petite anglaise

November 27, 2008

nique sa mère

Filed under: french touch, misc — petiteanglaise @ 11:49 am

‘Oh my God!’ I shriek as I flick through the TV channels and land on M6′s new reality show, its name displayed in the bottom corner of the screen with the ‘M’ of maman transformed into a girly pink heart. ‘This is totally my core subject for book2, I have to watch this, however dreadful it is…’ The Boy is washing up in our open plan kitchen, an undertaking which seems to involve more clanging and splashing and running of taps than is strictly necessary. I crank up the TV’s volume and reach for my laptop, curious to read about the ‘concept’ of the show.

Elles sont actives, dynamiques, autonomes … et mamans célibataires,’ reads the show’s blurb. So far, so good. Dynamic, independent working women, who are also single mums. I approve of the choice of positive adjectives and the word order of the sentences, which places their relationship status and motherhood last.

There are 1.76 million monoparental families in France, according to the INSEE statistics quoted by the programme’s producers. 85% of these families are headed up by a single mother. ‘But in a daily life whose rhythm is dictated by their work, their children and all the occupations of a single mother they have little time to devote to searching for their ideal man…’ I ponder for a moment what ‘all the occupations of a single mother’ might mean, trying to imagine what these tasks which are not work or childcare related might be, but draw a blank. Hopefully the show itself will enlighten me. Although I do hope the cameras won’t be allowed to peer inside the ladies’ bedside cabinets to contemplate their Rampant Rabbit collections.

Episode one introduces us to Caroline, Marie and Carine who are shown preparing meals for their children, driving them to school and contemplating their towering ironing piles with varying degrees of despair. It’s when they are asked to describe what they are looking for that I begin to want to throw things at the television screen. Pale, blonde and dreamy looking Marie professes to be looking for her own ‘modern fairy tale’. Short-haired brunette Caroline would like to meet her very own Mr Big. Heavily made-up Carine (whom The Boy immediately refers to as la cagole, and whose online profile describes her as having previously lived a life of luxury similar to Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives) has simple needs: a man with the charm of Sean Connery or Robert De Niro, with a touch of Nicholas Cage.

The phrases ‘prince charmant‘ or ‘Knight in white armour’ aren’t actually bandied about, but they might as well be. The assumption is definitely that each is looking for a Mr Right and hoping to build something ‘serious’ and ‘durable’.

‘They should concentrate on just finding a guy they have some chemistry with, not obsessing about how it has to be du sérieux right from the outset,’ I say, half to The Boy, who has now joined me on the sofa, and half to the TV screen. ‘You don’t go into anything knowing what the outcome’s going to be. You start off casual. Otherwise it’s doomed in advance.’ I think back to when we met, in May 2007. We definitely started off casual. I didn’t take The Boy very seriously at all in the beginning. He was five years younger than me for a start. And I was hung up on someone else.

‘Of course,’ The Boy nods. ‘But, having said that, most of the girls on the online dating site where we met said they were looking for a prince charming. It wasn’t always true, in practise, but that’s definitely what they were telling themselves…’ I shoot him a sideways glance. I suspect The Boy was as guilty as the next guy of pretending to be a prince for an hour or two in order to charm his way into their lace underwear at the end of their first date but, as they say, ignorance is bliss.

Whatever their real aspirations and motivations (aside from wanting to become D-list celebs for fifteen minutes) the mamans are somewhat unlikely to find love in the reality TV show context, where their every word and movement is, no doubt, scripted in advance. The heavily edited version of events the audience will be presented with each week won’t exactly be trustworthy either. The whole thing is little more than a farce, entertaining and excruciating in equal measures.

In the first episode, for example, each maman hosted a picnic/barbecue to which ten hopeful suitors from all four corners of France (and a film crew) were invited. Not the most natural of dating situations, in my humble opinion, and it was moderately painful to watch the candidates compete for the attention of the mums, flirting outrageously, in some cases, in order to stand out from the crowd.

It soon became clear that the format was going to be reminiscent of ‘The Bachelor’. After a single day on their group date, peppered with a few brief tête-à-tête moments, the women were already being instructed to throw out three candidates. I couldn’t help thinking that in the real world, some of the men would have withdrawn themselves from the running spontaneously, but this did not happen. Clearly every male interviewed was in this competition to win, on principle, or failing that, to spend as much time in front of the TV cameras as possible.

I don’t know if will be able to bear to tune in for future episodes, but the mind boggles. Will the men be introduced to the women’s kids at some stage? Will they – in the case of the divorcees with kids – bring their own along? If a winner is selected who lives at the opposite end of the country, how will the logistics work? And, more importantly, will there be any more traditional Breton dancing? Or perhaps a trial by ironing?

The Boy’s suggestion – that the women simply audition their ten chosen men in the bedroom – earned him a withering stare. My tirade about how these poor, misguided women were likely to find that kissing Prince Charming will probably only mean they wind up with an extra mouth to feed and an even more voluminous ironing pile did not amuse The Boy, either, as he thought I might be implying he didn’t pull his weight in matters domestic.

But I rather liked The Boy’s suggestion for an alternative title for the show. It would make a fantastic French title for book two, if such a thing ever comes to pass.

November 11, 2008

unexpected

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 8:26 pm

I’d only ever spent five days in the USA prior to my trip to San Francisco. It was back in May 2001, when the twin towers were still standing proud and tall and Tadpole was nothing more than an unfertilised egg in my ovaries. The weather wasn’t particularly kind to us on that trip, either. But Mr Frog and I bought cheap lightweight waterproof jackets on our first day and resolved to do everything we’d planned, regardless.

