Showing posts with label France. Show all posts
Showing posts with label France. Show all posts

Flashback Friday — Plus Ça Change

July 7, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

 A new cohort of French 18-year olds took the baccalauréat last month, but the names at the top and bottom of the distribution are pretty much the same as last year.

In France, kids’ names are a pretty good indicator of how well they’ll do on le bac – the test that determines how good a university they can attend. As I blogged a year ago:

A little data ’bout Jacques and Diane
Two French kids taking the college entrance exam.
Over in France it’s known as
le bac
Diane often gets
très bien, not so much Jacques.

The baccalauréat exam taken by French students at the end of high school serves as qualification for university admissions and scholarships and for certain jobs. Those who pass at the highest level get très bien. The other levels are bièn, assez bièn, pass, and not pass. For some reason, the government publishes the results for each prénom. This year, 89 students named Jacques took the exam. Of these, 75 passed, but only 11 of them at the très bien level.


That was then. It’s also now. One of sociology’s crucial insights is that rates are remarkably stable even though the individuals who make up those rates change from year to year. The Dianes who took the bac in 2017 are not the Dianes who took it the year before, but their rate of très bien was again over 20%.  And as ever, the kids with Anglo names – Kevin, Jordan, Dylan, Anthony, Samantha, Melissa, Cindy, et al. – cluster at the low end. Less than one in twenty managed a très bien.

Baptiste Coulmont (here) created this graph of the 2017 results.

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)


As in previous years, the highest scoring names are female. Of the fourteen names with more than 20% among the très bien, Joseph is the only male.

The chart shows only the more popular names. For more on some of the rarer names – Guillemette, Quitterie, and others – see last year’s post (here).

UPDATE: July 9. M. Coulmont now has an interactive chart (here) with data for the years since 2012. 

Jacques and Diane

July 8, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

A little data ’bout Jacques and Diane
Two French kids taking the college entrance exam.
Over in France it’s known as
le bac
Diane often gets
très bien, not so much Jacques.


The baccalauréat exam taken by French students at the end of high school serves as qualification for university admissions and scholarships and for certain jobs. Those who pass at the highest level get très bien. The other levels are bièn, assez bièn, pass, and not pass. For some reason, the government publishes the results for each prénom. This year, 89 students named Jacques took the exam.  Of these, 75 passed, but only 11 of them at the très bien level.

Here are the results for the names with the highest percent of très bien. (Only names with 100 or more are included. Sixty-seven percent of those named Pavel, Louis-Raphael, and Hans got très bien, but there were only three of each.)

(Click on an image for a slightly larger view.)

And here are the names with the lowest proportion of très biens. 

All the high-scoring names are female. At the bottom, the gender distribution is more even. What you can’t see from this is that these results are remarkably similar to those of previous years. French sociologist Baptiste Coulmont has posted interactive name-cloud graphs for the data each year (here) – no doubt the graph for this year will be up soon. Below is a non-interactive screenshot of the 2015 results. The x-axis is the percent of très biens, the y-axis the number of students with each name (names with fewer than 200 candidats were excluded). You can find Diane and many of her high-scoring peers from 2016 on the right; Bryan, Tiffany, and the other slower students are on the left.

(For a slightly larger view, click on the image. Better yet, go to Coulmont's Website)

The year-to-year consistency is striking. In 2016, Diane was fourth highest in percent of très biens. Last year, she was #2, and in the years before that, #13, #2, and #9. Alice, Josephine, and Clotilde, were also in the top ten last year. At the other end, Jordan, Dylan, Bryan, Anissa, Anthony, and Steven all scored in the lowest ranks this year and last. And to state the obvious,  the 584 (of 601) Dylans who scored below très bien this year cannot be the same Dylans as the 956 (of 982) who did so last year.

Social class has much to do with it. The children of the wealthy get educational advantages. They also get different names. Coulmont identifies some upscale names too infrequent to appear in his graphs but which typically  have high rates of très bien – Guillemette, Quitterie, Anne-Claire, Sibylle, Marguerite, Domitille. I confess that I am not familiar with the class subtleties of French names. I didn’t even know that Quitterie and Domitille were, in fact, names. And then there were those names familiar to my American ear –Kevin, Cindy, Sandra, Alison, Kelly, in addition to those already mentioned. Why are all the Anglo-name kids sitting in the low end of the scale?

One explanation is that these names are chosen by parents who watch American soap operas on French TV, parents not likely to be found in Bottin Mondain (roughly parallel to the Social Register). Possibly. But that doesn’t explain Kevin, a name that has not appeared on any soap. Maybe Anglo names just have a middlebrow appeal in the same way that French imports like Michelle and Nicole came to enjoy great popularity in the US.

If only we had a breakdown by name of SAT scores, would it show any consistent patterns?.

