One of the advantages of living in another country is getting to compare your new experiences with the ones you are used to. We were watching television the other day and a political ad came on. That’s not a topic we pay a lot of attention to but in the hopes of improving our language skills we watched it anyway. As with much of what we see that doesn’t come with French subtitles, we didn’t fully understand the message until the commercial concluded and the sponsor’s logo and name flashed up: Parti Socialiste. Oh my, that would never happen on American TV.
Once we got over the shock of that ad, it made us start talking about the differences we had noticed between French and American TV, especially the commercials. First off, we get 26 channels, all in HD and all broadcast over the air to the antenna on our roof–no cable subscription required. There is an annual audio/visual tax of about 125 dollars but that’s included in our rent. We watch some game shows because they tend to have subtitles in French and the questions are often displayed on the screen for a long time so it gives us a chance to understand what’s being asked. Prizes are minimal: books, luggage, or maybe 10,000 euro after you’ve been a daily winner all week long. Contestants applaud their challengers’ wins and the audience frequently participates in sing-alongs or rhythmic clapping that just seems to fill the hour for no purpose other than to have a good time.
Debates here are what I remember them being from high school where everyone gets to express and support their opinions without fear that your opponent will belittle or shoot you dead for disagreeing with her/his side of an issue. That shouldn’t surprise me since it was French writer Voltaire who is attributed with a quote about that although he might not like what you are saying he would fight to the death for your right to say it.
The French have a reputation for being more relaxed than Americans about sex and nudity and we would agree that it even applies to the TV ads here. Interestingly though, from what we’ve seen, if someone is naked it’s always a woman, always from the side, and always preparing to bathe or just coming out of the shower. In other words, they can make that shower gel or body lotion look sexy but always in an appropriate setting where you expect to see somebody without clothes.
They also make a lot of ads without any words, perhaps because the potential audience might be speaking Catalan, Spanish, German, Flemish, or even (egads!) English. A clever commercial currently running has a famous football/soccer player making eyes at a beautiful woman in the apartment building across from his until someone changes the channel. The footballer has actually been looking at a large screen TV that is so clear, if you believe the sponsor, that you’ll mistake it for real.