Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cult of Quality

Mediocrity is for idiots and Americans. It is not for the French.

The other day I was walking up my street when a particularly agitated French woman came charging out of a little cheese shop. She was PISSED. When I got close enough to hear what she was griping about, she uttered the phrase:

"C'était tout à fait médiocre." It was completely mediocre.

She was talking about the cheese, or maybe the entire shop. Whatever it was, it had greatly offended her, and she uttered the word "mediocre" as if it were the most vitriolic insult she could possibly conjure up. Mediocrity—the ultimate shame.

This incident is indicative of a larger theme that pervades French culture, particularly when it comes to food. In the United States, bigger is better at all levels of society, ranging from who has the biggest T-bone to who has the fastest private jet.

Conversely, France is a country that values quality and moderation over quantity and excess. If it's not good, vendors do not sell it, people do not buy it, one does not eat it… or wear it… or tolerate it.

I have drawn a little chart to help illustrate relative tolerance levels:

Notice the difference in the size of the "Acceptable" zones on these spectra. Notice the American “Go For It!” attitude, in comparison with the French commitment to “Only If It’s Worth It.”
Maybe that's why French people are so svelte. The quest for excellence breeds thinness. They would rather starve with dignity than survive on canned cheese.

Of course, this is not true across the board. Crappy products are available and in-demand in all economies of the world. But in general, French people are more discerning. Now that I’m in Paris, I try to be too. Although sometimes I still get an urge to shove my face into a vat of peanut-butter. Artisanal peanut-butter, obviously.


My Year Without said...

That is one of the funniest things I have ever pictured.....Someone being so incredibly bent out of shape because something was mediocre. Funny to me because, being an American, and according to your chart, mediocre is okay, even pretty good, actually!

Seriously, I am going to put my "mediocre" radar on in my observations of others. I walk out of far too many movies/restaurants to think of myself as non-discriminating. However, the cold, hard gardenburger I ate last night was "pretty good!"

iWoo said...

Haha, brilliant chart. I think my minimum standards have risen a fair bit since I moved to Montreal last summer from western Canada.

Generally I used to find something agreeable about even the lamest movies and barely-edible foods, but I actually complained about something from a patisserie yesterday. To my friends. Quietly.

Maybe when my french is better I'll master the art of making a big scene about something (seemingly) small like mediocre cheese.

Great blog, I wish I had started something like this when I decided to immerse myself into french (canadian) culture.

p.s. Nice moment on the radio concerning your new-found patriotism. I believe that Canadians cared more about the American elections last year than their own messy politics!


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