Pleasure - Danger or Distinction?

July 7, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

This 1960s poster (“L’Art de Boire” by Martin) in a neighborhood French restaurant reminded me again of the different ways of thinking about pleasure. 

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

In puritanical cultures, pleasure is a temptation to be resisted. In both the religious version, where pleasure leads to sin, and the secular version, pleasure is dangerous because it means excess and a loss of control. What is sin, after all, but too much of a good thing? The puritan approach to pleasure assumes that even one taste can crack the rigid structure of control.  If you don’t have total control, you have total lack of control. 

The hard-boiled detective story provides a classic example.  Any sex in these stories is always dangerous, usually with temptress trying to seduce the private eye away from his pursuit of justice, or worse, luring him into the hands of the bad guys, who beat him up, threaten him, or try to kill him.  Alcohol too sabotages the hero’s self-control, and he often winds up drinking too much since he’s drinking for all the wrong reasons. 

American comedies, too, may revolve around a similar theme of pleasure as an occasion for guilt and repentance (my earlier post on guilty pleasures in Judd Apatow films is here).  These films are not too far from the lite beer commercials, where pretty girls and alcohol, like the temptations of Circe, turn men into oafish creatures of swine-like mentality.*  The main difference from the noir take on this is that the audience is supposed to view this loss of control with good-natured affection.

The French, as illustrated in the poster, have a different message about pleasure. It is to be sought, not avoided. But it is not something you get just by letting your guard down or jettisoning your inhibitions. You must learn pleasure. You don’t just drink. You mindfully follow a sequence of steps – sniff the cork, note the color, inhale the aroma, taste the wine – each designed to maximize pleasure from the senses. Drinking is not an abandonment to desire, it is an art. The goal is not satiation but, as the last frame of the poster says, appreciation.

Of course, that idea of pleasure goes against the egalitarian American grain, for it implies that some pleasures are of a higher order than others, requiring greater sophistication, discernment, and distinction. 

The 1987 movie “Babette’s Feast,” set in a Danish coastal town in the 1870s,  is entirely about the contrast of these two views of pleasure. Babette, fleeing the bloody aftermath of the Paris Commune, arrives in town and finds work as a housekeeper for two elderly sisters who are members of an austere Christian sect.


The dinner of the title is the film’s climax – a sensuous multi-course meal of the finest French dishes and wines that Babette prepares for the dour sisters and others.


Hesitantly and with suspicion, they eat and drink and finally come to experience what they had been so leery of and had deliberately lived without. Nor, as the sherry and champagne and burgundy and brandy are drunk, do they fall into drunkenness or debauchery, just pleasure. 

The entire film is available on YouTube.  It’s worth watching.

---------------
* In a TV show of some years ago, perhaps on “My So-Called Life,” a high school class is discussing the Circe episode in The Odyssey.  “Turning men into pigs,” says one girl dismissively, “Some magic.”

Madeline in the US?

March 19, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston
Reposted (with more graphs but no Madeline) at Sociological Images

Readers of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans may remember the title character’s emergency appendectomy.  It is, after all, the central plot point.  Madeline is whisked away to a hospital, where she later shows her scar to her housemates. 


Ludwig Bemelmans came to the US at age 16 and became a citizen four years later.  He lived in New York.  Yet he set this tale in France. 
And soon after Dr. Cohn
came, he rushed out to the phone,
and he dialed: DANton-ten-six -
"Nurse,” he said, “it’s an appendix!”
Everybody had to cry -
not a single eye was dry.
In a US version of the story, the tears might be caused when the bill comes.*

The Washington Post (here) has provided some data on medical costs showing why there might never be a US version of Madeline. The tab for an appendectomy here runs to $13,000, four times what it costs in France.

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)

No wonder the US spends twice as much as France on health care.  In 2009, the US average was $8000 per person; in France, $4000.  (Canada came in at $4800).  Why do we spend so much?  Ezra Klein (here) quotes the title of a 2003 paper by four health-care economists:  “it’s the prices, stupid.”

And why are US prices higher?  Prices in the other OECD countries are lower partly because of what US conservatives would call socialism – the active participation of the government.  In the UK and Canada, the government sets prices.  In other countries, the government uses its Wal-mart-like power as a huge buyer to negotiate lower prices from providers.  (If it’s a good thing for Wal-Mart to bring lower prices for people who need to buy clothes, why is it a bad thing for the government to bring lower prices to people who need to buy, say, an appendectomy? I could never figure that out.)

