Sunday, February 13, 2011

France vs. the United States of America

It's a love hate thing. Seriously, as much as the French despise the Americans, they love them, imitate them and strive to be just like them. And as much as the Americans loathe the French, they are infinitely jealous about the French, wish to live in France for a year or so and soak up their lifestyle. French are thin, Americans are fat. French are arrogant, Americans gullible. French reserved & well-mannered, Americans loud & rude. French cosmopolitan, Americans narrow-minded... The obvious conclusion would be (and it's a social consensus) that the two countries are entirely and inherently different. Bullshit. 

There are no more freedom fries. When in 2003 Dubya decided to invade Iraq and look for WMD (which I believe, he did not find, did he not...), the French expressed strong opposition to the US plans on several international political arenas, a.o. in the U.N. Shortly thereafter, two (of course) republican Representatives of the House have ordered the removal of the country's name from products. Freedom Fries were born. By 2006 the House has quietly revoked the change. Little did they know that French Fries aren't French, but Belgian. And anyways, the French couldn't give a damn about what the Americans would call their potatoes. Yet, I'd say a pretty clear manifestation of Francophobia by Americans, right there.


Coca-Colonisation & Fridges. So, the Anti-Americanism in France, let's say, roots a bit deeper. While over the pond the Americans tried to rid the world of communism during the cold war, the French communist party held a significant share of the electoral vote in France, decidedly fighting against the capitalist American society slowly but surely invading France with modernization and inventions like the frigidaire or Coca Cola. But more importantly, America was threatening to take the lead on visual arts, popular music, architecture and literature, leaving France behind (I will soon write a post on the illusion of "Le quart d'heure d'avance"). Net, France - La grande Nation - was about to lose international status and heritage. And it hurt. 

Pretentiousness and megalomania. Some of the stereotypes mentioned in the opening paragraph may well be close to reality. And there are some obvious social, cultural, religious and ethnic differences between France and the US of A. But there are more parallels than meet the eye. First off, both countries claim their social and cultural systems are ideal models, universal archetypes for the rest of the world. Now, you know what happens when two guys meet to compare their meat, each on suggesting to have the biggest. It's the same with countries. 

But even on a much more introspective level, the two countries are similar and moving in the same direction (for better or worse): Many of the TV shows that work in the US, also work in France (I am talking about the absurd early afternoon Jerry Springer type shows, and Tele Shopping and stuff like that...). Astoundingly many French hardly speak any other language than their own. French media are hardly focusing on the outside world, what's important is happening in France and vice versa. A majority of French are vacationing in France, French colonies or french speaking places. French apparently need to be made aware of the most obvious like, 'coffee is hot', 'eat healthy', 'drive carefully', 'do not microwave your cat' etc. Many Frenchmen are disloyal to their sports teams, even national teams. The French also claim world leadership in many things, some of which they might have, but certainly not all: art (Picasso only lived in France, Michelangelo was Italian, so was Da Vinci), political system (d'uh!), cuisine (close, probably), aircraft technology (Concorde?) wine (fight it out with Italy), work ethic (SNCF?), cheese (come on...), romance (Shakespeare?), bread (make it 'Croissants' and we're ok) etc. Net: In many respects, the French could well be regarded as the Americans of Europe.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chapon fermier de Pintade de challans rôti sauce armoricaine et sa fricassée de légumes oubliés

French cuisine has earned its name. There's no denying that. Of course the portions are microscopically small, you'd think the kitchen has either ran out of virtually everything, or the waiter has accidentally served what was specifically put together for the anorexic hag sitting at the table next to you. But, in France, sorry: in french restaurants it's quality over quantity. The food is indeed to die for. Which actually makes the apportioning issue just that less bearable... It's like a coitus interruptus. It's unfair, doesn't make sense and creates frustration.

You are what you eat. A recent study by scientific journal The Lancet has shown that French citizens rank amongst the countries with the lowest average BMI scores in the world, with countries like Bangladesh and Japan ranking close. It's not one of the scientific conclusions, but for me it's obvious: french cuisine. Consequently it can't be astounding to learn that the term 'molecular cuisine' has been coined by a Frenchman called Hervé This. But, actually I wanted to point out something completely different.

If it ain't got that sound, it won't break new ground. Reading let alone understanding french menus can be a real pain. French cuisine usually comes with long, painstakingly crafted and complex names for sometimes actually quite primitive dishes. It's not a Sirloin Steak, it's a "rear back cut of beef steak in its butter-garlic flavored reduction with a triplet of steam cooked vegetables". It must be awfully entertaining to watch me screen through a french menu, every now and then look up with a dazzled face and eventually making a random pick, sweating tears while trying to communicate my choice to the waiter. I know they're amused. It's my pleasure, though. They just need to get the portions fixed, dammit!