Free Quirk No.16 ~ "More Chocolate... Monsieur?"


"More Chocolate... Monsieur?"

Yep, you read that right. Welcome to the The Happy Nigger. Slap bang in the middle of Place de la Contrescarpe on the über-trendy Rue Mouffetard is a large panel announcing the presence of.. what?

Is it the Latin Quarter's latest theme pub, maybe, with rollerskating Africans serving pale aristocratic ladies, as the picture below the sign might suggest (minus the rollerskates)?

Or perhaps a fun leap back in history to the old colonial days a bit like those medieval pagents only this time celebrating the good old days of French dominance when la traite des nègres was a simple fact of life and nothing to be ashamed of?

It's neither of these, but it's not that far off because it comes from a time when this indicated the presence of a chocolate shop, where one could presumably drink or eat chocolate, according to what I've been able to uncover. I'm not saying it's true, I'm just saying that's what other people are saying, and who am I to argue.

I've seen a handful of postings about this on blogs where observant bloggers have actually spotted the sign, and not everyone does, as you have to raise your eyes a floor above the garish mini-market which is squatting the ground floor, and as that's where most people are heading it's often missed.

A lot of the blog posters satisfy themselves with a picture or a throwaway comment like 'Hey, look at this!', but a few exhibit varying degrees of approbation, from a cocked eyebrow to outright condemnation and incredulity that such a distasteful symbol is still being displayed in a modern city like Paris. Which begs a thousand questions.

For a start, would those who would like to see it taken down (at gentlest) or destroyed by burning or stamping upon (at most outraged) agree then that Notre Dame and all other religious edifices should therefore also be destroyed as penance for all the sins their followers perpetrated on lowly heretics and Believers of Other Things?

And what about things like the deeply moving Mémorial de la Déportation? Maybe that should go too, as it also reminds us of times, not so long ago, when horrors were committed... or is that taking things too far?

Perhaps we would need to know whether the sign is actually protected by law, and what the official position on it is before jumping to any conclusions. Personally, I don't tend to condemn if I can help it, and certainly not before not knowing a few facts.

Personally, I like it, because it makes Paris more interesting. I like the fact that it reminds me of the past, because I think the past is important, whatever that past is. In this case it reminds me that not so long ago our society believed that we could buy and sell people like we do dogfood, just as long as they were unable to stop us....

"Only black rappers seem to be allowed to call each other
'niggers' these days with utter impunity..."

It also reminds me that the way in which these people were treated, and indeed traded, should remain one of our greatest causes for shame, which I don't want to forget, in the same way that I don't want to forget that people did similar things to Jews, blacks (again), homosexuals, gypsies, passificts etc, only one lifetime ago, which is nothing really.

If we destroyed this past we would lose something powerful and important. Here we can see a black beginning to be integrated into white society which is all part of the story. Problems in today's suburbs prove that the integration is still far from complete, but understanding some of the roots can sometimes help find solutions.

You could also argue that 'nègre' can be translated by the less derogatory 'negro', although I think the perceived condescension would stay pretty much the same. As for 'nigger', only black rappers seem to be allowed to use this with impunity, having quite rightly reappropriated it and made it their own.

But there's another, even more surprising thing about this sign which hardly anyone seems to have noticed. And that's that if you look very carefully at the picture, you can see that in fact it looks like the black man, although standing, is in fact being served chocolate by the white woman, who seems, on closer examination, to be dressed like a maid and holding a tray. This is quite remarkable if you think about it, and we can only wonder what the story behind it is. Perhaps that's why he's so 'joyful' in the end...

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