Friday, January 30, 2009

Oui, on peut

The model in the bubble on the billboard near the Collège des vignes has been replaced a few times since I last mentioned her, with ads for Christmas tree sellers and hardware stores and, for a week, an ad for a restaurant that actually left off the restaurant's name. Location, check; new menu, check; photo of a chef and waitress who looked more like a female Peter Lorre than might have been entirely relaxing over dinner, check; name of restaurant, oops.

Yesterday when I took the girls to school there was another new ad, and I had to check with E and G to make sure that we had seen the same thing. The billboard is advertising a Chevrolet SUV, a Captiva. The big black diesel guzzler was prominently pictured, and, across the top of the sign, we read: Jusqu'au 28 février, le TVA disparaît. The TVA is a hefty tax that the French pay on most purchases; if it's not applied for the next month, as the sign says, that could be a big savings. The next line on the sign was printed in large red letters and it said: Yes we can.

That's when I asked if they had just seen what I saw. They had. It was in English.

The folks at Chevy France have hopped on the America-is-cool-again bandwagon. Can you imagine a French Chevrolet ad campaign in 2003 using the tag line Mission Accomplished? Neither can I.

But the question is: yes we can what? Yes we can save money on our quatre quatres? Yes we can be just like the Americans and drive great big cars? (Has anybody, anybody at all, at Chevy France read the economic news recently? Any articles about, oh, maybe, Detroit? It's hard to get a driver's licence in France; surely people who do are smart enough to sort these things out.)

Of course the point is not SUVs or emissions or gas prices. Chevy France is using Obama's campaign slogan to convey optimism, a fresh approach, the willingness to change. Buy this car in the next month, and you, too, will be cool, new, hopeful; hell, you might even be handsome. Yes we can is a profoundly American sentiment. If the French tried to say something like that, it would come out as: Maybe we will, but first we're going to have a cigarette. Or, We might want to, but it won't work out. Or, We could, but it would involve unseating thousands of government employees who would then all go out on strike and bring the country to a standstill, so let's have lunch instead. (In fact, there's a grève this week in France--protesting some of the changes that Sarkozy wants to make in the way the country works--that is so widespread and well-organized that is has its own website.)

Les Rêves de mon père is number 34 on the Amazon France bestseller list, right between one of vampire novelist Stephenie Meyer's lesser known works, Les âmes vagabondes, and the Guide officiel du film Twilight, which is probably not the strangest place that the new president is ever going to find himself. Just before the inauguration, a French edition of Obama's latest came out. I came across it at the store the other day and it made me smile. Not just because it was a book of the president's in French--though that, too--but because of the way the title translated. Le Changement: nous pouvions y croire. The Change: we are able to believe in it. Which may be why Chevy France went with the English on their ad.

1 comment:

  1. I've never understood why people where so anxious to go to outerspace to meet entities from another dimension when it was so much easier, faster, cheaper, funnier--and accompanied by better food and wine--to just go to France!;>)

    Great translation of "Yes We Can," Mme Marron!