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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bastille Day Reflections: France Doesn't Suck

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2011 at 4:55 PM

Gerard Depardieu does not suck... much
  • Gerard Depardieu does not suck... much

Travel Channel TV host and celebrity ex-chef Anthony Bourdain famously built the Paris episode of No Reservations around the theme, "Why the French don't suck." And if there is one day a year when it's worth pondering the veracity of Bourdain's proposition, and the reasons why neither France nor the French truly suck, it's today.

This is Bastille Day, after all, the French equivalent of July 4. Instead of our boldly eloquent Declaration of Independence from our British oppressors, France's national holiday commemorates a bunch of street urchins taking over some goofy prison. But that doesn't necessarily mean they suck!

Here, then, Francophobes, are a few reasons for pondering the unlikely notion that the nation of France is actually sort of rad. You must open your mind before proceeding. Forget about mimes, military history, and rapey IMF chiefs. Relax. Settle back with some crispy, golden Freedom Fries. Ready? Here we go.

1. French people do not work (much). I always thought this was an unfair stereotype. Then I moved to France for a while to work as a teacher in that country's public school system. As an assistant teacher, I worked 12 hours a week. But what was really crazy was that my fully tenured teacher bosses at the junior high and high school levels worked only 18 hours a week -- and those hours were required to be concentrated in four days of the work week.

Forget about the nationally mandated 35-hour workweek. With three days off, these teachers weren't even showing up for a job 43 percent of their lives! What were they doing? Had the French government granted this furlough so that its citizens could, like diligent worker bees, secretly construct a system of tunnels beneath the earth's crust that would enable them to take over the world? Au contraire. Which brings us to our next point.

Tintin does not suck
  • Tintin does not suck
2. French people eat and drink good stuff. France's days as the paragon of international cuisine are long gone, at least in the minds of many culinary experts and home cooks. But there remain few places in the world where such a universal regard prevails for what Richard Olney described as "simple, honest food." As a society that arguably prizes leisure -- not military strength, scientific innovation, entrepreneurship, or political and personal freedoms -- as its highest good, the French devote a hell of a lot of time to savoring material pleasures. You can argue the superficiality of this approach, but you probably won't do it while washing down a seared slab of foie gras with a mouthful of robust, inky Cahors red wine.

3. Tintin (not technically French, but close enough) is a cool cartoon.
Maybe we're partial to this snail-eating scribe out of professional respect, but the fact remains that, since 1929, the comic-book character Tintin has captured the hearts and minds of children and adults throughout the world. (His first animated adventure was a trip to the freaking Soviet Union.) While he's not technically French -- Tintin is a Belgian boy journalist created by French-speaking Brussels native Georges Remi (pen name: Hergé) -- we're going to include him here because of his beloved status in French popular culture for most of the past century. Tintin trots the globe accompanied by a faithful fox terrier, Snowy. As the cartoon's website puts it, "Tintin personifies all of the universal values that are a mirror to everyone's own aspirations. Eternally youthful, the indefatigable reporter continues to conquer the world with unflagging, never-failing vitality." In an age of declining respect for the press, that's the sort of thing we like to hear. Allez!

Wild aurochs definitely don't suck
  • Wild aurochs definitely don't suck
4. France has sweet cave paintings. Southeastern France has the world's earliest known cave paintings. The Chauvet Cave features depictions of hundreds of animals (not just snails and oysters) made by our primitive forebears. Among those animals is a fiercely wild precursor of the cow called an auroch. Have you ever hunted an auroch? I didn't think so. But those Frenchies did. Just think about that next time you're tempted to mock our cross-Atlantic brethren in berets.

5. We already mentioned the food thing, but we are open to other suggestions as to why France doesn't suck.

Happy Bastille Day, Snitch readers. À bientôt.

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Peter Jamison


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