The Accidental Francophile

30 April 2013

It started innocently enough. A quick browse; a form of pre-work procrastination, which had become part of a mundane routine honed over the summer. Where five minutes before my intensely laborious shift of selling t-shirts, I’d find myself picking through the sloppily-stocked shelves of a certain chain stationary store (begins with “T”). I’d use any excuse to utilise my employee discount–a self-destructive habit of recycling wages back into the retail system. Feeding this consumerist pathos, I found myself at the counter with a generic French art exhibition poster in hand, which was irresistibly beguiling in its unintelligible foreignness.

Then it hit me–a sharp sweet slap of irony. I had suddenly fallen prey to a common cultural condition, which haunts the most unassuming and ­­naïve of enthusiasts: the accidental Francophile. With Satre’s The Age of Reason buried at the bottom of my bag, and a disheveled mass-produced print of Robert Doisneua’s ‘Kiss By Hôtel de Ville’ waiting at home on my bedroom wall, I couldn’t deny it.

Self-loathing washed over my ‘inauthentic being’ like a bad Bordeaux. Really, moi? Out of all the idealist clichés to fall for without conscious reckoning. Even German phenomenology would have made for a less pretentious philosophical pastime than French existentialism.

I didn’t even have any substantial justification for such a localised cultural fetish. My shakily assembled childhood memories of France merely consisted of an explosion of flour from a busted balloon doll sold by a Parisian street swindler, and my cousin’s soiled pink pants being aired out the side of our rental car in the Disneyland car park after a bout of motion-sickness en route.

But that’s the crux of the phenomenon. It’s the notion not the reality that you fall for. The appeal of a cold post-Revolution rationality fostered by black espresso and scathing intellectualism. Or a dash of paradoxical romanticism found within the historically bloated streets of Paris, which saw the fin-de-siècle and Roaring Twenties pass through like potent absinthe.

Plus, I don’t think my recent (albeit belated) discovery of the gorgeous Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise & Before Sunset series has helped matters either.

But how does one bounce back from contracting such as affliction? How does an accidental Francophile recover? Apart from recognising the absurd cultural reduction, which is apparent in becoming any sort of ‘phile’ (especially when juxtaposed with its blatant marketability), I’d recommend a does of Tarintino’s Django Unchained. If Leonardo di Caprio’s Monsieur Candie doesn’t serve as a deterrent to us unfortunate victims than nothing will.


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