There may also be cultural differences between the US and other wealthy countries, differences about whether greed, for lack of a better word, is good.  Is it an unlimited good?  Are there realms, medicine perhaps, where it is not good?  Klein quotes a man who served in the Thatcher government:
Health is a business in the United States in quite a different way than it is elsewhere.  It’s very much something people make money out of. There isn’t too much embarrassment about that compared to Europe and elsewhere.
So we Americans roll along, paying several times what others pay for medical procedures, doctor visits, and drugs.**

Ludwig Bemelmans died a half-century ago, but Madeline lives on.  If publishers are considering an American version – like what Hollywood did in “The Birdcage,”  “Dinner for Schmucks,” and other Americanized remakes of French movies – I’ve finished the first draft of my manuscript (rough and in need of editing, I admit).  Here’s the ending.
And all the little girls cried, “Boohoo,
we want to have our appendix out, too!
We want a real scar
Not just some tattoo.”

“Good night, little girls!
Let this fantasy drop.
Appendectomies here
Cost thirteen g’s a pop.

“And that’s not including
The hospital stay –
The US average:
Sixteen big ones a day,

“And that pretty penny
For hospital care is
Four times as much
As the price back in Paris.

So please go to sleep!
Let’s have no more drama. There
Might be improvement ahead
With Obamacare.

-------------------------------------------
*  See Steven Brill on the bitter pill of the medical bill - here.)

** The most viewed SocioBlog post ever was this one from 2009.  It consisted mostly of four graphs on health care costs.  It got Boinged because of one line: “Our Lipitor must be four to ten times a good as the Lipitor that Canadians take.”

Les Banlieues - Lost in Transition

March 3, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

The French translation of suburb is banlieue.  But in connotation, the words are near opposites.  In the US, the word suburbia suggests green lawns, peace and prosperity, happy children at play,a retreat separated from the problems and stress of cities.  Ironic titles like “Suburgatory” and “Disturbia” work because they suggest that behind this ideal picture, not all is well.  That irony would be impossible in France.  The French term banlieue calls up an entirely different image, one something like our “inner city” only bleaker – a place of crime, violence, gangs, unemployment, riots, and people with darker skins.
                                           
In the Hausmann-Napoleon III makeover of Paris in the 1870s, les misérables were pushed to the outskirts of the city and beyond.  Nearly a century later, that was where the post-War government built the high rise HLMs (roughly, “the projects”), primarily for the influx of laborers from North Africa.  

(Click on a picture for a larger view.)
A half-century, the fruits of that misguided urban planning appear in “Banlieue 93,” Arnau Bach’s photo exhibition.  The 93 is the postal/département designation of an area at the eastern edge of Paris. Charles DeGaulle airport lies at the outer edge of the 93 in Roissy. Closer to Paris are places like Bobigny, where Bach took most of his photos.



The entire collection of thirty-six photos with captions is at the photojournalism site Pictures of the Year, where it was awarded first prize.

The London Games

July 17, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Olympics begin in London in less than a fortnight.  Just across the channel, Eurostar, the Paris-London rail link, has an ad campaign encouraging Parisians to make the trip to see how the British do the classical Greek games.  These posters have been springing up around Paris.




(Click on the image for a larger view.)


I’m sure there’s cultural lesson here, aside from the obvious one about levels of prudery – something about cultural differences going back to the Hundred Years War.  There’s no written copy on the posters, but the unwritten copy is all about cultural superiority.  “We French are the keepers of the classical culture of ancient Greece.  Measured against those standards and forms, you Brits look foolish with their silly games and corpulent bodies.”  Or to paraphrase the French soldier in the film says, “I fart in your general direction, but I’m going to take the Eurostar to do so."

Or maybe it’s just about darts and snooker on the one side and babyfoot (i.e, foosball)  on the other.

HT: Rue Rude

Paris - New York (bis)

January 26, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

“How do you say hipster in French?” I asked yesterday. Now I know.


Much thanks to le formidable Baptiste Coulmont (my main man / my name man), who steered me to the source, graphics designer Vahram Muratyan.  Here is the counterpart to yesterday’s map – French quartiers mapped onto New York geography.


Both are from Muratyan’s book Paris Versus New York – a Tally of Two Cities (more info and posters here).  You can also get several of these graphics as posters.  Like this


An exhibit will be opening soon (Feb. 2) at the Shop at the Standard in Greenwich Village (St. Germain-des-Pres).

Urban Ecology, Paris-New York edition


January 25, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

It was the sociologists in Chicago, not Paris or New York,  who gave us the notion of “natural areas” in cities.  Park and Burgess had a general model of ecological zones  – the concentric circles radiating from the city center.  Within these circles there might be more specialized niches – cultural enclaves whose distribution isn’t quite so predictable or consistent. 

Here are the niches of New York mapped onto the map of Paris.  The idea of the map is to point out the cultural similarities – Greenwich Village is like St. Germain, Williamsburg is like Buttes Chaumont (how do you say hipster in French?).


