This birth control doesn’t work in France!

What is repulsive in one country can be high-fashion in another.

bcgs

The last time I traveled through France, I was repeatedly stopped by strangers on the street (and if strangers talk to you in France, they must REALLY want to know whatever they are asking) inquiring where I got what has to be the most repulsive element of my entire wardrobe.

What was this oh horrible of most horrible of things you ask?

U.S. Army issue glasses… affectionately known as BCGs.

B.C.G. stands for Birth Control Glasses, because no woman would ever sleep with you while you were wearing them. They are issued to soldiers who need corrective lenses during their basic training. Soldiers that have passed basic training have the option to get a more human looking pair.

I'm to sexy for my specs!

I'm to sexy for my specs!

These things are virtually indestructible, we played hockey with a pair at my old unit for over a year.

I was wearing this monstrosity around Paris because I had lost every other pair of glasses I had and I’m almost blind without them. To my surprise, I was suddenly a god of high-fashion.

I was asked over and over where these glasses could be bought, however no one was particularly pleased at the prospect of enrolling in the U.S. Army to get a pair of their own.

Fashion varies all over the world, who knows, maybe you don’t need to buy new clothes to stay in fashion, it might be easier to just move.

Check out more French high-fashion at the 2009 Paris Fashion Week.

Now You Can Cop the Parisian Attitude!

FRENCH.

What words just came to your mind?

Before you read further, take minute to let the various nouns and adjectives flow freely.

Okay…

"The Shrug"

"The Shrug"

If you’re an American, there’s a good chance some of the negative words that just popped in and out of your mind were ones like arrogant, lazy, coward, dirty, anti-American, socialist (maybe even communist?), hairy and rude.

Now, I’m sure words like food, wine, fashion, Eiffel Tower, romance, cheese, art, tradition and maybe even fries came up as well.

But, for now we’re going to take a look at the role these negative descriptors play into France’s – specifically Paris’ – tourism industry.

Big surprise to me and maybe to you as well: Turns out, there are actually tourist manuals that help educate the Paris-hesitant traveler on how to “cop” the Parisian attitude.

Yes. It’s true…you too can now be as rude as some deem the French to be!

According to tourist agency, Gadling.com, “Parisians are well known for their rudeness to tourists and other foreigners. This has always been very frustrating, however, to the Regional Tourism Committee of Paris whose job it is to attract foreign visitors to the French capital. They’ve discovered over the years, however, that many tourists simply don’t want to go to Paris and be accosted by this legendary rudeness.”

So, several years ago, the Committee launched a “tongue and cheek advertising campaign [that] could best be described as an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach,” according to an article on ScienceDirect.com. The article’s author goes on to criticize the campaign saying, “Such an approach is so, well…French,” and asks, “When, exactly, did the lowest common denominator become ‘best practice?'”

The campaign is directed toward Brits who’ve turned to other tourist destinations where they can more pleasantly spend their spare pounds.

While offensive to some, some heavy-hitters in the tourism industry have welcomed the humorously helpful travel tips through the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach.

Fodor’s, for example, says, “The Web site, created as a marketing tool by a cheeky French tourist agency, is a clever attempt to make light of the quirks and tics that have come to characterize our friends across the Atlantic.”

Here are some examples of “Parisianisms” that can help you cope and blend in with the stereotypically rude culture:

1. The Pout: “Start by looking bored, then pucker your lips and shake your head slowly for impact.”

2. The Shrug: “Stick out your lower lips, and then reaise your eyebrows and shoulders simultaneously.” (See Image Above)

3. The indicator that someone should shut up (a.k.a. “tait-toi!”): “Hold your hand in the shape of an ‘L’; then bring your fingers and thumb together.”

Personally, I never felt the need to use any of these gestures, nor did I find it necessary to “cop” the Gallic, French attitude while visiting the City of Light.

