Mar 072011
A while ago, I answered the question “Why French Women Do Not Ask Men Out?
But there was one comment that I never published. Why? Because I thought it deserved its own post. Yes, it was that good and that interesting.
So here it is:
Febehlat said:
“Even though this idea came into context quite a few centuries ago I believe that certain things often integrate themselves into society so much that people do not even realize that they are there, but do you suppose that this (generalized) mentality might have anything to do with the influence of the roman courtois and the notion of courtly love? I don’t know how familiar you are with Medieval Literature but these type of mind games seem a lot like what happened with Lancelot and Guinevere in Le Chevalier à la Charette. (If you’re not familiar with it essentially Lancelot must humiliate himself in order to save Guinevere but, because he hesitates before humiliating himself when he arrives to save her, she decides that he must not love her enough for her to allow herself to be saved by him and so he must humiliate himself even more before she will allow him to save her.)”
Well Febehlat,
I completely agree with you.
One thing people underestimate when it comes to love and relationships are their cultural aspects and dimension…
You always hear the usual “love is universal,” “love is the thing that unites all of us together”, etc.
To that I say BULLSHIT!
Love is cultural, like everything else when it comes to what human beings do.
Sure, love is the result of dozens of thousands of years of evolution, for the sole purpose of making males stick around once they got the female so that he can protect her and their progeny, allowing said progeny to become adults (and not fresh and tender meat for the next alpha male that passes by).  As an evolutionary byproduct, it exists in all human beings. However, since humans started wearing clothes made from other things that the fur of the animals they killed, started doing a bunch of things that had little to do with survival (doing arts, doing business, believing in supreme beings, writing blogs), different cultures started to develop all over the world.
And guess what, love started to adapt itself to said cultures.
So yeah, love exists in every culture, it’s even possible to fall in love with somebody from another culture. That doesn’t change the fact that love expresses itself differently from culture to culture.
In France, until the Middle Ages, love was not that different from the rest of Europe. People got married. Men went to war a lot, there, if they survived the latest battle they could rape as many women as they wanted once they had torched the villages they just conquered. In the meantime, if the woman was lucky enough to be the wife of one of the victors and not one of the losers, she’d get incredibly bored. Well, I’m talking  women from the aristocracy here, the plebes were busy enough with the fields, the kids and the rest, especially because the husbands were away from home busy raping and/or getting killed at war.
During those times, there was one kind of man that was incredibly lucky. We could even say that they were the smartest guys around. First, they were actually very smart, they even managed to not be enlisted in the army. I’m not sure how, I guess I’m not as smart as them. And not only they escaped having their skulls smashed by enemies, they got hired to sing songs and tell stories to bored aristocratic women.
One thing you need to know if you ever have to sing songs to a bored woman from the aristocracy is that bored aristocratic women don’t care for war stories, so don’t start singing song about how their husbands break skulls and rape they way through enemy territory. They craved for something else. Something else that those guys - let’s call them Troubadours - designed little by little, by paying attention to what their audience liked and disliked. Yes, you read me right, those men, those troubadours, could even listen to women and knew what they wanted! Super-humans, this is what they were if you’re asking me! 
This is how Romance Stories were born.
Those guys became extremely popular with the ladies, they literally were the rock stars of the time. And husbands were happy, while they were busy warring (and hunting when they were not warring), they knew  that their wives were not bored, as they were busy listening to those long haired effeminate dudes singing stories to them. Were they worried that their wife would be unfaithful? That’s the thing. If the wives were too bored, yes, they might start to look for ways to occupy themselves and those teenage boys in the stables were quite muscular indeed. But as long as their wives were obsessed listening to those singers who were probably gay, there were nothing to worry about.
Of course, troubadours were not gay (well, maybe a few were, I never asked, I respect their privacy), and the joke was on the husbands (and the teenage boys in the stables too, poor kids).
Oh yeah, you can mock the way they look all you want.
Guess where he is going to sleep tonight?
If you answered your wife’s bed, you won!
And this is how, little by little, women started to be more and more demanding from their husbands when they got home. Sure, after a while they started to become suspicious about those troubadours, but they were long gone to another castle, and now, if the husband wanted to get some, he had to abide to his wife silly demands, yes, that included washing more than once a year and not forgetting to pick up some flowers on the way back from hunting.
In the end, yes, the idea that “French men are romantic” comes from that time and courtly love.
This is actually my favorite example on how literature can have an influence on society (sure, I just told the story in a -hopefully- funny way, but the general idea is factual) as “courtly love stories” had a huge impact on France (and later the world). It invented the modern Western concept of Love, as well as novels and a few other things.
One detail, about the word “Romance“.
It also comes from those stories. They were called “romances” (that’s a French word by the way) because they were invented and told by people from the South of France, and their language was not “Old French”, but the “Roman” language. This is how people from the North (Paris and around) called the language of the people from the South (nowadays we call it “Occitan”) and although it was not Latin (the real Roman language) it was much closer to Latin than the language from the North was (think of it as a mix between French and Spanish for the South-West and a mix between French and Italian for the South-East).
(on a side note, yes, it means that men from the South of France, especially the South West invented what Westerners call love… just saying…)
This is also how languages like French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian (and a few lesser known others: Occitan, Catalan, Romanche, etc) ended being called “Romance Languages” in English.
And do you know what is the French word for “Novel”? Roman.
Oh and while we’re on the language topic, the word “Troubadour” means “Finder” (of good stories) in Occitan/Roman language.