Geographically, there are some big differences.  In the cultural geography of Paris, Morningside Heights is far from Columbia University, and Astoria is next to Dumbo.  Not on the real NYC map. 

But it’s interesting how often adjoining areas in the real NYC are still close together when mapped culturally onto Paris.

(This jpeg is the version I copied (thanks to a tip from the the redoubtable Polly-Vous Français) from the FB page of Richard Thierry, where it has gotten a ton of comments.  My apologies for the small print that becomes illegible when you enlarge the image.  I couldn’t find a better version.)

UPDATE:  For more on this map, see the next day's post (here)

You’re the Boss?

October 26, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Why do people work?  More specifically, why do some people work more and others less?

N. Gregory Mankiw has an idea, which he shared with us in Sunday’s New York Times.
Here are two facts about the French economy. First, gross domestic product per capita in France is 29 percent less than it is in the United States, in large part because the French work many fewer hours over their lifetimes than Americans do. Second, the French are taxed more than Americans. In 2009, taxes were 24 percent of G.D.P. in the United States but 42 percent in France.

Economists debate whether higher taxation in France and other European nations is the cause of the reduced work effort and incomes there. Perhaps it is something else entirely — a certain joie de vivre that escapes the nose-to-the-grindstone American culture.

The French spend about 15% less time, on average, in paid work each day (251 minutes to our 289).  (OECD summary and spreadsheet here).  Over a lifetime, as Mankiw says, those 38 minutes a day add up to many fewer hours over the course of a lifetime. (I’m not sure why lifetime hours is the appropriate measure when GDP is computed as an annual figure.  Whatever.)

Mankiw is an economist, a very successful economist – best-selling textbook, head of Bush II’s Council of Economic Advisers, currently Mitt Romney’s chief economic adviser.  So he takes the economist’s view of motivation: how much people work depends on how much money they can make.  (Mankiw throws in that bit about culture, but I doubt he puts much stock in it and that what he thinks work is really all about is making money and keeping it, i.e., income and taxes.) 

Mankiw seems to assume that the decision of how much to work rests entirely with the worker.  That’s certainly true for Mankiw himself (see my earlier post on Mankiw’s work decisions here ).  But many of us workers don’t have that kind of autonomy.  So to get another view of sources of input into this decision of how much to work, I turned to the economic observations of Eddie Cochran:
Every time I call my baby, and try to get a date
My boss says, “No dice son, you gotta work late.”
Yes Gregory, there are bosses.  Even in our American “nose-to-the-grindstone” culture, people say, “I have to work late tonight.”  Have you ever heard anyone say, “I’m going to work late tonight because I want to make more money – especially now that my income tax has been reduced by two percentage points”?  No doubt, there are people like that.  But most of the hours in the French and US data are accounted for by people whose hours are determined by external forces.* 

That French employee doesn’t just decide all by himself, “I think I’ll spend an extra hour at lunch today and give up an hour’s wage.”  How much we work is economic and maybe a little cultural.  It’s also a matter of politics.  There are contracts and laws that are the outcome of organized efforts – by unions and political parties – to limit how much employers can demand of employees.   Those laws that affect how much people work may be shaped by culture – shared ideas about work and life.  It’s less clear that they are shaped by taxes.

------------------------
* In the last two years, many people in the US are working shorter hours than they were before 2008.  Some have reduced their work hours to zero.  I doubt that this reduction  reflects an increased joie de vivre.

It seems incredible to me that a guy as smart as Mankiw can ignore those external constraints on people, assuming instead that workers make these decisions as free and independent individuals, unfettered by institutions, calculating their individual benefits and costs.  But now I’m reminded of Fabio Rojas’s post of nearly five years ago, “What Economists Should Learn From Sociology.”  Number two on Fabio’s list was “Social networks/social structure matters. Simple idea but few economists sit around and model the effects of social structure.”

Names -- Traditional or Trendy

April 4, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

I suspect the recent upsurge in Old Testament names for boys expresses not so much a religious sentiment as it does a desire to be different but not too different. This trend towards trendiness and away from tradition isn’t just an American thing. It’s also true in France, where parents have had a free choice of names for less than 20 years. Before that, there was a government-approved list parents had to choose from.

The government still offers new arrivals some advice on names. Bapiste Coulmont links to a list of “French” names the government recommends to immigrants who want to become French – a process called “francisation.”* The list has about 400 names that are “French or currently used in France.”

But the French themselves don’t seem to have much use for that list. When I checked the most popular names that actual French parents were giving their newborns (the most recent year I could get was 2006), for both boys and girls, three of the top ten names were not on the list of “French” names.

Enzo (1) Ines (7)
Nathan (4) Jade (9)
Tom (8) Lola (10)

From what I understand, other unlisted names – Margaux, Apolline, and Victoria – have since climbed into France’s top ten.

