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How to be virtually French: Australian Facebook users' co-construction of a Francophile identity

La co-construction d'une identité francophile virtuelle par les utilisateurs australiens de Facebook
Juliana de Nooy

Résumés

Une prolifération de sites Internet d'entreprises australiennes invite les Antipodéens à s'offrir une existence plus française par le biais d'achats, de leçons, de voyages et par les possibilités d'interaction sur les réseaux sociaux liés aux sites. Cet article propose une étude de cas de l'interaction sur la page Facebook d'une de ces entreprises, French Affair. L'article analyse les données multimodales – textes, images, réactions, horodatage, profils – publiées sur la page entre 2012 et 2014 aussi bien par l'entreprise que par les abonnés, qui s'avèrent australiens et féminins pour la plupart. S'appuyant sur la théorie du positionnement, l'article expose la façon dont les affordances du site de réseautage social facilitent la construction et la ratification d'une identité francophile et élargissent les possibilités de son déploiement.

Les publications de la page se présentent comme des invitations répétées à se déclarer francophile, à se projeter dans des images pittoresques et à imaginer son corps dans un espace sensoriel idéalisé censé représenter la vie française. De nombreux repères temporels et spatiaux situent l'interaction du site dans le fuseau horaire de Sydney et soulignent une tension entre l'implantation géographique des participants et leur vie rêvée en France. Tout commentaire positif est validé par une mention "J'aime" de French Affair, qui confirme la francophilie de chacun.

La co-construction de l'identité francophile et l'ancrage spatio-temporel en Australie révèlent une communauté intraculturelle, où la rencontre d'une autre culture est médiatisée par French Affair, même au cours de séjours en France, où les abonnés continuent de se projeter dans la vision chimérique offerte par French Affair et interprètent leurs expériences à travers ce simulacre.

Les publications régulières de la page multiplient les occasions d'afficher et reconfirmer une identité francophile virtuelle, accessible au bout des doigts. Celle-ci se trouve intercalée avec d'autres, car le rythme de Facebook exige des repositionnements rapides, des transitions fluides et continues entre identités rassemblées sous un seul profil.

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Entrées d'index

Mots-clés :

Facebook, identité

Keywords :

Facebook, identity

Thématiques :

médias sociaux
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Texte intégral

I am grateful to the organizers of the conference IMPEC: Interactions Multimodales Par ECran (Lyon, 2-4 July 2014) for the opportunity to present this work and to participants for their comments. I would also like to express my thanks to Greg Hainge and Barbara E. Hanna and to the reviewers of the article for their valuable suggestions.

1. Introduction: identity, positioning, and social media

1While Francophilia is not new among English-speakers (Eagles, 2000; Levenstein, 1998, 2004), the advent of social media has considerably expanded the possibilities for enacting a Francophile identity. This article explores the ways in which participation in social media shapes the construction of such an identity, through a case study of the interaction on the Facebook page of a small Australian business.

2Positioning theory (Davies & Harré, 1990; Harré & Van Langenhove, 1991, 1999) is a useful lens through which to trace the mechanisms by which instances of identity are interactionally constructed in social media, using the range of affordances offered by this mode of communication. Building on and refining Goffman's dramaturgical theory, positioning theory emphasizes the dynamic aspect of encounters and the agency of those involved, retaining Goffman's (1981) notions of "footing" and "alignment" but moving away from his concepts of "frame" (1974) and "role" (1959), which are seen as more static, predetermined, or scripted by others (Davies & Harré, 1990: 52-54). Positioning, then, can be understood as the "discursive production of selves" (Davies & Harré, 1990: 43) through processes that emphasize active participation in meaning-making.

3These processes start with identifying the positions available in a given communicative context. These are not simply ready-made roles; rather they are constantly being elaborated, as speakers attribute meaning to them through participation in discursive practices, using metaphors and producing story lines, for example, with varying degrees of invention in relation to existing cultural repertoires. In interaction, participants situate and re-situate themselves in terms of these positions, responding to positioning by others or to challenges to their self-positioning. Positioning can thus be understood as more provisional and contingent than role-play, and individuals engage in multiple and diverse positionings in a variety of interactional contexts. Habits nonetheless form. Recognizing oneself (and being recognized by others) in terms of the meanings attributed to a position produces alignment with others similarly positioned, and over time leads to "development of a sense of oneself as belonging in the world in certain ways and thus seeing the world from the perspective of one so positioned" (Davies & Harré, 1990: 47). Repeated performance thus gives rise to an emotional investment in the positioning, commonly understood as a sense of identity.

4Social media provide a window onto these mechanisms. In the case of Francophile positioning, the affordances offered by the Facebook communication platform increase not only the visibility of these processes but also the opportunities to engage in Francophile identity construction. This paper analyzes the material posted and the reactions from followers on a Facebook page in order to demonstrate the ways in which the possibilities of the social networking site shape and facilitate the co-construction and performance of a Francophile identity.