However, for the nervous or hesitant tourist who is debating whether or not to visit Paris, humorous tips like these may help you make light of any rudeness you may encounter.

To take a peak into more aspects of French culture, please visit TheSecretLifeofFrance.com for an Englishwoman-now-living-in-Paris perspective.

Alowine attitudes

Halloween is a particularly popular holiday in America. Some say it’s the second most important retail holiday in the U.S., behind Christmas. Americans buy costumes for themselves, their children, and even their pets. Many people have costume parties, and some cities or retail businesses host events for children on Halloween as an alternative to door-to-door trick or treating.

But maybe the Americanization of Halloween hasn’t been true to the holiday’s roots, which offers a remembrance and respect for the dead.

Lit pumpkins near the Eiffel Tower

In France, the holiday and its celebrations are fairly new and controversial. It showed up in the 1980s, and was first celebrated at a bar where staff had to explain the holiday to patrons. Here’s how one writer describes it:

Halloween in France is rather controversial, due to the perception of corporate and cultural influence, as well as the fact that it is not a typical French holiday and some people still don’t understand what is being celebrated. Because Halloween is seen as an American celebration, some French people refuse to enjoy it, having decided to include it in their anti-American boycott.

An article in the New York Times on Oct. 25, explains a little more about the observance of Alowine in France, and the ever-changing attitude about the holiday.

One American who moved to France for a year with his family, said that Halloween exists in France but not in any way recognized by most Americans — no pumpkins and no candy or trick-or-treating. He threw an American party for his children’s friends so they could experience the holiday as he thought it should be.

Today, Halloween in France is celebrated more readily in an Americanized fashion. On Oct. 31, French teenagers go to McDonald’s and visit Disneyland Paris because of their iconic American images.

A 2000 story from CNN explains that France had embraced the European roots of Halloween, but a 2006 story in Forbes declares Halloween dead. No word on whether it’s a holiday that will be well-celebrated in France this year. Some retailers in the U.S. don’t expect such a profitable Halloween season this year because of the economic downturn.

How are you celebrating Halloween this year?


Public Enemy Number One Part 2: Texting Vs. Textbooks :-(

Have you ever been in class or somewhere far from home and felt a wave of overwhelming panic come over you when you realize your phone is nowhere to be found?

Even lil rascals like this one are finding the need for a cell phone in France. But will he have it for long? Photo courtesy of Laur5785 from Flickr

Even lil rascals like this one are finding the need for a cell phone in France. But will he have it for long? Photo courtesy of Laur5785 from Flickr

No, it’s not lost, it’s at home. Left on the charger. The one thing that you need that you forgot to pick up this morning in a rush.This nightmare happens to many people.

Although you might say to yourself, “It’s fine, I can go one day without my phone,” the reality of what you are missing hits you: missed lunch invitations; a text message from a friend about a forgotten assignment; the opportunity to play Word Mole during a dull meeting; and that call you’ve been waiting for from the cutie you met at your friend’s birthday soiree. Darn.

This feeling of panic and confusion that most people feel when they realize they don’t have their cellular phones will now be an everyday feeling for students under the age of 15 in France who will be forced to go through a whole school day without their handheld bundles of joy.

You see, while only a few years back it was irregular for a child under 15 to have or need a cell phone, now it is a constant in their hands and unfortunately, in class. So much so that Parliament is in the process of ruling to ban children under 15 from bringing mobile phones to school. They aren’t talking about making the students leave the phones in their bags; rather, they don’t want them anywhere on school grounds for those in elementary schools, junior high and high schools, otherwise known as ecoles maternelles, elementaires and colleges. Lycee, or University students obviously wouldn’t be affected.

The ban comes after a survey was done on 12 through 17-year-old students found that half of these young men and women confessed to using their phones during class. Many were even admitting to filming teachers during class as well…peeping Tom’s in the making I see…Some also cite that exposure to cellular phone signals can be dangerous to children. For further information on the health risks of cellular phones, check out the corresponding post by author Asia Jones.