Japan too. Several decades ago, when I was in Japan, nearly all girls’ names ended in either ko (), a few in mi () or e (). Now none of the popular girls’ names have these endings.

The trend isn’t universal. In Italy, all the top names are traditionally Italian.** Joseph and Mary (Giuseppe and Maria) top the list.

* The counterpart of Americanization. When the movie “The Americanization of Emily” was released in 1964, that name wasn’t even in the top 250, but the title was prescient. Thirty-two years later, Emily had climbed to #1, and she held that spot for over a decade.

** Italy has no list of approved names. But the law does allow a civil official to “advise and dissuade overly-creative parents” who propose names that are “ridiculous, shameful, or embarrassing.” (A newspaper article on this is here.) In the US, you can name your daughter Brooklyn no questions asked. But in Italy, tying to name your kid Testaccio might not go so smoothly.

On the Money

October 26, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the previous post, I suggested that Americans were much more likely to name streets after military heroes than after luminaries in other fields as the French do.* As Denis Colombi noted in his comment on that post, the French don’t ignore their military victories. But in looking for people to name things after, they cast a wider net.

Whose praises do we sing? Follow the money. If you’re an American, you know the greenback line-up: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, Franklin.

How surprising to go to France and see a bill like this – something you would never have seen in the US. (You won’t see it in France any more either, now that the Euro reigns.)


An artist (Delacroix) and bare breasts.

Or this:


A female scientist, Marie Curie, and her husband Pierre.

Or this.



Voltaire, a writer remembered chiefly as a satirist. Why not a Mark Twain bill for the US?

Who else filled the bill? Eiffel, Cézanne, Saint-Exupéry, Hugo, Molière, Racine, Voltaire, Debussy . . . .


* We do sometimes confer these naming honors on artists. I myself attended a primary school named after the great composer Stephen Foster.

Prisons Then and Now – Plus Ça Change

le 14 juillet 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Bastille was a prison, and I assume that like most European prisons of the time, it was a miserable place. De Tocqueville’s ostensible purpose in visiting America a generation or so after the fall of the Bastille was to study our progressive prison system.


Some things change, some stay the same. The Bastille was torn down during the Revolution. Now the only prison still standing within the official Paris boundaries is the Prison de la Santé, built in 1867, and it was not much of an improvement.


On Bastille Day in 1944 an inmate uprising was brutally suppressed by the Vichy regime. Recently, a blogger at Invisible Paris, Adam, referred to its squalor as “Zola-esque” (that’s French for Dickensian). He saw it only from the outside, but an American reader who had visited her brother* there then wrote to Adam providing more detail.
Veronique Vasseur, the prison physician, told me that the cells were full of rats and lice. Suicide is rampant, and depression lurks in every crowded cell.
That was in 1994. A few years later, Dr. Vasseur published an exposé of conditions in the prison. According to the story in the Times,
Skin diseases were rampant because showers were only available twice a week, though temperatures sometimes soared to more than 100 degrees in cramped cells holding four prisoners each.

Inmates stuffed their clothes in the cracks in their cells to keep the rats out, and most of the mattresses were full of lice and other insects. Some of the weaker prisoners, Dr. Vasseur came to understand, had been turned into slaves by their cellmates.

But what caught Adam’s attention in the letter from the woman who had visited the prison was this paragraph:
There were many international prisoners there awaiting extradition to their countries. Remarkably they all felt that extradition to the US would be the least desirable outcome, and they were correct. La Sante is unsanitary, and frightful looking - terribly crowded and unhealthy, but somehow civil.
Some things stay the same – French prisons perhaps. Some things change – in 1830, America was the country whose prison system a young idealistic Frenchman might hope to learn from. Today, our prisons have such a bad reputation that even prisoners in a disease-ridden, rat-infested French prison want to avoid extradition here.

No 21st-century de Tocqueville will be coming to the US to pick up pointers about prison reform.

* According to the Website supporting him, the brother, John Knock, was caught in a marijuana sting. He was extradited to the US. He pled not guilty. He was convicted, and sentenced to “2 life terms for conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana, and 20 years for conspiracy to money launder.” He was a first-time offender.

Trick or Treat

October 31, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Lisa over at Sociological Images has been giving a lot of thought to her Halloween costume. And everyone else’s. One of the themes she notes is the ethnic caricature: Asian, Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, etc. There’s a “Rapsta” child’s outfit. And costume companies even have outfits for dogs.

(Click on the image to see a larger version.)
(Note that the above costume is in the “Religious Gifts” section of the Website.)
The other theme is Sexy, especially in female costumes. I was going to say “women’s costumes,” but as Lisa and many other commentators have pointed out, even the costumes for girls are often sexualized – fishnet stockings and the like.

