Funny French Phobias

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I've been learning a lot more than just the French language in my daily French classes. This week, a few new nationalities were added to the mix of students, including two peeps from Turkey, one from China, one from Korea and two from Japan. So, today we got to talking about where one could access the internet should one need to while staying in Paris. Let's see, there are cybercafes (pronounced see-bare cah-fay), internet cafes, taxi-phones and several bars around the city that provide internet access for a fee. I also suggested the public parks in town that provide WiFi for free, which was followed by a raised eyebrow and accompanying frown from my French teacher who said she'd be scared to have her laptop stolen if she used it at the park. Then, I thought to myself, "oooh, so that's why people have been looking at me funny - they think I'm the local snob showing off my electronic goods instead of keeping them safely stored at home who might get what's coming to me if I keep parading my laptop around in public." Good to know.

So, then the topic of discussion turned to French libraries. It's a sad truth that I've never stepped foot in a library in France. Not that I don't have any desire to, but it never seemed to serve much purpose for me as a non-French-speaking/reading resident. I imagine I'll make my way to a library once I've mastered the French language (or get more curious), but can't be sure that will be anytime soon. But, back to phobias. So, our teacher starts to tell us all the great things we can do at the library - like check out books for free, listen to music, and even use the internet...maybe. That's when she tells us that many libraries in France no longer allow WiFi throughout the building because librarians were complaining of headaches. "From the sound of people typing," I curiously ask. No, from the waves emitted by the WiFi. To which I respond with an unsavory and inappropriate snicker. (It totally slipped out.) Needless to say my teacher wasn't laughing with me, and her face had a dead serious look on it when I finally looked up. "Mais, c'est vrais!" I didn't want to be rude, but I had to voice my opinion, so I just told her that maybe it was true, but it's just très français. I know I'm going to sound like a generalist here, but it's just to make clear my thoughts on why something like this is "very French." Since I've been living here (the entire time with a Frenchie), I've learned a lot about French folks - about their habits, their traditions, their prejudices and even about their phobias. What I find most interesting for sure are their phobias. Even Gui comes up with the strangest explanations for certain ailments or complications that usually invoke a similar snicker from me. So, here are a few of the common phobias I've come across:

Fans: Having a fan on - especially at night while you're sleeping - is very bad for your health and causes respiratory problems.

Air Conditioners: A/Cs promote too much change in your body's temperature during the summertime, which can cause you to get sick. Also, A/Cs push dust into the air and cause respiratory problems.

Ice: Ice is too cold for your stomach to digest properly, thus shouldn't be consumed often or in large quantities.

(*edit) S'mores: The black carbon (?) from roasted marshmallows, if eaten, causes cancer.

They all have some kind of valid reasoning behind them, but as a foreigner, I find them a bit strange (I guess just as foreigner to Texas might find it odd or revolting that we keep the A/C on even in winter and drink 44 ounces of liquid submerged in ice while driving). There's really no way for me to know if they're right or not, and that's not really the point anyway. I figure they've been feeling this way and doing what they do much longer than me, so maybe they're onto something. I don't know. Perhaps a lot of it, too, is just phobic hand-me-downs that have been around forever like ghost stories or fairy tales. If there is any truth behind their reasoning, though (especially for the WiFi waves), I'm afraid there are going to be a lot of heads aching in Mountain View, CA.


JV said...


Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

I read about this in one of my touristy French books! Apparently they are champion hypochondriacs.

B used to tell me all the time to slow down while drinking ice water, because I would get the runs if I didn't.

Although, I have to say I totally agree with the A/C thing. Not that I don't use one, but this country is so OVER air conditioned, sometimes I do feel sick. Going from a 60 degree grocery store out into the 102 degree parking lot is enough to make me puke!

Candy said...

i totally believe the AC comment....there are a LOT of folks here getting the FLU in nearly 90 degree weather! I think it is due to the AC changing your body temp so rapidly!

lulu said...

Don't forget about your burnt marshmallow that you cooked at Halcyon for s'mores.

misplaced texan said...

OOH, thanks, Melynda. I just added that to the could I have forgotten?!!

Yu Ming Lui said...

Crazy stuff! *lol*

Actually the fan and aircon phobias are like those of old Chinese foggies. My grandmother has such thinking. I am surprised at this part of French culture.

misplaced texan said...

yu ming lui: Yeah, I think there's some underlying wisdom behind their crazy thinking...I just haven't quite caught on to it, yet.

Kara said...

Ok, I can't not comment on this one. I have spent the last few hours drinking red wine, watching the NFL and reading your blog. I decided to start at the beginning to get the whole story. I am a Texas girl (SA born, Austinite for the last 10 years) in my very early 30's. I plan to move to Paris this fall or in January of 2011 and randomly found your blog while doing research. This post in particular really made me laugh out loud. I SO appreciate your candid thoughts and musings about Paris. My experience will be quite different, I am sure, but knowing that someone else came from the same places and survived well, with her sense of humor intact, comforts me. THANK YOU!!

TEXAS SARAH. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.