Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Curious Incident of the Daughter in the Parking Lot

My daughter called from her college in South Carolina. Anticipating Hurricane Hanna's arrival, she went to check on her car, which was parked next to the Harris-Teeter supermarket.

As she was closing the driver's door of the old Volvo, a woman approached her in the parking lot.

"Vous êtes Française?" inquired the woman, who apparently had spotted the "F" bumper sticker on the rusted rear end of the car.

"Oh... no, I'm actually not," replied my smiling daughter. "But my mom lives in Paris, and she got me this sticker."

"Ah zen," reprimanded the woman officiously. "Eef you ahr not really Fraench you should not put zat steeker on your cahr!"

What the "F"?

Francophile that I am, I've always plastered an F sticker on my car in the US, to the exclusion of all other bumper stickers. I used to buy them at service stations on the autoroute in France. That family tradition continues. Or did. How to nip a potential Francophile in the bud!

Now the F is more of a nostalgia item, I guess. But should the F sticker be reserved only for cars of French citizens living in the US?

It's the automobile sticker that launched a thousand imitations. If you want the (real) thing, you can find bumper stickers and similar fun French stuff here.


La Framéricaine said...

Oh, Polly, I'm really sorry that cette vielle peau was so rude and discouraging to your daughter. She's the type of person that gives French people a bad name. Quel rabat-joie!

There are, of course, plenty of things one that one could say to someone like that, but only about 5 minutes after she turned tail and went off to spread her goodwill and inter-cultural solidarity elsewhere.

Give your daughter two thumbs up and a twist from me for not having told her to "vas te faire têter les yeux, Madame! with the sweetest smile on her face that she could muster. And then teach her that lovely phrase as quickly as possible.

I have to say that one of my most powerful epiphanies came on the dishware floor of BHV when some young cashier gave me the typical version of French customer service. I used my hard-won French to tell her to get stuffed and, I'm proud to day, I am still tickled pink about it!

Up with trusty French-language skills!

Mats said...

Actually, those stickers are intended for cars registered in France, to show the country of origin when abroad. Nowadays the country letter is usually integrated in the registration plate itself, so it's somewhat redundant.

In France, though, there's a tendency of using those stickers to simply show which country you like, or where your grandparents where from, or where you've been on vacation, etc, which is clearly a misuse.

La Framéricaine said...

How, pray tell, does one "misuse" something with no legal standing?

A handicapped placard, maybe...

But the McCain/Palin sticker on my bumper with the big black circle drawn around it and the line drawn across the diameter of the circle?


David in Setouchi said...

Back in the days, the letter on a sticker had some sort of legal value.
I think that in the 80's you had to put the letter of your country in Europe (and to my knowledge, in Europe only).

Nowadays, the letter in on the actual plate, so the stickers don't have any legal value anymore... And yeah, people can put whichever they feel like, or none at all these days.

But in the US, they never had any legal value whatsoever, so the old lady was basically an idiot...

Sobvious said...

I agree with la framéricaine : there's no misuse whatsoever in the fact of putting an F sticker on your car wherasz you're not French. Is it even useful to answer anything : just silence and a smile can show what you think about such a stupid remark. Silence and smile are international...

PS I'm french and I live in Paris and I can send you F'S if you want : )

Unknown said...

i think david is right.

Ksam said...

Man, what a b*tch. Way to live up to the stereotype of a French woman, lady!

If it makes you feel any better, I had a "FIN" sticker on my car in the US (for Finland). And I had a MN sticker in the window of my car here in France.

Starman said...

I have zee Fraench bumper steeker ohn ma voiture.

Rachael Hutchings said...

Wish I had an F sticker just so I could spite that woman! I think we should start a movement of Francophiles putting F stickers on their cars or wherever else suits their fancy.

Cimon said...

I am not sure you are legally allowed to have these stickers on your car : I remember having seen a custom officer having all the stickers (and there were quite a few !) removed of a caravan - except the one that matched to the car's "nationality".

I also know for sure people are fined in Catalonia for wearing the european sticker with CAT instead of E by mossos d'esquadra (the local police).

Has your daughter got some rude remarks (beside this unexpected one) for driving a "F"-car ?

Joan said...

Pfff. It is to laugh! Your daughter's bumper sticker smoked out, in South Carolina no less, a typical French Stereotype!

Polly-Vous Francais said...

I guess my reaction was that this Frenchwoman must have been totally clueless about the use of these F bumper stickers in the States, where clearly no cars are using them for border-crossing ID purposes.

In the US, I think, people use them more for indicating an affinity with a culture.

I proudly slapped the F on the back of my car in the midst of the "Freedom Fries" era of French-American hoo-hah, which is what made this anecdote all the more galling to me.

But I like Fuji Mama's idea of getting all francophiles to put an F on their bumper just to show the rest of the world where their support is!

Maryn McKenna said...

I wonder what la vielle will do when she notices - if she hasn't already - the many US cars marked with nationality-type stickers that are complete US fakes? I've seen OBX (Outer Banks), MV (Martha's Vineyard), and in Atlanta some of the richer private schools have them - all in the classic white-oval-with-black. Elle sera carrement givree!

Maryn McKenna said...

And actually I should have confessed that my own Minnesota-registered Saab sports a red-and-yellow-striped oval marked "OC" - for my sympathy and identification with the pays Occitane/pais d'Oc. But come to think, I bought the sticker in Toulouse, so perhaps it truly was meant for border-crossing ... back to France!

Anne said...

Polly...where are you? Your fans miss you.

Polly-Vous Francais said...


I'm in the US and am working on a few posts. Will be updating more soon. Eek! It's been a busy family time and I haven't had the time to think or write in a productive way.

And I'm heading to a fun-filled high school reunion which will keep me busy and trying to relive my youth with some of the best friends in the world!

Stay tuned.

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