Saturday, July 19, 2008

18 Things I Will Miss About France

Reader: Hey Rufus, some of these things about France don't really seem all that great! Will you really miss them?

Rufus: Oh, yes. Because they remind me of France, and I love France. When you love something, everything about it adds to its character. Besides, who would want to eat food that was all sweet or had no spices?

Reader: What about Canada? And America?

Rufus: Well, I love Canada, and I love America. I also love France. Hopefully, the three of them will understand this, without getting jealous.

Reader: Why don't you love the other countries?

Rufus: I've never been to other countries. I suspect that I'd love them too. Now, enough with the questions kid! Here are: 18 Things I Will Miss About France:

1. The food. Sure, I like a good hot dog from time to time (and kebabs too!). But, after you've had ridiculously tasty food for fairly low prices, it's a bit hard to return to the land of: "Well, do you want it cheap, or do you want it good?"

2. Specifically, pastries. How great is it to have a hot pain au chocolat every morning? Pretty great. My favorite pastry is the strawberries & cream concoction known as the frasier. Une frasier makes me crazier! Alas, they're hard to find in several regions of France, and you have to go to a specialty place outside of France. And their memory will make it hard to return to Canada, where they love their Timmy's donuts almost as much as the French love their pastries.

3. Dog shit. You learn to look down when walking. People are supposed to clean up after their dogs in many places, and some do; but many think that it would be an insult to their pride to clean up the dog shit. So, a walk down an average sidewalk can resemble those tire runs they have in Army basic training. After about a week, you're adjusted to it.

4. The urine smell. I have no idea why middle aged French men feel comfortable urinating everywhere they want to. Actually, I do- it's because they've been drinking. After a while, it becomes comical. What a lovely neighborhood this is! If there only wasn't the urine smell...
5. ARTE. Whoever came up with the idea for a television channel that shows: Rock concerts, classical concerts, 70s art films, great independent cinema from around the world and some of the greatest films ever made just in general, undersea documentaries, historical programs, a weekly review of the art world, documentaries about every esoteric topic imaginable, and a number of other unclassifiable things... well, those people were geniuses. I hate televison. I don't hate ARTE.
6. Art. Sure, a lot of French music is twee and irritating. Many of their films boil down to watching Paris yuppies have droll conversations about their affairs over dinner. And, aside from Houellebecq, there's not that much going on in French lit. However, you have to love that they see artist as a noble profession and art-making as almost a sacred duty. In America and Canada, even our artists feel compelled to say things like, "Well, I write poems... but, I'm not a pretentious asshole!" Having a space of resepect and support for art means that really cool art will, and does happen.
7. Arrogant, Beautiful, and Inaccessible Women. Yes, I know: they can be annoying. Especially if you are already married to a beautiful sweetheart and not remotely interested in them. And, yes, many of them, at least in Paris, will actually walk into you on the sidewalk, which is totally obnoxious. And, yes, their behavior is all an absurd affectation. But, it is also immensely theatrical and very entertaining. The other thing is that, sure they have their sexists here, but the French actually seem to really like women. And that's a good thing.
8. Totally Accessible Frenchies. For all of their supposed arrogance, when you meet nice French people, they're completely endearing. And I've met quite a few.
9. Old Buildings. They hardly ever build new ones; they just plaster up the old ones every few years. For someone who loves the faded places in the world, the logic is completely understandable.
10. Haute Couture. I could never afford it, but I'd rather be around bourgeois people who spend all their money on high fashion than on McMansions and giant cars. You know how you'll watch clips of fashion shows and think that nobody really dresses that way? Yes, they do. Come to one of the cities in France.
11. The Patrimony. Even if you were a relatively-obscure painter in sixteenth century France, it's likely that they know who you were and love you as if you were currently on tour with U2. Also there is probably a television special on your work appearing tonight on France 3. French history is never really history- it's a part of contemporary cultural currency.
12. Arrogance. Yeah, there's some of that too. Snobbishness is pretty much everywhere though. Heck, you can go to a small town in the middle of nowhere and have the girl who works at the Burger King act look down her nose at you while she serves your Whopper because all of the boys at Western Farmville High want to pork her. Who cares? It will drive you batty, if you let it. Or, you can laugh about it, and figure that at least the French snobs are arrogant about their fashion, art, and culture; as opposed to being arrogant about, say, their military, their awesome car, and all of the cool crap they can afford from Best Buy.
13. Mindless formalities. See the post on that. I will say that I've gotten to where I expect it. As my landlady says: "The French- we love paperwork!"
14. Arguing. Americans think that the French are all ideological. They're not- they just like to argue. They like witty, passionate debate, and it should never, ever be taken personally. They just really enjoy a good gripe. If they think you're a right-wing capitalist, they will argue like a socialist radical. If they think you're a socialist radical, they will argue like a suburban bourgeois. At least, that's true for the ones I know. One way of looking at it is that they have flexible minds and can see many sides to debates. The other way is that, well, you have to do something when you're hanging out in cafes drinking all the time!
15. The Average Television Show. Five or six people, sitting around a table, having those sort of witty, passionate arguments for two hours. That's pretty much 60 percent of the shows here. You can also join in at home, drinking and arguing with the set.
16. Missing my wife. Sure, it sucks. And it really hurts my heart sometimes. But, the fact that I am 33 years old and becoming a professional academic, and still have it suddenly hit me that, if I don't see my wife soon, I am going to totally die, is nice.
17. Relaxing. They take lunch for one to two hours. They go on vacation an average of one month per year. Bob Dobbs would be proud. Ultimately, and this is why it's impossible to really dislike them- the French still know how to enjoy being alive.
18. Whimsy. Beauty, Passion: all of these things we have in North America too. But we sure don't do them up like they do in France.

1 comment:

jjg said...

just found this post (a bit late) but must comment: I too am an adult (kinda) from the US taking a wee sabatical to study French for three months. many points you made hit home (new home?)! but i have not run into the arrogance (thankfully). French TV is très amusante!