“You know, it is possible to be too attractive!” – Pepé Le Pew, fictional character in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons.
Have you ever wondered what the French could possibly think of this Pepé Le Pew? This French skunk constantly strolling the streets of Paris, running after the ladies, talking about l’Amour with a big A, never giving up on a possible romantic lead and of course, as every skunk should, smelling terribly bad? What do the French say? How do they react? And does it even air in France?
Speedy Gonzales is Mexican. We all know that. Pepé Le Pew is French. Well… not entirely. See Pepé Le Pew is French… except in France! Quoi? How could that be? Isn’t it ruining the character’s true [pungent] essence? After all, Pepé Le Pew represents all of the millions of stereotypes Americans have about the French, so why would Pepé’s nationality change in France of all places?
I discovered what the French stereotypes are when I moved to the U.S. How could I be aware of them beforehand? It’s not like we’re taught what our own stereotypes are around the world in school. I learned very quickly that the French smell, they don’t shower, the women don’t shave their legs or underarms, they drink wine all day long from breakfast on, they eat cheese all day as well, carry a baguette under their arm, wear a beret every day, are extremely rude, speak with a very strong accent and most importantly laugh with this impossible obnoxious laugh – a laugh that comes from so deep within, the first time I heard someone perform it in front of me as a very American joke, I thought I heard the new sound effects for Jurassic Park 4 by an old T. rex who smoked all his life. Eet iz rathere fueny, neaux? Honhonhonhonhonhanhanhanhan! French people never laugh, they are serious.
When references were made in conversation about Pepé Le Pew being French, how funny the cartoon was, the accent, the trail of smell coming from his tail etc. I thought to myself… how could I have missed that? I watched Looney Tunes all the time when I was young and I could not remember this French character. And then it hit me… Pepé Le Pew is Pépé le putois, this funny skunk I used to watch all the time on TV, being real suave and smooth while trying to get all the ladies… Yes! That was really funny! And I also loved his strong Italian accent because it reminded me of all of the stereotypes the French have about the Italians. Oui, Pepé Le Pew is Italian in France.
If you think about it for a minute, it makes sense after all. Would a loud obnoxious American speaker carrying a hamburger and a can of Coke while wearing a cowboy hat and boots with a gun on his side and a Marlboro pack in his pocket be a funny character in a cartoon in the U.S.? Probably not! But it would be in the rest of the world. Now that I watch Pepé Le Pew in English, I really appreciate the humor and creativity that went into it – especially the signs and titles with bad franglais and accents or apostrophes added rándo’mly òn ev’ery wôrds. In any case, accents or no accents, smell or no smell, when Pepé’s on screen, romance is in the air! “How is it that she can sleep when I am so near? We must stoke the furnace of love, must we not? [...] But madame! I have overstoked the furnace, yes? Madame! Your conduct is unseemly! Control yourself! Madame!” And here is the real treat: double le Pepé vidéos. “And if you have not tried it, do not knock it!”
See French Pepé in English here (he appears at 2’20 min.).
And discover Italian Pepé en français here (fast forward to 1’50 min.)