To welcome me into my new role as an officially recognized Frenchman, my friend Julien sent me a list of clichés entitled « Ça, c’est la France ». All the regulars are there: the beret, a baguette, rosette, the rooster, brie, Yvette Horner and Serge Gainsbourg. And although I’ve never worn a beret, I adore Gainsbourg and will often eat smelly cheeses that “still evoke the scent of the goat’s piss trickling down its leg” (as my wife likes to put it). So, while I’m quite obviously not French in so many ways, I do appreciate a good stinky pleasure from time to time, if not once a day. And yes, I eat yogurt, although no, I do not drink, so no red wine (although I’ll make an exception for champagne). But a lack in oenology skills is apparently acceptable, given how many I’ve met here who do not appreciate red wine either, and even more who find the mere idea of smelly cheeses revolting. So the clichés only go so far.

But there are some things that only the French can truly appreciate, and that you have to have something French in you to even understand. I often cite, as an example, one of my favorite French expressions (and there are many) : « Il a le cul bordé de nouilles » which basically translates as « he’s got an ass full of noodles ». Since I am apparently someone abounding in luck, I have on many occasions been attributed with a noodly ass. Now for those that cannot stand them — for example, the English — this is probably yet another example of what is so profoundly wrong with the French. Indeed, saying that someone has noodles, or perhaps worms (it all depends on your point of view), coming out of their ass does not mean that they are sick, or unhygienic, or just plain out of luck — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Saying « il a le cul bordé de nouilles » means that you are lucky, and even more, you are overflowing with luck, as in look at that mass of lucky worms pouring out from your underside! Now what does all this mean? How can, for the French, the idea of noodles, worms, hemorrhoids (oh yes), or perhaps (if we take slang into account) good old fashioned penises, evoke someone being lucky — even more, someone being abundantly full of luck? This, my friends, is one of the mysteries of being French, and the mere (moral, even logical) ambiguity of it all: the quite decisively indeterminable nature of what the hell that possibly means is also very much part of the definition of what it is to be French.

Accordeons:

Gainsbourg, the « vieux dégeulase qui pue »

Gainsbourg, patriotic version:

Gainsbourg, le classique :

And while we’re on the subject of kidneys, how about hips?

Leading us of course to Dalida:

Perhaps that’s all it is, this idea of France, une chanson d’amour? — ah now there’s a cliché :

But they do love their « chanson populaire ». Before American Idol, there was L’école des fans…and Claude François:

Oh, Claude François is not heady enough for you? Ha! Even Gilles Deleuze admired him. And let us not forget, in our nostalgic tour de France, the required selection of famous French intellectuals:

Ah, that’s it. Freedom. Existentialism. Mai ’68. Vive la résistance! But what would all that be without José Bové’s moustache?

And what would France be, without it’s laches, it’s cowards, its smug pretention?

Or, perhaps, none of that matters, and it’s all just about Carla. That is probably one place where we can all agree, only in France: