Things You Don’t Want To Be In France

It’s a good life, the French life…but not for all. It’s not always la vie en rose for everyone, and it’s time someone stood up and said something. Consider this a public service.

The way I see it, times are tough in France if you’re…

A Cat. If you’re a rooftop-hopping feline, tread carefully—I’m afraid you’ve got fewer do-overs than you think. Somewhere along the line the concept of your having nine lives got mutated and bumped down to seven in France. So for those of who’ve already burned through number 4 or 5, consider moving to safer rooftops.

A Table of Contents. Sure they’ll type you up and print you out, but that’s about all the respect you’ll ever get. They won’t care how integral a role you might play in the reader’s use of the book—you’ll be plunked at the end, sometimes as the very last page, never to see the light of day. And you’ll be forced to endure this indignation quietly under the threat of being pushed a page or two further and getting kicked out of the book altogether.

Groundhog Day. If you’re this wintry February holiday, don’t expect a warm welcome at Charles de Gaulle airport. This date is already taken by La Chandeleur, wherein the main activity seems to be cooking and eating copious amounts of crêpes. Don’t even bother trying to trump that with your tired rodent-out-of-a-hole act. The French also make predictions on this day regarding whether winter will last or if spring is around the corner, so basically they’ve done what America should have a long time ago—improved a boring holiday by adding more food.

An artist’s still life. Whether you’re a bowl of fruit, a vase of flowers, or a few random objects on a table, in the English-speaking world you have a romantic name which invokes the capture of a moment in time. In France you’re known as nature morte, or “dead nature”. You’re not getting the props you deserve here. Look into being immortalized somewhere else.

From England. If you’re English let me be clear: the French aren’t against you personally. Yet they do partake in some surprisingly unflattering expressions at your expense. The act of cowardly slipping away unnoticed to avoid culpability is known as filer à l’anglaise, or “to run away English-style”. While that seems rather unfair, it actually rates low on the diss-o-meter compared to this nugget: an old fashioned euphemism French women use to describe that “certain time of the month” is les Anglais ont débarqué, translating to “the English have disembarked”. Apparently this goes back to the Napoleonic wars where armies of English soldiers in red uniforms dismounted ships and flooded the northern coasts of France. I don’t know about you England-ers, but as a general rule I’d be wary of any country that associates me with menstruation. Just as a general rule.

The film “Weekend at Bernie’s”. If you’re this irreverent 1989 classic, don’t even bother visiting Paris. As hard as you’ll try to convince a Frenchman that using a cadaver as a prop somehow leads to fun-in-the-sun comedy, you’ll merely come across as weird and a bit too American. Trust me on this one.

Regular M&M’s. Let’s face it—it sucks to be a regular M&M in France. What seems likes a confectionary must on US shelves is virtually non-existent here. Yellow bags of the peanut ones are all over the place but the all-chocolate originals seem to be blocked out of the market by Nestle’s French version, known as Smarties. This doubly upsets me as a North American who believes “Smarties” is a name that should only belong to the chalky antacid-like rolls we used to find in the bottoms of trick-or-treat bags.

And finally…A self-pleasurer. (I’ll choose this moment to conveniently forget my rule of a picture accompanying each item.) Remember being warned that indulging in too much of a certain solo taboo act would make you go blind? In France they say it results in deafness instead. For those who didn’t hear that the first time I said IT RESULTS IN DEAFNESS INSTEAD. Considering each culture’s differing myths on the subject, if you’re considering a long-term stay abroad I think the message is pretty clear—consider which of your five senses you value the least, then choose your country accordingly.

And while we’re on the subject, I’ve learned of a French expression to describe liking sex: aimer la chose translates to “liking the thing”, and is considered a polite way to broach the subject in public. So in France it seems you’re more than welcome to like the thing, but just don’t go enjoying your own thing too much.

23 comments

  • Just noticed this about Table of Contents, reading an alleged children’s book for French class which is written almost entirely in verb tenses I’ve never heard of.

    • No kidding! I assume you’re talking about the separate set of verbs used exclusively for written French, which I still don’t see the need for. I’ll be reading along comfortably and come to a screeching halt at “fut” or “fit”. Thanks for reading Lee.

  • I used to eat chocolate Smarties when I was little. I’d never heard of M&Ms.

    I’ve always thought it odd to have the Index at the end of the book, as though the French are interested in the contents only once they’ve ploughed through the details.

      • Smarties where actually founded in Great Britain along with KitKats and Cadbury. Nestlé just became the CokeCola of candy (sweets in England) and bought everything out. Interesting blog though!

      • Thanks a lot 8able. So it looks like the French decided to import nearby Smarties from across the pond rather than ship in the M&Ms. Thanks for the clarification!

      • This is clearly a very delayed response to this comment, but I felt I just had to! As a Canadian, I was lucky enough to grow up with M&Ms and Smarties, both chocolaty treats! We also have Rockets, which Americans refer to as Smarties….weird world we live in! P.S love your blog!

