Interview: Laure

Laure is a graduate student at the Sorbonne, Paris IV, in the history of art. (Her thesis is due in two weeks.) She grew up in Rennes, Brittany in northwest France, and spent a year in college studying at Willamette University in Oregon. This autumn, Laure will be in New York working as an assistant curator for a photography collection. She’s also my girlfriend. You can see some of her own photography here.

1. Did the French Revolution ever really end?

What would be the revolution in France today? I think France’s been stuck with some revolutionary ideal for so long that we don’t even know what exactly we want to change anymore. We’re always pissed off, which is both admirable and very annoying. But then again, I’ve never been much of a joiner myself.

2. French youths dislike their president, Nicholas Sarkozy. Which do they object to more: his politics or his personality?

Well, I don’t want to speak for everybody because I don’t exactly share the popular opinion. I mean, I am not against capitalism and for some leftists I shouldn’t deserve to call myself a liberal, but I do share their same fears about our president. I’m afraid of his radicalism and the violence of his speech (he’s said things like, ‘these men should be hanged on a butcher’s hook…’), I don’t like that he is destroying our social system, which I believe needs reform but not complete rejection; on the contrary, I think universal health care is the last good thing we have left… Then again, not everybody would agree with me. And, well, Sarkozy’s not handsome, so that’s a problem since he’s been on the cover of every damn magazine for a year!

3. We spoke the other day about the near impossibility of translating non-physical humor, which explains why stand-up comedians rarely work outside of their own countries. Who is your favorite French comedian and why do you think he or she is so funny?

My grandpa used to tell me funny sentences by Pierre Desproges, who’s not exactly a stand-up comedian but is a good example of the kind of French humor I like. I think Jamel was a cool kid, too. Here’s a sentence by Desproges: ‘Parler pour ne rien dire et ne rien dire pour parler sont les principes majeurs de ceux qui feraient mieux de la fermer avant de l’ouvrir.’ [‘Speaking to say nothing, saying nothing to speak: these are the principles adhered to by those who would be better off keeping their mouth shut.’ –K.]

I’ll let you meditate on that for a second. I guess it was supposed to be some kind of lesson.

There’s also this sentence I like in a show by Gad Elmaleh where he says to a girl, ‘Oulah, t’as des pieds de damocles, toi!’ (which I guess means that she has big feet) when of course it should be ‘une épée de damocles,’ which means to be constantly threatened or pressured by something.

4. What strikes you as the strangest thing about Americans?

Maybe that they have so many origins. Like, someone’s going to be half-Jewish, half-Catholic, part Russian and part German or English or alien and then some. The strange thing is that they really are all those things, but they’ve all disappeared and melted together to become one new identity. It’s a very young country, and it shows in many ways.

I’m not being condescending here, because it doesn’t that mean we Europeans know better, but if I were all of those things, all those different nationalities, and I lived in Europe, I probably wouldn’t be like any American is; I would speak several languages, have different identities, different cultural references… I don’t exactly know what my point is, I just want to emphasize that this is one difference we have. Then again, I guess it’s changing in America, too. A lot of people coming from South and Central America share two different cultures and identities.

5. Say something about love.

Sometimes it’s fucking lonely. But it’s all I live for.

6. When you finish Gravity’s Rainbow, you’ll have read every book by Thomas Pynchon, even the weird ones. Why do you think he’s so reclusive?

Maybe to keep it all about the words, to protect them in some way… I don’t know. It always seems so paradoxical when a writer doesn’t want to talk. Is that what you meant by reclusive?

7. Can you share with us the recipe for that sauce you put on sandwiches?

Hmmm…should I? Well okay, I think what I do is mix a little bit of sour cream (a little bit, my American friends) with tons of mustard (à l’ancienne, de préférence).

8. You’re writing your thesis on the American photographer Marion Post Walcott. Can you show us one of your favorite shots?

This is one of them.

9. Compared to other Europeans, French people speak English rather poorly. Why is that?

I suppose we have very good English teachers. I had a couple who I considered to be some of my best teachers in any subject. I even had one who made us improvise on a specific topic in front of the whole class, kind of like a drama exercise but in a foreign language. So I guess it’s not exactly about what happens in class, even though I think we probably learn too much of the grammar and never really get to speak, which should be the first and the main thing you do when learning a language.