While many people might look at this and think “Cell phones in elementary school!? They don’t need ‘em anyway,” many are up in arms about the possible ruling. Child protection agency Action Innocence opposes the idea because they feel that without cellular phones on school grounds, children wouldn’t be able to inform anyone if they were in trouble or if they wanted to check in with their parents.

While this may be true, those of us over 18 know what’s real. I didn’t have a cellular phone until I was junior in high school, and that was only because I was driving a car to school. From Kindergarten all the way to junior year I used the school phones and went straight home after school unless I was in after-school sports to avoid any drama or trouble. If I went to a friend’s house, I checked in from their residence. I survived without a cell phone, and I’m pretty sure these kids will be alright. In all honesty, I think only one emergency/familial call was made out of all the ones I made in a day during high school, so I doubt the students will be upset because they can’t contact their mommies. And if they are, payphones could slowly make their way back into style…

“Le Fooding”: A New Emotion

So, what do you get when you combine the words food and feeling?

You may or may not have guessed it: Fooding.

Put a Le in front of it and you’ve got the name of a rebel culinary movement, birthed out of the neighborhoods of Paris, France.

Photo Courtesy of LeFooding.com

LeFooding.com

The prestigious Academie Francaise – the official moderators of the French language – were sure to have squirmed in their seats with the emergence of this psuedo-French term.

Le Fooding, coined by Frenchman and cuisine connoisseur Alexandre Cammas in ’99, is a Paris-born “guerilla culinary movement that thumbs its nez at staid, starched-napkin cuisine, trumped by real food made with feeling,” according to a recent article on NBCNewYork.com.

Cammas believes all food that is cooked with passion, sincerity and taste is good cuisine – a thought most traditional French chefs would, in fact, thumb their nez at.

(For evidence of this – that even a young child could comprehend – please see the way in which the stereotypical French chef is portrayed in the animated film, Ratatouille.)

Perhaps traditional American chefs will do the same? Cammas thinks not.

This is one reason the Le Fooding made its premier appearance in New York City on September 26th and 27th.

Avante-garde, Long Island Museum P.S. 1 hosted Le Fooding d’Amour Paris-New York where innovative – and maybe even a bit “angsty” – American and French chefs showcased their “art” en plein air (outdoors) with deejays, visual artists and cocktails to provide the most flavorful side dishes.

Le Fooding also published what the New York Post calls a cheeky restaurant guidebook and a wildly popular Web site, again, bucking the traditinoal French culinary system.

“We have to cook in freedom because if we don’t, France will stay a museum of old gastronomy,” says Cammas.

Long live liberté, égalité and fraternité in the world of food.

Aime Cesaire & NWN: Negroes with Negritude

Drawing courtesy of Ben Heine of Flickr

The late poet and politician, Aime Cesaire

The late poet and politician, Aime Cesaire

Race. When you say the word here in America, the reaction is a knee-jerk one. Like getting hit in the lower part of your knee with a hammer at the doctor’s office, the idea of talking about race often creates a quick eye-roll, a huff and/or puff, or in many cases it’s simply ignored. As diverse and open-minded as we would like to believe that other countries in this wide world of ours think differently, when it comes to race, we may unfortunately all have more in common than once thought.

From our own perspectives here, France is more of a progressive place comfortable with people of all colors and creeds; and France has always seen itself as one that avoids racial discrimination and pushes for tolerance, as it has seemed to do for so many years. According to the website BME news: “It regularly denounced racism in the United States…inviting talented American blacks like the dancer Josephine Baker, musicians like Sidney Bechet, and writers like Richard Wright and James Baldwin.”

But that was long ago, and times have definitely changed.

