I was sitting at a picnic table in the sun, talking with my students, and one girl asked me if the TV show CSI was like real life. I quickly disabused her of that notion, and we started talking about American movies, French movies, reality and stereotypes.
They all listen to American music, and prefer American films, although they do tell me American movies are "exaggerated" and the happy endings are ridiculous; French films are "bland", often too complicated for their audience to appreciate, and don't have enough action. Often the French films that are made, they tell me, are with French plots (which are good) and American actors (who are "strong"). I asked them if they thought it was important for France to have good musicians and good films, and they said yes.
We eventually segued to stereotypes -- they wanted to know what Americans think of the French. Always an awkward question. But I do love telling my students that French people eat frogs' legs and escargot. The disgusted faces they make answer that question.
In a development that would horrify the French language advocates in my life, I then told my students that American believe that the French are very proud of their language. That got a unanimous no, on the grounds that French is "too complicated, too hard" (hear, hear!) and "not pretty" (unlike English, Spanish and Italian). Furthermore, they would not be among the French accused by Americans of being "snobs" by snubbing imperfect attempts at speaking French. (True point -- I don't get much further than "bonjour" before French people start praising my French.) They get that it's a hard language, and, as one girl explained, French people speak English with a pretty thick accent themselves.
The Death of French Culture is often a subject taken up by American press (not sure that's really our right), National Identity taken up by the French (specifically President Nicolas "Obama could take you any day" Sarkozy), and my students' interest in American culture at (arguably) the expense of their own makes me wonder how French Culture and Language will evolve as this generation grows up.