Jul 15

[Insert French Stereotype Here]

If you have been keeping up with this blog you might have noticed a small trend. I like France. Thus the common stereotype of the “baguette wielding smoker” kind of pushes my buttons. If you have lived here in the United States long enough, you have definitely noticed an odd anti French sentiment. I have an entire post I made earlier on how preposterous the idea of an America despising a Frenchman is from a an idealistic/societal point of view. But what I want to touch on here is the actual subject matter of the stereotypes and their false nature.
French Stereotype

So I shall start with what these deep seeded stereotypes actually are. They are everywhere in cartoons and media. We see the Frenchman as some sort of large nosed snobby and nasal voiced man. This depictions gives the impression of the Frenchman being snobby and arrogant. Media also often depicts the Frenchman as culturally hostile towards anything not French. Somehow people think that all Frenchmen are Gaulist extremists. When in fact, the French have been some of the most culturally accepting people I have ever met. People have made the mistake of thinking the opposite because of misunderstandings. For instance, you always here of bad experiences with the French when visiting France and being met with unexplained hostility. What people do not realize most of the time is that they were strutting around Paris imposing English upon those around them. For some reason, when a lot of tourists do not speak the native language they attempt universal communication through speaking loudly and and slowly through phrases like ” WH-ERE IS THEE EI-FEl TO-WER??”. Would you be offended if some foreigner came up to you screaming in their native tongue asking where the statue of Liberty is? The French are put in the situation where they are in the most visited country in the world and deal with uninformed tourism all day long. The extremely simple way to prevent offending a Frenchman in France would be just making very simple attempts to understand their culture and language. Perhaps even admitting that your French is not very good and you need a little help. Many in France do speak quite a bit of English and would be willing to help, provided that you put in some effort of your own.

Being a little more respectful will lead you to having a much better impression of the French and their culture. This will also lead you to be able to appreciate some of the finer more subtle aspects of their daily life. For example, the French greatly value mental health through leisure. So if you take a little time to appreciate their culture you might find that you are refreshed by their lack of urgency that consumes American culture. You will feel relaxed and glad that you took the time to understand a culture that we have historically been very hostile to, despite our ideological alliance.

Jul 15

La Révolution Française Part 1

Due to the fact that it is nearly a week since Bastille day, I will no longer delay in writing about one of my favorite French topics, la révolution! For the more curious, you might be asking “Which one?” and for the sake of clarity, I am speaking of the vastly influential period between 1789 and 1799 when the French lower classes rose up in arms against the oppressive nobility. So to begin this little historical excursion I would first like to introduce the background. France was governed by a monarchy, this meant that the big man in the big chair with the big crown was the guy who called all the shots. But in france, they created a whole level of monarchy few could compare to. This was none other than Absolutism. Monarchs in France governed with an iron fist and the nobility came second. This primal system coexisted with France’s so called Ancien Régieme maintained a delocalized nobility. Thus distributing the land and power among the nobility with the provision that the king still had ultimate authority. Kings more recently at that point had started abusing their absolute power and started cranking up the national debt. So France by the late 18th century was in a lot of trouble. National debt was higher than ever before and the seemingly rising level of extravagance enjoyed by the upper classes started to introduce a large amount of friction. This friction synthesized a plethora of unrest of which was amplified by the hunger of the lower classes, for both reform and actual food. The People of France were so starved that some of the most violent portions of the ensuing revolution were initiated by food. Hunger quite literally drove the people mad. Many in the lower orders began to feel that they were not being treated as human. Thus when the time came, the so-called third estate of society declared the equality of all of man. They did so in a document called “La déclaration des droits de l’homme” or “The declaration of the rights of man” an extremely significant historical document. This document was one of the first of its kind in that it more or less put every single man regardless of background on the same level. It also proclaims that not only is every man entitled to their birth given rights, but it is an abomination that he does not have them. In addition it also makes very clear the fact that should the citizen not have their all of their rights, it is the responsibility of all of society to hold the institution that takes them accountable. These ideas seem somewhat redundant today, but back in their time they were mind blowingly radical. For one of the first times in history a society took a much more serious look at the rights they posses and determine that where they come from is not of their wealth or class, but of their birth and everyone else had these same rights. So next time you hear someone talking about their ‘rights’ ask them where they think they get them.

