Thursday, October 26, 2006

I suppose it's all subjective...

The following just popped up at the top of my Gmail inbox:

Funny Quote of the Day - Jean Anouilh - "What you get free costs too much."

Now, from what I know of Anouilh's work, this quote really isn't funny. While his work is full of humor and amusing social commentary, I see this particular quote as more seriously philosophical than "funny".

If you visit the "Funny Quote of the Day" link, you'll be taken to a listing of Anouilh's other quotes - none of which seem to provoke any guffaws. This is more the sort of quote one could write a 10-page paper on, rather than get a cheap chuckle over. I wonder who is making the decision as to which quotes to feature on the Gmail crawl - maybe he/she was going more for funny=strange rather than funny=haha. Whatever the motivation, it is definitely bizarre.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

La politesse de la voile

I came across an excellent, enlightening point on l'affaire de la voile this morning in Slate. Here is an excerpt:

"Just as it is considered rude to enter a Balinese temple wearing shorts, so, too, is it considered rude, in a Western country, to hide one's face. We wear masks when we want to frighten, when we are in mourning, or when we want to conceal our identities. To a Western child—or even an adult—a woman clad from head to toe in black looks like a ghost. Thieves and actors hide their faces in the West; honest people look you straight in the eye.

Given that polite behavior is required of schoolteachers or civil servants in other facets of their jobs, it doesn't seem to me in the least offensive to ask them to show their faces when dealing with children or the public. If Western tourists can wear sarongs in Balinese temples to show respect for the locals, so, too, can religious Islamic women show respect for the children they teach and for the customers they serve by leaving their head scarves on but removing their full-face veils. " (full article)

Thank you, Anne Applebaum, for pulling this out of the context of racism or anti-Muslim sentiment. It makes perfect sense when explained in this light. It is striking how much the "customs" of Western culture are overlooked in these debates. We frequently make adjustments to what is acceptable or lawful in our culture, under the guise of the First Amendment or otherwise, without giving any thought to the fact that other cultures do not make the same adjustments - or, at least Westerners do not expect the adjustments to be made for them. I am by no means advocating the inflexibility of Western attitudes, but it is just refreshing to have an objective anthropological eye cast upon this particular issue.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Smoking Ban to End All Smoking Bans

I'm extremely sad to hear that France will soon be banning smoking in public places.

I'm no fan of cigarette smoke, but it's just so quintessentially French that I'm willing to put up with it for that sake. I lived with a Frenchman who chain smoked; when his chain-smoking friends would come over to shoot the breeze, smoke for hours and eat oysters, I'd hide up in my room. He'd also smoke at work even though he wasn't supposed to; he'd just open up his office window and hang the cigarette out of it. It all just seemed so normal that I never thought to complain to him or anyone else about it.

Gone will be the smoke-infused Paris that David Sedaris waxed so poetically about in Me Talk Pretty One Day. Maybe he'll just have to get an apartment in Romania. With this ban, France will no longer be the country of bon vivants; but at least it might create a job similar to that of the professional pooper-scooper guy for picking up the discarded butts that will litter French sidewalks more than ever before

It seems like the next thing they'll ban is public kissing. What will French teenagers do with all the extra free time that will create?

Monday, October 09, 2006


I actually liked this movie. It had just enough non-fight sequences to keep me interested in the plot. Particularly intruiguing was actress Jennifer Decker, who looks like she could be Emma Watson's older sister. She did a perfectly convincing job of being barely bilingual - nothing is more annoying than "foreigners" who suddenly speak fluent English after one scene of minced words. Kind of like Ginger Rogers trying to pretend she couldn't dance or the Von Trapp kids pretending they couldn't harmonize.

This movie (and it was clearly a movie rather than a film) was pretty much panned by the NY Times and other major newspapers, but I think they were missing the point. Perhaps the biggest such point was Jean Reno, who was labelled a walking stereotype - while I thought he displayed the least amount of cliché out of the entire cast of characters. Compared to Rawlings, the down-home country fried turkey and snooty Briggs Lowry, daddy's little dividend that just won't pay off, Reno did a fine job of playing M. le Capitaine Thénault.

Besides, who doesn't love to hate a swarthy German named "The Black Falcon"? Muwahaha!