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Frenchie and the Hungarian Frenchie

20 Mar

Is there anything that this Hungarian phone ad taken last week at the Budapest airport left out from the French many stereotypes?

Baguette – check

Béret – check

Scarf – check

Boating t-shirt from Brittany with stripes  – check

Mustache / Goatee – check

The perfect eyes and gaze saying anything from I’m romantic / lost / I need a hug / I’m an artist deep inside / I will woo you all night long – check

Metrosexual / European jewelry – check

Eiffel Tower – check

Romantic sunset over Paris – check

Cobblestones – check

Old house with growing ivy – check

I guess we’re just missing the smell! Hard to portray that on a photo though. Maybe they should have added some flies somewhere around the “French” guy.

Whether stereotypes follow me in the U.S. (Is Pepé Le Pew really French? Frenchie and the Italian Skunk) or in Hungary, it’s hard to escape them in the end. And while sitting in front of this ad and waiting at the airport for my flight back to the U.S., I read somewhere in GQ that the boating striped sweater is one of the hottest fashion item for men for this upcoming Spring and Summer. I am afraid to ask… when is the béret making a come back?

Frenchie and the Over-Stimulated Bag Culture

6 Oct

Have you ever noticed how the French always – and I mean it here… always! – carry a bag? It’s easy for me to say this, I used to carry a bag all the time as well. My bag syndrome is long gone now that I live in the U.S. but it still lingers deep inside of me. I guess you could say I have non-stimulated dormant bag tendencies; a bit like a virus but not as itchy.

Let’s take a look at this bag culture more closely. Next time you’re in France, or in Europe for that matter because I bet it’s similar elsewhere, stand still in the middle of a busy métro station or on a busy street or sit down at a café and watch – watch what happens, watch people and their bags. Start counting people carrying bags. Actually an easier exercise if you don’t like counting much would be to count those without bags… much easier! Isn’t it funny? I can safely bet that the ratio is 1 in every 15 does not carry a bag. Now if you observe attentively people in this country, you will find that women carry bags – although not all the time – and men absolutely almost never carry bags. What I mean by bags here is anything from a back-pack, a plastic bag, a shopping bag and even, if I can dare say it… a man-purse. So why is that the French hold on dearly to their bags wherever they go giving this feeling that they carry their homes with them like strange turtles on a mission? And why didn’t Americans catch this bag virus over time? Surprisingly, American men found an alternative to the bag issue, which will be explained below. And most importantly, one might wonder about the French… what do you carry in your freaking bags?

Hi my name is XXX and I used to carry a bag for most of my life. That was me 11 years ago. Going to the movies? Let’s take a bag. Going to dinner? I need my bag. Going to a friend’s house? Hold on, let me prepare my bag. At the dentist? Shoot, I forgot my bag! Yes, it is like a disease and it is already much spread out throughout France. I hear your questions, why take a bag to go to the movies? Back then, my answer would have been: “Well, I like to carry my backpack because I might need a book in case the previews are too long. I also have my glasses and their case. I have a special case for my glasses cleaning tissue. I need my Paris map in case we decide to go somewhere afterwards and we get lost. I also have my CD player with me. And I took my checkbook, just in case… you never know. Oh and I carry this magazine with me I bought last week, I did not finish reading it yet.” Yes, that was my answer back in the days. Did I need all this to go to the movies? Of course not. I could have worn my glasses, leave the house and call it a day. But the security of a bag makes it all of a sudden so much better.

Leaving aside students and their needs to transport books, travelers and their suitcases and businessmen with their briefcases, the rest of the French population is addicted to carrying a bag.  There are truly 3 types of bag carriers:

1. The Concealed-Flat-Bag Carrier: You can easily tell they’re empty – meaning they don’t need one – yet they will carry one.  Mostly men with backpacks, the bag is so flat it can only truly contain a thin brochure of some sort just by looking at it. Maybe a book? Possibly some other mundane items at the bottom. Always kept flat and glued to the back, you can almost never spot it but it’s really there!

2. The Over-Fed-Bag Carrier: These bags look like they’re ready to pop! Anything goes here. But as a true French person, you can be sure you will find a warm sweater (“In case it gets cold. You know, it gets down to 65 degrees these days.”) and of course, you guessed it, the famous French scarf needed and worn throughout the year.

3. The Faux-Shopping-Bag Carrier: Here, it is meant for any shopping bags used as a regular bag, so as not to carry a real bag, and filled with little things we don’t need but may need just in case.

Despite the fashionable aspect of a bag – being attached to your body and holding on to it like a precious item – the concept of a bag represents everything we don’t want to let go: keeping everything close at all time and being so proactive about carrying things we might need one day that it becomes almost humorous. Recently I was asked by a French person visiting me as we were leaving the house why I wouldn’t bring a bag. “So you just leave the house like that, cell phone in hand and no coat? You look like a tourist. Don’t you need a bag?” Here we are, the old fear of “looking like a tourist”, looking like you’re not part of the crowd, setting yourself apart from others by not carrying a bag – being an outsider! Gasp! We wouldn’t want that to happen, right?