During the recent (and future) flap over Roman Polanski, there was some talk of the idea that while American attitudes condemned categorically sex with younger teenagers, Europeans were less absolute, more tolerant. I don’t know whether that assessment of sexual mores is accurate, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by looking at the Halloween costumes on sale here in the US. Not only are costumes for girls sexualized, but as Lisa notes, the costumes for adult females include sexualized versions of young girls. The sexy schoolgirl is probably the classic example, though this year she is joined by her classmate from Hogwarts.

But you can also now find Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Alice (from Wonderland), Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, a generic Girl Scout, and probably others.

I wondered if a French costume site would have similar costumes. Admittedly, this is not thorough research, but everything listed under enfant>fille was Disney-pure. Perhaps the French draw the line between enfant and adulte at a lower age. But in the costumes for women, I didn’t find the variety of sexualized pre-teens that Lisa found at the US site. One Little Red Riding Hood, one Gretel, and one schoolgirl, as opposed to the dozens of variations at the US site.

The French site did have several different nun costumes. This fits with the strategy of sexualizing a status that in reality is usually unsexy: soldier, police officer, nurse, pirate, witch, angel, etc. Or even sponge.
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Note the price of the Bob l’Éponge Sexy costume, more than twice the nun. Must be the licensing fees. (The Olive Oyl costume – not shown, and not sexy – goes for 79€.)

Happy Halloween

Philosophy — Child's Play*

September 24, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston
I think that in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States.
So wrote deTocqueville 175 years ago. Perhaps the converse is also true – that in no country is more attention paid to philosophy than in France. (Or is that the obverse? the transverse? the freeverse? I’d know if I’d ever taken a course in philosophy or logic, which, like a good American, I haven’t.)

I cited this French penchant for philosophy in a post a couple of years ago, where I also quoted Adam Gopnik’s speculation that French magazines might have “theory checkers” – he might just as well have said “philosophy checkers” or “logic checkers” – the way American publications have fact-checkers. “Just someone to make sure that all your premises agreed with your conclusions, that there aren’t any obvious errors of logic in your argument, that all your allusions flow together in a coherent stream—that kind of thing.”

It seems that in France, kids are weaned on philosophy. It’s as though they go straight from breast milk to Descartes (and St. Emilion). Here’s a photo taken by the wonderful water colorist Carol Gillott and posted on her Paris Breakfasts blog.



It’s from a display at the Paris Salon de Livre. The books, by Oscar Brenifier, are philosophy for kids. Savoir, C’est Quoi? Le Beau et l’Art, C’est Quoi? Moi, C’est Quoi? And so on.

The cover of Savoir, C'est Quoi promises “Six questions for juggling with ideas and looking behind appearances.” Questions like, “How do you know the universe exists?” and “Is it important to think [réfléchir]?”

In France, it seems, it’s important for kids to be exposed to ways of thinking like a grown-up, thinking seriously. In the US, we remain suspicious of philosophy, the love of thinking for its own sake.**


* The title is a variant on a cookbook for kids by Michel Oliver, La cuisine est un jeu d'enfants. Translating it as Cooking is Child’s Play just leads to too many obvious puns, especially now with “Julia and Julie” in the theaters. Like philosophy, cooking is something the French take seriously, and they convey that attitude to their children.

** Not completely. I should add that Montclair State for many years has had the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children.

La Topless – Passé?

August 2, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’ve been leaving breast-blogging to Sociological Images or other sociology blogs. A year ago, I came across an interview with French sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann, whose research interests include topless sunbathing. In 1995 he published Corps de Femmes, Regards d'Hommes, based on 300 interviews supplemented with observational research at the beach.

I was going to blog it with a title like “For this you can get a grant?” But I merely filed it away.

Now, a year later, a French magazine reports that younger women at the beach are leaving their tops on. The story went mostly ignored in France, The US and UK press were much more enthusiastic. They played it up as a trend towards prudishness among the young, as if to say, “See, they've finally come around to our way of doing things.”

Time magazine for example, says,
Younger women disinclined to baring themselves make up the majority of female sunbathers; those still willing to go topless are usually older French women.
Time has no data on this. If they sent some lucky staffer to Cannes for an informal count, they’re not saying. Time did check a recent a IFOP survey of 1000 French women (“Les femmes et la nudité”) which oddly enough did not ask women if they went topless at the beach. The Time article, in a desperate effort to show a cultural shift, does a really bad job of reporting the data. There were some small differences between younger and older. More of the 18-35 women said they felt uncomfortable seeing topless women at the beach than did the over-35s (31 % vs. 20%). But when asked their level of “pudeur personelle,” the youngest women (18-24) were indistinguishable from the over-35s.

