What is the most French thing ever?



Alejandro Jenkins, AB Physics & Mathematics, Harvard University (2001)

Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu (“The Rules of the Game”), released in 1939, which is also in my estimation the greatest film ever made.



As an undergraduate at Harvard, I took a course on Cinéma et culture française (“Cinema and French culture”), which seemed like a good way to practice my rusting French while fulfilling a “core curriculum” requirement.

I soon found, however, that I didn’t like the professor (he was an American who taught the course in French), as it seemed to me that he filled the lectures with pointless and pretentious jargon. I also recall trudging through campus on a dreary winter evening to watch some postmodern French-Canadian claptrap in which a guy sticks his fingers into an electrical outlet. I started to miss the screenings. (I was never a very conscientious student.)



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Somehow, I did see La Règle du jeu when it was shown to the class. I knew nothing about it (if it had been introduced to us by the professor I must’ve missed it), but I could tell immediately that this was altogether something else.

I ended up writing my term paper on it, which was just as well as I’d missed most of the other assigned screenings. I recall the title of my essay: Le réalisme aristocratique (“Aristocratic realism”), which now strikes me as pretty good and makes me regret that I didn’t save a copy of my essay. I’ve re-watched the movie a few times over the years, and it has only grown in my estimation.

Renoir’s movie is quintessentially French both in its themes (adultery and sexual jealousy, class distinctions, transcendental pessimism) and in its stylistic touches. And it very deliberately places itself within the classical French literary tradition.




I find that Renoir’s movie is comparable to Flaubert in its very French artistic perfection: at once brilliantly humorous and ruthlessly pessimistic, a comedy of manners and love and death...

I leave you with the image of Octave (played by Jean Renoir himself) preparing to conduct an imaginary orchestra, an instant before his heart breaks over the contemplation of the failure of his life:




« Tu comprends, sur cette Terre, il y a quelque chose d'effroyable, c'est que tout le monde a ses raisons. » (“You see, there’s something truly frightful on this Earth: that everyone has their reasons.”)



Matt Huy, Young adult

It’s very funny that people imagine so many things about French people. As a guy living in Paris for so long, here are French interesting anecdotes:



French loves bakeries and bread: As I traveled a lot, I’ve seen bread in foreign countries, but they are very expensive. In France, bakery are so common, that it’s not that expensive. Actually, there are many people who used to chat with their bakers (“how is everything? what’s up?”). Plus, I’m addicted to bread, sorry!



French has to be on holidays for a long time: I know this sounds crazy, but some people really have 5 weeks a year of holidays. To French, it’s very normal. You have to have holidays. As I live in Paris, you can see traffic jam of people going to their holidays in July and August during summertime



French are rude: In Paris, you can meet rude people at every corner. No, that’s a joke. French are not so rude. They are cold, most of the time due to thieves and because for women, guys try to seduce them in an unpolite way. But I have to say that French are not so rude. So please be tolerant guys, we are not so crazy!



French are skinny: Actually obesity rate is increasing. But let’s say that: if you’re going to a big supermarket, the shelves for fruits, vegetables and water are just huge. We pay attention a lot of what we’re eating. The number of vegetarian people increased, and many people pay to go to the sports hall. It’s in our culture to be careful, and to take care of us



Antoine Pierret, lives in Paris

The most French thing ever? Well a typical Monday in France :

- We wake up, light a cigarette, feed our pet rooster (called Napoléon) and light him a cigarette too, put our striped jersey and beret and head out to the bakery to buy our morning baguette.




- Then we head out in the streets to protest (it’s Monday so it’s strike day). I think next Monday’s strike is to protest against the cold in winter. We are freezing our ass and this is very unacceptable.

- 12h: we head out to the bakery to buy our lunch baguette, then take our lunch break and eat till 5pm.

- 5pm: it’s time to show up at work a little bit (hey it at least has to look like we do those 35h/week).





- 5h30 pm: end of work day. On our way back home we cross every road just 5 meter after each crosswalk just to annoy policemen and because it feels so much better that way, rules are boring anyways. If it’s a hot day, we lose the clothes and let our little bum take some fresh air, nudist beaches/restaurants are never really far anyways! We also pass by the bakery to buy our afternoon baguette, thanking the baker with a “die fucking asshole”. This is not rudeness, this is just French straightforwardness. The baker usually thank us back with a “It’s your wife that I fuck, you bastard”.

- Home sweet home now, finally some family time to complain about everything (fucking boss, fucking excessive and tiring working hours, fucking government, fucking country and fucking atmospheric pressure…). Little family bonding time, all laughing about those lost loud American tourists in flip-flops [sighs] we sent in the wrong direction earlier, probably lost next to the waste recycling center by now! Also time to ring our friends to catch up, but since half of French people are mimes, the phone conversations are usually not very interesting. And finally we start preparing dinner, those frog’s legs stuffed with Camembert are not gonna cook themselves on their own. We finish with the toddlers, filling their baby bottles with wine. Et voilà, bon appétit everybody! Then movie time, watching one of those apocalyptic films where a virus decimates all humanity= no more bakers= no more baguette



- If our boss told us to finish something for the next day, don’t forget to not do it. That will teach him a lesson, what’s that with giving orders and work, like if we have any interest in those. We go buy our evening baguette instead. Or head to our mini home snail farming to teach the snails how to play the accordion.



- End of the day with a steamy and torrid night with our wife and her best friend (ménage à trois/three-way partnership is the new era. Couples are so middle age). Be sure the snails from her mini home farming are not watching, we don’t want to traumatize anybody. Snail counseling costs an arm and a leg.



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