever seen children eat like that.

All of the accounts that I have read of the “Nuts” incident agree that McAuliffe’s words on receiving the surrender demand were, “Aw nuts.” In an later interview McAuliffe claimed he said, “Shit.” However, the first-hand accounts by those present indicate that at the time he didn’t remember what his first words were and had to be reminded of them.

Stories of more colorful language appear to be a late dressing up of the incident into something more suitable that a rough, tough, US airborne division cammander might have said.

Or, in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the young woman catching the teacup that is accidentally-on-purpose knocked over by the older woman who suspects she’s the mysterious martial artist who’s been up to no good.