Paris: Not to be outdone by US-style spelling bee extravaganzas, Paris’s most famous street the Champs-Elysees was transformed into an open-air mass “dictation” spellathon Sunday, pitting thousands of France’s brainiest bookworms against one another.
Revealing a very French love affair with words, over 50,000 applied to participate in the event, a world first, in which hopefuls attempt to faithfully and without error transcribe a text read to them.
Over 5,000 applicants aged 10-90 were chosen to participate in three sessions led by novelist Rachid Santaki.
With 1,779 desks laid out on Paris’ most famous boulevard in each session, organisers had sought to break the world record for a dictation spelling competition.
In the first round, an excerpt of La Mule du Pape by renowned French writer Alphonse Daudet was read by journalist Augustin Trapenard, of Libraries Without Borders.
Silence fell when the first session started, but for 10-year-old Samson, the dictation was “too fast”. He gave up.
In his final year of primary school, top student Antoine attended with his father and, despite being a star pupil, he had struggled to fill his page.
“It was impossible! The dictation was for adults,” he said.
His father Adrien Blind, 42, was equally relieved when the session wrapped, saying he “was in a state of stress and worry”.
But 65-year-old retiree Touria Zerhouni was more upbeat.
“I only made two mistakes! I expected it to be much harder,” she said.
The competition went beyond the French classics, with a sport themed round read by rugby player Pierre Rabadan, and another with a contemporary flavour read by writer and journalist Katherine Pancol.
Marc-Antoine Jamet, president of the Champs-Elysees Committee which hosted the dictation during , said the event went beyond spelling.
“Dictation helps us to live together. It’s unifying,” he said.