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Don’t Touch That Dial! . . . I’m Learning . . .

Since we supposedly have so much leisure time over here, what do we do with ourselves? Well the French watch television like everyone else in this world.  France struggles to develop a full line up of television on their own consequently you will find an American show (dubbed in French) somewhere every night.  I am sure it is quite cost-effective to just buy existing shows like CSI and Charmed and just pay for the voice-overs.  It is a good linguistic challenge to watch these dubbed shows because the average French sentence is longer then the English equivalent.  Often you have to use more words to express the same idea than in English.  Consequently these voice-overs are speaking très vite in order to keep up with the visual action and storyline.

Don't Touch That Dial!

Don't Touch That Dial!

In spite of the American domination in media, it is not to say that the French are unoriginal.  One night I found myself enjoying a little French television and stumbled across Le Grand Défi de la Santé (The Big Health Challenge).  I have to say, this show was smart, literally.  So here you have 8 contestants divided into two teams.  It is the typical round robin of answering a series of questions before your opponent.  In addition the questions were obviously related to human health.  It covered all categories of health including bacteria, dog bites, what happens when we sleep and sexuality issues.  Instead of just quick catchy facts and figures making the game about speed, this show was really about learning.  Off to the side was a legit doctor who validated the answers.  The show, as a concept, includes the discovery of why these facts existed or occurred.  Yes the sexual openness of the French also made prime time.  Several questions referred directly or indirectly to the male anatomy.  Then one team had to answer the ever so important question of how many times the French have sex.  (the answer is two to three times a week)  Nonetheless I have to say this show was quite sophisticated and a pleasure seeing the genuineness of the French wanting to learn.

But here is where the creepy Twilight Zone soundtrack entered my head. I looked at the clock.  What? Yes, I looked at the clock – it was 2 hours later!  This intelligent game show was on for a two-hour segment!  Really? Was I that consumed by intelligence for 2 hours and not know it?  C’est vrai?

But now I have broken into a cold sweat; I discovered I was truly alone.  I instantly realized that I had not seen a single commercial.  Not only was this show on for 2 hours, but uninterrupted for 2 hours.  No jumping toys.  No cereals with faux fruit.  No tampons with wings. No nothing.  It was just me and the doctor and 8 random French people who actually knew how to smile.  There is a bond here that is undescribable . . . or at least temporary as I have to wait for next week’s show.

So what was the following show? It continued along the spectrum from intelligence to down right nerdville.  I didn’t catch the title but seriously, these contestants needed social help.  It was two contestants, usually male, that fit the nerd stereotype to the “T”.  They didn’t look pretty; didn’t dress pretty and just weren’t pretty.  If they didn’t have thick glasses, they had a pocket protector.  The point of this show was to give each contestant either a random list of numbers or letters.  If it was numbers, they had to figure out the mathematical pattern.  If it was letters, they had to come up with the longest word (like in Scrabble).  Mind you, they had to do this in seconds – and they did!  I was astounded at their skills (but it still didn’t make me want to invite them over for social interaction).   The real kicker was who was in the audience – teenagers!  Yes, the live audience in this studio were not adults but teenagers.  When the timer started ticking for the next question, all the teenagers participated in the question.  They all diligently starting writing on their paper to see if they could match the nerd’s responses that were on stage.  I mean really, just want drug did they put in their food to make them want to hang out here?

It makes me reflect back to the American show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? – something that wouldn’t fly here in France I am sure.   My reasoning is that often I feel the American shows are about seeing how low someone can be pushed down.  The enticement of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader is to see the adults struggle with the bar set so dismally low.  Yet here in France, the bar is set so high, they are driven by the challenge.  I believe it is after effect of the school system here but that is for another blog article for another day.

Now with all that said, I won’t over romanticise French television.  There are some mindless, dumb reality shows as well allowing you to vegitate after a long day’s work.  What is refreshing about French television is that is not saturated with those reality shows.  You have a balance here when you look at the line up for a given evening of leisure viewing.  You have your choice on whether to go up or to go down.

If your pragmatic mind has gone off in trying how to figure France is paying for all these shows, then well done.  First there are in fact commercials on French television, just not as many.  Second, we are in the land of taxes and yes, every year each resident that has a television gets hit with by the State for Redevance audiovisuelle (Television Tax).  I will be getting my first tax request in the fall of 2011.  It does beg the question, would you be willing to pay a one shot payment in order to have fewer commercials?  Of course the content of the shows will influence your answer.

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Categories: Everyday Life
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