In France today, blacks don’t shimmy around topless portraying primitive images of blacks, collecting the praise and awe of white people anymore. Instead, from my own experiences, immigrants from places the likes of Senegal and Cameroon stand around Paris selling novelty souvenirs to put food on the table; according to The New York Times, black’s with degrees find themselves working menial jobs at fast food joints because of the few and far between alternatives; and blacks have realized the sad reality that they have no political representation in France. The French don’t even conduct census-like surveys and studies that count people by race, so the number of blacks in the country to be accounted for and helped is unknown. The façade of equality portrayed by the French is becoming just as much of a fraud as the Declaration of Independence has been for minorities in America. Through the anger of feeling misunderstood and ignored, many French blacks have returned to the idea of “negritude.”

According to the New York Times, “negritude” is the ideology of black pride that was created in the ’20s and ‘30s by French poet and politician Aime Cesaire and Leopold Sedar Senghor, a poet who became Senegal’s first president. Breeding off of the influence of Harlem Renaissance writers who had lived in France, negritude tries to push for a Europe without race and class divisions. But in reality, the division is ever-present. Many neighborhoods across France, such as Chateau Rouge and Vitry-le-Francois, places filled with a large number of blacks who are poor and frustrated, have become centers for crime and violence.

With the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, negritude is becoming as strong as it ever was, with more blacks restoring their hope and pride in their heritage.

Youssoupha, a black rapper documented in a New York Times article on “negritude,” claims that with Obama as America’s new leader, even if it is not in France, makes him believe that “everything is possible.” They hope to get help, as many seek to take their college degrees they earned but were discouraged from getting, to move out of the oppressive working class and run-down neighborhoods into more stable jobs and living.

While the election of Barack Obama has moved a great number of blacks in the U.S. to strive for bigger and better things, the same sentiment is being felt abroad. Negritude has always given French blacks the faith they need in their heritage, but seeing Obama’s achievement in the flesh means a lot more. To hear his words and feel his message is to know that there is hope for not only the oppressed and depressed blacks residing in France, but for all minorities trying to find their way.

For more information on the legacy and impact of Aime Cesaire, watch the following YouTube video on his life and work.

The Life and Legacy of Aime Cesaire & \”Negritude\”

A Film With “Class”

Do you remember your years in high school? If someone put a camera in the halls of your school, what would they find? In the case of the French film The Class (Entre Les Murs), the results were worthy of the top prize in the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.

Written by an actual teacher, Francois Begaudeau, who would go on to portray the life-changing main character in the film, The Class follows the struggles of inner-city Parisian students, and the teachers fighting to make a difference in their lives. For those that don’t know, the Palm d’Or at Cannes means that a film has been designated as a masterpiece. So if you have never seen The Class, it’s a must.

The students are like most that I personally went to school with: stubborn, angry and devoid of ambition. But the same can be said about some of the teachers, including Begaudeau who goes through the same rollercoaster of emotions that the students go through. He tries to instill order and hope into the students, but in most cases, to no avail. But in the end, after all the stress and an eventual expulsion of one his most promising students, he finally finds fulfillment in his work and finds a way to bring his students up to their potential.

The film was an eye-opener for me because it proved that teachers do more work than people give them credit for. Parents nurture children, but around the age of 5, the responsibility of providing the educational nourishment they need falls on the shoulders of teachers. Plus, there are many people who dump their children off at school lacking the manners and respect they need to show for others, and the teachers are forced to pick up their slack. So kudos…kudos to the grammar teacher I used to give hell to thinking she was over-emotional at times. Kudos to the English teacher that made me read five books in the summertime even when I didn’t want to. Kudos to Mrs. Vagina whose name we used to make fun of because she wouldn’t let us pass without knowing our multiplications. But most of all, kudos to The Class for being a heart-warming and heart-wrenching tale that proves that no matter where you are, school sucks… but you would be nothing without it.

