I had the misfortune of attending the “French” festival in Santa Barbara last weekend. I don’t know whose idea this festival was or whether at one time it was actually a festival honoring France, but now it is anything but that.
There was almost nothing “French” about it. Starting with the food: there were hot dogs (calling them “Le Hot Dog doesn’t make them French). There were crêpes but not really, not like in France. There was Cajun food. There were baguettes the size of tree limbs. Curried chicken sandwiches, etc. nothing really French!
At least half of the music had more of a Latin flavor than French. And what French music there was came from the 1920s and ’30s. France has a music culture that is alive and well today and has been all along.
The main attraction seemed to be the lipsynced drag show at the end of each night. What that has to do with France will have to be explained to me.
The booths ran the gamut from American cookware to tie-dyed shirts to some kind of gutter cleaning system. There was a French language school booth, but that was about it.
The whole festival seemed to be aimed at making fun of French culture. From the ridiculous berets to the poodle parade it seemed to be a contest of who could be the most kitschy.
Santa Barbara has a wonderful French bakery and a couple pretty good French restaurants. Why weren’t they there? Why an American cookware company and not a French cookware company? I could go on and on, and maybe I’m totally missing the point. Maybe the point is to have a very tongue-in-cheek laugh at France and its culture. But would Santa Barbara really be that pretentious? I guess that’s a silly question because there it was. A Frenchless French festival. A mockery. A shame.
The French Festival responds:
As one of the organizers of the French Festival, I am sorry you did not enjoy your visit. We intended to provide a fun experience and a diverse offering with a little something for everyone. Having worked in theater for more than 30 years, I know that no one event can be everyone’s cup of tea. We always appreciate hearing about people’s experiences, both good and bad, because that helps us improve for the future. The food vendors mentioned are, in fact, all French. We invite all local restaurants, but doing food at a festival like this is a very different undertaking and not something most can do. The festival was founded 31 years ago, and one thing that makes it popular is its inclusion of French cultural influences from around the globe. This is why you will find Cajun food, French Polynesian dancers, North African Belly dance, and so much more. I can assure you that no one involved was poking fun at the French culture or the French people or making a mockery of anyone. —Teri Ball