But I think the problem is larger than that. I’ve tried to compare with some of my Swedish friends, who are probably the best English speakers in the world, and find out why we aren’t as good as they are. All I could come up with is that Swedes have integrated not only the language but everything about the cultural life of Great Britain and America, and we haven’t. Sure, we watch American movies and listen to your music more than we listen to our own, but if you ask any French person who Jay Leno is, I bet you not a lot of people would know. What I mean is, it is still a very selected fragment of American culture we get here, it’s filtered in a way, which I don’t think is the case in Sweden. It’s all changing with the internet, where you can watch whatever you want on Youtube. People will probably improve just because of that. But we still mostly watch dubbed movies, we translate every title of every foreign film, we protect French from the general spread of the English language. Is that because we’re afraid of losing our language? Because we reject everything that resembles a standardization or globalization of American culture over the rest?

I don’t know. I love to speak English and I probably learned most of what I know on my own, travelling. But we shouldn’t be the only ones to be blamed. For example, none of my British friends (there are four) speaks a foreign language. My friend Lee lives on a British island just off the French coast and only knows the word for ‘rabbit,’ which is, well, a little unsettling. At a time when Europe is trying to merge into one big entity, this shouldn’t be the case. I fully accept that English has become the international language, and I would want my children to speak it as perfectly as a Swede does today, but this culture exchange certainly shouldn’t be one-way. See what I mean?

10. Do you need anything from Monoprix?

I always need chocolate, no need to ask.

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~ by ohkrapp on May 19, 2008.

9 Responses to “Interview: Laure”

  1. COULD I LOOK MORE FRENCH ON THIS PICTURE?!! stripes!… I don’t even like stripes that much. Oh well, les clichés ont la vie dure… :)

  2. “Swedes have integrated not only the language but everything about the cultural life of Great Britain and America”. I’m not sure if this is exactly what you meant, but I think that there is quite a large difference between being aware of a country’s popular culture and having the same “cultural life”. Swedes are generally quite aware of anglophone pop music and TV shows, but not only do we continue to produce a large amount of Swedish music, TV shows and movies, there is also a cultural particularity to Swedes (as to any other nationality) which makes itself noticeable in any interaction with non-Swedes, be they American, English or French.

  3. Nice interview :)
    You know Laure, if you don’t like that top that much, I don’t mind you give it back to me !

  4. About the: “Swedes have integrated not only the language but everything about the cultural life of Great Britain and America”
    No, of course by ”integrated” I didn’t mean that you share the same culture, not at all. What I meant was that swedes (from what i know of my friends, which might not be a good example since they’re all swedes who lived in America…) certainly have an awereness about the anglophone world and culture that the French probably don’t have yet, maybe first because of the language issue (may I remind you, we mostly suck with the english language and this probably keeps being the main barrier). I meant it as a compliment actually, because I don’t think that being aware of another culture should mean you have to give up your own. This is a problem we have here, we are afraid of opening our country to a more globalized culture, as if we did so our own might disappear, we might end up ”voiceless” in a standardized world. I think this is question that need debate, but countries like Sweden (and others that are not as impervious to the idea of a globalized culture) are a great proof that national culture can survive to globalization. And I do know that Sweden keeps producing a large amount of cultural items. I was, and still am a big Bergman fan (which I know might be a little ”cliché”), who, according to me, couldn’t be more of a Swedish filmmaker.
    I don’t know if that’s clearer… or if you even agree with my conclusions, but I guess you were right to correct my previous sentence, it didn’t sound very good, when it was meant to be nice!

  5. I think that there is quite a large difference between being aware of a country’s popular culture and having the same “cultural life”

    having integrated a culture != having the same cultural life

    integration does not entail replacement. the united states is gradually integrating central american culture, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up our baseball hats and beer for sombreros and tequila!… yet… <—insert your own racist comment here.

    still, as already noted, ‘integration’ should have been ‘awareness.’

  6. I heard a comedian in LA (arnaud collery) and he talks A LOT about being in the USA and what it’s like to be french. Funny accent – funny cultural differences. Interesting.

  7. […] MSNBC’s triumvirate (Matthews, Maddow, Olbermann) stream through the dreadphones. (When the cat’s away, the mice will dance, no? I can’t wait to explain to my kids what I did in my […]

  8. Ah! Never saw these responses until now. Greg, certainly understand your reasoning. However, ’twas Mischa who was the main hand in reworking the comment from my previous, more caustic and full of wounded national pride than the latter.

  9. i vote we retake the photo but give laure half a baguette, a half-smoked cigarette and maybe a gainsbourg photo on the wall. cool interview. i enjoyed browsing laure’s photos. some of the new york ones are especially beautiful.

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