1. French culture is low, not high.
Think of France and you think of fine wines, museums, art, culture, right? That’s Culture with a capital C – the high stuff. Not the low everyday things. If you think this, you’d be wrong. French culture is all about the low-end: food, drink, the stuff of everyday living and making it all a pleasure. The food is better not because it’s cooked incredibly well (often, it isn’t), but because the French won’t tolerate rubbish ingredients. Compare the vegetable section of a French supermarket to an English one, and you’ll instantly see the difference: the produce is seasonal, it’s French, and it’s not ripened super-fast under glass. Even in the worst supermarkets, the only time I saw a non-French vegetable was some Israeli avocado’s – which weren’t selling well.
2. French? Fashion? Not in my lifetime.
Mention the French, and you instantly think of fashion – but you’d be wrong. What the French are good at is style, rather than fashion – which is actually something that the British are much, much better at. In France, most of the young people look like slightly less grubby versions of the old people, wearing slightly more colourful versions of the same clothes. They look great. They know how to accessorise like no nation on Earth. But that’s as far as it goes. When British youth is inventive, bold and fearless about what it wears, French youth is conservative and (dare I say it?) somewhat dull. Personally, I’m of an age where dressing like the French has started to appeal more, but then I make no pretense of being fashionable.
3. French TV. Oh God, the horror.
It’s not just that French TV is in French (which is a handicap for me, but probably not for the natives). It’s that it rivals Australian soap operas for awfulness. Even a high-culture version of Ben Jonson’s Volpone starring Gerard Depardieu looked like a BBC2 play from 1976. And as for the rest of it…
4. French pop music ended in 1965.
OK, now this is a severe generalisation, but the French appear to have decided en masse that pop music post-mid 60’s serves no purpose. Everything – even the upbeat psuedo-techno – sounds like it’s filtered through Elvis and Le Beatles. Star Academy, the French version of those awful search-for-a-star shows, is a case in point, with – I kid you not – a group song called Au revoir Le Professeur that resembled something that the Kids from Fame would have rejected as too chi chi. The two finalists of Star Academy – Gregory and Lucie – made Will Young look leading edge. While in the UK, mainstream pop stars like Holly Valance and Sugababes produce songs that at least sound like they’ve made an effort to be different, French pop stars all want to be Jonny Halliday. And that’s the worst thing: why do the French love ancient, leathery “rock and rollers” Halliday (107 years old and still bleaching his hair) and Michel Sardou? Sardou was on the final of Star Academy doing a duet with Lucie, who, the poor love, was valiantly attempting to strike up chemistry with a man old enough to be her grandfather. And all the while, her body language spoke of how much she wanted to be anywhere other than being embraced in a suspiciously vigorous fashion on live TV by the leathery crooner. Oh, and French is the worst language in the world to rap in – even Italian is better (see Jovanotti for details).
5. I love the place.
Despite their terrible music and oldworld clothes, I love the French to bits. They know how to live, even if they only know how to rock. I’m glad to be back, but I can’t wait to go again.