March of the Penguins was an awesome movie but I hear that in the original French, they had actors playing the roles of a male, female and baby penguin. Apparently it was decided that this wouldn’t resonate with American audiences when it was test shown with subtitles and the people laughed hysterically. The lines were apparently “hilariously French.” For example, describing penguin sex: “They danced the dance, the dance of love, the dance that will go on all night.” (In America it should have read “giggity giggity.”)
In the theater I saw the penguin sex and I looked over at my friend and whispered “Is this penguin porn?” And he looked at me as if to say, “Are they having sex, because it doesn’t look very good.” And he was right, Kevin Bacon had more fun dancing his forbidden dance in Footloose than these penguins seemed to be having during the only time over the course of an entire year that they get to dance the dance, the dance of love, the dance that will go on all night.
This desire to insert emotion into everything is so French. I dated a Frenchman once. I know. I know. I met him at a ski resort in Japan during Christmas. He was good looking and charming in a Frenchy kind of way. His name was Jimmy. No, I am absolutely not making that up. Anyway, Jimmy was a wine importer. I don’t drink wine. Jimmy simply could not fathom my not drinking wine. It was like him telling me that he was an oxygen-importer and me saying, “You know I’m just not into that sort of thing.” He described wine like sex. He described shoes like sex. Actually everything had an emotional intensity to him. I think he likened my dislike of wine to my emotional distance (mostly due to my North American-ness.) He would open increasingly expensive bottles when we’d hang out, as though if he could train me to love wine, he could train me to have feelings and talk about them to him as we smoked tiny cigarettes and cuddled in trendy cafes. All the bottles of wine tasted equally terrible, though each one was soured with an increasing amount of guilt.
The white sweaters, the constant romantic gestures, the gifts, it all struck me as… French. Too French. I began to resent his ridiculously expensive squishy cheeses and wine; even his accent which had so intrigued me on our ski trip began to wear on my nerves. My roommate Galvin, who seemed to have a crush on Jimmy, would say, “He can’t help it, he’s just French.” The Frenchman’s flaw was not his devotion to me, his beautiful body and face, his money, or his complete head of hair, it was his very Frenchness.
I think he was beginning to sense my growing anglophilia and started to react in the Frenchiest possible way. One night we were watching soccer in a pub downtown and a Canadian I knew came in with some Aussies. The Canadian was a typical expat: white, not terribly attractive, and positively fanatic about Asian women. I didn’t know him incredibly well, but we’d been at some of the same parties and shared a love of hockey and other Canadian things. Jimmy, sniffing the English fluency wafting about Rod’s tiny potbellied Canadian frame began to feel threatened. Being French, Jimmy used his most powerful weapon: seduction. He scooched close to me, placed his arm around my waist and watched me intensely. Rod and I were discussing the lack of American president and other political excitement and out of no where Jimmy turned to me with francophonic intensity and said, “Make for me a kiss.” I blushed and hid my face in his beautiful neck as the Australians laughed. He pushed the bottle of wine he’d been drinking into the center of table and got up to leave. I stayed seated. He said “very well” put his scarf around his neck and sulked out of the bar.
His scarf, it was apricot.