How could I possibly have waited to comment on the discussion of whether or not France is becoming too American?
Certainly, my dreams of Paris don’t include running into “Le MacDo” around every corner, not to mention hearing English phrases sprinkled throughout a conversation with anyone under the age of 40, or for that matter, splashed across storefronts or the press.
Room for Debate has a few things to say on the matter, though fortunately, Debra Ollivier, a writer who generally elicits a nod of my head, believes the growing similarities are purely superficial.
She gets to the heart of the matter by citing writer Michèle Fitoussi who notes that the French possess “a keen sense of the brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure.”
France: Losing its Measure of Pleasure?
Ms. Ollivier clarifies with these remarks:
… the French still exalt the senses and prefer having a life over making a living – and lucky for them, their infrastructure of social benefits lets everyone do just that.
“Exalting the senses…” Oh, that’s delicious. And who doesn’t want to have a life? Are we now seeing the dramas of live to work versus work to live playing out in Paris and its environs? Ms. Ollivier goes on:
… Americans have a keen sense of the immediacy of the future and the brevity of pleasure, with a dollop of guilt and a Puritan undertow in the mix.
Americans Exporting Obesity to France
Still, the data clearly shows obesity as a growing problem in France, with the 2012 obesity rate in France at 14.5% – nearly double the rate just 15 years earlier. We might recognize the role of changing habits like “métro-boulot-dodo” – commute, work, sleep. Surely these habitudes are exacerbating health issues caused by fast food and culture creep from corners less than quality, namely, well… ours.
It would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago to see overweight women (especially), unless they were “of a certain age” and even then, custom and cultural values made this state of affairs unacceptable. But now, French women fear fat, too – and statistics support this concern.
Seeing Jenny Craig appear on the widening horizon certainly doesn’t help the cause of believing that the Americanization of France is purely à la surface.
Bye-Bye to the Myth of French Language Purity
Another voice on whether or not France is becoming less French may be found in a discussion of the identity crisis, and I note worries over the French language. In “French, English, and Our Identity Crisis” Philippe Bertrand refers to the « mauvaise utilisation de la langue française et l’usage abusif de l’anglais dans la vie courante. » This translates to:
… poor usage of French and the abuse of English in daily life…
Mr. Bertrand comments on the necessity of a « ministère délégué dédié en partie à la francophonie » – “a minister dedicated in part to the French language” – which is surely a sign of wanting a watchdog to keep the language pure.
Then again, that was the intent of the Académie Française, was it not? Apparently they’ve been sleeping on the job…
But isn’t language purity a myth? (The French have been defending their language since 1539 – but against regional influences as well as Spanish and Italian.*) Hasn’t American English been bombarded with changes as well? Doesn’t language evolve on the street – and more quickly as we Facebook, Google, Tweet, and text – or should I say – Facebooker, Googler, Tweeter, and texter?
The Mythology of French Culture
So where does that leave the French? The irresistible French lover? The vociferous and intellectual débat that is so enjoyed over a delectable dinner?
I’m guessing the French have their heads down, trying to slog through the days just like the rest of us who may have to compromise our images of their more intellectual, more philosophical, more glamorous, more cultural, more sensual et oui – sexier lifestyle.
Note that I said compromise, not eliminate. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget that the health care system is superior and far less expensive (though nothing is perfect), the French do pay for it (yes folks, that’s what taxes are for), and the reality is, globalization is inevitable, but…
Americans Exporting Bad Habits
It’s certainly sad if what we’re exporting is our worst possible habits, for example poor quality food grabbed on the run, untenable work hours and underemphasis on “pleasure.” Among those pleasures, I would put valuing family, spending time together à table, and recognizing that very “brevity” that Ms. Ollivier cites.
It’s a shame the “cultural exchange” couldn’t be a two-way street, and our better national selves rather than our worst. The French will always be – in my opinion – special, as all cultures are special. They also remind us that we lose (as do they) when we cease to focus on quality and on each other – and when we tumble into that very American tendency – excess.
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