petite anglaise

November 19, 2004

francophobia in the USA

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaise @ 6:16 pm

Not all Americans are francophobes. Especially not those who read this site regularly.

Nevertheless we have all heard about prominent figures calling for a boycott of French produce on the other side of the Atlantic, about cancelled French exchanges and the renaming of Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast. During the US presidential electoral campaign some Republicans used the fact that John Kerry speaks French as a way of implying that he was somehow ‘un-american’.

You certainly don’t have to delve very deeply to find examples of American hatred of all things French on the interweb. The over-simplistic reasoning that the US drove the Nazis out of France, therefore the French are ungrateful for not returning the favour and supporting the US intervention in Iraq crops up over and over again. The anti-French tirades I have read are so dreadful they are almost (but not quite) funny and in my opinion the authors generally come off looking worse than the French.

Take this article for example, which I came across quite by accident when googling Chirac yesterday. Ron Marr, ‘journalist’, wrote an article called ‘Why I Hate The French’ for American Daily in February of last year, dripping with vitriol. Below is an extract:

‘The French invented a critically acclaimed style of cuisine which utilizes copious amounts of goose blood and involves hideous concepts such as boiling trout in spoiled cream. In truth, you’ll find better fare in the dumpster behind a Red Lobster. The French eat horse. They eat glands. They eat bugs. I know this because they rarely brush their teeth. Their women whine and complain and braid their armpit hair. Their men are beret-wearing twig-boys with bad complexions. All French people consider themselves intellectually superior, and I suppose they are if the comparison is to an incontinent house cat.”

I’m (almost) speechless. It is to be hoped that too many people didn’t take this display of puerile ignorance to be gospel truth. I don’t wish to dwell on this further by responding to the individual ‘points’ raised, other than to say that I thought the cultural stereotype (true or otherwise) about hairy armpits referred to German ladies?

I hate France is a website unashamedly devoted to francophobia, including a selection of ‘jokes’ about the French, mostly following a rather unimaginative pattern similar to this one:

Q: What is the first thing you are taught when joining the French army?
A: To say “I surrender” in German

A helpful list of French products is provided for boycotting purposes. Francophobes can even get their own @I-Hate-France.com email address. Similarly another boycott site sells bumper stickers (as pictured above) and T-shirts.

American francophobia attempts some analysis of the phenomenon, explaining that the French have long been the butt of American jokes (like the English with their anti-Irish jokes, and the French with their anti-Belgian jokes). It would appear that the Iraq/Chirac situation simply stirred up existing deep-seated prejudices.

The writers of the Simpsons, for example, have been working little anti-French jokes into their scripts from day one, as these examples from episodes aired in 1994-5 testify:

“Secrets of a Successful Marriage”: desperate for reconciliation, Homer pleads to his wife:
“Marge, look at me: we’ve been separated for a day, and I’m as dirty as a Frenchman.”

Acting as a substitute French teacher, in “Round Springfield”, Groundskeeper Willie tells his pupils: “Bonjour-r-r, you cheese-eating surrender monkeys!”

I just can’t help worrying that for many Americans, some of whom will never set foot outside their own country, this version of the facts is the only version they will hear. And that makes my skin crawl.

To my lovely American readers – please do not take offence. I would however love to hear your views on this subject!

November 18, 2004

entente cordiale?

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaise @ 12:43 pm

That crafty old fox Jacques Chirac is over in Blighty for a spot of fish and chips and amour violent to mark the end of the Entente Cordiale centenary celebrations.

Not being someone who watches the news or reads newspapers on a regular basis (there are simply not enough hours in the day, so I have resigned myself to remaining a bit of a political philistine), I admit that my opinions about Chirac are just that: personal opinions formed on the basis of tuning in to the odd documentary or presidential speech and following the guignols de l’info, a parody of the eight o’clock news which uses Spitting Image style puppets.

I was rather pleased about France’s position on Iraq, but not convinced that Chirac’s personal motivations for adopting this stance were altruistic. I cannot abide watching the President address the nation. I always have the impression he is forcing himself to s p e a k r e a l l y s l o w l y, in the hope that this will inject gravitas into his subject matter. Mr Chirac and his wife Bernadette were almost certainly involved in a grand scale misuse of taxpayers money during his stint as Mayor of Paris. Various inquiries have taken place into the funding of the RPR political party, the awarding of lucrative business contracts and the (literally) millions of francs siphoned from the town hall budget/allegedly spent on feeding the couple while Chirac held this office. But, regardless of the weight of the evidence against him, Chirac cannot be prosecuted for any of the above as long as he holds the highest office in the République. By the time he stands down, given that the French seem to expect (and even respect) corruption in their politicians, all will probably have been forgiven.

The French press is making much of the fact that Mr and Mrs Chirac will be staying with QE2 at Windsor Castle this evening and watching ‘Les Misérables’ in the ‘Waterloo Room’, which has been rebaptised ‘The Music Room’ for the occasion, so as not to run the risk of offending French sensibilities.

