(Wrote this 5+ years ago, not sure why I never published it, but advance apologies for any anachronistic inaccuracies.)
You either love them or hate them. And justified or not, I know too many of the latter, mainly because they don't speak French but super mainly because French people can be a gelid crew to deeply befriend (and frankly, Parisians can be even worse). I love them (my best friend and roommate, ex amour and lots of friends being of the species), but ask any foreigner who has done a student exchange in France. How many of them had a solid French wolf pack to run with, more than the occasional drink or party invite? Not many, is my humble guess.
Somehow during my own time as a student in Paris, I was lucky to be a part of a super fusion wolf pack of French and Americans (and Canadians, Kiwis, Australians etc). En route to becoming best friends though, there were definitely a lot of awkward moments integrating with a new culture, some romantic faux pas, others between budding friends. But what was integral to every Parisian social
experience was dancing and truthfully, it was one of the biggest factors that helped break down cultural barriers and melt the natural frigidity between the groups. Because where there are no words there. is. dance.
As such, I've made a list of songs that I had heard at every French house party or end of student party while in Paris to help you not be so clueless in the country. They are neither cool nor cutting edge but they are timeless. It is what comes on at the magical hour of 3am: prime time for lubricated cultural integration. Where the French drop the captain cool facade and start to hug and drunkenly dance, what I call Wonderwall o'clock for anglophones. Anyway, voila voila, I hope at least some of these experiences may help your French student exchange or cultural integration where ever you are!
My First French Party
One of the most heart gripping memories I have (that can jerk a tear or two depending on the blood-alcohol battle of the body) is the memory that finally made me feel like I was really in France and not some sock-sandaled tourist during my student exchange. The French may laugh at me, but it was while listening to their 80's classic, 'Les Lacs du Connemara,' at 4am in a musty old club to end the SciencesPo student party in the 6eme.
What I saw was truly a miracle. Everyone stopped dancing between themselves in small groups and coagulated in a puddle at the centre of the dance floor. They clasped arms in what looked like a barn dance throw down and started spinning and jaunting and switching partners, going faster and faster as the music increased. It was chaos, it was bacchanal, everyone was panting and sweating, laughing in sense of chaleur that I had never felt in Paris before that point.
La Crème de la Crème - Basically what being an international student in France is like
I had no idea what the song meant (except that it was about some damn lake called Connemara) but because I had heard it before that was plenty enough to compensate for that lack of solidarity with all these, up until now, stuffy French students. Parisians, known for their cold attitudes and difficulty for welcoming non-French, lose that cold wall when you put on some rather these embarrassing tunes. My advice forever: Music is a powerful tool when you're an expatriate, don't ever underestimate its power. It's always the first step to breaking that cultural wall when in a new place. Make an effort wherever you are, it will change everything. Everything!
Enough of my epic prolixity, here is the list!
1. Alexandrie Alexandra, Claude FrancoisCrazy disco, 70's dance music. Anglophone equivalent: MC's hammer's Everybody Dance Now? But less cheesy and very dear in the hearts of the French. With the disco revival, this song has recently niggled deeper into my heart! I wish Chromeo would remix it already. Du du du doooo!
2. Aventurier, Indochine
Holy mama. I had my first embarrassing, I-can't-bullshit-my-way-out-of-this-one moment in France thanks to this song. It was during le weekend integration (freshman weekend) in the countryside of Bourgogne. A handsome Frenchman named Florian, with perfect soft flowing brown hair of an erudite and light determined eyes grabbed me to dance. Fairly confident in my booty shaking skills I acquiesced. Little did I know that this was NOT North America and there was absolutely NO Beyonce booty shaking to be had. Instead, of grabbing my waist, he grabbed my arms(wtf), started doing ballerina twirls and playing peek-a-boo behind my back. I was so damn confused and felt tremendously ridiculous. Did I just summon the precipitation in an Indian Rain Dance? I hoped so to cool the burning fire that was my humiliated face. Florian quickly grew frustrated with me when I could not flow like a swan and mid-dance picked up the graceful French named Amandine, beside me. Painful.
And my huge romantic humiliation learning about "le rock"
What I felt like dancing next to Florian
What that was, was a French dance called "Rock and Roll," although in English you must say it with French accent, and shorten it to 'Le Rock' to mean what they mean. When Aventurier comes on, you must dance Le Rock. There is no other way to dance to it.
It resembles American swing dancing but has its own very peculiar rhythm and style. If you are a girl, a French boy will grab you as described above and if you are a guy, a French girl will expect you to grab her hand when this song comes on, and more than likely you'll be super awkward, spinning her once and then rocking back and forth as if you were in a 6th grade school dance. She will be annoyed that you are not wielding her like those magicians Florian or Sebastien over there and will probably avoid eye contact next time this song comes on to find her French compatriots.
What can I tell you, folks? This awkward, epileptic phase is inevitable though, and you just gotta get a French to teach you le rock. You'll get it (kind of) and be able to do it to slower songs. Aventurier however is the song you dance to when you've graduated to a more advanced level of French integration. Soon you'll be doing flips and jumps.
And if you have no dancing rock friends, learn to "danse le rock" here.
3. Ces soirees la, YannickThe song that pu le fromage it's hard to take it seriously. Nonetheless, over time you feel a sense of endearment and ebullience when it comes on singing about a good night of party with friends!
4. Je t'emmene au vent, Louise AttaqueAnother great song to dance le rock. Something you'll hear if you hang out at Chez Georges around Odeon in Paris.
5. Les Lacs du connemara, Michel SardouAs described above, this almost epitomizes the classic end of party feeling, the 'Closing Time' of France. The lights are turning on, it's 5 am and they want you to leave. They would put this on to tire us out but we would rock out hard, kicking those feet in our rotating dancing circle and not tired enough to stop anything ever. They stop the music eventually though. Everyone is happy and we go and grab kebabs at chatelet (a must do in Paris after the party).
6. Femme Liberee, Cookie Dingler
Learn the chorus to this song. If it comes on the radio or in karaoke it is an instant crowd hit! Best friend maker alert!
7. Girlfriend, TTCNeither beautiful nor charming, this song is a dirty and offensive rap. Nonetheless, French boys seem to have some sort of male bonding over this song and will get on the couch and start trying to rap together rap lyrics which they all know by heart. You will have no idea what they are saying, but if you are a girl, trust me it's not flattering. It's a response to Yelle's Je Veux te Voir.
Won't help your integration, but this is a nostalgic gem.
ConclusionThese songs are as timeless as the Beatles, Barbie Girl and the Macarena. During my student exchange in Paris, learning the cheesy songs that locals got groovy to seriously helped me feel less like a Canadian girl without a clue in a city of known for its cold snobiness. It's amazing how people open up over music that makes them feel good or remind them of better times. These songs helped me through France, but it's true for each country! Feel free to share the ones that helped you out of your awkward expat stage or if I'm missing any?
Thanks for reading, hope your experience will be less painful (but more awesome) than mine was.
These 4 links may help you if you're living in Paris
Stupid Shit French People Say: 7 Ways French Will Ruin Your English
Indie Guide to Partying: Don't Party Like a Tourist
My First Month in Paris: This City is a Cold Bitch
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