(For a slightly larger view, click on the picture. Maybe NSFW – if your co-workers have really good vision.)

In either case – bared or covered – the French frame the decision over female anatomy as a matter of female autonomy. Last year, Kaufmann said of the decision to go topless, “le phénomène de la topless reste un choix qu'il exprime le désir d'être libres et de communiquer cette liberté.”* This year he sees not going topless as a rejection of fashion. “The practice has become common, and therefore less compelling as a fashion.”

It would be interesting to compare the situation of bare breasts in France and in the US. Here, topless beaches are few. Instead, the image of women baring their breasts is that of Girls Gone Wild or Mardi Gras – girls getting drunk and flashing a crowd of shouting boys (does anyone remember Rude Norton?).

How different from the French beach scene Kaufmann describes, the men
avec des yeux pas particulièrement expressifs, qui ne démontrent pas d’intérêt, mais qu’ils coulent rapidement sur le paysage féminin de la plage de manière attentive. . . .. Pour montrer ses seins, une femme doit se sentir à l’aise.**
There may also be French-US differences in the matter of quality vs. quantity. Kaufmann says that the unwritten rules of the beach permit that only “beaux seins” be exposed. Asked to define his terms, he says, “Selon les interviewés, de beaux seins sont ceux des jeunes filles: plutôt petit, dur, bien attaché au thorax.

Plutôt petit. Rather small. In the US, surgeons do nearly three times as many breast augmentations as breast reductions. In France, the numbers are reversed. Maybe that’s why when the IFOP asked women who, among six celebs who had posed nude, represented the most gracious female nudity, Pamela Anderson got only 2% of the vote, behind Kate Moss (6%). Laetitia Casta was the big winner, especially among the 18-24s, followed by Emmanuele Béart. (If you are not familiar with these referenced sources, you're on your own.  We're not that kind of blog.)


* “The topless phenomenon remains a choice that expresses the desire to be free and to communicate this freedom.”

** “with eyes that are not particularly expressive and that show no interest, eyes that flow quickly over the feminine landscape of the beach in an attentive manner. . . . To show her breasts, a woman must feel at ease.”

NY ♥ France

Le 14 juillet 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

The anti-French campaign by the Cheney-Bush administration and friends never had much success in New York. Elsewhere in America, people were dumping Bordeaux and serving “freedom fries,” but not here. A Stuff New Yorkers Like blog would have to have France near the top of the list.

So Sunday’s French street fair was packed.

(Click on a picture for a larger version.)

Food, of course, was much in evidence.

(Maybe you make crème brulée, but you probably don’t brown the top using an acetylene torch.)

There were macarons, but they were not from Ladurée, the only macarons source for true Parisians. As the snarky Stuff Parisians Like put it in their first post:
Parisians lack imagination. Baby Shower? Macarons Ladurée. Birthday party ? Macarons Ladurée. Thank you note? Macarons Ladurée. Dinner party? Macarons Ladurée. Weekend in Normandy? Macarons Ladurée.
Le macaron has become a key social lubricant in Paris. While most Parisians have given up on ancestral guilty pleasures (sex, drugs, alcohol), very few will say no to the modern form of socially acceptable vice: Le Macaron Ladurée.
There was even boules game.


From the improvised sign, I’d guess that this was a last minute addition. And because they call it pétanque rather than boules, I’d also guess that the people involved are from the South. It took me back to Laurence Wylie’s classic ethnography Village in the Vaucluse, which taught me the difference between pointer and tirer.

Last but not least, the Deux Chevaux.


Certain cars stand as icons for their country; they embody important cultural themes. The Rolls Royce, the Ferrari, the Mercedes, the Volvo. But it’s hard to know what to say about the 2 CV.

After They've Seen Paree

April 14, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Remember “freedom fries”? The phrase was part of the spirit of France-bashing that the Bush administration and its friends in the media whipped up six years ago. France and other European countries were saying that invading Iraq might not be such a nifty idea. They even voted against it in the U.N.

The Bushies sure showed them who was right.

The Republicans still use France and Europe as synonyms for various forms of political wickedness. We Americans, they say, don’t want a “European-style” health care system (i.e., one that delivers health care at a lower price to all its people).

But the Americans-don’t-like-France idea is largely a figment of the right-wing imagination. These Republicans are speaking for a smaller and smaller portion of the US population. The Daily Kos poll recently asked the “favorable/unfavorable” question, and it turns out it’s not just us liberal, urban, coastal elitists who have a soft spot in our hearts for France.

QUESTION: Do you have a favorable or unfavorable
opinion of the country of France?


FAVUNFAV
NO OPINION
ALL61327
DEM66295
REP56377
IND60328
OTH/REF58357
NORTHEAST71218
SOUTH43516
MIDWEST67267
WEST69247

France is well-liked everywhere . . . except the South. The pattern was nearly identical when the places in question were not France but, respectively, Europe, New York, and San Francisco.