Jul 15

Pourquoi est-ce qu’il faut qu’on apprend le Français?

Now I always get asked “Brandon why do you love learning French so much?” and most of the time I cannot really put my finger on it, I just love it. It has an elegant flow that has inspired me ever since I started my quest on Francophone fluidity. But I have already blogged on my passion for French, this time I will take a more logical approach. In this approach I will begin with history. The battle of Hastings is the historical point that we attribute one of the greatest meshes of languages that effect us today. But it also did a great deal for the status of the French language. Despite it being considerably different back then, it is still the father of modern French. It was this French that because of the battle of Hastings was to the language of the nobility in England for hundreds of years to come. Being established as the language of the higher classes, it started becoming associated with all things upper class. Thus things like diplomacy started being conducted solely in French. In some aspects it is still like that today. While most countries have started using English, it is not uncommon to find diplomats much more comfortable speaking French! France’s colonial influences also have attributed for the usability of its language. For instance, when Europe decided to carve up Africa and gut it for resources France subsequently joined in the fun. By fun, I mean sending huge armies to forcefully conquer vast swaths of land in Northern Africa. While in control of these territories, the French started to impose their culture and way of life. Along with this came their language. Thus today we have countries like Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal that speak mostly French. This fact is not to be dismissed as Western North Africa is one of the fastest growing regions on the continent and world. Therefore it would not be far fetched if French language starts to become a heck of a lot more popular. In addition to these rather sources of Frenchiness, we do not have to look too far to find Francophones close to home. The first example that comes to out minds is often the French Canadians. It is quite overwhelming at times to consider how much French culture really is prevalent up there. Not only is it prevalent, but the French Canadians are famous for trying to preserve their heritage and culture. It is quite often that you will find that Canadian French is a lot more pure and anglicized as where actual France French has interwoven a plethora of English lingo. Heck, the ‘Quebecois’ as they like to call themselves, have made several attempts to secede from Canada altogether to form an entirely new nation. While I am not very well versed at their motives, I am pretty sure that they are not strong enough to succeed. Anyways, it is pretty obvious how applicable French is to the world around us. You never know when you will stumble upon a wannabe French Fry like myself.

Jul 15

Déjà Vu…

Deja vu, its a Francophone phrase we have all heard of and use almost ambiguously. It would seem that people throw this phrase around like some sort of pseudo Ron Burgundy “when in Rome” scenario. In other words, we use it so often and seem to have dropped its meaning altogether. In essence, deja vu is considered a situation in which an individual is almost certain that he or she has experienced the exact scenario before. Not only are these individuals certain that they have experienced this situation before, but they would be willing to bet money that they have. Scientists have always debated the actual cause of such a phenomenon. The scientific community has already determined that it is not intrinsically tethered to any sort of mental illness. In fact, most mentally healthy individuals have reported experiencing such a phenomenon multiple times.

There are many theories to explain deja vu, but the vast majority fall into two distinct categories: Memory based or dream based. Memory based theories seem to be the more prevalent of hypotheses. They indicate that similarities in past events experienced by the subject tend to cause false firing of nerves that give the sensation of already having experiencing the event. Today, some scientists have been able to replicate deja vu type experiences. For instance, virtual reality technology has allowed scientists to insert subjects into completely different worlds. Using this capability, researchers have exposed subjects to two different, though very slightly similar, environments and completely immersing them in both. Subjects did not consciously note the differences in the scenes they were put in. However, most experienced a strong deja vu type sensation. This data gives strong support to the memory based theories on how deja vu works.

The second, more far fetched, theory of deja vu is dream based. There is a significant movement that presents the case that we experience deja vu based off of similar situations in dreams. This theory is very similar to the prior in that they both suggest that the person did actually experience something similar. But, they differ in their source of experience. The reason I believe dream based deja vu to be less likely is that cognitive function while we sleep is largely a branch of science almost completely unexplored. Therefore it would be illogical to make such broad assumptions based off of science we do not yet understand. I am not saying that this theory should be dismissed altogether as dismissing any possibility is in contrast to the scientific method. I do , however, suggest that we push forward investigations into this sort of final frontier of human physiology. Not understanding deja vu should definitely not stimie our progress in a fit of frustration, rather it should inspire those who desire progress to delve deeper into the human brain. I should not get myself started on the brain, I could rant for hours on how it literally blows my mind (Pun intended). So next time you are certain that you’ve experienced something before, just remember that you’re not the only one who doesn’t know whats going on.

