Repeat after me: The French don't have it all figured out.
Some Americans seem to think the French have it all figured out.
Peruse your favorite bookstores or Parisian-based Instagram accounts to find proof. Francophile hype would have you believe that every French woman is a Chanel-wearing, poodle-walking, ex-supermodel who has never worn anything larger than a size 2. She is fabulously married, and her children are beautiful, well-dressed, angelic poet philosophers who never throw their food, much less tantrums. In fact, all of her family and friends are so much healthier, not to mention happier, than their American counterparts, despite the fact that they smoke, drink, eat kilos worth of butter (mostly in croissant form), and are all cheating on each other.
Let’s be honest here, the French themselves are responsible for some of this myth-making. Surely one of the higher-brow stereotypes we now associate with our Gaulois cousins is their love to lecture others on better living. (Not so fast there, America! We can’t pretend we haven’t been guilty of the same.) But oftentimes, French legend-spinning is met with little opposition. People all around the world are eager to gobble up all the glamorous story-telling being spun around life in France - look at the global success of Netflix’s Emily in Paris for proof. The French perhaps started the rumor that they were a step above the rest, but we have allowed ourselves, inspired by the fashion, the sophistication, and the beauty, to perpetuate the hype.
And that’s okay, but only in part. Chances are, if you’re here, it’s because you have at one point admired the French and bought into some version of the dream or another. You’ve taken French-language courses hoping to impress friends or potential dates with your ability to discuss art and cinema en profondeur. You’ve tried your hand at French recipes or developed a keen interest in Burgundy wines, believing them to be the best. You’ve read articles and books on French philosophy and education and discovered ideas that outshone your own. Broadening your own personal horizons by making space for a language and culture that is different from your own can only be a good thing, right?
Here at The French Collection, we say oui, but with a caveat. When it comes to food, wine, literature, film, fashion, education, history, geography...there’s simply a bounty of French resources to draw inspiration from. But in 2020, we as a society have had the opportunity to debunk so many cultural myths that have for too long created a sense of inequality. We’ve been able to tear down rhetoric that would have some believe that traditions originating from a Western European country like France are superior. Let’s keep that myth-busting going right here and now. Ready?
Take a deep breath and repeat after me: The French don’t have it all figured out. French people actually can get fat. French children can (and do) misbehave. Not everyone looks or dresses like supermodels. And guess what? Smoking, drinking, and eating in excess is bad for them, just like it’s bad for you.
Traduction? People are people. If you take an interest in French culture, it’s important for us at The French Collective to emphasize that, a) “French” is not just one homogenous culture but, believe it or not, a melting pot of customs coming from both France and other French-speaking countries. And b) it’s different, not better. As much as we might look to the French-speaking world for inspiration, let’s never forget that they are looking right back at us, hoping to discover something new.
At the heart of The French Collective is the desire to share. Not just to educate. Certainly not to lecture. In calling ourselves a Collective, we want to emphasize an exchange of ideas and words...and yes, delicious food, wine, classic films, beautiful pieces of art, philosophical debates, and fashion tips. We feel that the term savoir vivre - knowing how to live well - is best left en français because it encapsulates turning everyday customs into an art form. But those with the greatest sense of savoir vivre are the ones open to new ideas, new flavors, and new experiences.
So be prepared to come to our table and learn more - but leave preconceived ideas of what is “right” or “wrong” behind. And be ready to add your own knowledge and sense of good living to the mix.