Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 5 April 2009

ChinaSMACK: More rage at France

On March 9 (at the time of the conflagration about the auction of the Yuanmingyuan heads), ChinaSMACK featured highlights of a debate about an account of a Chinese woman who was flying from the US to Paris on an American airline three weeks after the Olympic torch relay (during which the torch had been heckled in Paris and the torchbearear attacked). Clearly, the time of the publication was not accidental.

The gist of the story is that the woman had been offended by the rude behaviour and stereotyping remarks (of a political nature) of some French people sitting next to her. She indignantly retorted, in a way that we have often encountered at the time both on the Internet and in personal conversations:

“… Do you know the background these young people grew up in? Let me tell you, they are the 80s generation that were born after China’s reforms. Almost all of them are the only child in their families, whose parents provided them with everything they could. They are a self-confident, self-centered, generation with their own way of thinking, having grown up listening to Western popular music and watching Hollywood movies. They do not feel that they are inferior to others, so when they discover their own motherland being looked down upon by others, without anyone’s incitement or brainwashing, they automatically/voluntarily stood up for the honor of their motherland!”

But what I found particularly interesting is that when she sought (and found) consolation from a Chinese stewardess, the latter told her that

amongst her work assignments, the France route gives her the most headaches because the passengers are too wanton, do not listen to the flight attendants, continue to walk around when the fasten seat belt light is on, that it is common for them to ask for 4-5 things each time they want something, and it is as if they have been wronged if it things are not done this way. Not only this, and perhaps as a result of of smoking, their mouths are very smelly. I said to her that people say Chinese passengers are also very difficult to handle. She said that the route between China and America is 14 hours, the route between America and France is 8 hours, and in comparison, Chinese passenger’s behavior is far better than French people. If French people were to sleep for that long of a time, it would be impossible to enter the passenger cabin [due to bad mouth odor]! She also said that she must admit, America is the country with the best personal hygiene in the world, the passengers basically do not have any mouth odor.

Of course, the bodily practices of which the stewardess found French passengers guilty are precisely those that are typically associated with “low-quality” Chinese. In other words, this is an intriguing example of the discursive strategy also used during the anti-Olympic torch demonstrations, where Westerners are found to be lacking in “quality” compared to the young, modern Chinese. (The dismissal of France as a country of pompous idlers, elsewhere in the text, also echoes US discourse at times when France is unpopular, such as during French criticism of the Iraq invasion.) The author of the story further demonstrates her “quality” by quoting a supposed passage from Victor Hugo, criticising the looting of the Yuanmingyuan, to her interlocutor, and declaring: “I only admire French people who are like Hugo!”

Finally, when a Frenchwoman says “A true French person does not buy other country’s [sic] luxury goods” (presumably referring to the long lines of Chinese tourists queuing up in front of Louis Vuitton on Champs-Elysees), the author retorts that this is simple envy:

If I am not guessing wrong, a woman like you needs to save for awhile to buy an LV bag. Look at Chinese people, when they buy one, they buy half a dozen or a dozen so of course you are uncomfortable.

The reactions quoted on ChinaSMACK were mixed, from support to indignation about the statement that Chinese people could afford half a dozen LV bags (suggesting personal privilege and callous ignorance of the lives of average Chinese), to support of the Frenchmen for their insistence on the freedom of speech.

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