Jul 15

Quelque chose pour danser!

It is weird to think how crazily different other cultures are compared to our own. For example, music. Nearly every sect of every cultural group across the world has some sort of unique music associated with just them. The French are no exception. Almost every Frenchman (or even a lot of Americans) know of the famous artist Stromae. Stromae is a very famous Belgian pop singer who has become a global sensation. His domain of popularity is very concentrated in France. But France has always produced some of the greatest music on the planet.
For centuries upon centuries France was regarded as the cultural capital of the world. A lot of this was because of its vast swaths of lands across the globe. Yet, defacto influences of cultures also played a great role in the spread of Francophonic influences. For example, the Norman invasion of Anglo-Saxon England caused the French language to become that of England’s nobility and upper class. Despite France no longer having political control over the British Aisles, French culture permanently made its mark on our language.
The influence of the French language also was proliferated by diplomacy. For centuries it was commonplace in Western civilizations that diplomatic relations between any two parties would be conducted entirely in French. This may be, because all the upper classes who were the ones conducting diplomacy. This is seen today as French is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Also, the official language of the Olympics is in fact French. Although you do not hear it conducted fully in such, it is still technically the official language.
Prepare yourself for a rant… One of the greatest feats of French influence is so often forgotten my millions of Americans. I am speaking of none other than our glorious revolution. Yes, the kingdom of France did in fact provide us with countless amounts of money, men, food, and other war supplies during our revolution. In fact, many would argue that without the support of the French, the patriot cause would have lacked both the funding and the legitimacy required to start such a large new nation. The British would have found no resistance in completely cutting of the thirteen colonies and scrapping them for parts. This is precisely why the United States and France have remained such close ideological allies. Even though shortly after the revolution France would have their own bloody revolution, we still remained pals. Hey, just look that the assistance we gave them in World War One and World War Two alone. But going into Europe and protecting them from Germany (twice) was the least we could do for helping us gain our independence. So I encourage you to look at the way France has shaped society differently. Perhaps next time you are hearing some dull history lesson on the American revolution, or saying the word ‘enamored’, or even hearing a foreign sounding song on the radio, you will remember that France has and always will have a profound influence on many such things.

Jul 15

Les Crepes!

So now I will delve into the sublime. The mere mentioning of such a subject evokes raw emotion among even the gauntest of diets. This is none other than …. the crepe! These delectable French delights do not necessarily represent the highest of cuisine, but they never fail to please a crowd. But what is it about this simple fare that has always wowed consumers everywhere. First, lets start with none other than myself.
I have enjoyed crepes ever since I first I ever sunk my teeth into them my freshman year of high school. This fateful day was on a field trip with my school’s French club. We were visiting a local restaurant called Rachel’s Creperie and they served… you guessed it… crepes. I’ll never forget the savory ham and brie crepe. It was filled with pure delight and wonder. The second I was finished I knew I wanted another and a habit would be formed. So in discovering this new delight I found another reason to love all things French. But what was it about this odd little pancakes that captivate people everywhere? Some might say that it is their versatility. Just think about it, you can literally put anything your heart so desires into this little package. It does not have to be breakfast themed, dinner themed, or any theme at all! The crepe simply has to cater to whatever it is that you so desire. So many other great foods share this property. For instance, we all recognize the versatility of pizza. There is a pizza for nearly every topping under the sun, whether it is barbecue chicken, spaghetti, maccaroni and cheese or whatever you want! Controlling our food is perhaps one greatest ways to captivate consumers, and the crepe certainly succeeds at such a feat.
What most people do not realize is how much of an art cooking crepes really is. It is not the status quo method of making a pancake in which you just slap a few dollops of bisquick onto a griddle. The ingredients are very basic and mostly consist of standard eggs, flour, salt, butter, and other small additives. This is deceptively simple, but the true defining factor of making crepes comes in to your savoir-faire on the griddle. It is absolutely neccessary that you maintain the crepes thin stature as not to accidentally make an over glorified flapjack. Because the crepe is ultimately very thin, it is necessary to be able to flip it with ease. A simple mishap in this step will lead to a disastrous attempt at cooking never to be mentioned by anyone again. Once you have cooked the standard doughy part of the crepe, you now must top it. As mentioned earlier, people use everything. Some of the more popular toppings include: Nutella, chocolate, mixed fruits, whipped cream, and more. Now that you have topped your crepe you are now ready to enjoy this tiny slice of paradise. So next time that you do eat a crepe, perhaps you will appreciate it a little more.

