Thursday, February 09, 2012

Des Français

Sometimes, from the ol' mailing list, I wonder if being an American getting a degree in French is a bit like if I, a "cis" woman, were to get a degree in the experience of maleness. I can learn about it, I can admire it aesthetically, but I'm not going to be it. The job postings - not academic jobs, of course, but part-time, extra-money work - is almost inevitably for someone French. People whose four-year-olds need to learn être from an authentic French person who can, working overtime, also tell Mom how not to get fat. Or something. I have no idea. Here's the latest.

La boutique [fancy Parisian macaron shop that recently opened on Madison near all those Ralph Lifshitz stores] souhaite recruter des Français (exclusivement, pour la "French touch") qui chercheraient un emploi dans la vente ou dans la restauration (ouverture prochaine d'une deuxième boutique à Manhattan, avec une partie restauration).
Emphasis in the original.

Is this even legal? (Is it like Hooters insisting on busty and young? You're more of a performer than a cashier?) Do I even care? Practically speaking, no - I'm not about to spend $33 round-trip on the train to sell macarons to socialites for what I can only imagine is minimum wage. But it interests me (and, fine, irritates me, but doesn't surprise me) that Frenchness is such a thing that it's evidently more marketable than having, for example, an MA-plus in French literature and history. Although being an American with an ambivalent inferiority complex about not being French is plenty marketable. To be continued...


Britta said...

At least with an impeccable accent you could pretend to be French and people would probably believe you. There is no way anyone will ever, in a million years, think I am Chinese no matter how perfect my Chinese is or how long I live there. (In fact, this summer it was suggested that if I want to be a bit more on the DL I dye my hair black so as not to be so obviously noticeable that my presence is known to pretty much everyone in a city of over a million people. (This actually happened))

You might find, though, that at least with selling macarons, the importance isn't that you actually 'are' French, but that you can appear as French to customers who presumably aren't and don't speak French. In fact, I can't imagine a macaron shop wants to or even has the capability of sponsoring foreign workers, so a "French" person with American citizenship might be even more desirable.

Anonymous said...

@ Britta -- I see your point but some (French people) would say that it's impossible to look French without being French because a foreigner will always have a slight accent, make some mistakes, or just won't have that certain "je ne sais quoi."

I'm Eastern European, studying French in the U.S. so my "ambivalent inferiority complex," as you well put it Phoebe, has many layers. If only I had a dime for every time people asked me why I'm studying French in the U.S. and not in France [cue long explanation about financial aid and about how there are many French profs who choose to teach in the U.S., etc]

Phoebe said...


It's what Anonymous said. (Do I know you, Anonymous? I'm thinking of the many Eastern Europeans I know who are studying French in the States...) While I'm of an ethnicity commonly found in Paris, a native speaker would instantly know I'm not the real deal, and I'd have to be Meryl Streep to convince someone that I didn't grow up practically around the corner from the macarons in question. It's this thing about France in particular - it's not racist, exactly, so much as xenophobic. A black native speaker of French would be more macaron-appropriate than would a white native of a few blocks from the shop.

Oh, and as for who they want to hire, who said anything about above-board? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but the number of tiny French food shops in NY with a constant rotating cast of real-French employees suggests they're not desperate to hire French-speaking U.S. citizens.

PG said...

Apparently to be authentic as a French worker in a little French shop, you'd have to rude and inconvenient, so maybe they really do need natives. Or at least not people with an American conception of how retail works.

Anonymous said...

(Different Anonymous than above)It's funny because there's is likely a definite French look they want too. My French friend (who is not looking for a job but that's not the point) who not too tall, not skinny, an amazing fencer with frizzy hair would not be right for the job either. Even if she was born and raised in Paris.

Anonymous said...

(First Anonymous) -- I don't think we've met but I'll introduce myself if we ever end up going to the same conference:)

Withywindle said...

La société des anonymes?

One wonders what is the requirement to work for a Hooters in France.

eamonnmcdonagh said...

The native speaker, regardless of how uneducated or witless, is often held to be the bearer/expression of cultural goodies that are forever blocked to someone who has a mere doctorate or whatever in the relevant area. Witness the hoards of young Brits/Yanks etc. who travel the world "teaching" English solely on the basis of their native speakerness.

And a small tangent; native speakerness in itself can be a contested area. I've seen direct quotes from Argentine football players "translated" into supposedly more standard Spanish in the Spanish press. There are native speakers and then there are native speakers.

Phoebe said...


I think this is true of other backgrounds as well, but especially so of France. Authentic Frenchness is highly valued, in a way that isn't necessarily racist, but that prizes native-born-ness, or plausible equivalent. I know some Americans in my department, for example, who'd totally pass, but they lived in France for a long time/as a child.

If what this comes down to is, I have to sell American-style pastries I know how to bake, in Paris, those are the breaks.

Britta said...


I would say the native speaker thing is a little different, because it is true at least in East Asia that a native speaker of English will have more natural English and a better accent than even the most fluent Chinese English speaker (and most English teachers who are Chinese are far from fluent.) What is true though, is there's a certain "look" associated with being an English teacher, and I know plenty of ESL Europeans (French, German, even a Lebanese guy) who taught English in China, but native English speaking Africans and Filipinos will have a very hard time getting a job, as will Asian-Americans.

eamonnmcdonagh said...

"a native speaker of English will have more natural English "

not sure I know what this means or could mean. The NS of course has NS English. It's not clear to me how this is more "natural" than an NNS's. It's just NS.

And I have even less idea about what a "good accent" in English is. I am an English NS but is my accent good? By what standard? For whom? How could I find out?

"Easy to understand for students", might be the response. Well, do all students throughout the world/East Asia/South America have the same needs wrt to ease of understanding?

And even if they did wouldn't that go against the NS unique selling point of speaking like, well an NS.

So if students found my way of speaking to their liking it might be because I am a white and European rather than my "good" accent.

As you say, NSness in English is strongly associated, absurdly so, with being white.

Nick said...

I think my Employment Discrimination professor would say:

Almost certainly not legal.

Title VII prohibits national origin discrimination precisely of this kind. The employer might argue that he/she is looking for someone with a particular french accent, and that thus being a natural-born french citizen qualifies as a "bona fide occupational qualification" (BFOQ), but they would have to prove (a) that this was reasonably necessary to performing the position, and that (b) there wasn't some other metric they could use to get at this (like, e.g., a language test).

Not likely.


*I am not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice.

Nick said...

Also: Please tell me it's not Fauchon. I'd be tres upset.

Phoebe said...


Not Fauchon. Not sure if that's even still in NY.

But it does sound like it has to be illegal, right? I wonder if it's in my interests to invest the necessary $33 in going in and applying for it, speaking French, noting past coffee-shop work experience, and ending up with all those euros...