Americans on the other hand are not victims of this bag virus. A lot of women can be seen in the street not carrying a hand bag. And almost all American men do not carry one. Not even a backpack. Men have found the greatest trick of them all, which is to carry “stuff” in their pockets therefore creating an army of people with overstuffed pockets: ladies and gents, here are the cargo pants maniacs! Cargo pants or shorts are the solutions to the European bag addiction. Winter or summer, you too can overstuff your pockets with the freedom and liberty of not carrying anything in your hands or on your shoulders. Unfortunately, this smart solution is not without saying a true fashion disaster for Europeans. Carrying “stuff” on the side of your legs? Over-stuffed pockets dangling on the side? I can hear the French say “no thanks”. And yet, American men love their cargo pants. Yes, indeed, they look like they have legs 4 times bigger than their actual size. And of course, it looks like they’re getting ready for a moon trip wearing some sort of astronaut jumpsuit. But who cares, right? As long as we’re not bogged down with a bag… because bags are for women.

So what’s better? Having to worry about always carrying a bag everywhere you go even if you don’t need one? Or almost looking bloated from the waist down with a big wallet on the left and an iPhone on the right in your jeans pockets? Or is it just simply that we are all materialistic people with a desperate need to always bring “stuff” with us when we leave the house when in reality all we need are keys, an ID and a bit of cash?

Hmmm makes we wonder… fanny pack anyone?

Bag Nation

Frenchie and the Primal Fear of Colored Socks

1 Oct

Imagine my surprise back in 1999, still brand new to this country, when I went to my first house-get-together and discovered with horror and bewilderment that everyone around me was wearing white socks.

It must have been a week or so after my arrival and my friends had invited me for a casual dinner. Who says casual says “casual fancy” for a Parisian. Nothing too extravagant, just effortlessly casually chic and laid back. All shoes were left at the door and all socks were for everyone to admire. Surrounded by 6 pairs of white socks! For a moment I thought: 1. I just fell into a trap and I am in the middle of a strange secret society where I will have to perform painful rituals to be accepted. 2. They all did laundry together and someone somehow played a bit too hard with the bottle of bleach. 3. Maybe they’re just too pure to wear other types of socks. I instantly went into sock shy shock. All eyes turned on my feet, which are not particularly attractive as it is, and comments, questions and exclamations started to fly: “Wow, you have weird socks!”, “Where did you find those?”, “I’ve never seen something like this before”.

It is well known that the French are all about their socks: colors, stripes, patterns, shapes, crazy color combinations and dare I say… even cartoon characters. Yes, cartoon characters for adult men wearing suits and going to work – for real! I will come out of my sock closet and proudly say that I love colored socks and I absolutely love my sock collection. I only buy my socks in France, when I go home, and have had the hardest time not to attract unwanted attention on my feet everywhere I go around here. I have to admit though that socks have evolved for the best in this country. My examples mostly date back from 1999 and early 2000’s. Since then, the long white tube socks have been replaced by the oh-so fancy white ankle socks, introduced I believe mid 2000’s, that everyone is now proudly wearing. You can also find very decent colored socks now in various retail chains. But… the colored socks here are still not as crazy as those one could find in a French store. I mean, we’re talking walls of colored socks – not just 6 samples at Banana Republic. Walls! Entire walls. Bright pink, black with yellow rounds, Simpsons themed, orange and green stripped, triangles with various colors, flowers (lots of flowers), yellow smileys, Tintin… whatever you’re looking for, you name it, we have it!

So why is there a fear of colored socks in this country and a disdain of white socks across the pond?

White socks = uncouth for 99.99% of Europeans. White socks with tennis shoes for the gym = yes! White socks with fancy sneakers and jeans = big NO! White socks with a suit and black shoes = major NO! White socks with shorts and sandals = well, that’s another topic and years of needed therapy so I won’t even go there. Yet, every eyes in Europe will turn toward the white socks if not properly worn just like all eyes are glued on my fantastic purple and grey stripped socks . “You wear purple socks?”… YES, I love purple and orange and bright red and all colored socks! And please ask your 5-year-old to stop pointing at my purple socks, thank you very much!

What surprised me the most about all this is that Americans usually like to set themselves apart and be different. Isn’t America all about be whoever you want to be, dress how you want and care no more? But isn’t the white sock phenomenon just another American conformism to blend among the Bland Sock Club? And what about Parisians who are so afraid of making waves that wearing black (you know who you are!) is the default color of the entire city so they can blend in and not be noticed – do they highly value strong sock personality by proudly wearing their favorite colors and patterns?

I will fight for the integration of colored socks in this country. I strongly believe one should not fear to spice up one’s life with colors. Just like food, if it’s bland, it’s not enjoyable. Season your socks with salt and pepper, add some thyme and oregano and you will get something tasty in the end.

All these sock stories make for funny Laundromat experiences though. I try to educate people around me on why wearing colored socks is not bad and why it is better to have a bit of variety. I also learn in return why you need to wear white socks at the gym because otherwise it just looks weird – and I can still spot any Europeans at the gym with their long black socks and short shorts.

And you know, there is something to say about the power of white socks even at the highest level in the country. When the First Cat under the Clinton era was named Socks, appropriately because of its white paws, I am sure it gave reassurance to millions of white sock lovers that wearing them is not that bad after all and that Europeans can sock it up!

War of the Worlds

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