It looks as though what Sarah Palin referred to as “the real America” is merely one region of America. And if recent voting patterns in Virginia, North Carolina, and Missouri are any indication, that region is shrinking. Tant pis.

Faisez-moi la grammaire

March 30, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

“The French don't care what they do, as long as they pronounce it correctly.” The line is from “My Fair Lady,” by Lerner and Loewe, and I remembered it well on my first trip to France, when people kept pretending not to understand what I was saying. I’m sure I’ll never be able to get directions to Neuilly.
But it’s not just pronunciation that the French care about. Lerner should have added something about spelling and grammar.
In March, we have NCAA basketball. The French have the national dictée, a spelling challenge that millions of people take – and take seriously – but which only a handful do perfectly (because of all those damn accent marks probably).
We Americans have a friendly and accommodating view of language. When our highest elected official constantly contorts the English language, it’s a matter of amusement, not concern. If a French candidate blows the subjunctive, he may find his gaffe used as the entire text of an attack ad.
A friend lives in a Paris building that has one of those little cage elevators. If someone doesn’t close the door firmly, the elevator won’t move from that floor. A sign reminding tenants to be sure “que la porte est fermée” hadn’t been posted for more than a couple of hours before someone had corrected it: “que la porte est SOIT fermée.”
British author Anthony Burgess wrote of eating in a family restaurant in the countryside. When the waitress, the fourteen-year-old daughter, asked, “Et comme dessert?” Burgess answered, in French, “Fruits.”
“Des fruits,” she noted, correcting a man three times her age. In France, the customer is not always right, especially when he omits the partitive article.
Now there’s this.

(Update, April 2012.  Unfortunately, the original video has been replaced with this version which has been edited to report on the response to the original.)
At first, it looks like a typical, moderately sexy music video. She strokes the naked fesses of a statue and sings, “Faisez-moi l’amour.” But wait. Even I know that faisez is wrong. It should be “faites-moi l’amour.”
It turns out the video is a bit of viral marketing for a company, Bescherelle, that sells grammar books and other language materials (including dictées). The video is full of grammatical errors, and French youth rose to the challenge to find them all. In the first week or so after its release, it had taken second place on MySpace TV, a record number of “don’t miss” designations, and 18,000 downloads.
You can find lots of grammatical errors in US music videos, but that’s not why kids watch them.
(Full story here; corrected grammar in the video here.)

Chicken False Consciousness - II

January 10, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Back in November, I blogged about Chicken Delight as the embodiment of false consciousness – the cartoon chicken happily serving up a roasted version of himself for the dining pleasure and convenience of hegemonic humans.

The idea transcends national boundaries, and the picture I used was of a French chicken that I found in Polly’s blog. (Polly is not a sociologist, but her blog is well worth looking at.) Now, she has found this revised and more complex and nuanced version.



The video is by Remi Gaillard at N'importe qui. He has a number of these slightly surrealistic, humorous vids. Mostly silent, so understanding French is not necessary. (I’m still trying to figure out a translation for their motto: “C’est en faisant n’importe quoi qu’on devient n’importe qui.” Literally, “It’s in doing whatever that one becomes just anybody.”)

A Fine and Public Place

November 8, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston
We try to do right by the dead, to give them the best possible resting place. But what’s best? Apparently, Americans and French have very different ideas, as Polly’s pictures last week of a Paris cemetery reminded me.

I’m not much drawn to cemeteries, but Père Lachaise gets two stars in the Michelin Guide. It’s the final resting place of Chopin and Comte, Abelard and Heloise, Oscar Wilde, Modigiliani, Proust . . . . I was in Paris (this was many years ago) with some free time, so I went.

It didn’t look at all like a cemetery, at least not the cemeteries I had seen in the US. The one across from the University here seems typical.
















The cemetery road curves gently through the lawns. Grass separates the headstones, with some space even between family members. The headstones are low, some even flat on the ground.

But at Père Lachaise, the lanes were narrower, with no grass to be seen. Instead of headstones, there were building-like structures tall enough that you might walk inside, crowded together with little or no space in between.

















Sometimes, the structures were built right behind one another on a steep incline.


You could climb the steps and look down at the brick footpath below.














Nowhere to be found were the rolling lawns that I thought would be more appropriate for the eminent figures of a culture - Molière, Piaf, and the rest. Instead, what I was seeing was more like a scaled-down urban scene, the mausoleums resembling the stone apartment buildings of the city.

Then I realized : Our visions of the ideal life are reflected in the landscapes we provide for the dead. When Americans die, they go to the countryside. When the French die, they go to Paris.