Learning about French culture through comedy and humor is a great way to improve your knowledge of the French language.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand everything in a French TV show or film – especially without a native French speaker to help you understand all the vocabulary and cultural nuances. But, I’m here to help.
Today I’m going to help you dive in a great Netflix French TV series about the 60’s : Au service de la France.
Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson
- Discover a new French TV series
- Uncover the hidden meanings and French culture behind the jokes
Bonjour c’est Géraldine.
Bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !
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1) The show in a nutshell
Au service de la France (= In the service of France), or “A very secret service” in the English translation, is a comedy / spy series with two seasons.
The French TV show started airing in 2015 on Arte (= the high-quality Franco-German free-to-air television network that promotes cultural programming). It was recently made available on French Netflix, so you can binge-watch it right now!
The plot takes place in 1960 and follows André Merlaux, age 23, as he joins les services de renseignement français (= French intelligence services.)
At first, he’s young and handsome and naïf (= naive / gullible.)
We get to discover his hierarchy, other spies (mostly men), and secretaries (all women), reflecting the political climate and French culture of the 60’s.
The show was created by Jean-François Halin, who worked on writing for Les Guignols de l’Info (a giant name in French political satire) and the very funny OSS 117 movies… and it shows! “Au service de la France” is riffing on the same themes and aesthetics as “OSS 117” – and it’s a lot of fun.
2) Why it’s interesting for you
This French TV series plays around real historical events and dynamics, showing the possible role of these fictional characters in it.
You’ll get comedy / parody about French involvement and strategy in situations like:
L’indépendance de l’Algérie (=The independence of Algeria)
L’indépendance des anciennes colonies africaines (= The independence of former African colonies)
Les essais nucléaires (= nuclear tests)
La guerre froide (= The Cold War)
La collaboration pendant la seconde Guerre mondiale (= French collaboration during World War II)
And you’ll find all the customs of French culture and everyday life in the 60s in the background and side-plots.
3) What to notice
This series is fun and interesting for many reasons, especially from its comic look at how French people see themselves, their past, their manners, and other people.
For instance, the American spies bring their lunchbox to work instead of going to the restaurant for lunch, and it weirds the French characters out.
Since it’s a satire of les fonctionnaires (= public servant), French intelligence agencies and geopolitics, and the 60’s mentality, it can be self-deprecating without having a specific modern target (though it can be seen as a satire of modern society too, of course.)
The characters are often depicted as “faignants” (= lazy, when they all stop working at 5 pm exactly), “ignorant yet persuaded they’re not” (they don’t take the time to learn another language – which is a common trope in itself), racistes et colonialistes (= racists and colonialists, sometimes in a paternalistic sort of way, with the French colonies)…
And radins (= cheapskates), when they do their peace-keeping job (such as arresting a known former Nazi) only for la prime (= the bonus) that comes with it.
And of course, we can see the effects of la paperasse (= paperwork) and la grève (= going on strike)… It depicts with the affection a society where characters are chauvins (= chauvinists), arrogants, nostalgiques, conservateurs (= arrogant, nostalgic, conservatives)…
And it’s funny, full of striking characters and idiosyncrasies, with a tight plot that revisits the real history of a country through modern jokes and a modern point of view.
This is something that brings the show closer to other (not French) TV shows, such as “Norsemen” or “Blackadder.”
For more recommendations, you can also watch or read my lesson on “5 Old French Comedies to Watch” – or check out the movie that inspired “Au Service de la France,” OSS 117 – Le Caire Nid d’Espions with Jean Dujardin.
Et toi ?
Quelle est ta série française préférée ?
What’s your favorite French TV series?
For example, you can write: “J’ai adoré “Un village français”. Je l’ai regardé avec ma femme.” (“I loved “Un village français.” I watched it with my wife.”)
Share your recommendations to all Comme une Française readers!
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Allez, salut 🙂