Seen from Paris, blog about Paris

You thought Parisians are witty, arrogant, bitching about everything and anything, obsessed with food and culture, and always up for discussion? Well... you're perfectly right! And you're on the right page to check it out.

la france depressive

Chill out, world! The French are not going to commit suicide!!

Lately all my social network has been buzzing with an article from the NY Times explaining how the French people had lost both their status in the cosmos and their mojo. It’s time to strike back and straight up the record…

 

“Goodbye old world, Bonjour Tristesse” is the title of this cutting-edge sociology analysis of the French anima. Of course, Bonjour Tristesse refers to Françoise Sagan’s 1954 novel, and the picture featured in the article instantly takes you back to the French 50s. The constant references to Camus and Cocteau inside the article tends to scream “hey, how about a little bit more of French cliché from the 50s”? And you got it all with the little catchphrase to tease you: ” the French are in such bad mood that they don’t even have the time to be rude”. Merde, I just got shot by another cliché. It did tease me, for a moment I wondered if we were in such a bad mood that we still don’t have the time to bathe also…

 

I would not have paid attention to this article if I didn’t keep on receiving it in my mail box, from all kinds of different American friends and partners. And then, it was translated in French and published in the very serious Courrier International, as one of the key articles of the week… Obviously this analysis is having a big echo all over the world. Merde again. So I dropped the frog legs I usually dip in my café noir for breakfast and I read the article…

 

Well somebody should take a plane to France before writing about France. It’s Maureen Dowd, the columnist who enlightens us with all these clichés. You can’t miss her, she has a très beau portrait of herself inviting you to escort you throughout the mysteries of French moods on the left side of the article. And you really can’t miss all the clichés, it’s like inviting Inspecteur Clouzot and the Mime Marceau to a talk show about France and Prozac. But let’s look at the details…

 

The thesis that is defended here is utterly classical: The French are down in the dumps to a point that we don’t see them anymore (but we can probably still smell them…) “Liberté, égalité, Morosité”,  ”The French are Italians in bad mood”, bla bla bla, nothing new under the Sun. How does a cliché becomes a cliché? It’s true, France is a country of guys and girls bitching about everything. To a point that we have had several Revolutions that have changed the course of History. And that’s a structural feature, it’s a by-product of Esprit Critique, a cognitive state of mind that you catch like a disease after going through a rather harsh education system that teaches you that no matter how hard you try, it will never be perfect. Which,  for a French citizen, is a philosophical candy: it means you can -and you have to- criticize everything. And we do, oh oui, we do! We criticize everything, from people wearing white socks walking by a café terrasse to the 1978 European directive on the size of Mortadelle slices, not to mention prententious portraits of columnists trying to look sexy. We’ve been famous for this for centuries, and that’s not new. Ask Voltaire.

 

So far nobody has jumped of the cliff because the US sent an embassy to Vichy in 1940...

 

But this time, the columnist has – or thinks she has- a new piece of the puzzle: France is going down, and we can’t stand it! Well, that’s not true. What do you think we’ve been bitching about all these centuries? France going down. Again, it’s part of who we are. France is the only country I know where all citizens happily bash their own country. While in the US, citizens repeat God bless America ad nauseam and have a little American flag above their door, in France, just knowing a stanza of la Marseillaise turns you into a potential Vichy colonialist nazi (and that’s only half of the reality…). The French hate their country. Of course, deep down,  they know it’s the best on the planet, but there’s so much room for improvement… Putain d’esprit critique! “We should have done this, we could have done that” If you pay attention to a French talking about his country, you will have a rather interesting description of a burocratic racist fascist dictatorship that the person you’re listening to would like to leave as soon as he/she can… But don’t be fooled, this constant bitching does not mean, as Maureen fears, that we are about to jump under the TGV. We are complaining and bitching, but with a glass of Tavel rosé and Tapenade spread, between an Opera festival and a wild rave the best electro DJs in the world. That’s your French art de vivre right there: Bitch bitch bitch, but never lose track of your next meal… And, trust me Maureen, life’s beautiful when you do that!

 

Maureen Dowd needs to come to France to escape from the Film Noir she’s stuck in. It’s true, right now, the world has to face serious challenges, and France too. But being pessimistic is nothing new to us, it’s our way to discuss solutions, to be demanding with ourselves and others, and avoid frustration. It’s also our way not to be too easily manipulated by the media…. As the wiseman said, “a pessimist is an optimist with more information…”

French people tearing off their close because of the Euro situation

One piece of advice though: Chère Maureen, if you are going to write about France today, please talk about France today. I suspect you would come to France to look for the France you seem to like. But Cocteau and Camus have been dead for decades, and so is the France you are talking about. We know we lost the war, in fact most French people live with the idea that France was a nazi country, which is a national trauma that I hope one day we will get over with. Because it’s not true. But France today is not about existentialism and jazz in Saint-Germain des Prés with Miles Davis and Juliette Greco. France today is about atomic energy, fighting GMOs, street art, high-speed train and dancing in the streets. Grab a plane and come visit: France has never been so beautiful. In its bitching kinda way…. Santé!

 

If you want to read Maureen Dowd’s article it’s here:Goodbye old world, bonour Tristesse
If you want a pretty good American answer to the article in the same news paper from Roger Cohen it’s here:France’s glorious malaise
If you want a French answer… You can read my article again, or come here and discuss it with a glass of Vacqueyras.