Jun 15

Quelque chose pour voter….

One of the ‘ickiest’ words that I could say in a blog is about to be said, and that is none other than…. politics. We are so used to over zealous poly sci majors ranting about their grievances and sending them off to the internet to be not cared about by nearly everyone that reads it. Luckily I am not going to try and air my own opinions (however close they are to the topic at hand), but rather I am going to dive into French politics. Now that we (hopefully) have started to remove debilitating stereotypes onto the French, lets not add others by assuming all Frenchmen everywhere are like minded and agree on everything. That simply just is not true. That would be like saying that every Texas Republican and every California Democrat have the same opinions. What I will discuss is the general trend, recognizing that this only an analysis of observations.

So first, lets start off by stating a fact, the president of France is a socialist. You might be thinking “Ew! How could anybody associate themselves with those violent leftist radicals of the 19th and early 20th century? And is this thought bubble just a ploy to bump up word count?” To address the first question, I must say that socialism has, since its conception, been an alive and well movement throughout France. This differs from the United States because as Socialist movements abounded in Europe, right wingers like Joseph McCarthy launched crusades against any ‘commies’ in infamous cases like the red scare. No such cultural stigmas existed in western Europe and consequentially those seeking to fight for the lower classes were often met with great support. As for the second question… no comment. Back to the point, François Hollande is the Socialist president of a very leftist in many (but not all) aspects. In France, the poorest of the poor are taken care of at the federal level. For instance, if somebody only makes 6,011 euros in one year, they pay a 0% tax rate. As where if you lie in the top tax bracket you can be paying 45% or more in income tax. Whether you feel that this is just or not, this style of income taxation has provided France with large budgets to go towards things like (God forbid *sarcasm*) healthcare, unemployment programs, infrastructure, and much much more. As where in the United States, the rich are not taxed as much so they can pay for their own frivolous luxuries, like healthcare. Please do note the sarcasm. Anyways, what I’m trying to get at is that even though some of these concepts may seem really foreign to us, there are those across the globe that practice systems seemingly opposite to our own. So whether you agree with the French version of light-socialism or not, you are going to have to exist alongside it. Perhaps even some of these seemingly foreign concepts are coming to a government year near you? Just take a look at the roaring debate that is occuring on whether the US government should subsidize healthcare?

~Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Jun 15

Quelque chose pour penser…

It would seem that in discussing and exploring the vastness of French culture, I have forgotten what makes French culture what it is. That would be nothing other than the language itself. The language of love, or just another dying romantic language in the wake of Anglo dominance? I would argue that French is at dawn of great awakening.
French language was born in the barbaric age of Gaul when Roman Latin dominated the land. But as the empire fell and cultural/societal independence spawned so too did the precursor of modern French. As the language progressed and fused with neighboring languages through great events like the battle of Hastings, it slowly became what we know today. For centuries French was the go to language of the higher orders and of diplomacy. So few people seem to appreciate the role French language played in historic agreements between nations. It also found importance in institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church. For instance when the Church came about in writing its first Catechism, it was published in French in order to be understood and read by the greatest amount of people.
This language of the highest in society flourished as French colonial stakes spread across the globe. For instance one of the most common contemporary examples exists in North Africa. Areas such as the Congo and Cote D’Ivoire contain large populations of Francophones. Also, a little closer to home, the “Quebecois” as they call themselves seem to dominate Quebec, Canada. The sphere of Francophone influence is a lot larger than many are comfortable admitting. For some reason there is a very large stigma against French language and culture in our society. Pop culture illustrates negative stereotypes of the French in anything from news media to kids’ cartoons.
We must not forget the role of the French language in our own King’s English. Remember the aforementioned battle of Hastings? When William of Normandy (Like the site of the allied invasion in WW2) successfully conquered the Anglo Saxons at his victory in this infamous battle, Norman French and Anglo-Saxon English effectively merged. This merger of languages exchanged thousands words and grammatical concepts. So because of this single historical event, we have the English we do today (after much development over a thousand years, but you get the point). In a matter of fact, French gives just as many words directly to English as Latin. Even though this statistic is slightly skewed because French effectively comes from Latin, it still gives one an interesting perspective on exchange that happened and is still happening between English and French.
So I encourage all of you to consider the effects that French has had on the way this very blog post is written on. Who knows? Perhaps you will find yourself enamored (that word comes from French) with the French language and will try to learn it. I can guarantee you will find yourself appreciating not just French or English, but all other languages and all their nuances.