I remember getting the same nagging feeling of déjà vu back then too. Every time I sat down at the counter in a diner and the uniformed waitress refilled my coffee I felt like an extra on a film set. Every time I stepped off the pavement to try and hail an elusive taxi, it was as though I was re-enacting a scene from one of my favourite television series.

But this eerie familiarity didn’t mean that absolutely everything was how I expected it to be. It wasn’t, because however much I’ve been exposed to all things American by books and films and TV programmes for the past thirty-six years, there were still surprises. Tiny little culture shocks – scoring low on the Richter scale – that simply caused me to pause for a moment, to frown or to repress a giggle.

Random examples of things that amused/bemused me at first encounter include:

  • The tone of the announcements made over the tannoy on my US Airways flights. I was expecting Sweet’N Lo insincere politeness, but instead they varied from schoolmistress bossy to downright surly;
  • Waiters saying ‘pardon my reach’ when setting down my order as though they were terrified of violating my personal space without my say so;
  • The odd, discontinuous shape of toilet seats in public ‘restrooms’;
  • The take-away section in shops called ‘grab and go’ which sounded like an invitation to try out shoplifting;
  • Advertisements for specific brand name drugs on TV, exhorting patients to ‘ask their Dr about…’ and reeling off side effects at breakneck speed;
  • The food stand in a Fisherman’s Wharf market proudly advertising that it sold the city’s ‘finest pig parts’;
  • Being expected to pour maple syrup over my French toast, bacon and eggs;
  • Nickels and dimes. I brought home a huge wallet-full. Couldn’t memorise how many cents they were worth, for the life of me;
  • Being asked if I wanted cream for my coffee and finding out that in this context, ‘cream’ actually means ‘milk’;
  • Finding out that Heinz make mustard in a glass bottle shaped like a ketchup bottle. Who knew?

These were just a few random thoughts I scribbled down on the plane home while watching truly awful in-flight movies (tip: avoid ‘Made of Honor’ at all costs, even if you are a fan of McDreamy). It might have been a red-eye flight, but I knew sleep wasn’t going to be an option (even with the help of over-the-counter sleeping aid pharmaceuticals purchased at Walgreens) when I discovered that my economy seat only ‘reclined’ by five centimetres.

If anyone has any culture mini-shocks of their own they’d care to share in the comments box below, be my guest…

November 7, 2008

umbrella

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 12:36 pm

It was already raining the night I flew into San Francisco, my nose pressed against the plane window, but the weather did nothing to dampen my excitement. It was all I could do to prevent myself squawking out loud when I spotted the Golden Gate Bridge picked out in a blurry sparkle of orange streetlights. And as we circled the city, waiting for permission to land, I marveled at how clearly I could see its outline. There was the Embarcadero with its numbered piers stretching out into the ocean, just like on my Lonely Planet map, and in the middle, the crosshatched pattern of streets snapped to a perfect grid.

When my hostess greeted me in the airport, she was apologetic: it was the first time she’d seen rain since she relocated to the area, six weeks previously. In fact, she’d been told this was the first rain to fall on the city in five whole months. ‘Ah well, I brought my umberella,’ I said cheerfully, pronouncing it with four separate syllables à la Rihanna. ‘And I’m a Brit after all, it’s not like I’ve never seen rain before…’

Later that evening, I chortled at the local TV news where the inclement weather had dislodged the imminent elections from their rightful opening headline slot. ‘Rain is forecast for Friday, Saturday and beyond,’ announced the newsreader in her very best harbinger of doom voice. In the background a “super HD” map of the Bay area showed precisely where the rain would fall, the camera zooming in to close on the handful of named streets which would bear the brunt. The heaviest rain was forecast for Saturday. But tomorrow, the newsreader announced with gravitas, there would be widespread spotting.

Here was my first encounter with the ‘two nations divided by a common language’ phenomenon. ‘Spotting’ in British English, my American friends, is something which may occur when a lady is in the middle of her cycle and it’s a private matter concerning only the said lady and her underwear. Light rain, meanwhile, is commonly referred to in the UK as ‘drizzle’ or ‘spitting’, and is not usually thought worthy of a five minute slot on the regional news.

I continued my scoffing on Friday (grey skies and intermittent bouts of drizzle) as I wandered around for a couple of hours downtown, enjoyed a spot of brunch in SOMA, then embarked on a leisurely stroll with my hosts, starting in Upper Haight and ending at 16th and Mission. Ducking in and out of shops along the way, we crossed paths with a Jedi knight and a six foot tall hot dog, admired the canine Princess Leia costumes for sale in a pet shop and expressed horror at the limited choice of Halloween costumes for women, all variations on the ‘slutty’ theme, involving mini skirts and fishnet tights. When the rain began to fall more determinedly, we took shelter inside 826 Valencia, undoubtedly home to the widest selection of pirate products I’ve ever seen, and stopped to eat sturdy Mission burritos the approximate length and girth of my forearm. In short, the rain hadn’t really spoiled anything, so far, and my only regret was that jetlag got the better of me and prevented me from experiencing Halloween by night.

On Saturday morning, I was riding my first Powell-Hyde cable car up and over Russian Hill when the heavens opened. Sitting on my outward-facing outdoor seat, my jeans slowly darkening from ankle to knee, suddenly it didn’t feel like the newsreader had been exaggerating, after all…

To be continued

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