Parisians poke fun at themselves in exhibition

Who says Parisians have no sense of humour? The city of Paris this week launched a public exhibition of cartoons, intended to poke fun at the foibles and follies of life in the capital city, mocking natives, tourists and expats alike.

Paris has a reputation for  being a joyless place at times, and locals are not often praised for their ability to take a joke, or get involved in the kind of banter that English-speaking expats and visitors are accustomed to.

A new public exhibition, however, looks likely to cause a few laughs, as residents of the capital are encouraged to take the you-know-what out of themselves, as well as tourists and expats.

“Les Parisiens,” a series of 50 cartoons from the hand of Japan-born artist Kanako Kuno, was launched on Wednesday in collaboration with the city of Paris, the “My Little Paris” website, and Editions du Chêne.

The panels, which play out typical snapshots of daily life in the City of Light, will be displayed until August 28th on 1,000 billboards and bus shelters in famous parts of the city such as Champs Elysées, Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and in Montmartre.

One cartoon shows a café terrace packed with diners, uniformly staring at the sky, wearing shades and phoning a friend, with the caption: “Hurry up! They say there’ll be seven minutes of sun.”

Another shows a couple stuck in a queue outside a popular breakfast spot, as the server tells them happily: “For brunch, I have one table left, at 6pm.”

And anyone who’s ever tried to take a taxi in the city late at night will recognize the pair of lovers kissing on a rooftop, the Eiffel Tower gleaming in a starlit sky behind them, as the caption reads: “Must remember not to miss the last Metro.”

Every caption is displayed in both French and English, so that tourists and non-francophones can get in on the joke, and appreciate that Parisians, despite their reputation, are funny people.

“There is this cliché that Parisians are serious and rude,” Amandine Péchiodat, from My Little Paris, told The Local.

“And because it's so powerful, tourists come here and only look for that kind of behaviour. What I want them to know is that, actually, Parisians have a great ability to laugh at themselves,” she added.

And laughter, it would seem, is the main goal of “Les Parisiens,” as Lionel Bordeaux, deputy communications director for the city, told French TV TF1.

“These billboards have no purpose other than to make people laugh,” he said.

“We’re always putting up notices about serious stuff like social housing and AIDS prevention. It’s nice to be able to have a bit of light relief, and to take a comical and critical look at the lives we lead,” he added.

For her part, Kuno, who moved to Paris from Tokyo in 2005, insists that her cartoons, despite sometimes being bitingly funny, are born out of a love for the city.

“Living in Paris is wonderful…I love Parisians who don’t act particularly ‘Parisian,’ and aren’t really trendy,” she said.

“Like an old gentleman sitting outside a café with his dog, but not far from him, there’s this really glamorous girl. I love these little snapshots of life,” she added.

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Seven out of ten French people think they’re funny… but do you agree?

A total of 70 percent of French people are funny... at least that's what they believe, according to a new study that is likely to raise a few eyebrows among the foreigners living in France.

Seven out of ten French people think they're funny... but do you agree?
French president Emmanuel Macron shares a joke with voters. Photo: AFP
The results of the poll carried out by YouGov will no doubt leave a few Brits and Americans out there with puzzled looks on their faces.
After all, while many foreigners living here might rhapsodize over the food, culture and quality of life in France… it's fair to say the French sense of humour can often leave others nonplussed. 
Of course, a major part of the problem is jokes being lost in translation, but with more than two thirds of those surveyed saying they find themselves funny at least the French find themselves to be a funny bunch. 

Is it true 'the French just can't laugh at themselves'?Photo: Ian Britton/Flickr

However the results differed depending on gender, age and location.
Overall more Frenchmen saying they were funny (74 percent) compared to 65 percent of French women.  
Younger people also believed themselves to be funnier than older French people, with 30 percent of 18-24-year-olds, saying they were “very funny” compared to just 8 percent of the over-55s. 
And it may not come as a surprise to those who live in the French capital that 76 percent of Parisians – more than anywhere else in France – find themselves amusing while people in the south east of France are the least likely to find themselves funny at 65 percent. 
Laurent Gaulet, who has written around 200 joke books, finds the survey amusing in it own right and thinks that the results could even be down to people misunderstanding the question. 
“Oh yes, I find this funny! If this proportion is so high, it is probably that there is confusion between having a sense of humour, understanding and being receptive to jokes, and actually being funny. One can have one without being the other,” Gaulet told the French press. 
The author went on to describe French humor as “quite contradictory”.
The nations the French love to make fun of the most
Photo: Romain Seignovert
“Many people find themselves funny but do not accept that we can laugh at everything. Humor is considered a quality, but it's also a double-edged sword,” he said.
According to the YouGov study, 73 percent of French people enjoy making jokes.
“These are often funny comments made around a dinner table, rarely puns,” Marc Hillman, who has authored several books on humour, told the French press. 
“As a people we are focused on bawdy jokes, innuendo and smuttiness rather than on fine humor,” said Hillman, adding that “English humour is more select and more refined.”
Hillman said that if the French really excelled in any area when it comes to humour, then it's puns.
“If the pun is so present, it's because it is related to the sound of our language,” he said. “French is extremely rich in terms of homophones.”
Stephen Clarke, who wrote Brexit comedy novel “Merde in Europe”, previously told The Local that humour isn't a “well respected” genre in France. 
“A comedy will never win a film award. This is because French culture is mainly about trying to prove how clever you are, so they feel obliged to go in for intense, intellectual novels and moody films.” 
The idea of Brits favouring a self-deprecating humour was backed up by another British comedian in France, Ian Moore. 
Photo: AFP
“The French find it harder to laugh at themselves, which is a trait the British are proud of,” he told The Local.
Here are some French jokes to help you make up your mind on where you stand on the issue. 
The French love to laugh at other nationalities, with the Americans often the butt of these jokes. 
For example, it might not come as a surprise that the French, a people fiercely proud of their cultural enlightenment and good taste, tease the Americans for lacking sophistication. 
“What's the difference between an American and a pot of yoghurt? After a period of time, the yoghurt begins to develop cultures.”
The French also enjoy calling into question the notion that the US is the center of the universe. 
One joke goes: “A group of Americans were asked to give their honest opinion on solutions to a possible world food shortage. However the survey was a failure because no one knew that the 'rest of the world' existed.”
And if you've spent much time around the French, you'll know there's no one they love to poke fun at more than the Belgians, with most of the jibes poking fun at their neighbours for being simple minded.
For example: “Why do the Belgians have their fries, and the Arab world has petrol? Because on the day of the world's creation, the Belgians chose first.”
“Why don't the Belgians eat pretzels? Because they can't untangle the knots.”
“And why don't they eat M&Ms? Too hard to peel.”