26.5.07

The end of a myth

Pub talks.

After eleven months spent in London, and several more in other English speaking countries, I wondered what was the most common French sentence that I have heard when I announced that I was from the Hexagon. Without a doubt: "Aha... voulez-vous coucher avec moi?" with a wink, a tap on the shoulder, and another sip at their pint... And that, no matter the gender of my interlocutor.

Dictionary infiltrations.

The concept of "France" seems indeed to vehicle very interesting connotations in English-speaking countries, and in the UK in particular. I will not refer again to the ambiguous hate/love relationship between our two countries, but want to focus on how some awkward French words have infiltrated the Oxford dictionary. Think of expressions like voyeur, ménage à trois, Madame, French letters, libertine, French kiss... It sounds like my country is an intrinsic erotic nation to the point that its language becomes international norms.

Interesting indeed, because in spite of the numerous dodgy areas in the German harbours or the red light district in Amsterdam, can you think of any German or Dutch word that would be refer in English to sexual practices? No. Again, although Scandinavia is renowned for its liberal and frivolous mores, can you associate any terminology from these countries to any dubious practices? Still no.

Horny country.

The French population does have a sexual life. And quite an intensive one it seems if you refer to this research by IPSOS dated 2005 (sorry, in French and without pictures). But would that justify our intrusion in Shakespeare's vocabulary. I doubt it. I think this is more of an inherited stereotype, a long lasting myth.

And this remembers me my high-school years, when for the first time I was intended to cross the Channel for an exchange programme. I remember that many adults looked at us, winked, tapped our shoulders, and had another sip at their red wine glass (well, in France, you rarely drink pints of beer) after saying "A vous les petites Anglaises" (the frail English girls will be all yours).

A nous les petites AnglaisesThis was a reference to the, at that time, very successful film by Michel Lang dated 1975. "A nous les petites Anglaises" (English title: "Let's Get Those English Girls") tells the story of two French students who are going to England to improve their linguistic skills, and end up practicing tongue twisting. Literally... I think that this film did the best job ever for the British Tourist Board. All the French boys were looking forward to their next school trip to the land of easy-flirting.

Kill the myth.

So yes. In France, in the early 80s, the UK was also seen as a destination for sexual education. What has happen since? If there are still some background influences of the above-mentioned film, the perception has drastically evolved 20 years later. If Great Britain remains attractive to the younger generations, this is now for different reasons: music, fashion, football... To be totally honest, the overall mindsets have evolved since the 80s and sex has drifted out the main interests in any country.

But what is surprising is that the UK has in the meanwhile increased its sexual activity. Sadly, a recent UNICEF survey demonstrated that Britain's youth was leading the worldwide charts with 38.1% of its 11 to 15 year-olds having already had sexual intercourse (against an average of 23.6%, the runner-up being Sweden with "only" 28%).

There is a psychological expression which consists in "killing the myth". If you look at this UNICEF research about the state of the world's youth and pay attention to Britain's performances you can identify the weapons that have been used to slaughter the myth of the "frail English girl":
34.9% of the 11-15 year olds smoke cannabis (vs. a worldwide average of 21.4%)30.8% have been drunk at least twice (highest score in the world, vs. an average score of 15.4%, and only 8% in France!!!)
28 births out of 1000 are given by 15 to 19 year old girls (vs. a worldwide average of 16/000)
15.8% are over weighted (vs. an average of 12.9%)
No more fairy tales.
These horrible statistics remind me of a song by the French rock group Telephone. They interpreted in the 80s a modern version of Cinderella. If I were to roughly translate the lyrics, that would give something like this (sincere apologies to Jean-Louis Aubert and Co):
Cinderella for her 20th birthday
Is the most beautiful girl
Her awesome lover, the charming prince
Carries her on his white horse
She forgets how time goes
In her silvery palace
And to avoid seeing
The next day coming
She closes her eyes, and in her dreams
She goes away... Lovely little story.

Cinderella for her 30th birthday
Is the saddest mother
Her awesome lover has left her
For the Sleeping Beauty
She saw hundreds of white horses
Taking her children away from her
So she started drinking, hanging in bars
Dressed up in a depressive mood
She now walks the pavement
She goes away... Lovely little story.

Ten years of such a life were enough
To turn her into a junkie
And in an endless sleep
Cinderella will finish her life
The lights start their dance
In the ambulance
But she kills her last chance
All this has no importance
She goes away...
The myth of the fragile, red-haired, white-skinned English girl looking for French romance has long-lived. She is now very aware, slightly over-weighed, drunk, a fag in the right hand, and beer in the other. So no wonder that the French youngsters are no longer fantasising about her.
But the remaining question is, how long it will take for the French lover myth to disappear? Well, as long as there are some story-tellers to maintain it alive! So, as a good patriot let me contribute to the protection of our cultural difference: "Once upon a time, there was in a not-so-far-away country, a young boy called Antoine. He..."

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