Bad news: France is again an occupied country.
This time, though, the invasion force is made up of annoying imported cartoon characters. They are everywhere and imprinted on everything: Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, Spiderman (which the French pronounce "Speeder-mahn" which makes me ROTFL) and everything Disney.
This foreign invasion has long been a concern/peeve of mine. As a young mom in France with a passel of tots, I often found it frustrating that most of the kids' clothes looked just like what you'd buy back in the USA, only way more expensive. On top of that, they'd often feature text in nonsensical English. And I didn't WANT my son to wear sleepers imprinted with Batman's face and ungrammatical phrases. I just didn't.
I started thinking about this issue again when a friend (non French, but living in France) recently complained that she couldn't find much "real" French stuff for her kids. Where are the real French kids' books (as opposed to something originally published in English, but then translated) , the cartoons, the nursery rhymes and songs? And this is just the kind of "insider" information that is difficult to prise out of the natives. (see this post for more info on why the French won't tell you jack)
Luckily, when I got my French passport back in 1996, they neglected to make me sign any papers promising to keep my mouth shut. So, I'm free to give you the low-down on Real French Stuff.
There's a lot of ground to cover. So, today I'm just going to go over a few comic book characters you need to know about:
1. Asterix- This little guy is at the core of French culture. If you want to be an insider, a nodding aquaintance with this small Gaulish warrior is a must. He, along with his big pal Obelix and their many friends, fight the good fight as the last holdouts against the Roman invasion of Gaul (France in about 50BC). The books are very funny and there are 34 of them, so get cracking!
2. Tintin- He's cute! I love the intrepid boy reporter. I really do. But he's Belgian. So, never mind.
3. Marsupialami- This cute fella is...well...I don't know really WHAT he is. I guess he's a kind of monkey/leopard (?) thingy. Anyway, he spends his days bouncing around the Palombian jungle, outwitting the hunters and saying "houba houba!" in an adorable manner. He's been around since 1952, so apparently the formula works. At any rate, he may have a Palombian passport, but he's also trés, trés français.
4. Titeuf- His pedigree isn't as long as that of Asterix or the bouncy yellow guy above, but since the early 1990's, he's definitely been a force in the French culture of childhood. I didn't "get" this one at first. I guess maybe because I found the artwork kind of ugly... but both the comic book albums and the animated cartoon are actually very good. French kids certainly adore them. In fact "Titeuf" is the most popular comic in France right now...and has been for some years. Don't miss it.
5. Becassine-I was always delighted when I could find baby gear festooned with the figure of this lady:
She's very vintage (1913!), very cool and still a force to be reckoned with. Who would have imagined making a housemaid from Bretagne into a comic strip heroine?
6. Lucky Luke- I'm adding this one a bit grudgingly. I don't like him, but he's a definite presence in French culture. I probably feel about this dopey, fake euro-cowboy the way actual French people might feel about Pepe Le Pew. But a true knowledge of French popular culture definitely requires at least knowing what the song "Les Daltons" is about and who sang it back in 1967.