One Person’s Blaxploitation Is Another’s Black Buffet (A Black American In France)

Watching Tyra Banks In France

By Lynsey Saunders

Like a good bottle of French wine shipped to the US, all of our crappy TV is imported straight to France. The French brown people learn words common to the English language like ‘fierce’ (you’re fabulous Tyra) and know what it means to cook a good rack of ribs (thanks Kyle!) from shows like America’s Next Top Model and College Hill. Some of them LOVE it. I’m not sure if it’s the shows themselves or the idea that this is what a young black American like myself is watching, so somehow they become apart of the cool club. Think about that theory… The French learn all about us from the great shows on the classy networks like BET and MTV. I’ll prove to you how I know this theory to be true.

Let’s set the scene shall we?

More after the jump.

My friends and I decided to be adventurous in Paris and do something different. How about a Solange concert (you may know her as la scoeur de Beyonce) in a sketchy alley? Let’s get lost first, ask some rude Parisian girls with fake tans and painted on eyebrows (weren’t they from True Life: I live on the Jersey Shore?) how to get there… Parlez-vous Anglais? Negative. To McDonald’s then, (they speak English there right?) get directions from an Asian (in French) and somehow make to our destination. We stumble upon a ridiculously long line outside a building with no name. Really, Solange? As we wait in line, I get a flyer for cheap, star-quality (how do those words even fit in the same sentence) lace-front wigs. So for the low-low, I could look like both Beyonce and Sasha, and have baby hair just like Tyra. Let’s just cover up our damaged hair (I can’t even find a comb or good hair products in France. If you know of a side street I need to go down, let me know) but that’s another story.

All this talk of Tyra, and lace-front wigs get me to talking/complaining about the lack of programming for Brown people here. Ok, ok so I am staying in a hotel where you watch whatever’s on TV, but seriously if I see Children of Men dubbed in French one more time. Being in a country where there is lack of programming for people like me, I’m starting to appreciate College Hill and America’s Next Top Model for what it is. What shows do young, brown people have in France to watch and at least make fun of? OURS! That’s who.

I met a very nice French girl in that line by the name of Anne Laurence. The twenty-year-old Parisian told me that she watched all of the shows we watch in America. Hell, that’s even how she learned some of her English. (I know, right?) What are we complaining for? At least on shows like American Idol and ANTM we can kind of become stars (kind of). Here in France, it’s different. They watch our TV and listen to our music. Take the Solange concert for example. Her CD is not even released overseas yet, but somehow they know her and probably like her more than we do. I mean let’s face it she’s more than just Beyonce’s sister over in France. She has very eager fans who know all of the words to her music that they sought out themselves. So where does this eagerness come from?

In America we are subjected to the day-in, day-out of countdowns and reality TV but imagine not having any outlet at all. When I spoke to forty-year-old expatriate, American turned French Granville Fields he said after living in France for close to twenty-five years and working as a translator; he sees a lot of changes in French culture because of globalization.

“One of the trends I’ve seen that is a direct result of globalization is the impact of American culture on French culture,” says Fields.

Westernized music is so dominant in France that I couldn’t even escape it in what I considered a classy restaurant- sans the FloRida. Picture this, as I am sipping on the house wine and buttering my homemade baguette, FloRida’s ‘Right Round’ music video is blaring in the background on a wall my friends and I were sitting next to. Traveling overseas, I was expecting to get away from the music videos and radio stations blaring Beyonce and Lil Wayne, but seeing large tour posters for these artists and oh so many more let me know that if I wanted to listen to French music, I’d have to find it on the underground.

Listening to French rap in France was like reading something naughty. It was almost as if it were forbidden. While I might be acting a wee dramatic, there is some truth in the words I write. Our music is so prevalent in France that since 1994, France’s Pelchat Amendment ensures radio stations broadcast at least forty percent of their music in French during primetime hours. Have you ever heard of such a thing in America?

But was I a bit disappointed to walk down the street and feel like I was in New York? Honestly, no. It was comforting to me to know that the French love us even at our crappiest.


Lynsey Saunders is a writer and intern at The Black Snob who spent part of her summer abroad in France.

10 thoughts on “One Person’s Blaxploitation Is Another’s Black Buffet (A Black American In France)

  1. I love Solange! Have you seen her new cut! She looks amazing.It’s so scary to think that for many people in other countries their only exposure to African Americans is Beyonce and Tyra or worse Lil’ Wayne. (note: I am a Solange fan but not a fan of her big sis)

  2. question: who is the LARGEST private employer in France? answer (its McDonald’s). Which was one of my points on the Sarkozy vs the Burqa topic. There are asymmetric power relationships here, and while the economic allure of cheap/fast food,jobs might be unstoppable in a modern/ non agrarian society where everyone has to work- a line can/may be drawn about how the person in front of you in the drive thru is dressed.Having said that I’m wary of people taking a one dimensional view of AfAm/culture, but you really can’t knock the hustle when JZ vs the Game is being used by Foreign Policy[the magazine] to argue the pro’s and cons of the American primacy.

  3. To digress a little…I experienced the ‘do-not-speak-back-unless-you-speak-French’ thing myself, a few times. I speak French but when I arrived in Lyon (as an Exchange student), I decided to test that theory. I asked for directions in English and almost 10mns after of noone willing to help me in English, I eventually broke and spoke in French. In 20msn, I was knocking at the door of the student housing. Lesson learned: In the big cities, you’ll get far if you speak French…

  4. I love France. Currently on vacation in Nice and don’t speak a lick of French. Politeness goes a long way, Don’t just assume that someone speaks English, ask politely (learn at least that much in French). You’d be surprised how differently you will be treated, even if they don’t speak English, As for McDonald’s I find it hilarious that they are France’s biggest employer when you always read the negative comments French people make about that particular aspect of American culture creeping in.

  5. I was living in Paris at the height of European hatred of Americans, but I had so many French people tell me how they loved la "Black" culture. So much so, they use the English word, black when speaking of our culture. They have a weird fascination with us and as you’ve written it is mostly based on current Black pop culture on display in music — but also from those of long ago who went there to be free from Jim Crow. To them, we’re exotic and familiar at the same time. I believe that some of what they see in us is our old culture (drawn from our African ancestry) as a ship sailing in the ocean of the WASP mainstream, which many Europeans deem to be lacking of any culture as in customs/traditions rooted in non-superficiality. But they will not hesitate to give you an earful about our stupid American foreign policies and puritanical obsessions. I haven’t been back since before President Obama, but when I was there so many Europeans (I was visiting a few places) had their fingers crossed for Barack Obama. It would be nice to go back and chat and see if the love is still there 😉

  6. Recently I had a visitor from Syria tell me that she’d seen the recent Tyra Banks show on "good hair" (in Syria) and wanted to know why I wore my hair natural if all black women were supposed to straighten their hair. I calmly explained that I used to straighten my hair, but stopped because it wasn’t healthy. I said I preferred to have my natural healthy texture (I didn’t use the word nappy because she wouldn’t have understood; I said "Afro") and she said it was beautiful. The end.I don’t mind educating foreigners on my hair or anything else pertaining to black culture. My problem comes when I have to educate AMERICANS (of all races) who ought to know better. I’m about to make a quick visit back to Europe where I expect I’m going to have to do both…

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