If there is one thing that the Internet COULD do for us, it is enable us to see how our near and far neighbor is organizing HIS society. What he's doing well, what he's doing not so well, in our minds.
That's why I'm laying at your feet a certain number of my observations on the differences between French and American society, while at the same time trying to give you a feel for the DETAILS that make up a society, details that are very important if you want to get past all those generalizations that we blather over in the form of IDEAS. (And we manage to blather in a very sterile manner, too, in my mind.)
In order to talk about details, you have to SEE them first, and for this, I'm in an excellent position (Cotton too, SS to a lesser degree, sorry SS...) because being an expatriate has sharpened my skill at noticing this kind of detail. Careful, this is not to say that one cannot do these things in one's own country/society, BUT it is much more difficult.
A little story will perhaps illustrate this one : my brother who spent some time in Japan, a very insular society in some respects, mentioned a friend who had gone touristing in a remote area of Japan, and while chatting with an old Japanese man in Japanese no less, was astonished to hear the man exclaim that HE never realized that he could speak... American before meeting the young tourist...
Gives one food for thought, right ?
It just happens that I think that Internet is the "tool" (beurk, an erector set word, lol) of the future, but that it is NOT necessarily by exchanging IDEAS that it will be the most useful (another erector set word...).
Or maybe, ideas, like filthy lucre, have no limits, no boundaries, no countries, no places.
But... textures, perfumes, THEY are ROOTED in PLACES.
And this is important for us.
Summer vacation :
Every summer when the grinding school year finally subsides, you see hitting the newstands, the kiosks, the bookstores, that INFAMOUS FRENCH SUMMER INSTITUTION, the "cahier de vacances". That's French for : summer workbook.
The French are the ONLY European people to sadistically subject their children, after 10 + grueling months of 8-6 indoctrination known as "public education" to summer workbooks to MAKE SURE THAT JUNIOR WILL NOT FORGET ONE COMMA of the passé simple (the literary preterite...) or sixth grade calculus. (By the way, dinky, that was an EXAGGERATION, as far as I know, Blaise Pascal was the only precocious little (French) sod I know who could have done calculus at 11, probably even before...).
Every year over the summer, you will see armadas of French schoolchildren dutifully sharpening pencils in order to dig into the (daily) lessons that are designed to give them NO respite from the joys (lol) of learning.
But this year, the temple merchants have REALLY INNOVATED. (I mean, the workbooks have been around since BEFORE I had children... and by the way, mea culpa, I USED TO BUY THEM TOO for my kids, but since I am an apragmatic lout, WE only managed to do 1/3 of ANY workbook over the summer before ABANDONING the (expensive) object in the bottom of the suitcase in favor of more... pleasurable occupations.)
They have now come out with...
Workbooks for ADULTS.
Some of them are excessively CUCU (a word that you can learn to throw around at the cocktail parties you DON'T have time to go to. Like gnan-gnan. Well, we're going to have to settle for DUMB-ASS unless SS or Cotton have other suggestions.)
But, Charlie Hebdo, ANOTHER FRENCH INSTITUTION that I will talk about later, after fractals, is another story. This year, Charlie has managed to throw together a vacation workbook that is an indictment of 1) summer workbooks themselves 2) multiple choice questions (a major illness in France...) and.... 3) OUR president (OUR, my friends, is an example of that EXCLUSIVE expatriate priviledge of being able to say OUR in two different contexts...)
And, of course, President bashing is also our favorite national, TEAM sport...
Coming up in the next installment : a few excerpts from the Charlie Hebdo summer vacation workbook, translation courtesy of Debra.