Why So Serious: French Advertising

More and more American audiences are getting used to something that has happened in French movie theaters for some years now: advertising that has nothing to do with movies, but is cinematic (and often quite serious) in scope.  The challenge is that it’s hard not to laugh at any of these pleas for you to buy stuff.  Sometimes it’s just so over the top.  As I’m often the only one laughing when this stuff comes on I try to laugh quietly so as not to be the obvious American who finds it ridiculous.  Take, for example this ad for Dior Sauvage starring Johnny Depp, which plays on all the mysterious and bad-boy tropes that the French love.

Depp manages to be Captain Jack Sparrow while fearing and loathing Las Vegas.  Oh, yes, and I’m supposed to want Dior after all this dark mystery.  Is this aimed at me or the ladies?

But, Dior has a diverse portfolio, and for the vampire types who like Led Zeppelin, you can watch Robert Pattinson.

Dior is playing the “get the girl” card that you normally associate with these male cologne ads.  Along with this, it’s now the mode to use English in your ads.  Witness this hilarity in which an advertisement designed for the French marketplace ends with a subtitle for the English catchphrase at the end of it.

Diesel ups the “get the girl” ante with Thor’s brother, Chris Hemsworth, in this ad.

Yes, buying cologne is now an act of bravery.

I understand I’ve only been focusing on the obvious (yes, Stephen we get that the French are into their cologne). But, coffee is also a pretty serious thing in La France.  When I was first in France the famous (now long past) campaign of George Clooney for Nespresso was part of my introductory French language class, as it featured some simple subtitled text for us to translate and practice. I found the campaign to be funny, intelligent, and perfect for Nespresso. Unlike the other commercials I’ve shown so far, the series that Clooney did was all about poking fun at himself – he always thinks the women know who he is (and desperately want him), but they are always interested solely in the coffee.  For the record, this is my favorite one.

This campaign introduced an expression that’s part of pop vernacular now. Clooney says, “What else?” and in French this translates to “Quoi d’autre?” and you can use this expression in situations and almost everyone knows what you are alluding to (the expression, as its equivalent in English, obviously stands alone apart from this ad, but the intelligence of the writers was in co-opting it).

The French take their advertising seriously. So, promise me not to laugh too hard when you watch it with them. 🙂

This story also appeared on Medium.

cafe paris

7 Tips for the Paris Cafe Experience

One of the most famous aspects of Paris is the cafe culture.  Keep in mind, this is not the same as a coffee culture (to be discussed in the future).  There are some unwritten rules that you learn over the years.  Here are a few I’ve compiled to help you the next time you find yourself at one of these treasures.

1) Be polite

In the States, as well as Anglo-culture in general, there is a traditional belief that the French are generally stuck up and rude. The reality is exactly the opposite. The French are very polite, provided that you are polite to them to start with. When entering a cafe, do not get agitated if you are not served right away. Eating is a totally different culture here. It’s not meant to be a time to stuff your face and run on to the next activity. It’s meant to be a passage. An enjoyment, a respite, culminating in good, peaceful digestion. Appreciate this difference and be patient, be sure to be polite to the waiter (who is not your slave, rather he has condescended to assist you… for a price), beginning with “Bonjour.” This will auspicious start will help provide good service.

2) Know what you want

Many French cafes do not have menus, since they more or less serve the same thing. Coffee, naturally, bread and cheese, sandwiches, pastries and small savory offerings. The local cafe is not a full service restaurant. You should already know what you want before you go to order, because it is very inconsiderate of you to make your server stand there while you mutter, “Ummmm…. nah. Hmmm… maybe… nah.”

3) Drink what you want

A cafe in Paris does not only serve coffee. Here in Paris, as in most of Europe, a cafe serves coffee, mineral water, beer or wine. The waiter will most likely take your drink order first. Be prepared for what you want (see above).

4) Blend in

Whether you stand or sit, there is a certain level of decorum with which the French conduct themselves in cafes which it would be good to observe. It is cheaper, pricewise, to stand at the bar to eat or drink than to sit down at a table, but if you do sit, you should not sip your coffee loudly, nor chug your beer like you were back in college.  Enjoy your food and concentrate on enjoying it. Chew softly, maybe while reading a book. This is leisure time!

5) Take your time

If you sit down, plan on taking your time. You aren’t just buying food, you are buying an experience, an atmosphere. Plan on hanging around for a while, the staff expects you to take your time. They are not trying to frantically turn tables to get as much money out of the clientele as possible. You are invited and encouraged to take time, read a book, do nothing, people-watch, write out some postcards to family back home, etc.

6) Perpetuate the gentle hum of conversation

It’s best to keep the quiet atmosphere of the cafe: set the ringer on your phone off, laugh more quietly at jokes. When you are ready to go, the normal signal that the French use here is to place their fork and knife on their plate, or, one can use the symbol which works just about everywhere in Europe, to pretend to write on your palm when/if you can catch the eye of your waiter.  You’ll want to ask for the bill 10-15 minutes before you really want it. 😉

7) Be graceful

Gratuity is already factored in, therefore leaving another 15% tip immediately identifies you as a tourist. A little extra for outstanding service would not be out of place, however.

If you do not speak French very well, the French are appreciative of those who try to use basic polite phrases without asking if they speak English. Once the initial effort is made, more often than not, they will kindly offer to speak to you in English if you begin in French.

The Paris cafe experience has been memorialized in books, films, poetry, and art.  Take the chance to insert yourself into those narratives in a harmonious way.

Photo by Alex Harmuth on Unsplash