It was Australia Day 1998, when I happily found myself being driven along the Great Ocean Road by a local Aussie lass – to see the Twelve Apostles (12 great hunks of eroded cliff-face separated from the coastline by a few meters of open water) just west of Melbourne, Australia. There, as we cruised along the highway, which has to be said didn’t really live up to it’s title, we listened and hummed-along to Triple J’s rundown of classic tracks from the recent past. Suddenly, Janey yelled (for that was her name – and probably still is) “Ah do you remember this one?” and cranked up the volume.
“No” I replied after some reflection.
She looked confused. How could I not know (insert name of band/track)? Everyone knew (insert name of band/track)! I mean you’d have to have been living on Mars to not know (insert name of band/track)! That is unless (insert name of band/track) was only successful in Australia..?
Ah ha! Exactly. It was an Aussie band singing a track that had been in the Australian charts in the eighties, but had never made it big in the UK (where I had spent the eighties).
This black hole of common socio-cultural background quickly passed however and we got down to the serious business of looking at tall rocks sticking out of the sea. An activity I was already familiar with having visited Stack Rocks on the Pembrokshire coast.
The significance of this impasse was not lost on me however. (Well, possibly it was, but now I’m older and wiser and I can pretend that I learnt something that day.) Appreciation of the arts is very much seated in the understanding of the context in which it’s produced.
Here in France, for example, it is impossible to fully appreciate the hilarity of Antonia’s performance on ONDAR with Cookie Dingler … if you don’t know:
- the 1980s in France
- Cookie Dingler
- Une femme libéré (song circa. 1984)
In other words, having a fluent grasp of French will only get you half way there. Which is why we Expats, no matter how long we might have been here in la République, find it so hard to appreciate French comedy.
Antonia’s success on ONDAR (whom you have no doubt seen on stage in Strabourg?) has motivated me to fill-in these sorts of gaps in my knowledge of France’s glorious, hilariously kitsch past. Starting with Cookie’s classic, so I can sing along when it’s on the radio, as well as impress people at parties.
Well, that is, I thought people at parties would be impressed – but actually it seems that not everyone French knows who Cookie Dingler is either. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere…?