In a globalised France, where hamburgers are a culinary craze, people queue to see the latest US blockbuster and Levis are the brand of choice for jeans, is it possible to live a 100% French life?
That was the challenge tackled by Benjamin Carle, a 25-year-old journalist who decided to spend nine months eating, wearing, buying and using only French-made products. A documentary chronicling his experience aired on French cable channel Canal+ on March 19, and has kick-started a conversation about French identity.
On a budget of only 1,800 euros (2,480 US dollars) per month, Carle travelled around the country, immersing himself in a culture with which he says it’s easy to lose touch – especially as a young person in France today.
By turning his camera on his experiment, Carle explores a range of social, cultural, political and economic questions: What are the strengths and weaknesses of French industries? Can the French economy be saved if everyone makes an effort to buy French products? Can France progress scientifically, technologically and culturally without relying on foreign influences and collaboration?
Some of the conclusions he drew from his nine-month stint as an “economic patriot” were bleak.
“I feel like in France, we don’t really reinvent ourselves,” Carle told weekly magazine L’Express in an interview published on Wednesday. “The only products we still manufacture here are those that most characterise us as French…in terms of clothing, for example, it’s sweaters and Breton sailor jerseys [navy and white striped knitted shirts]. The rest, T-shirts and pants, are all designed abroad.”
That said, Carle told L’Express, typical French clothing is hardly out of fashion. “Wearing only French-manufactured clothing could actually become a hipster thing,” he said.
No condoms, but lots of ‘Happy Meals’
Aside from his favourite pair of jeans, other things Carle had to forgo were his cell phone, laptop and condoms, none of which, apparently, are manufactured in France. “But we do make lubricant!” he added in an interview with culture site La Trempe.
Inspired by a call from Socialist politician Arnaud Montebourg, France’s minister for economic renewal, Carle quickly realized that helping renew the economy also meant renewing his ties to his own culture.
In interviews with the press, the young man described how buying only regional French food products (“produits du terroir”, as the French call them) forced him to cook, and in turn inspired him to take his time savouring the meal – a French tradition.
He has also said that he was surprised by the places he was able to find meals that were made exclusively from French products. In Paris’s ethnically diverse Belleville neighbourhood, Carle noted that two spots were reliable in offering 100% French meals: a “banh mi” shop, which prepared the famous Vietnamese sandwiches using baguettes from the bakery next door, French-raised beef, French-grown carrots, and a homemade mayonnaise made from French eggs; and McDonald’s, where the meat and potatoes are all from France.
“You have a better chance of eating local food in a McDonald’s than in a bad brasserie that serves reheated frozen meals,” he told L’Express.
Perhaps the most extreme part of Carle’s project was his mission to rid his daily speech of any “Anglicisms”. For example, he replaced the English word “cool”, now commonly used in French, with “chouette”, a quaint colloquialism that roughly translates as “neat”.
But most daunting of all, he has said, was altering his listening, reading and viewing habits. Deprived of David Bowie, Carle turned to French singers like Jacno and Johnny Hallyday. He read a lot of Montaigne. And he watched lots of films directed by Jean-Luc Godard or starring French comic Pierre Richard.
Carle’s main regret, he told L’Express, was not being able to go see Hollywood thriller “Gravity” in 3D.
Date created : 2014-03-20