More Questions Answered:

  11 Responses to “A spin-off from "Why French Women Do Not Ask Men Out?"”

  1. This is indeed a lovely post… I just wonder how will American ladies comment/understand/relate to that ! In my language we use the expression" to bewitch the woman" for the whole courting/romancing aspect. If the man does not know how to succesfully perform the ritual of "bewitching ", there will be no follow up in the love affaire… the woman will lose any interest and move on.

  2. Oh well, my French husband (descended from French aristocracy) has always had this theory: Une femme qui rit est moitier dans le lit.

    Eh ben, moi, je trouve que c'est presque toujours vrai.

    • That is so true! I was with a french man in Paris for 10 years…you’ve done very well! Congrats.
      Vous llui dîtes qu’il a raison!

  3. It's very nice to be romanced, and seems so easy too, but so many American guys just don't do it. You would think you would invest in lessons if it would mean getting laid more often, but instead American men act, just like those lazy aristocratic husbands, as though they are being tortured to be a little soft and sweet. Ah well. The one time I was romanced it was pretty nice and definitely stirred love feelings in me.

  4. Well, not American men are like this (but a vast majority, it's true), you'll just have to be a bit selective (but I feel for you, I've never been so glad to not be a woman than when I lived in the US, that could even have been my biggest culture shock over there, how macho and sexist this country can be, I had no clue beforehand)

    • David,
      They’re quite sexist in France, but in a totally more romantic ‘manly’ romancing way…à la Troubadour.
      Here, as you saw, it’s clocked under politically correctness ways of acting.
      PS Love your new look!

  5. Ooooh I miss France so much…

  6. I kind of like the ‘sexist’ thing in France - English men just expect you to be and do everything and I was rather fed up with that to be honest so it was a lovely surprise when I moved to France…and isn’t it always wonderful to be told you are very beautiful?

  7. “and their language was not “Old French”, but the “Roman” language. This is how people from the North (Paris and around) called the language of the people from the South (nowadays we call it “Occitan”) ”

    Well, in fact, no. See Alain Rey, “Dictionnaire historique de la langue française”. Roman is the the name of old french in northern France in XIIe century.
    The name “roman” for novels come from this fact : the “romans antiques”, “romans bretons” are not written in “langue d’oc” as the poetry of the troubadours, but in langue d’oïl, as the poetry of the trouvères.

    • Whoops. I stand corrected.
      But we all know trouvères were just bad knock offs from troubadours.
      And even back then Paris wouldn’t admit it did owe something to the South.

  8. This is a good post. I’ve always wondered why I automatically assumed that French men are romantic…No clue that it came from back then, I though it was for another reason. …Mmmmm….interesting indeed. But wait, back then, singing songs to women and being feminine was considered romantic?

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