friday feast: are you more french or japanese?

photo credit: chachahavana

Bonjour, mes amis! Konnichiwa!

The other day, I found this wonderful poem by Beth Ann Fennelly, and it made me think how very Japanese I am.

Unlike the narrator of the poem, I don’t even have to pledge to be more reserved. I am, after all, the subtle avocado in the middle of a California roll, that first light of day (never glaring), the first one to bow in your presence. I rarely wear yellow, worship at the temple of tempura, and prefer to speak in hushed tones. Wrap me in a kimono, and with small, silent steps, I’ll follow you home, and grace your life with the fragrance of haiku.

And yet, I wonder, is it too late to be French? I really do want to sound smart, and have been passionate about Le Monocle de Mon Oncle for quite some time. I don’t even need to read the whole poem anymore, just the title, and the smartness oozes out of me like le pus d’acnéique. I am very fond of berets, boating parties, and fresh baguettes in bicycle baskets.

Smart Jama: Comment allez vous?
Regular Jama: Hey.

Smart Jama: C’est dommage.
Regular Jama: Tough bananas.

Okay, it’s settled. I will speak French in my kimono.

Meanwhile, you really should read this poem:

by Beth Ann Fennelly

Magnolia, just opening (with Japanese restraint).
Photo credit: Mary Faith

Then I wouldn’t prefer the California wine,
its big sugar, big fruit rolling down my tongue,
a cornucopia spilled across a tacky tablecloth.
I’d prefer the French, its smoke and rot.
Said Cézanne: Le monde — c’est terrible!
Which means, The world — it bites the big weenie.
People sound smarter in French.
The Japanese prefer the crescent moon to the full,
prefer the rose before it blooms.
Oh, I have been to the temples of Kyoto,
I have stood on the Pont Neuf, and my eyes,
they drank it in, but my taste buds
shuffled along in the beer line at Wrigley Field.
It was the day they gave out foam fingers.

(Rest is here.)

Magnolia, post peak (très français). Photo credit: oceandesetoiles

Le Roundup is at The Drift Record today, hosted by Madame Larios.

Here’s a little something for the road.

If you’re Japanese, Arigato!

photo credit: crispy teriyaki

If you’re French, merci beaucoup!

photo credit: amalthya

You spoil me, you really do.



35 thoughts on “friday feast: are you more french or japanese?

  1. Ooh la, la! Where do you find these delicious poems, “Smart Jama”? I loved this one so much that I had to read it out loud after I read it silently, just so I could affect a French accent in places and a Mississippi one in others. I laughed out loud and marveled at the beauty of many lines, and had a grand old time.

    I don’t believe it’s ever too late to be French. (I told my daughter to be on the lookout for those baguettes in bicycle baskets in Paris. They were one of my favorite stop-and-gawk moments when I was there.)

    I do think that it’s too late for me to ever be Japanese. I eat sushi once a week and adore haiku and the notion of wabi-sabi, but I cannot be subtle to save my kimono. C’est dommage.


  2. Tanita Says 🙂

    Ooh, this is fun — I imagined rewriting this using a couple of other cultural comparisons. It’s too late for me to be French — but I think I could do Mexican pretty well. Or Italian. Bring me some drama and color! Of course, I think the silent steps and meekly bowed head also applies…

    This is a really unique poem — some people would consider it on the edge of PC, yet there’s nothing offensive there in her wish to be more cultured, refined, intelligent — it’s all the same wish, to be the best of what is stereotyped of both of these cultures. I love it.


  3. So glad you liked the poem, Smart Sara. I also read it aloud several times, but I’m sure your Mississippi accent was far superior to mine. I almost grew a pencil thin moustache while reading the French parts, though (I studied French in school). Come to think of it, from now on, all my “rough edges” will be attributed to my wabi-sabi-ness. Yes. C’est vrai.


  4. Re: Tanita Says 🙂

    I pondered the PC of this poem, too. I’m sure there are some Japanese people who might take offense to the meek, bowed head stereotype. But the poet really does celebrate the beauty of both cultures, and as you say, the best of what is stereotyped. It’s interesting too, in that it made me examine what associations I make off the cuff when “French” or “Japanese” is brought up. I’ve been to both countries, and some of those so-called “stereotypes” are only too true . . .

    Now we know you’re a hot Latino! And I do love the drama of Italians :).


  5. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂 I’m, of course, Japanese, and Bob is mostly French. Interesting! 🙂 I have a post coming up next week about being told I don’t look Japanese. 😉 I think I figured out what she meant.


