Sacré Bleu! What Happened to France?Posted: March 25, 2014
Liberté! Egalité! Fatigué! Is France Losing its Savoir Faire? … its panache, its je ne sais quoi?
A. A. Gill writes:An Englishman and a Frenchman are discussing the definition of the expression “savoir faire.” “Well,” says the Englishman, “as I see it, savoir faire is when you come home from work early, walk in on your best friend humping your wife, and have the presence of mind to say, ‘Sorry—do carry on.’ ”
“Hollande’s perfectly predictable affair was so revealing of the French state of affairs, and affairs of state, not because it happened…but because of the utter lack of savoir faire involved…”
“Mais non,” replies the Frenchman. “That is a very Anglo-Saxon attitude. That is not savoir faire—that is your politeness. Savoir faire is husband comes home from work early, walks in on best friend on top of wife, and says, ‘Sorry—do carry on.’ The savoir faire part is being able to carry on.”
“…First, he was caught on a moped. Really, how pencil-dick is that?”
Maintenant, France looks like it’s losing its savoir faire—its adroitness, that innateje ne sais quoi understanding to do just the right thing in just the right manner. France has never looked quite so laughably en détresse as it does at the moment—so utterly out of step, so wrong-footed. Let’s begin with the marvelously dropped gâteau of President François Hollande’s love life, and what it represents for civilization’s chosen people.
Of all the West’s First World, classically based cultures, France’s is the most other—the most apart. The French are not to be mistaken for their neighbors, and they work hard at it. There is the French way and there is the wrong way. They see themselves as elegantly chosen: by Providence, gastronomy, culture, geography, and seduction. And for a long time we have agreed with them, often through gritted teeth.
The French are the paragons of panache and soigné chic. For the last decade, we have been slapped around by books called things like French Children Don’t Smear, French Women Don’t Fart, and The Frenchwoman’s Guide to Eating in Your Bra and Panties. And we bought them, and we’ve given them to our fat in-laws, because France comes with such a great résumé. So many letters of recommendation—from Fitzgerald and Hemingway, both Porter and Gershwin, Henry James, Julia Child.
Hollande’s perfectly predictable affair was so revealing of the French state of affairs, and affairs of state, not because it happened—that a Frenchman has a mistress is hardly news; this was Frenchman with mistress caught with further mistress—but because of the utter lack of savoir faire involved. That was the smirking surprise. Everyone involved behaved with a tragic absence of chic.
First, he was caught on a moped. Really, how pencil-dick is that? And it was a three-wheeled moped—a motorized tricycle. And he was sitting pillion, in the passenger seat. Not exactly Alain Delon, is it? Do you think he held on tight round his security driver’s waist? And then the helmet—the business suit with the terrible shoes and the giant helmet. Like Michael Dukakis trick-or-treating as Daft Punk. It’s worth pointing out that France has banned women from wearing the veil—because, they say, it’s demeaning to women. But, apparently, wearing a giant motorbike helmet to visit your girlfriend isn’t demeaning for either you or the girlfriend….Read more….