      • Thanks Gabby! No response is too delayed on my blog. :) And I really like the idea of your site as well so I’m happy to make your acquaintance. :)

        Thanks for the info, I had no idea that Canada got the best of both worlds, although maybe it’s logical given the country’s ties to Great Britain combined with its proximity to the US.

        So the million dollar question is: M&Ms or Smarties, which is the better chocolaty treat?

    • Thanks a lot John. Yeah I guess there are some expressions here you can only be exposed to after a long-term stay! Thanks for stopping by, and well done on your recent post about Hitler in Paris, very interesting stuff indeed!

  • I am for now and ever using “les Anglais ont débarqué” because that is completely hilarious aside from the fact that I’m not English so I guess it is a double laugh for me! Also, the Smarties thing. When were they M&Ms? Like you, growing up in America, those were two completely different things! There was no confusion on our part. If I would have seen Smarties with the name M&Ms on the package I would have brought the bag over to a person working at the store and told them they made a faux pas on the name :) Oh, and the cat thing. I am thinking your right. When we first moved into the house 2 months ago, there were 6 cats hanging around the neighborhood, now I see only 4. The must have used up all their do-overs :(

    • Thanks for the comment Ashley! Hope you’re feeling better now, although I see your new post is titled A Day in the Bathroom, so maybe I’ve spoken too soon?

  • Laugh-out-loud funny post, Corey! I especially guffawed when I read the “Weekend at Bernie’s” entry. I’m pretty particular when it comes to movies I will watch and I’m afraid I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to the more sophomoric ones (like Bernie’s). However, I watched it and thought it was kinda funny (could be just because I had a celeb crush on Andrew McCarthy at the time). So, when two friends of ours (married) invited us over to movie night and asked us for a suggestion for a funny movie, we mentioned Weekend at Bernie’s. It had been out for awhile (but less than a year) and since we remembered it as being funny (if very implausible). We laughed out loud during the movie until we looked over and saw our hosts faces. They were NOT amused whatsoever, which in turn made us get all defensive about our flick choice. I couldn’t even blame it on being inebriated when watching it the first time (I don’t drink in the first place). I was at a complete loss and felt like such a slug for recommending it in the first place. But wait a minute…I just figured it out—the wife part of this couple (who happens to be one of my closest friends to this day) was BORN in France and her mother is 100% French. That explains everything and confirms your theory after all! :-) Yeah, I think it was definitely the McCarthy crush that fogged up my good sense at the time! ;-)

    • Wow thanks Cindy — it’s a pleasure to receive such an interesting and funny comment as it is, but having my hypothesis confirmed at the end was a nice little bonus! I love the visual of you guys laughing it up and then looking over at the others. And you remind us of how awkward it can be when we hype up a movie/song/tv show and then we show it to a friend and it falls completely flat. I’m not even a big fan of this movie, but I can tell you describing the plot to a French person made me wish I’d never bothered. I guess humor is more woven into our cultural fabric than I thought. Thanks for reading and for a great comment!

  • That’s so true about M&Ms! Though if you’re willing to spring for the fancy stuff, Le Bon Marché has coconut ones, which quite frankly are the best of all.

  • HeatherBlog is visiting in Paris now and suggested her readers visit your pages–what a great suggestion! Your posts are fun and funny, those two are slightly different. Thanks for cheering up a cold dreary day.

  • So the thing that stuck out to me were the Smarties. I looooooved Smarties as a child (the real ones…aka the chocolate ones). I remember one particular day my mother had bought me a tube. After painstakingly letting the color melt in my mouth then gently cracking the hard shell with my teeth so I could let the chocolate slowly melt in my mouth I realized I had consumed my last Smarties. We were out in the country so I naturally filled up the tube with pebbles from the trail so I could rattle them about and pretend I had a whole new tube of Smarties. Then end;).

    • Fantastic story Sophia, and the rattling pebbles in the tube: hilarious! It’s funny how we assume our culture has it figured out and everyone does food/candy the same way, but that’s not always the case, and I find that discovering strange looking chocolate wrappers is one of the many neat things about visiting a foreign place. I even noticed that the Kit Kat bar packaging was a bit different in France than the US, and although it’s a minor detail it’s still a fun reminder that you’re in “another world”.

      Good stuff, thanks for sharing that great story!

  • You forgot be a loud American. When were with a certain someone, we had awful service, but when we broke away from the crowd, it was fabulous.

    • Ha, I suppose you’re right. The shame is that most French people are interested in Americans and US culture, but as a tourist if you don’t temper your behavior towards that of the locals, there’s a barrier that can pop up pretty quickly.

      Not that the French are void of unfair bias (they definitely aren’t), but in general I find that when traveling it’s best to err on the side of politeness and respect. :)

      Thanks for your comment and take care!

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