Jun 15

Quelque chose pour manger!

We all know about the French and their cheese. Our culture has seemingly destroyed one of the finest yet simplest treat in the world. Unfortunately the average person’s perception of fine cheese is nuking a block of Velveeta only to be scarfed down with the nearest tortilla chip. The French would (rightfully so) be appalled by such a disgrace. In France this dairy delight has an entire branch of etiquette dedicated to maintaining the sacred nature of its consumption. It is no false stereotype to say that the French adore their cheese. In fact the country is noted for producing four-hundred distinct types of cheese (Not including all of the local variants of one cheese).
You might be wondering to yourself “how in the world could there possibly be so many different types of cheese?” So in understanding the variety of French cheese, we must look at where they are produced. For instance, Chèvre (goat) cheeses are typically made in the Loire valley regions. This is due to the fact that this region houses the greatest number of goats. Local attitudes and values also play a huge role in how they take their fromage. We all like to think that cultures are defined by distinct political borders, but this simply is not true in France. Because it lies at the heart of Western Europe, France is a melting pot of Italian, German, Spanish, and North African customs. This means staunch cultural varieties of different cheeses. In regions like Alsace-Lorraine, German culture takes it root in cheeses like Munster (NOT Muenster) that is more in accordance with Germanic sharp cheeses. Yet, Munster maintains its French roots being a soft and creamy ‘brie-like’ cheese.

Though the forms of cheese in France are numerous, everyone seems to agree on the ritual of how to consume it. Ways of eating cheese in France is very specific and disgracing such a delicate act may lead to a few strange looks, but with a little savoir faire it is a piece of cake! First, one must consider the shape of the cheese, as preserving the form of the cheese is only proper. For example, if the cheese is in a wheel, it is proper to cut out wedges like a pizza. One should NEVER cut out cubes as this just looks wrong and will most definitely give the nearest Frenchman a headache. So if you find yourself in a situation where you are unsure on how to consume the delicate dairy delight that sits before you, just ask. While the French are known for their copious amount of cultural particulars, they appreciate and take enjoyment in teaching others about their traditions. While this may seem like a whole lot of pressure over cheese, I can guarantee you that it is not silly to those (especially the French) who take great pride in the foods that are staples of their culture. So please, next time you see some unpronounceable French cheese, just consider what kind of heritage and tradition there really is behind such a seemingly simple thing.

~Bonne Journée

Jun 15

Quelque Chose Pour écrire…

In embarking on the quest to begin this blog, I have reached an impasse. I have come to realize that throughout life’s many twists and turns, passions abound. Yet, we can have an infinite number of passions and none of them matter if we so choose to not act upon them. For example, what is a passionate musician without his instrument? Thus as I begin my undergraduate studies at Penn State, I will embark upon the essential “follow through” of my passions (outside of my major) by extrapolating upon them in the form of a blog. So now I am faced with a tough choice: deciding my topic. We have all been exposed to the French stereotype of a mustached, baguette wielding, romantic who strides around Paris with an arrogant jaunt of self superiority with. As most stereotypes are, this particular one could not be more false (except for maybe the baguette part). Through studying French language I have been introduced to the richness of its culture. Its ideals of a perfect balance between leisure and work seem to contrast other prolific cultures of “work will set your free”. French culture promotes the sublime aspects of everyday events that others seem to overlook and abuse, such as appreciation of haute cuisine versus over-consumption of daily mediocre fare. While French culture fascinates me, I am equally captured by science fiction in pop culture. We are all too familiar with earth shattering titles such as Star Wars or Jurassic Park , but what is it about these staples of sci-fi that captivate audiences across the globe? I am not a sociologist and cannot speak for the trends of our culture, but I can address why I dream day in and day out about worlds that are merely human constructs. Thus I must decide which of these two interests I will pursue in blog format. After much deliberation I have decided to explore french culture further and post my findings through this medium.

~Bonne Journée

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