Have you ever met a Zoé?
Quite simply, a Zoé is a Francophilic Asian girl.
I’ve met about four prime examples of a Zoé during my life. There are normally a few telltale signs.
First, 99% of all Zoés (the China variety, though there are many also in Korea and Japan) live in Shanghai as it’s the only place that can sustain a Zoé with her need for superficial French things. They will flock around the French Concession and spend copious amounts of time taking selfies of themselves with glasses of red wine and French tarts (just photos, they can’t actually stand the taste). If an art exhibition featuring a French artist is in town they will wander around the exhibition making statements with the occasional pretentious French word dropped into their Chinese. “我觉得今天的展览 tres magnifique!”
The Zoé will begin to fill her life with things that represent an ideal of France. Her favourite music becomes the soundtrack of the film Amelie or perhaps French-Japanese jazz singer Lisa Ono. Of course she will never watch anything which paints a less than idyllic view of France, like La Haine for instance. Gradually the French-loving manifests in dress and voice. Zoé will begin to drop the h’s from her words so that others are greeted with a bizarre “Ni ‘ao” every time she says hello. She will start wearing ridiculous hats like little pastel green berets or bizarre monstrosities with feathers stuck in.
The Zoé will continue her rosy embrace of all things French until one of two end conclusions naturally happen:
- Zoé lands herself a French boyfriend. Typically these can be bagged at classes at the Alliance Francais or hanging around fancy Shanghai restaurants. Zoé will be ecstatic at having her own Frenchman, but will be inevitably heartbroken when the Frenchman’s unfaithful ways result in him announcing one day that he has another girl pregnant. Zoé will then realise she’s 28, start speaking normally again and marry a guy from Ji’nan who may or may not have finished college.
Zoé will actually GO to Paris and receive the most existential shock she has ever received in her life. Far from being the Paris she imagined of whimsical pixie-haired girls riding bicycles and mime artists playing accordions, she will discover that Paris is in fact a huge and quite dirty city full of dog shit, smelly trains, and – quelle horreur! – lots and lots of black and Arab people. Paris Syndrome is real, mes amis. Zoé will attempt to keep her illusions intact by confining herself to Montmartre and taking selfies in cafes but will finally admit the truth when mugged outside the Moulin Rouge. Then it’s just a taxi back to Charles de Gaulle airport and a final farewell to la vie belle.
Fun fact: you can have great fun with Zoé by catching her out on her pretentiousness. When Zoé states that she loves French jazz, just simply ask her “Name me a French jazz singer who isn’t Edith Piaf.” The loss of face is delightful.
The Zoé has no German-loving equivalent.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.