Learning Through Television

by Charlotte Parker

Paris — My French host family watches TV every night during dinner, which shocked me at first as meals in general are so important here. Over the past few weeks, however, I’ve begun to appreciate it as a way to learn new words and gain insight into French culture.

I’ve come to love Laurence Ferrari, the anchor for TV1 France’s 8 pm news. She is an elegant blonde who is currently pregnant, and her face is all over the covers of the magazine ParisMatch. She is nonetheless no bimbo; she confronted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a live interview last week, and brings to the news a spirit of questioning tinged with just the right hint of emotion.

This week’s big news topics were the approval of Sarkozy’s new retirement plan, the devastating flashfloods in the south of France, and, of course, the World Cup. After a tie to Uruguay in their first preliminary match last week, “Les Bleus” played a lifeless 0-2 loss to Mexico on Thursday, and the media in general has been expressing its disgust (my favorite footage of popular opinion was of a female fish-vendor, exclaiming that the team was completely “useless,” among other words). More on the World Cup later this week — I will be watching the France-South Africa game on Tuesday on a giant screen by the Eiffel Tower, as well as experiencing the US-Algeria game Wednesday in a small café run by an Algerian man.

Another interesting news tidbit was the flurry surrounding the bac” or baccalaureat, the final test for French high school students that essentially determines their future. On Wednesday night, there was much speculation as to the topic for the philosophy portion of the test the next day, and on Thursday, Laurence Ferrari narrated the scene at a Parisian high school after the 4 hour test — and included footage of the poor, bedraggled young philosophers after they had finished! I would not have been amused to find myself on national TV after the SAT…

The commercials in between news segments are cleverer than most I’ve seen on American TV, full of wordplays that my host family has to explain to me. Many are shameless by Puritain American standards; every sort of shower gel and shampoo, for example, is advertised by naked bottoms under the shower. There are products I would never have expected to see advertised on national TV, during prime time: on Tuesday, it was “Scorpio,” an “arousing” cologne for men, advertised via a semi-pornographic make-out clip, and Wednesday, it was a cleavage-enhancing bra, accompanied by corresponding footage, bien sur. Both times, I was momentarily alone with my host father and felt exceedingly awkward, but as far as I can tell (not very far, perhaps, as I suddenly became very interested in my cheese course), he didn’t bat an eyelash.

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