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The Evil French

France wants girls with short skirts

Feel free to listen to this blast from the past while you consider that France, too, has its fair share of idiotic racism. You may have read in The New York Times that a 15-year-old girl was sent home from school twice recently because the principal thought her skirt wasn’t short enough. That’s right, long skirts are offensive.

short skirt

The scandal of the long skirt is not because the principal is a creeper who must ogle all the legs (although, who knows?), it’s a religious thing. Or rather, an anti-religious thing. French phrase of the day: signe religieux ostentatoire. In English, “ostentatious sign of religion.”  Adjective of the day: laïque (secular).

This isn’t some post- 9/11 Islamophobia. Nope, it goes back to 1989 (or to the decolonization, or Medieval crusades, or…). Known as the “affaire du voile” (sometimes “affaire du foulard”), the French allergy to Muslim sartorial choices (or lack thereof) is, believe it or not, is meant as a sign of good will. Baring is caring.

Liberty's hemline

The rationale goes like this: France had to put up with a thousand years of Catholicism and monarchy, so when the Revolutionaries tried so famously to undo those things (my personal favorite attempt at secularization was their attempt to reset the calendar create metric-system 10-day weeks. Because, hey, the weekend just comes around too fast, doesn’t it?) they embraced (at least in theory) secularism (la laïcité) as a great emancipator. Think of it as freedom from religion. Not that you couldn’t be religious, but that’s your private business. The separation of Church and State didn’t become law until 1905 (just read the Wikipedia page if you want to know more about it, ’cause I’m about to finish this post), and the debates about the two are ongoing (just like they are in the USA).

There is a perverse logic to the French concept of laïcité (seriously, learn that word and throw it around like you write for The New Yorker): if public institutions act like nobody is religious, then nobody can be discriminated against. No, wait, that’s not it. If public institutions ban ostentatious religious displays then we won’t have to endure new iterations of 1980s Madonna “material girl” Jean-Paul Gaultier and ginormous crucifix fashion. No, wait. If we can make Muslim women look less Islamic then the world will have less terrorism. No, that’s not it. I know there are valid points somewhere to be made for 2004 law against headscarves (and other ostentatious religious symbols, whatever that means) Somewhere in there lies a brand of egalitarianism, it’s just really, really hard to find when you read stories like this.

Maybe there are some intelligent comments in the Obs French article about it. Peruse away. Reading comments sections of French posts is a win-win: French language practice + a daily dose of pessimism to make you just a tad more French.

“Do you speak Touriste?”, a guide to tourists in France

In case you didn’t know, there’s a stereotype about French service-industry workers and regular people: namely, that they’re brusque, rude, tourist-hating snobs. I’m not here to evaluate that idea one way or another. No, we have something much more interesting on our hands. You see, someone in France got tired of hearing about this stereotype and decided to try doing something about it.

The proposed solution: a guide, not for tourists, but for the French people who have to deal with them. A guide for the proper care and feeding, if you will, of the majestic creature that is the tourist in France.

doyouspeaktouristelogo

It’s clear that this guide means well. It divides up tourists into their country of origin and gives generalizations of what kind of behavior and communication to expect, as well as providing stats about the average tourist’s visit.

Listen to some fun facts about Americans in Paris:

Très technophiles, ils utilisent largement les smartphones ou tablettes et sont demandeurs de connexion wifi pour la recherche d’informations.

(Rough translation: Being very much technophiles, they often use smartphones and tablets and demand a wifi connection for looking up information.)

ipad photography

So basically, we’re like this.

Ils ont besoin d’être rassurés sur les tarifs.

We apparently really need some reassurance, because:

Dépense moyenne par jour et par personne : 140 €

American tourists spend an average of 140 Euros ($188 as of this posting) per person per day while visiting Paris. Daaang!

Read more on the site, and you’ll find out that Spaniards are quick to use informal tu, Germans prefer to be left alone and find their own information, and the Chinese are “fervent lovers of shopping”.

I’m probably going to have to read everything on this site now, because it’s a hilarious role-reversal that allows the French to stereotype their tourists. It’s an anthropological gold-mine, and you might just find something that will make your own stay in France better for you and better for the French people forced to endure your presence.

You can look at the guide online (in French) for yourself. Here’s the home page.

France in an alternate universe

Google Books is always good for some interesting light reading. The biggest set of free books are the ones that have fallen out of copyright (meaning that they’re old). And, as I was skimming through a book from 1901, written by an Englishman and entitled The French People, I realized just how many different ways the past could have gone.

french people

Whoa. “Representative institutions are unsuited to the French people”. The French people in the early 20th century must have been desperate for a dynasty of Napoleons who would dominate Western Europe. When the last vestiges of the Revolution finally fizzled out, rejected as much for their abuse of power as their failure to govern effectively, Napoleon VI would rally the nation from its depression and poverty, call for a new nationalist French movement, and lead the people on to a glorious new future where la patrie would rule the world. The year would be 1932. Rallies would be held, the streets lined with Jeunes Légionnaires in uniform, saluting as the Emperor’s convoy passed. The United Kingdom, still believing in appeasement, would barely bat an eye when l’Empire began to annex its neighbors. But eventually, they would have to face the truth when bombing raids began to fly over their own island.

Long story short: France could have been the bad guy in the world war of an alternate universe.

Oh, and here’s the link to that book.

Bad guys speak French

In the year 2154, you have a better shot of living on a pristine space station if you speak French. At least that’s what I learned when I went to see the movie Elysium last night. When we first see Jodie Foster, as the villainous Secretary Delacourt (yep. as in “of the court”), she is mingling with elite citizens of Elysium in fluent French. Meanwhile, back on earth, Max (Matt Damon) speaks just enough Spanish to let the viewer know that he is a man of the people. This isn’t a movie review, so I won’t go into the numerous problems with the script (like, if you want the miracle health care of the “med-pod 3000″, wouldn’t it be more efficient to just steal one and bring it back to earth rather than jeopardize the lives of little girls in doomed missions to breach the space station? I’m just sayin’.)

Whatever its faults, Elysium gets one thing right: people who speak French are evil.

Can you imagine a dystopian earth where the huddled masses, the lovable gang of outlaws, and the messianic badass speak French? Hollywood can’t.

If you have ambitions to be a supervillain (or even a WASPy power-hungry xenophobe with a refrigerator full of expiring Activia. And who doesn’t?), you really should brush up on your French. Sure, you may end up dead when Matt Damon comes to free the world from your despotic grasp, but as the blood pools around your impeccably tailored suit and your gracefully pursed lips prepare to exhale their final breath, you will admire your reflection in one of the many surrounding chrome surfaces with just a soupçon of a smile. Fond memories of conjugating…Je suis…tu es…il est…elle…and then nothing.

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