Across the Channel, the English papers are gleefully airing the best soundbites from previous confrontations between Blair and Le Worm (sic The Sun (news)paper). I’m afraid I did a double take when I saw the Sun headline, ‘le Worm raps Blair’. Maybe I’m focusing too much on that amour violent quote.

November 17, 2004

losing my teeth

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaise @ 4:25 pm

I seem to have teeth on the brain at the moment. Tadpole is simultaneously cutting a few molars, with the usual accompaniment of unpleasant nappies (why the two are connected I have never managed to establish) and puts up as good a fight as ever when I try to approach her with a baby toothbrush before bedtime. As for me, I keep having that recurring dream where all my teeth come loose and I spit copious amounts of blood and several teeth into the bathroom sink. A dream which is allegedly not related to anxiety about requiring a set of premature dentures, but in fact can be interpreted as relating to children. According to this website, dreams about losing teeth are actually quite common and tend to be triggererd by one of the following scenarios:

  • I’m approaching the menopause and will no longer be able to have children (unlikely at 32, and I’ve been having this dream since puberty);
  • I have a physical problem leading to an inability to have children (not that I know of, thank goodness, I wouldn’t mind another Tadpole at some stage);
  • I’m not feeling capable of raising a child (does anyone ever feel really confident in their ability as a parent?);
  • my child is ready to leave the nest (possibly a bit premature at 17 months, even if she is a bit precocious);
  • I want a child but my partner doesn’t (n/a unless the Frog is keeping something very important from me);
  • or, I am in a situation (at work, for example) where I cannot assert myself and am feeling frustrated. (I don’t think my boss would agree with that one. Not being assertive enough has never come up in my evaluations. Quite the opposite).

So, sorry to disappoint, but I remain convinced that my brain works in far less mysterious ways and this dream is in fact my unconscious mind’s way of reminding me that I really must get around to making an appointment for my annual dental check up.

In the French language, the word ‘tooth’ crops up in several rather colourful figures of speech, some of which I rather like because of the images they call to mind.

An ambitious person is said to have long teeth (avoir les dents longues), while an extremely ambitious person has teeth which scratch the floor (les dents qui rayent le parquet). Presumably ambitious people ought to look something like bugs bunny. I’d be interested to hear where this association between teeth and ambition comes from, andwhether it crops up in any other languages. I don’t think ambition is associated with any part of the human anatomy in English?

Negative uses of the word ‘tooth’ in French include the phrase ‘to bear a grudge’, which translates as to ‘have a tooth (against somebody)’. To ‘be scathing’ in French, you ‘are hard toothed’ (avoir la dent dure).

The Frog’s favourite threat when I do something naughty is: ‘je vais te faire voler les dents.’ What a charmer. No wonder I fell for him.

November 16, 2004

Vous avez du feu?

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaise @ 4:52 pm

I went out to lunch in a very down to earth bistrot close to my office yesterday, and I can still smell the smoke which permeated into the fibres of my coat as we ate. Arriving at the restaurant our eyes and noses were greeted by what I can only describe as a ‘fug’. More worrying than this is the fact that after approximately five minutes acclimatisation and one glass of wine, I ceased to notice the smoke. Unwittingly I must have passively smoked the equivalent of ten gauloises over the course of the meal.

While the English press is today bemoaning the fact that an outright ban of smoking in enclosed public places has not been proposed in the government White Paper on health, I can’t help thinking what an outcry a similar proposal would provoke in gauloise country, where most restaurants haven’t yet complied with the little enforced Loi Evin of 1991, by introducing a non-smoking section for their clientèle non-fumeur.

Smoking here is the norm. Twenty million plus French smokers fervently believe that their right to enjoy a cigarette is more important than a non-smoker’s right to breathe clean air. I recall two occasions in all the time I’ve spent in France where a person at the next table in a restaurant asked me if I minded them smoking while I ate. Usually after they had already lit up, which means I inevitably said ‘of course not, no problem’ whilst internally seething. Given the cosy proximity of tables in many restaurants I often literally have an ashtray right under my nose. If someone does dare to object – which I did occasionally when I was pregnant – they are seen as an unreasonable health freak and killjoy and will be the object of much discontented muttering. The fact that levels of cancer are higher here than elsewhere in the EU (20% higher among adult males than in the UK) does nothing to deter smokers, nor do the extra large warnings on cigarette packets or rising tobacco prices.

I know doctors who smoke. I have witnessed with my own eyes a heavily pregnant woman rush out of her final ante-natal class to light up in the hospital courtyard, and a young mother smoking a Gitane a few centimetres above the head of her newborn child, whom she was carrying in a sling at chest level. All of the above shocked me profoundly, but you’d be surprised at how often I have heard the bizarre argument that stopping smoking whilst pregnant was more harmful to the mother than it was beneficial to the baby.

The Frog is one of those rather foolish people who only took up smoking in his mid-twenties, when clearly he should have known better. He is what I would call a stress smoker, and I’m sure he smokes far more at work than he is willing to let on. Smoking at his desk is permitted, as he works in a closed office (as opposed to an open plan office) with other smokers. As long as this is the case, I think the Frog and many others like him will be fighting an uphill battle to kick the habit, despite his best intentions following the birth of Tadpole.

