We all have stereotypes about certain cultures. Sometimes, they are based on our own experiences, sometimes they are not. We imagine Dutch people as greedy, with blond hair and pants too short, English as real gentlemen, stylish and drinking tea, Spanish people as Casanovas taking a nap, German as always on time or Russians as cold and big on vodka…
Stereotypes have always existed, no matter the culture, and they are usually reinforced by their existence in literature and the media. The discipline in charge of creating such image is known as imagology. Even if there is still little research done in this field, it is really interesting. Joep Leerssen, professor of Modern European Literature at the University of Amsterdam, is a real pioneer. He published a book entitled “Imagology, The cultural construction and literary representation of national characters”, in which he describes stereotypes of certain cultures and nationalities throughout History.
More recently, this approach is found in the works of Ferber & Davies. In their book “Pardon our French: French stereotypes in American Media”, they focus on the image that Americans have of French people. They are seen as romantic, handsome, unpleasant, arrogant, pedantic, bossy, quarrelsome, negative, selfish, immoral, food-loving and elegant. In addition, they smell bad, they don’t shave, they talk but can’t make decisions, they don’t obey rules and don’t comply with deadlines and procedures, they go on strike for anything and smoke all the time.
These stereotypes appear in Stephen Clarke’s books, such as “A year in the merde” and “Merde actually”. His novels describe in a humorous manner the integration into French society of his hero, Paul West. He focuses on the differences between the French and English cultures and on various aspects of life in France. Paul West comes to Paris with highly stereotyped opinions and once he gets there, tries to check if his clichés are true or completely made up.
To conclude, here are some funny sequences of “A year in the merde”, filled with French stereotypes:
· “This is a real Anglo-style meeting. Taking decisions.” Decisions? We can’t agree, so we decide to pay a consultant who’s going to be bribed into agreeing with the guy with the crappiest ideas. Didn’t seem very constructive to me”.
· “H.L.M.” She spelled it out in English. “It means habitation à loyer modéré or something like that. Low-cost apartments.” She giggled. “Although all the residents are lawyers, doctors etc. Or the sons and daughters and friends of politicians. Papa got me this apartment from a friend at the Hôtel de Ville”.
· “He explained that the waiter wanted to cash up now because, like all the other unionized waiters in Paris – that is, most of the blokes in black waistcoats, and they are, strangely enough, almost all male – he was going on strike as of now, “thirteen hours””.
· “At other tables, people were all taking part in the same deal but the waiter shouted at them or just ignored them”
Video about French stereotypes:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERD2TnMNH98 (English version)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCIAyHEFTrQ&feature=relmfu (French version)
More information about Stephen Clarke and his novels: