Posted on November 18, 2016
The REAL France
One of my French friends told me about a sickness known as the Paris Syndrome. It typically becomes evident in foreigners who come to Paris with the idea that it will be like the stories they have read about France, the movies they have seen and the advertisements depicting French life. They come and find out what France in general and Paris in particular is really like, and they go into shock and depression. Some people have such a difficult time reconciling their idea of the country to what it really is, that they spend time in a hospital created for people suffering from the Paris Syndrome.
Before you get worried, NO, I am not suffering from the Paris Syndrome. I have visited France numerous times in the past and have gotten used to the idea that what we are brainwashed to believe is the real France isn’t really the real France. I take that back, I haven’t completely gotten used to the idea. Honestly, I am still trying to understand how got it wrong. I had to write this post to shed a little light on what is really going on!
When I came to France the first time,over ten years ago, I really knew nothing about the country. I was like most Americans. I didn’t know much outside of my own country. I knew a little about the Revolution, French bread, the Eiffel Tower (and Statue of Liberty), a little about fashion and not much else. When I came to France, a true love for all things French blossomed spontaneously and unexpectedly in my heart. It wasn’t anything that I read or that I heard from someone. I was on a vacation visiting both the UK and France. I expected to fall in love with the UK since I knew more about that country from exposure to Dickens and the BBC.
After I moved away from France, I kept in contact with the friends I made here so that my language skills would continue to improve. However, they were as interested in all things American as I was in all things French, so I could not fill my desire for knowledge about the wonders of France and the French. I began to read all of the books and movies I could find about France. I would watch travel documentaries, read books by expats and people who spent a year in France, watch American movies of people living in France or French movies that seemed easy to understand. I began to love the idea that was portrayed. It seemed so beautiful…even as I thought to myself, it’s not really like that everywhere.
Recently, I read a couple of cookbooks written by popular bloggers who have been living in France for a while. I like the pictures on their blogs, I like their recipes, but I didn’t really like the commentary in their cookbooks. They are selling the same image as everyone else, and they have been in France long enough to know that it isn’t really like that. Well, maybe a little of what they said was true, but if it was all true, there would not be the phrase or song “Metro-Boulot-Dodo” or train-work-sleep. I was so irritated with these ladies and a few of the other books I read recently written by people who have lived in France and I couldn’t understand why until the recently.
What is going on? I was speaking with a French teacher at dinner a few weeks ago. She said how she liked American crime TV series. I asked her why? Many of the French people with whom I speak like those TV shows and I would never waste my time watching them. She said because she felt like it gave her an idea of what the legal system and America was like. I told her it wasn’t like that, not really. My American life never had anything to do with those shows. It did not resemble most shows in the least bit. “But it sells,” she said. That is when I got it, the image we have been reading about, watching on TV and in the movies is the image of France that sells.
Most people who come to France for a year, write a book and go home get to live the tourist lifestyle for an extended period of time. People who blog about their life in France or write travel books can’t tell everything they see because maybe they too are only looking where other tourist have looked. In addition to that, they probably would not get a publisher to print their work. We want Paris to be the most romantic place because that is what we have been told it is. We want France and the French to stay something special…and it is. It is also a lot like the place where you are living now. I promise. I know because I am living with French people in their French homes, going to the French grocery stores and watching French television. I am not a tourist, except when I choose to be.
No, France is not filled with skinny women walking around with a dog on a leash and a Louis Vuitton bag on their arms. France is not a place where the men are always waiting to sweep you off your feet and whisper sweet nothings in your ear. French pastries and restaurants are not always amazing and will not always be the best meal of your life. And the people certainly do not wear berets all of the time. It is just an image that sells really well.
If you don’t want your idea of France to be shaken, I am giving you a warning. You may not want to read the blog for the next few weeks. I have some things to tell you that you might not believe! But it is all true. After all, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Have you ever heard about a place and then visited and found that it didn’t match the picture that was painted? It could have been better or worse. If you know what I am talking about, I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!