  6. I loved that poem, too, and, like Sara, wonder where you managed to find it first.

    So much to love about this post – although I could have done without the comparison to acne pus in your post – GROSS!


  7. Can I choose “other”? 😉 My father was born close to Japan (Indonesia) but his brother was a Japanese POW in WWII so there are kind of some historically bad feelings there on that side of the family, although not affecting me directly. (My father relents enough to accept the Japanese make good cars and electronics.) And I have never ever had any interest in anything French (language, culture, etc) except for bread-y things (including croissants!). Which reminds me – has had some recipes for croissants go by lately, and WOW do I want some now.

    Neat poem, though. 🙂


  8. I didn’t realize Bob was French. Oo-lah-lah! You’ve got both these cultures in the same household — what an interesting mix. But then, you’re probably atypical Japanese, if there is such a thing — maybe that’s what your post will be about. I’m anxious to read it!


  9. Smart Jama: le pus d’acneique
    Regular Jama: zit pus

    I’m really going to have to speak more French. One of my favorite words is villanelle. 🙂

    I found the poem in an anthology edited by Billy Collins. Not only is he a great poet, he selects the best stuff!


  10. My interest in French things came with studying it in high school and college, and then because of all the great artists — loving Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, etc.

    My grandmother also had negative feelings about the Japanese because she remembers their occupation of Korea.


  11. Love this post, Smart Jama.

    Me, I’d love to speak in hushed tones and walk with small steps. Alas, I fit neither category. 😉



  12. That dying magnolia photo is exquisite!!

    I saw Beth Ann Fennelly at an AWP conference once — she gave the most appealing talk. And I just love this…


  13. I’m guessing I’ve always leaned toward that — which is probably part of why I was so attracted to certain aspects of DH from the very beginning 🙂


  14. I have to admit that I don’t always click through to read the rest of the poem, but I did this time because I was intrigued by the start – and by the concept. Enjoyed the poem very much.

    I hold far more fascinataion with Japanese culture than for French. I may not be reserved, like at all, but I can admire it more than I can admire the “snooty” French. I’m defintely not snooty.


  15. I’m very much a crass American. I could stand to use a bit more sophistication!
    Great poem, Jama! Being a Cubs fan, loved the mention of Wrigley Field, too!
    Kelly Polark


  16. The French have long held that reputation, but in recent years, their so-called “snootiness” has supposedly abated. When I first went to Paris some 30 years ago, the French were very impatient when it came to English speaking Americans. But in a nationalized effort to promote tourism, some of them have changed their approach, and will now even speak a little anglais to help out clueless tourists.

    I’m happy you clicked through and enjoyed the poem, Pam!


  17. I have always called myself a Heinz 57, a product of the melting pot that calls itself America…no culture upon which to hang my name.

    And it sorta ticks me off sometimes. 🙂

    I loved this! And Sara’s right….you always seem to find the best darn poems.


  18. The Wrigley Field line was one of my favorites — who can resist the foam finger? It does seem that in some ways, Americans lack sophistication. I noticed it a lot more when I was living overseas. You could always tell an American by the sheer volume of his speech, and sometimes by a demanding attitude.


  19. Damn. I’m with Sara. Where *do* you find these gems? I. love. that. poem.

    I could EASILY eat like the French. Wait, I think I do.



  20. I’m neither French nor Japanese. I’m pure Mississippian — totally like this:

    “…But so what
    if I’m subtle as May in Mississippi, my nose
    in the wine-bowl of this magnolia bloom, so what
    if I’m mellow as the punch-drunk bee.”

    Fun way to think about who we are and what defines us!!!


  21. I know. I thought about that after I typed it! I felt like I was reading about locational culture (new phrase!) in that poem, and then went…wait?! In some ways, I’m definitely part of my ethnic group and in many ways, very much not, so there’s probably a reason in there somewhere!


  22. Jama, I have to tell you that this poem made me literally laugh out loud. This line alone

    It was the day they gave out foam fingers.

    was worth the price of admission. I did love the first half better than the last half, though. But I’m a fan of short poems, so maybe I just tire out:>)

    But I gotta say, your intro was as funny/lovely as the poem itself.

    “Wrap me in a kimono, and with small, silent steps, I’ll follow you home, and grace your life with the fragrance of haiku.” Gorgeous!

    And this–“I am very fond of berets, boating parties, and fresh baguettes in bicycle baskets.”

    Did you do a B poem, like me? If not, you clearly should!

    Thanks, Jama, for the laugh and the joy.


  23. Glad this poem made you laugh, Laura. I loved reading it aloud with my fake French accent. I also liked the first half better than the second. Bites the big weenie got me, as well as the foam finger!


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