Sunday, July 20, 2008

Across the Atlantic

I'm on a vacation from France--not France the country, but the mix (melange, if you prefer) of studying France and teaching French. So I'm taking German, contemplating and deciding against expensive Spanish shoe purchases, and, when time allows, reading books with subjects other than France. That said, the country never ceases to amaze, so here are two of the more remarkable things going on over there. Via Ted F., I've learned that in Paris, grown men beat a Jewish boy and the French press refers to this as gang clashes between Jewish and non-Jewish youths. This is screwed up a) because it implies that the Jews bear equal responsibility to those who beat them up randomly (well, not randomly, a yarmulke being a target) on the street, that there's some kind of symmetry, as in a 'gang war,' when no 'Jewish gang' has been identified, all to avoid admitting that maybe, just maybe, France has a bit of a problem in the anti-Semitism department and b) because calling black men 'boys' has certain unpleasant connotations, at least to American ears. Then there's this lovely story, via Jacob L., about a woman denied citizenship in France for her refusal to sport the national uniform. The idiocy of France's act is almost matched by the following sentence from the NYT article about the case: "At home, when no men are present, she lifts her facial veil and exposes a smiling, heart-shaped face." Bad news because a) it contributes to the Orientalist idea that there's something extra-special behind those veils, more seductive than what the not-veiled, Western woman shows freely, and b) yes, it's clear from the story itself, she's perfectly innocent and France is in the wrong. But no one's face looks like a heart--would it be a good thing if one did?--so as cheesily sentimental journalistic descriptions of physical appearance go, this one makes especially little sense.

1 comment:

Jacob T. Levy said...

I agree entirely about both (a) and (b), but disagree about no one's face looking like a heart. Take a pointy chin and defined jawline, combine with a widow's peak at the hairline, and you're basically there. (Obviously, a valentine's heart, not blood-pumping heart.) As far as using geometric descriptions for human shapes go, that's no worse than any other.