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A couple of quick reflections on France A couple of quick reflections on France
by Joseph Gatt
2020-10-15 06:52:44
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Two quick, useful, hopefully important notes on France.

Note 1: how come no one in France seems to say that they are French? When you ask them where they are from, they either answer with silence and an irritated look on their face, or claim that they have very complex ethnic backgrounds. In some cases ethnic backgrounds too complex to be plausible. Either way, everyone in France seems to be from outside France...

fra0001_400Answer: In French culture, as weird as it may sound, it's very rude to discuss your private life. Simple things like your name and your ethnic background are confidential. Your place of residence, the schools you went to, marital status, religious background, family status, age, job and occupation, and many other things are considered “private” and are rude to discuss.

So what do you talk about when you're with the French?

In my experience, here are examples of how conversation can go in France.

-You could spend an entire evening discussing just one single book. 5 hours discussing every detail of a book. Happened to me once where I spent an entire day with a French friend discussing Camus' the outsider. Another evening was entirely dedicated to Albertine Sarrazin's l'Astragale, which is I book I have yet to read.

-You could spend the entire day discussing one single movie (not a group of movies, not a series of movies, just one single movie). You could also spend an entire evening discussing one single song.

-If you know something about French actors, singers, entertainers or the media landscape, that's a good conversation topic if you're close friends with someone. But that's a tricky area. Hint: you're not allowed to discuss how much money entertainers make, or their religious beliefs, or the people they dated in the past.

-Of course men can discuss soccer. Usually just one team, and one single season, the current season. Discussing memories or soccer history is rare, unless it's the 1998 World Cup, but even then, not a favorite topic.

-Politics is complicated turf. You have to be close friends to discuss it, and it often involves “rating” politicians on very symbolic actions.

-The above mentioned topic are “first date” topics. “Second date” topics can get even more boring. It's usually tinkering, gardening, or perhaps cooking. The boring kind of tinkering, gardening and cooking.

-Third and fourth dates can involve a lot of awkward silences, and very long awkward silences at that. I've quit jobs in France because no topic stuck with my colleagues, and everything was being done in silence.

-So, when the French travel around a bit, in order to make it sound like they are more “flexible” with this rigid and austere kind of conversation-making, a lot of times they will invent themselves “foreign” origins. They are not really “half-Spanish, half-Italian” (in some cases they are, but a lot of times they are not). Or they are almost never “half-Muslim, half-Jewish” but many will make that claim.

-The idea with these imaginary ethnic backgrounds is that they are trying to make people comfortable with the idea that they can discuss travel, family, friends, food experiences, shopping, basically all those topics that are Kosher in the rest of the world but are “forbidden” in France.

Quick reflection 2: What is French talk show host Thierry Ardisson's style?

Thierry Ardission has been an A-list, top rated talk show host in France for 35 years. Everyone seems to hate him, yet everyone watches his shows religiously, both reruns and current shows. No one really understands what makes his show so attractive.

I do think some of his interviews are fantastic. I loved his interview of Omar Sharif in 2005, and many other interviews are actually great interviews.

But let's put it this way for those who don't understand why they love to hate him.

He is the French version of Sasha Baron Cohen, some mix between Ali-G, Borat, Bruno, and a few other things.

What Ardisson does is unlike Borat he's not “impersonating” an imaginary character and fooling people at interviews.

But what Ardisson does is ask a few serious questions, and whenever possible, ask some really dumb questions, and see if guests will tag along.

Some guests understand that he's fooling around and they fool around as well.

But Ardisson usually tries to figure out how far guests would be willing to go when it comes to telling blatant lies, to contradicting themselves, to saying outrageous or stupid things, or to confessing to outrageous or stupid behavior.

Unlike Borat and Bruno who are a lot more overt, Ardisson is a bit more subtle in his exercise.

Ardisson's target for spoofs: young entertainers who tend to lack talent and yet behave like veteran entertainers. The game Ardisson likes to play with these folks is ask them questions, with a lot of irony and sarcasm, that in appearance seem to show respect, when in fact the questions are really about showing how much the entertainer lacks experience and is really a fool.

Ardisson's favorite punchline: seeing how far young talents are willing to go to stay in the business. What kind of outrageous things they could say or do to stay in show-business.

There have been accusations of Ardisson being racist. I wouldn't think so. I'd tend to think Ardisson like to portray the absurdities of the identity politics that are at play in France.

If I had to psychoanalyze Ardisson, I would tend to think that he grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, when artists worked 100% on their art and 0% on their image, because there was no real public relations game.

Ardisson likes to make fun of the modern PR machine, where a lot of entertainers work very little on their art, and spend 90% of their time trying to conceive an image that will sell their poorly and shabbily made art.

Not a big fan of his show, but some of his interviews are legendary. My favorite interview? Ardisson's interview or Ray Charles, which was one of Ray Charles' very last public appearances. Unfortunately the interview is in French and Ray Charles' replies are in dubbed in French, but great interview.

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