If I was going to be cynical, I’d say there is not much chance of the French government taking much action to address this major health problem. Especially given that the state is a major shareholder in the Franco-Spanish group Altadis, purveyor of fine tobacco products such as Gauloises and Gitanes…

November 15, 2004

unhappy shopper

Filed under: missing blighty — petiteanglaise @ 12:44 pm

I did most of my Christmas shopping in the UK this weekend.

This has less to do with the fact that I am arguably the most organised lady in the Northern Hemisphere, and more to do with yuletide hazards such as overshooting airline baggage allowances and dislocating shoulders. I am thoroughly fed up with only being able to buy lightweight, non-breakable presents for my family and then having to cart them across the Channel for our Christmas visit to Yorkshire. This weekend for a four day stay in the UK with Tadpole (but sans Frog) the unwieldy bag weighed in at a healthy 15 kilos. As usual, I only had a couple of changes of underwear, the rest belonging to Tadpole. Steering the pushchair with one hand upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport, we then proceeded to do 2 laps around circular terminal 1 (one clockwise lap inside the baggage hall, followed by an anti-clockwise lap outside to reach the taxi ranks) during which I could feel my right shoulder straining to leap out of its socket.

A mound of presents is currently residing (wrapped and labelled, so I don’t forget which is which) at the parental home. But certain aspects of Christmas shopping in the UK made the experience rather less pleasurable than I had hoped.

Firstly, in a trend which seems to be worsening every year, the high street shops have given over the lion’s share of their floorspace to ‘Christmas tat’: arrays of shiny, nasty looking gift boxes, with a pink aisle for the ladies and a black/silver/navy aisle for the gentlemen. You would have to be so uninspired to buy one of these items: everything screams ‘I don’t know you/like you very much/give a toss and I have no imagination.’ But, irritatingly, these offending items were of course occupying the very floorspace where the very thing I was looking for should have been. And was no longer as it has clearly gone into temporary hibernation. Grrr.

In the unlikely event that I did manage to find what I was looking for, I then had trouble paying for it. The UK has finally got around to introducing a chip and pin system, in an attempt to curb credit card fraud. My French (debit) cards all have chips on them (in French such a card is called a carte à puce, as puce means ‘flea’ and ‘dearest’ but also ‘microchip’) and I can’t remember a time since I’ve lived here when this system was not in operation.

But here’s the snag: the UK chip readers don’t read French cards. So inevitably in every shop, the assistant would:

1. try to read the chip with the spanking new card reader
2. get an error message
3. look very puzzled*
4. try again
5. scratch his/her head
6. (optional) ask for another (French) card
before 7. eventually swiping the first card successfully in the old style reader and obtaining my signature.

Explaining that I had encountered the same problem five minutes earlier on a different floor of the very same shop did not speed up the process at all. Instead of proceeding directly to step 7, they just continued to perform the same elaborate ritual. On one instance my card did not function at all and I was obliged to go to the nearest cashpoint and withdraw cash (which of course my French bank will enjoy charging me extra for). In the face of such adversity I had to be very motivated indeed to complete my shopping marathon undeterred. Which is where all the junk food snacks listed in the ‘post’ below came in handy.

The remainder of my Christmas shopping will take place in classy Parisian shops with a backdrop of a bare minimum of tacky Christmas displays and a free gift wrapping service. Vive la France!

Now all I have to do is work out a cunning strategy for transporting all the Christmas presents we will receive in the UK from our extended family (mostly large toys for Tadpole) back to France again. We have a 50 kilo baggage allowance between us and are staying for a week.

Something tells me I will have to make a noble sacrifice and manage without a change of underwear…

November 13, 2004

fatted calves

Filed under: miam — petiteanglaise @ 3:42 pm

Below is a list of what I’ve eaten during my stay in the UK (so far). This is a note to self to remind me what a lump of lard I would become if I lived here permanently…

Thursday

lunch somewhere over the English Channel:
2 bacon and ketchup rolls (free plane food – one for me, one ‘for Tadpole’)

afternoon snack:
1 cadbury’s flake
1 chocolate covered flapjack bar
2 cups of tea

dinner:
fish, chips, mushy peas and bread and butter, with ketchup
2 cups of tea

Friday

breakfast:
banana fruit loaf and tea

in town shopping, lunch scoffed while walking around:
sausage roll
pork and apple mini sausage roll
bacon and cheese mini sausage roll
iced bun

afternoon tea:
apple doughnut
several cups of tea

dinner at tapas bar:
tapas
crema catalana
too much red wine

pre-bed munchies:
apple doughnut

Saturday

breakfast
2 crumpets dripping with butter (yum!)

lunch in town:
quiche, coleslaw and pasta salad
half a (huge) slice of lemon meringue pie (shared with my mum)

tea, tea and more tea

I think I should take a leaf out of ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ and think about having only salad tomorrow. But in the meantime, maybe I’ll stick the kettle on and see if there are any doughnuts left…

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