Culture Corner: France

Fat Americans take on the Stylish, Overfed, Snooty French

By Erica Sanderson

Welcome one and all to the first Culture Corner! This column is devoted to breaking the sheltered American bubble in which most students live. For each column I will ask students their perceptions about a particular international culture, then relay the three most popular answers and prove if they are true or false.

Today, we look at France. Of course the stereotypical images of berets, Napoleon, the Eiffel Tower, and escargot immediately come to mind, but fortunately, Syracuse University students aren’t that uneducated. Several students said they visited France, but only went to Paris, which is the same as coming to the US and only visiting New York City. So, what are the top three things SU students associate with French culture?

Great Fashion True. Chanel, Dior, Hermes, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin, and Jean-Paul Gaultier all have one thing in common other than their famous fashion lines: they’re French. An abundance of the world’s most famous designers hail from France. Paris is also known as the fashion capital of the world, so that doesn’t hurt. After all, the French invented “haute couture,” French for “high fashion.” Stuck up actresses on the red carpet, who repeatedly emphasize on E! News that their dresses are “one of a kind” are wearing haute couture. We get it Hollywood; us “commoners” could never even lay eyes on the fabric, let alone own something defined as "haute couture."

French women are seen as gods in the eyes of trendsetters; thin, graceful angels without the Victoria Secret wings. There are dozens of Web sites dedicated to getting the French look, but you would first have to lose about 40 pounds and earn $40,000. Still, I’m betting you’ll still look like a dumb American, but with a beret. The last thing we need is more pretentious-beret-wearing-student trying to look all artsy fartsy when they haven't ever been to France and couldn’t spot the difference between a Van Gogh and Picasso if the Louvre landed on them.

Good Food True. Cheese, wine, and bread were the main foods students identified as French, and all are staples of the French diet.

The French put an emphasis on savoring food, instead of shoving down a Big Mac with one hand whilst applying mascara in between red lights. Meals will offer several courses, continue for hours, and are seen as major social events. Dinner is the event of the day, and our casual dining hall sweat pant ensemble would be a no-go over there; men wear suits and women wear dresses to dine in France. The course list is staggering: an appetizer (apertif), entree, cheese dish, salad, main course (plat principal), dessert, fruit, coffee and after-dinner drinks are all in order for a full meal. And just think: Americans are the obese ones.

The French palette is unique, to put it mildly. Here are some classic French dishes to try, if you can stomach it:

Civet de lièvre: A hare is chopped up, marinated in brandy, red wine and olive oil then cooked in a sauce made from bacon, herbs and garlic. Wondering what that extra flavor is? It’s the hare’s blood mixed in. Ris de veau braise: Thymus glands of veal, lamb, and pork cooked in butter. Maybe it will give you extra immunity against ze swine flue? Foie gras: This is one of the most famous dishes in France. The dish is made of goose or duck liver. When served hot, the liver is made with truffles, wrapped in bacon and then wrapped again with the pig’s caul, the fatty membrane of the animal’s intestine. Just keep telling yourself you’re not on Fear Factor if you eat it.

These recipes and more can be found at

Rude people True and false. This one is tricky to tackle. The French can seem rude if you don’t understand their perspective.

There are enough Paris horror stories out there to scare you away from ever visiting France. Leonora Epstein, who is writing a blog for The Frisky about her "365 Days in Paris,” recounts how a salesman refused to speak English to her even after she begged, and when she finally gave up on the situation, he smiled and asked in English where she was from and what music she liked. Guessing that “the customer is always right” doesn’t apply.

The bottom line: the French believe it’s rude if you come to their country and don’t at least attempt to speak their language. So the next time you get mad at a Spanish-speaking woman or the waiter at a Chinese restaurant, imagine yourself as the fat American version of a snooty Frenchman.

Stephanie Bennett, a junior at SU, lived in France for a month and spent much of her time in Grenoble, a city in the south of France, and Paris.

“A lot of people see the French as a stuck-up culture…I don’t see that as a very accurate depiction,” Bennett said. Bennett explained that outside of Paris, people tried to speak English with her and were tolerant of the fact she was a tourist.

Paris is NOT France as a whole so don’t base your perception of an entire culture on a bad encounter with a huffy Parisian.