There has been a lot of bashing of France and the French people, much more so in the last year or so than in recent years. While I disagree with their stance on the war in Iraq entirely and I am, understandably, distraught over the large amount of anti-Semitism that is taking place in the country, I do not feel it is right to simply dismiss the entire country and its culture.
I am extraordinarily fond of being American. I write this because many times, articles which are at all in favor of any other country are somehow misread to mean that the person does not love his own country and is told, “If you love that country so much, why don’t you go and live there?” Well, I don’t want to live in any other country because I do love living in the United States.
I would also like to cite a line from the great documentary, The Sorrow and the Pity, on the subject of France and political involvement. The documentary is amazing (perhaps why it was mentioned in the classic film Annie Hall), being about the French Resistance – or, more accurately, how little resistance there was. One man who was interviewed, being of French nationality, said (I will paraphrase as I don’t recall the translation perfectly), “Generally speaking, the French are a politically apathetic people. Once in awhile, we’ll storm the Bastille, but that’s about it.”
The idea for this article came when I was in a class discussion, the topic of which I of course no longer remember, when the person leading the discussion mentioned France. This person felt the need to say that France was basically a useless country, and that they had contributed nothing to culture, other than good wine and cheese. (Perhaps, as well, the concept of eating them together. I wanted to respond at the time, to say that this was absurd – there had been countless contributions to culture by the French, to say the least. Instead of sparking a lengthy debate that would result in a group of people stubbornly clinging to their beliefs, steeped in broad generalizations and the like, I decided to write this article. I thereby present here some of the important things which have been contributed to society and culture by means of the people of France.
Once again – I don’t want to live there. Do want to live here. Just to clarify.
The French language is often referred to as the “language of love.” This is chiefly because it is quite possibly one of the most beautiful languages in terms of how it sounds when it is spoken. This, in turn, is in part due to the fact that there has been a concerted effort on behalf of the French people to make their language beautiful. There is an accent mark, known as the accent circumflex, which is an indicator that the spelling of the word was changed so as to make it sound better. The example that my grandmother on my father’s side, may she live to be one hundred and twenty, always gives is the word for window. It was once “fenestre” but, over time, it was changed to “fenêtre” so as to sound better.
Some other people hypothesize that there may be some connection between the so-called “French Kiss,” which involves the use of the tongue, and the speaking of the French language, which also involves the use of the tongue. The French language is, of course, the “mother tongue” of France, amongst quite a few others. What could be more romantic than the “mother tongue” which is associated with the special kiss?
On top of all of this, the French language has had a strong influence on our own language. Some people’s joie de vivre comes from going to restaurants – often enough, perhaps, that one would think that such visits are the person’s raison d’être. There, they make conversations full of double entendres, some of which would be considered gauche. Perhaps someone will order an apéritif, like potato au gratin. They wouldn’t worry about their children because they hired an au pair, living in their stylish home full of art déco which would hopefully not be démodé. The waiter would bring around the soup de jour, making a huge faux pas – they had explicitly asked for no soup to be brought. Normally, the restaurant would have a laissez faire attitude with these problems, but here the maitre d’ would come out and insist on doing something nice for the table – a certain je ne sais quois, perhaps a free sampling of their new hors d’oeuvres would do. One person at the table, whose nom de plume was “Blackbeard” (née – John Smith) was a member of the nouveau riche – having only a soupçon of savoir-faire, started handing out souvenirs of that night’s rendez-vous. Moreover, when I started writing for Go Inside Magazine, the first request that I made was that I be given carte blanche.
Just a few of the words we benefit from.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of French writers whose works are sheer brilliance. I would like to touch on a couple of them. For one, there is Gustave Flaubert, perhaps one of my favorite authors ever. I was introduced to Flaubert, oddly enough, through watching the 1979 film Manhattan, which in my opinion is the best film of all time. Towards the end of the film, Woody Allen’s character Isaac is taking some notes on tape and listing to himself some of the things that make life worth living. One of the things that he mentions is Flaubert’s Sentimental Education. I read it and fell in love with it. It actually was the inspiration for the Serial Novel Experiment that is going on right now here at GO INSIDE Magazine.
The other inspiration for the Serial Novel Experiment (I will eventually come up with a title for this novel, really) was Honoré de Balzac. This genius of a novelist somehow managed to write over 80 novels in the course of his lifetime, all being extraordinarily detailed and full of life in France during his time period. Even more amazing was that he simultaneously managed to live life during this time, so to speak – such that he would be able to make all of the observations on life necessary to write with such detail as he did. He was not a Nietzche type, sitting indoors all day, like a hermit hiding in the caves (how fitting that he wrote “Thus Spoke Zarathrusta”), but rather went out in society and still managed to write over 80 novels.
Where can a person even begin to list the artists that have sprung for from France? Should one list the thousands of painters whose paintings are admired all over around? Should one venture into the field of music, where there have been works of brilliance in classical music to the amazing jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt? Perhaps it would be better to start in the field of cinema, where we have such luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard to thank for some of the best films ever made. Or perhaps we need only look to the most beautiful city in the United States for a reminder – ah, yes, there’s that lovely lady, the Statue of Liberty.
….and food, too…
Of course, there is also the food. The wine from France is some of the best wine you will ever find. There is no such thing as Champagne other than that which comes from France. You could almost say that many New Year’s Eve celebrations would have had much less to celebrate with if it were not for France. One of the greatest and most well known commentators on the five books of the Torah, Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak (1040-1105), also known as Rashi, had his own vineyard and made some am
azing wine as well as writing insightful commentary. It is often said that the portions are small at French restaurants, but if you are accustomed to a Sam’s Club / all you can eat / overeating is normal lifestyle, it is only natural that a reasonable portion would appear small. The cheese, too, is superb. With the wine.
There is so much more that can be said and elaborated upon from the above, but I will leave it at this for now. Suffice it to say that France, to say the least, has contributed a lot to society and culture. Incidentally – I love America. In case you were wondering. It could stand to have some better wines, though. I’m kidding.