Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Does French culture even exist anymore?

While living here, I’ve managed to get US pop songs stuck in my head, watched the latest über-popular US films, and even bought Dr. Pepper in a local supermarket..
I sometimes fear that my blog might give my readers the impression that France is just like the USA, only smaller and populated by people that talk funny.

But this is very wrong.
Consider just this small fact: On last Thursday, the cafeteria at the junior high (collége) my twins attend served frog legs for lunch.

The above is a true fact that has not been fabricated to impress you with scary French-ness.

The above is also a definite sign that we aren’t in Kansas (or even Nebraska) any more…

What really got me thinking about this was two things: 1. The frog legs and 2. A recent post on a blog that I keep up with. It’s written by a Canadian woman who plotted and planned for years to get her family of five to France for a sabbatical. In this particular post, she remarked the fact that Dora, Spiderman, and that gang of pastel-shaded toughs referred to as the "Disney Princesses » are hard to avoid, even in the heart of the EU. It seems like every book, dvd and tv show is just a US product translated into French. As the whole point of the sabbatical is that the whole family get a taste of another culture, this stuff is just not up to the task. So, she put out a call for ideas for « real » French stuff for kids.

I quickly wrote back with a few suggestions, and it gave me the idea to write a post of my own:
What TV programs are uniquely French?

Here in France, when you turn on the TV you can watch a group of madcap, wacky NYC pals having humorous adventures in French (So I’m told. I hate « Friends » and have never watched it) . Homer Simpson insults everyone in French. Heck, there’s even ‘Extreme Home Makeover’ and ‘Wife Swap‘ in French. There is, in short, no end of US shows imported to France and dubbed into the local lingo.

But if you want to get to know French culture, it’s sure not what you should watch while you’re here.

What you should watch is the stuff below. I’m not saying it’s all great, but it’s all very French and you’ll learn lots. Trust me.

1. Fort Boyard: this is the ultimate French game show. It’s now in its 21st season and has imitations in many different countries, but don’t be fooled - the French version is the original. It takes place in a real 19th century fort sitting out in the middle of the ocean. It features tigers, dwarves, gold coins and, that favorite element of any French entertainment, D-list celebrities.
The concept is this: little-known « celebrities » form a team and pass through a series of trials to earn keys that will eventually unlock a « treasure room » . These trials may involve physical prowess (having to cross a room in the fort without touching the ground, for example), mental toughness (crawling into a room full of tarantulas) or intellectual skills.
The latter type of trial is typified by a visit up to the tower of Pére Fouras. This character asks the contestants riddles. His makeup is not exactly state of the art and makes him look like he’s approximately 180 years old. On the other hand, his riddles are pretty good. (And I LOVE it when I get one right! It may be silly, but it makes me feel like I am really fitting in)
The « gold » coins won in the end are weighed and « turned into » real money, which is donated to a charity chosen by the winners. So that’s nice.
At any rate, the whole spectacle is rather entertaining and very French, in a strange way.

2. Intervilles- This one dates back to 1962. During each weekly episode, teams from two different French towns are pitted against each other in a series of completely ridiculous games. The teams may, for example, have to dress up in giant otter costumes and slide down into pool to gather huge foam anchovies. At least one of the games invariably involves « Les Vachettes ». These are irritable , sharp horned cows from the Landes region of France. Competitors are usually sent into the ring to fetch objects (ex: giant plastic turnips) and get chased around (and not infrequently trampled) by the animals.
It’s all really weird and you must see it if you want to understand France. EVERYBODY knows about this show. Last summer in Montpellier, Mallory was talking to a little three year old boy that could barely speak. He managed to convey to her his love for Intervilles, though. « I like Rosa! » he announced, and promptly tried to gore her with pretend horns. (Rosa is one of the « star » cows of the program.)

3. La Carte au Tresor- Here’s another fairly old one. It started back in the 1980’s and was significantly modernized in 1996 to its current form. But the idea remained the same. Two teams compete to follow a series of clues and compete to find the treasure box full of cash. The special thing about this show is that each episode focuses on a specific region of France. And solving the clues involves going from place to place, learning about the local landmarks, historic sites and activities. The teams get to use a helicopter for some of the game, but they are mostly on foot and have to resort to asking strangers for rides. This can result in some pretty funny scenes, as the French are not, in general, « hey! Hop into my car! » kind of people.

Another very French thing about this show is that the people go to a huge amount of effort and they actually win very little money. The "treasure" is 3000 euros.
I always loved this show, though. You get to see so much of the country and learn interesting stuff .
Sadly, it was just cancelled last September. This was mainly due to a lack of interest by young people, who mostly prefer reality shows like « Koh-Lanta » (A French « Survivor » imitation.) You know- a show where you don’t have to see boring old stuff and learn about history. Sigh. But if they start re-runs, give it a try. And it may come out on DVD, as old episodes of « Fort Boyard » already have…

This is getting a bit long, so I’ll stop here. Be sure and click the links and have a look at a YouTube vido of the opening sequence of each show.
I’ll be back tomorrow with a few more.

BTW: The builder and his crew showed up again today! It was right after lunch, so it was only a half day. But that’s better than nothing. They installed the big Velux window in the roof and put on the gorgeous copper gutters!


oreneta said...

HOORAY for the builder!!!!!! More pics when you can, m'kay?

a quasi French woman said...

Very nice post.

I used to get TV5 Monde in my US cable package and they had Fort Broyard and La Carte aux Trésor. I agree with you about the pedagogical value of LCAT but I can't hack FB. On the other hand, I love:

Question Pour Un Champion
Vie Privée, Vie Publique
Faut Pas Rêver
Vivement Dimanche
and all of the old intello/book/political shows that they moved to midnight!
and the cop shows whose titles escape me now!

I don't blame anyone who wants to avoid French-dubbed American sitcoms

Beth said...

Rocky- You got it! Pics ASAP!

Quasi- ITA that FB is a bit repetitive. Maybe the fan of French culture only needs to see it once or twice, just to get the feel of it. I tend to watch it a lot because my kids like it, especially the two youngest.

And QPUC does indeed rock!

Heidi said...

I've never simultaneously owned a TV *and* lived in France, so these are all mysteries to me. Clearly I need to rectify the situation.

Oh. Except that every librarian in the country speaks French better than me. Alas!

Someday I'll find a way to live there on a long-term basis!!

Joy said...

Oooh, a treasure trove of French culture! Thank you!! We'll have fun checking out the ones we haven't seen yet...