As we all know, American culture is taking over the world. France is no exception, although it has its ups and downs here. While the America of George W. Bush was heartily rebuffed--not just in France but across the globe--the Obama era has ushered in a renewed French love affair with us. Every front page in France, including the first seven pages of Le Figaro, were devoted to the Obama Inauguration, and Obama's actions are closely followed. The Sarkozys are hot, but the Obamas are smokin'. Barack and Michelle are the new Jack and Jackie Kennedy, as much as some here might like to claim Carla Bruni Sarkozy as the inheritor of Jackie's stylish legacy.
Obamas or not, if there's anything the French take seriously, it's their culture. In the centuries that the Gallic cauldron has been brewing historical events, the country's arts, sciences, fashion, gastronomy, language, and more have cooked up a feast. The French may be prim and proper, but they're decadently sensual, which is one prime reason everybody in the world loves to come here--eat, drink, see, touch, man, woman, wine, and French lingerie... Feel free to add what I've left out.
France wants to retain its Frenchness, though nationalistic protection may have been taken too far by former right-wing Minister of Culture Jacques Toubon, who was "notable for a number of laws (the "Toubon Laws") enacted for the preservation of the French language, both in advertisements (all ads must include a French translation of foreign words) and on the radio (40% of songs on French radio stations must be in French), ostensibly in reaction to the presence of English."
According to Wikipedia, if he'd really had it his way:
"The Loi Toubon would have banned foreign terms from the French vocabulary, and offenders would have faced fines for using foreign words. The law would have reached into every cranny of French life. Building workers would have been required to clear a path with un bouteur instead of un bulldozer, businessmen would study mercatique instead of marketing, and gomme a macher would have replaced le chewing gum."
The world moves forward, and life goes on, while the French are slow to change. My friend Don Morrison wrote a Time cover piece in November 2007 called "The Death of French Culture." The point:
"Once admired for the dominating excellence of its writers, artists, and musicians, France today is a wilting power in the global cultural marketplace."
Oh mon Dieu! As one might imagine, the French took great exception to this proposal, and Morrison was booked on every French talk show around. He got a book contract to expand his notion. QUE RESTE-T-IL DE LA CULTURE FRANÇAISE? was published last fall. Now it's being translated in other languages, including back to English.
Some parts of American culture are embraced while others are shunned. One American company that's had an effect worldwide--including France--is Apple. Steve Jobs has expertly exported Apple MacWorld's iPod-iPhone-iEverything and embedded it into daily French life. When the iPhone was introduced to France, carrier Orange became the sole distributor, like AT&T in the U.S. But the Paris Court of Appeals just smacked down Orange's sole dealership for the iPhone, because it could do "serious and immediate damage" to the country's mobile market.
Apple maniacs were disappointed that the hallowed company had set up such deals in the first place. This is one bit of American business culture that Americans might like to lose as well, and not be pinned down to AT&T.
In other big American culture news this week, Mickey Rourke has come to Paris to promote his Oscar-nominated movie The Wrestler. With the French love for films, Parisians may be delighted to have the once handsome (not to mention sexy) Oscar nominee in town, though the Fashion Police may fine him. See what I mean. (Do you give him a yea or nay for his look?) Since his nip and tuck, he has a bit of the Frankentein-look about him, a hazard of too much, or bad, cosmetic surgery.
I was always a fan, and I'm happy for Rourke's comeback. I see it has afforded him an entourage. What about his taste? Will he win the hearts of the French?
A bigger question: Will he win the hearts of his peers?
Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to www.betharnold.com.