lundi 2 septembre 2013

Déjà vu

Whenever I peruse the cartoons in the international press, it‘s always a sure bet that, when it comes to portray France and the French, I will meet 5 permanent fixtures cartoonists all over the world resort to:

1°) The Eiffel Tower.
Well, nothing wrong here, it helps to settle the setting. A bit repetitive but, well, no doubt, we’re in Paris, France.

2°) The béret.
Well, why not? Although it’s meanly worn on the country but I can see some in Paris too. Spaniards also wear the beret and much more than the French.

3°) The baguette.
It’s one among many other products bakers make and sell and one that is essentially to be found in Paris. But then again, it’s OK.
Now, this is really much more surprising. Where does that cliché come from? No French that I know of or see in the streets, on flicks or ad posters never wear striped jersey.

I once thought that it was a souvenir of Auguste Renoir’s painting at the time of Guy de Maupassant, but after I checked, the jersey wasn’t striped.

It eventually dawned on me that it had to do with le Mime Marceau (the upper part of his costume) who apparently made a smashing impact on the perception some Americans seem to have regarding the French. 

Because I’m positive on this: Next to no French ever wears a striped jersey, even on the beaches in July/August. But never mind…

5°) Napoléon.
There seems to be a real obsession with this historical figure, and not only among American cartoonists. You can be sure to find him in cartoons from Germany as well as Norway or India, Brazil or wherever.

Whichever French politician is portrayed, he’s entitled to his caricature as Napoleon. Be it De Gaulle, Mitterrand, Chirac and now Sarkozy, all French leaders are would-be Napoleon. Like every new Russian leader is the new Tsar of all Russias...

Let me tell you, if there’s something the French don’t exactly mull over it has to be Napoléon.

Of course 2 or 3 of these clichés are often to be found in the same cartoon.

My feeling is that cartoonists the world over haven’t much idea of what modern France and the French are and they all have to use again and again worn out clichés. On the other hand that’s what caricatures are made of: clichés and prejudice. 

If only they could be funny…

11 commentaires:

Flocon a dit…

Talk about perpetuating stereotypes!

The role of the media in the creation and continuation of national stereotypes can never be too much underestimated.

The Germans wear lederhosen, the French wear a beret and a stripped jersey and the typical Brit a bowler hat with an umbrella.

In the same vein, the Spanish are always caricatured with a traje de luces and the Russians drinking a bottle of vodka in a Troika.

How to nurture mutual ignorance and misunderstanding between peoples? Ask the media they know best.

Flocon a dit…

For what I know, there is no stereotypical image associated with Americans in the international press. Cartoonists, just draw the American flag on the sleeves of the caracters.

Anijo a dit…

Some young French people (artists) on blogs portray Americans as wearing a baseball cap and baggy blue jeans and they're of course a bit chubby. But they're not the international press...

As for the striped shirt, you can also thank Jean Paul Gaultier.


The origins of the fisherman’s sweater are to be found in 18TH century Brittany. Onion merchants, leaving from Brittany to sell their goods in England, wore a very distinctive item of clothing that made them recognizable from a distance.

The French expression "marchand d’ail" (garlic merchant), was soon anglicized as "chandail" and ended up referring to this unique item of clothing that was the fisherman sweater.

Anijo a dit…

You can also thank Coco Chanel

Anijo a dit…

By the way, "Keith Jarrett - Bach:The Well Tempered Clavier 2 ( Prelude & Fugue)" --> I was only aware of him for his jazz performances. Interesting!

Anijo a dit…

US flatters France as 'oldest ally'

John Kerry Speaks French in France

Anijo a dit…

I already saw that deleted comment. ;) Mais merci, c'était gentil de dire ça. Ou ça a été gentil à dire ca. oof..

Flocon a dit…

Indeed, this stripped jersey stereotype probably comes from England where this attire the French merchands used to wear was familiar to the locals.

And from England the image "naturally" was brought into America.

Jean-Paul Gaultier took over an old design already used by Chanel who herself turned fashionable a XVIIIth century piece of garment.


Il y a un autre pianiste américain qui a enregistré le clavier bien tempéré mais son nom m'échappe at the moment.

In the meanwhile you may not know a French jazz pianist who's much popular in Germany than he is in France and probably unheard of in the US.

Here's the Partita No.1 BWV 825 with his ensemble

Flocon a dit…

"It was kind to say that" (I suppose that what's you meant) would translate as "c'était gentil de dire ça" as you rightly wrote.

"Sympa" is more common that "gentil" which carries a sense of generosity, care and humanity which probably would be a tad too exagerated in this case ;-) but I'm being picky here...

Anijo a dit…

Il y a un autre pianiste américain qui a enregistré le clavier bien tempéré mais son nom m'échappe at the moment.

Chick Corea perhaps?

Yes, I'm familiar with Jacques Loussier. I particularly like this collaboration with Bobby McFerrin.

but I'm being picky here.

J'aime bien ça. Merci. Ce sont les subtilités qui m'intéressent.

Flocon a dit…

Peut-être Chick Corea mais je n'ai pas retrouvé les vidéos from an album that has been dedicated to the Well Tempered Clavier (unless it is the Goldberg Variations?)


Jack Loussier as a person seems to be a very bitter, mean and angry caracter. I suppose he has his reasons.

He's the composer of a TV theme that all French people know (except maybe those under 15) when there was only one TV channel in France.

Of course, as a teenager, I was an avid follower of Thierry la Fronde's (fronde= sling) adventure.

Thierry la Fronde is a caracter which is as famous here as Ivanhoe is in England.

Just for the sake of information, La Fronde is also another episode of French history, worth several novels by Alexander Dumas.


I shouldn't have raise the issue about gentil/sympa, it is likely to confuse you whereas it is basically the same. So forget it and don't mind your "q"s when you next come accross the opportunity to use "gentil".

Sometimes trying to be too smart is counter productive.

Have to shave and run to the stretchings now ;-)