For a review of the film and more information, see: http://www.cinematical.com/2008/05/25/cannes-review-the-class-entre-le-murs/

Photo credits to:

blagora.wordpress.com

 

Web Documentary Wins Festival Award

The International Film Festival of Photojournalism called Visa pour l’Image Perpignon awarded “Le Corps Incarcéré“, a LeMonde.fr production, the first prize for best Web Documentary 2009. The award is sponsored by France 24 and Radio France Internationale, both online international news mediums. It is a first-time category for the awards and was chosen based on the criteria of subject, originality and innovative use of new multimedia tools.

Visa pour l'image

View the documentary at the following website provided by LeMonde.fr:
Le corps incarcéré
LEMONDE.FR | 22.06.09

© Le Monde.fr

The Documentary

The award is prestigious and inspiring to other web documentary film makers but the subject matter is depressing. Le Corps Incarcéré focuses on the “imprisoned body” and the struggles of life in the French prison system. Interviewing four inmates, Hugo, Hélène, Hafed and Djemel, reveals the degraded, and static state of their incarcerated bodies. The inmate’s voices talk while pictures of prison haunt the screen and show the audience the conditions of prison life that everyday media does not cover. Suicide. Loneliness. Humiliation. It shows the real truth of crime and punishment.

The Web

Developing technology and communications enable new forms of journalism. Documentaries that are under the production of Web sites or online news sources can be promoted by festivals such as Visa pour l’Image Perpignon. The budding category ‘Web Documentary’ may soon become a popular category at many other festivals around the world in the next few years. My question: Do youtube ‘documentaries’ count?

Bow to the King of Cakes!

Yummmmm….

You know you want some...

You know you want some...

 

 

While looking through the different sites I hope to use in the creation of a French culture blog, I found a brand new one with something that everyone can appreciate: FOOD! I love food as I’m sure most people do, and the French have some of the most unique yet delicious treats out there. In France, as well as New Orleans where French culture prevails, custard-filled king cake is the new apple pie. It is served during special events and celebrations such as Mardi Gras, and is adorned in the colors gold (means power), green (faith), and purple (for Prince…just kidding, it’s for justice). When the cake is served, there is a plastic baby or bean in the inside. If you find the baby in your piece, they say that you are the King or Queen of the day! But with the baller status of being royalty, you have to buy everyone their own king cake after you find the toy. Sounds like a downer, but as someone who has had the privilege of eating king cake on Fat Tuesday in my high school French class, I can say that it is the definition of yummy. For a long time I had a taste for the cake and thought how great it would be to have one of my own (preferably made my someone else). Now I can. On Rebecca Franklin’s mouthwatering French Cuisine blog (http://frenchfood.about.com/b/), I found a wonderful posting with a recipe for the classic cake, which takes about an hour to cook. In place of the usual custard, you can fill the rectangular cake with cream cheese  or fruit if you like, and the recipe is enough to serve about 12 people! Once your cake is finished, you’re sure to fall for the king as I did. Think of it as a sugary bread, an Entenmann’s Louisiana Crunch cake with enough sugar to put you into a diabetic shock. But hey, I’m not complaining, it’s worth it! Check it out! (Post below)

http://frenchfood.about.com/od/desserts/r/kingcake.htm

 

Thanks to KateMonkey of Flickr for the picture!

New Age French Poetry

matu

photo by Emilie Johnson

A new kind of French metro poetry meant for text messaging can be quite confusing, especially for non-native French speakers. Emilie Johnson’s blog post “Matuvu” breaks down how the word “Matuvu” really means “M’as-tu vu” in French metro poetry. It is the same idea as English shorthand phrases that have been created, like “CUl8r” or “c-ya,” meaning “see you later.”

This particular French slang word is a fun play on words because “Un Matuvu” also stands for “Un M’as-tu vu” and can be translated into English as “A Show Off.”

I think it is very clever and useful when young people create new slang or short-hand for communication mediums such as texting (SMS) or instant messaging. It is especially useful in the French language, which can take a long time to write out fully with so many dashes, apostrophes and accented vowels.