Who Says the French Aren't Funny?

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Carine Fabius Author, art dealer, museum curator and temporary body art pioneer

Quick. What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the French? Snob; arrogant; cheese; snails; good food; style; fashion; museums; Paris; Eiffel Tower; Romantic. Am I right? Notice how I didn't include the word "funny?" But, that would be wrong. They are sooooo funny; it's just that they do it without trying. I just about fell out of my seat laughing when I read the New York Times' recent piece on how the French have now embraced hamburgers with a vengeance unseen since Napoleon decided to take over the world. According to a restaurant consultant in France, hamburgers have "...the taste of the forbidden, the illicit -- the subversive, even. Eating with your hands, it's pure regression..." Is that hysterical, or what? I know this stuff first-hand -- I'm married to a Frenchman nearly 20 years now -- and have been cackling at their deadly serious approach to food for, well, two decades. I can't count how many times my husband has told me about his uncle, who refused to eat sandwiches because he did not consider them to be real food. One of the funniest moments in my marriage occurred when I offered to make sandwiches as we prepared for a three-day excursion to trade show land, where the fare in convention center cafeterias is considered by my husband to be right up there with what one might find in the trash cans of animal shelters. He figured anything -- even sandwiches -- would be better, so he accepted my offer. As we headed out the door, I handed him his foil-wrapped baguette, and couldn't help but notice his perplexed expression.

"Where har my sandwiches?" he said.

"What do you mean sandwiches, plural?" I said. "I didn't know you wanted more than one."

Suddenly, a look of comprehension, then horror crossed his face. I had offered to make ham and cheese sandwiches. He assumed this meant a ham sandwich, and a cheese sandwich.

"Whoever heard of ham and cheese?!!" he said, shocked. My crime was mixing prosciutto ham with Brie cheese, which, I admit, is very controversial, but which he thought was the most deegusteeng thing he'd ever heard.

"I am going to tell all my friends about this!" he announced. I laughed non-stop all the way to the convention center.

But, back to the hamburgers. The article goes on to describe how chic chefs have gone about the business of pimping up the oh-so-proletarian hamburger, French style: topped with slabs of foie-gras (in case you wanted a little bit more fat on your rump), a fried egg, and black ketchup of blackberries and black currants!

"A hamburger is the architecture of taste par excellence," said one consulting chef.

"We're a little terrified of making a mistake," said another.

"Nobody saw a burger until 10 years ago. Everybody was against it..." said yet another chef.

"Nine of out ten people use a knife and fork [to eat their hamburgers]," said a restaurant owner.

I'm not making this up! It was in the Times! I tell you these people are rich, as in funny-as-hell rich. If you want to laugh some more, read the article; there's too much funny stuff in there for me to repeat. I am not exaggerating when I say that McDonald's is laughing all the way to the bank. My husband and I just got back from a three-week trip to France, and I am here to report that not only do the French LOVE McDonald's hamburgers, and flock to hang with Ronald when they need a quick meal, it's been years that, in that weird way they have of speaking in abbreviations, they affectionately refer to it as Macdo!

So, it's time to revisit the way we see the French. They're not just stuffy and haughty. They're a riot.