Saturday, May 05, 2007

ISYGF, Chapter 6: Freaky Fridays across the Channel

Okay, I'm going back and skimming over the last 100 pages, to remind myself of the keen observations I had meant to make about what goes on within them, because God forbid you miss one scintillating insight. And one thing that I keep stumbling over is the way Proust describes the French attitude toward the English. It's not contemptuous at all—or, rather, I think Proust may be contemptuous of their lack of contempt, but really, what, other than himself, is Proust not contemptuous of? (Trees, I guess. Trees and flowers. And asparagus. Boy really has a thing for asparagus.)

But back to the Brits. It's crazy. Whenever a character is getting super-pretentious, they start peppering their sentences with English words. They go to English tea rooms to show their exquisite taste. In other words, they use English language and culture the same way pretentious English-speaking fucks use French language and culture. This started in the first book, but I'm noticing it more and more in the second one, maybe because this one deals so much with the Swanns, who are the major perpetrators of this gauche move. (See? That's what they do, except with English. C'est drolle, mais non?)

At first, it was just an interesting sub-theme to me. But on page 77, things got seriously weird—like, Hunter S. levels of weird. Because he's talking about the stationery Gilberte uses to send him invites to tea, and he writes, “One of them was embossed with a blue poodle over a humorous English motto ending with an exclamation point.”

Dude. For real? Because I can understand the whole busting out the foreign phrases to show how refined you are, no matter what your own native tongue is, because pretentiousness is even more of an international language than love is. But associating the English with poodles? Are the French all high? Or is this really the way it is there? And if so, what other stereotypes take the trip through the looking glass? Do the French show off by mastering the intricacies of (ulp) English cooking? Do they eagerly flip through magazines to discover the latest in English fashions? Do Frenchwomen spend wistful hours in their boudoirs longing for the passionate embrace of an English lover? God, I hope not. Because, if that last is true, I may be forced to find myself doing something I never thought I'd have to do—namely, feeling sorry for the French. (Pow! England, you just got served! That'll teach you to tax us without representation.)

And in case you were wondering: No, no one on either side of the Channel tries to be cool by busting out their German.


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