Monday, June 18, 2007

Silly sendup of Sydney by French railways

Don't ask me why the French railway system, known as the SNCF, is using the Internet to peddle low-budget flight tickets to Sydney. Admittedly, if I were to purchase such a combined rail/air packaged deal, the SNCF would take care of the train trip to the overseas flight terminus, say in Paris. But I still can't understand what the French railway system has to gain by proposing round trips to such a faraway place as Australia.

Be that as it may, the reason I've brought up this matter is to show you how an apparently serious French organization such as attempts to handle the case of Sydney and Australia in lowbrow web publicity that's meant to be funny. This might give you an insight into the way in which some French people imagine Australia... on a par with the Australian image of the French as arrogant frog-eaters wearing berets. But I warn you: this stuff is not particularly funny.

The publicity starts with a banner showing a wooden shed in the fields:

The sign on the shed, Salle des fêtes, might be translated as "festival hall". But the label in italics means "grand opera hall": a facetious allusion to Sydney.

The next banner shows male underclothes on a clothes line, labeled "kangaroos":

To appreciate the intended humor here, you need to know that the old-fashioned style of underpants with a pouch for male genitalia has always been designated in French as the "kangaroo" model of underpants. Subtle, no?

The third banner introduces a welcome sign to a French town called Cidenet:

Now, if you pronounce this alleged place-name in French [in reality, I don't think that any such place exists in France], it sounds a bit like the way that French people say "Sydney". Hilarious, no?

Finally, the fourth banner offers a return flight to Sydney for the low sum of 1014 euros, and it includes the name of the French railways website:

For the moment, I haven't checked to find out whether this low-cost offer is really valid. If so, it's certainly cheap.

Meanwhile, if you click on any of the above banners, you're invited to watch a mediocre series of filmed gags in the same spirit as the banners. The movie starts as follows:

We gather that the guy in shorts with a speleo helmet and lamp, on the outskirts of Cidenet/Sydney, is supposed to be a contestant in a TV game, receiving phone instructions from the organizers concerning a trial he's expected to perform.

Next, we see the contestant in closeup:

We learn that he's supposed to find his way, as quickly as possible, to the Great Barrier Reef.

Then we change to a side-splitting image (?) labeled "kangaroos of Cidenet", showing three individuals carrying their backpacks on their tummies:

The next nondescript landscape is labeled "gateway to the Cidenet desert" (which suggests that the movie creator imagines that the real Sydney is located on the edge of a desert):

Then we are offered an image of a building [no doubt altered by Photoshop] labeled "Cidenet opera house":

To appreciate the next two climactic scenes in this moronic movie, you need to know that the French refer to our Great Barrier Reef as the Coral Barrier. Now, the name "Coral" has been used for ages (I don't know why) to designate the old-fashioned trains still found in the French countryside. And the word "barrier" is used in French to designate a level-crossing. So, if you've grasped all that required background information, you might understand the sense of the image:

Here, the contestant is informing the organizers of the TV game that he has just arrived at the Coral Barrier, in fact a level-crossing on a country line where Coral-type trains run.

The following image then shows our hero wearing flippers and fooling around on a surf board, on the ground alongside the tracks, while the Coral train roars past:

Finally, a curious warning message informs us awkwardly that the film was made using trick cinema (?), and that we should not attempt to copy it:

Three aspects of this stupid presentation remain mysterious:

(a) What's it all about?

(b) Did French railways pay money to get this idiotic stuff produced?

(c) Is their low-cost flight offer valid?

A positive outcome of my encounter with this rubbish is that I now have a revised outlook upon the much talked-about Australian tourism publicity that concludes with an uncouth question: "What the bloody hell are you waiting for?" Not so long ago, I tended to be ironic about this advertising strategy. But, by comparison with the French parody about Sydney, that Aussie spot now appears to me as a pinnacle of refined intelligence, elegant language and sophisticated humor.


  1. (a) What's it all about?

    I suppose that you are aware of the fact that French think they are the best – in any domain.
    French consider Aussies as stupid people living somewhere in the desert, drinking beer all day, watching the kangaroos crossing the road. To French eyes, Aussies don’t know anything about culture and have no history.

    (b) Did French railways pay money to get this idiotic stuff produced?

    Oh yes, they do! I listen every day to some stupid adverts on France Inter… They stopped during the election period, but I suppose they will start again in September. Some people complain, because these ads are made with their money !

    (c) Is their low-cost flight offer valid?

    Don’t worry – SNCF low-cost flights (as all their low-cost railway tickets) are subject to conditions. It never works…

    As you say, this Internet advert is not funny at all.

  2. On several occasions during my month-long trip to Australia last year, I bumped into small groups of French tourists, and I would often strike up a conversation with such folk. In all cases, they were sympathetic, unobtrusive (quite the opposite of arrogant), well-informed about places to see and things to do, and they seemed to appreciate the free and easy Down Under atmosphere.

    In the case of this weird SNCF rubbish, I fail to see what purpose it serves. In theory, if I understand correctly, the Cidenet movie is supposed to be a form of advertising. Does the SNCF imagine that this approach is likely to persuade people to buy tickets to the real Sydney? Or is it in fact a second-degree publicity approach aimed at suggesting to young French people that there's no point in going to such a faraway place as Australia? It's certainly simpler to buy a train ticket to an isolated French village. And, once there, residing in an L-and-PD [lit et petit déjeuner], imaginative voyagers can always persuade themselves that they're surrounded by kangaroos and coral reefs. Besides, they don't need an opera house, because they've got their iPods. They don't even need deserts, because the SNCF creators demonstrate that these can be constructed virtually in the brain.