2. The French Affair Facebook page

5The integration of social media platforms such as Facebook is an important feature of the websites of the multiplicity of Australian businesses envisaging a Francophile clientele and inviting them to enjoy a more "French" existence through the purchase of products, lessons, travel, and property. In their self-presentation (examples in Table 1), these businesses foreground their passion for France, and part of their marketing strategy is an emphasis on the possibility of belonging to a Francophile community. To this end, each of the sites offers opportunities for interaction via social media, typically Facebook or blogs. Visitors to the site are encouraged to join others who appreciate France (or a certain vision of France) by following blogs, contributing to forums, subscribing to a weekly newsletter, and above all joining them on social networks.

Table 1–Examples of Australian business websites appealing to Francophiles. Information retrieved 22 Sept 2014.

Name

Product

Tag-line or self presentation

Alliance française d'Adelaide

language lessons

Learn French, Live French

Comme en France

foie gras, directory of French products and services

We created Comme en France because of our taste and our hunger for things French

French Affair

homewares, gifts

Dreaming of France? So are we

French Australia

directory of French products and services

Australia's Guide to all things French

French Desire

property, homewares, gifts

Share with us your interest in all things French including property in France

French Fusion

travel

Falling in love with France

French Moments

language lessons

Language Culture Experience

My French Life

online magazine

Come with us to discover French lifestyle beyond the cliché

6This paper focuses on the Facebook page of one of these businesses: French Affair. Based in Sydney, French Affair presents itself as "A celebration of everything French" and describes its mission as:

JOY: To bring joy to Francophiles allowing them to indulge in their love of France.
COMMUNITY: To create a community of people who are interested in everything French.
PASSION: To share my passion for France. (French Affair Facebook page)

  • 1 Driscoll and Gregg (2010) point to the auto-ethnographic nature of much contemporary research into (...)

7French Affair sells French skin-care products, accessories, gifts, stationery and homewares online, at regional fairs and through other retailers, hosts a monthly game of pétanque (French bowls) in Sydney, sends out a monthly newsletter to subscribers and maintains an active Facebook page, which boasts over 2400 "Likes." New posts appear on the Facebook page at least daily, often several times a day, and are swiftly followed by reactions from its followers, of whom a clear majority are women, with fewer than 10 per cent of reactions from participants identifying as men1. Not all posts remain on the page long-term, as they can be removed by the page-owner.

8While social networking sites are by definition used to maintain and enhance a network of relationships, commercial Facebook pages such as that of French Affair are geared towards furthering a particular kind of relationship, that with past, present and potential clients. This is reflected in the content of its posts, a large proportion of which focus on products for sale or an upcoming market day, or share information from a commercial partner. These are gathered under the umbrella description of "commercial" posts in Table 2, which provides a breakdown of the various kinds of posts and the reactions to them during a typical month. Posts in the "information" category provide a link to a news item or information about France and French culture, while those grouped in the "quote" category share a "thought of the day," a quote or a cartoon in French or about France, either uplifting or humorous. The largest category, however, is that of the posts comprising a picturesque photo with a few words of introduction. The photos–a café, croissants, a flowering window-box, a cobbled street, the Eiffel Tower–depict an aestheticized vision of a leisurely French daily life, but rarely include people.

Table 2–French Affair posts, February 2014, grouped by type, with number of comments and total number of reactions (Like, Comment, or Share) to each type.

Type of post

Posts

%

Comments

%

All reactions

%

Commercial

15

36%

16

9%

220

10%

Information

4

10%

8

4%

102

4%

Quotes

5

12%

6

3%

207

9%

Picturesque daily life

18

43%

151

83%

1739

77%

Total

42

181

2268

9Table 2 shows that a little over a third of the posts promote French Affair products or link directly to the activities of associated organizations, while less than half offer the idealized picture of French life. The reactions to the posts (the number of times a reader has clicked "Like," posted a comment, or clicked "Share" so that the post appears on their own Facebook page), however, are in rather different proportions, in that an overwhelming majority occur in response to the picturesque image of France. This is especially the case for the comments, which demand a little more effort than clicking on "Like" or "Share." The posts linking to news and information and the more obviously marketing-oriented posts, on the other hand, receive relatively few reactions. Indeed posts that are merely informative, or run counter to the idealized view of France, tend to be ignored, such that there is no reaction at all to posts on the following topics:

Paris metro price increases for 2014 (January 2, 2014)

High suicide rate highlights plight of French farmers (October 15, 2013)

French households face tax bill over 100 per cent (May 19, 2013)

10In sum, the bulk of the interaction on the Facebook page occurs in response to a representation of France and French culture as idyllic. Since these are the interactions where positioning as a Francophile mostly occurs, the analysis in this paper centres on these posts and the reactions to them. Several semiotic dimensions come into play: timing, text, image, and linking in the posts; timing, number and mode of reactions; text, profile photo and tagging in comments. As we shall see, these are used to elaborate a particular position, to situate oneself in terms of it, and to invite others to do likewise.

2.1. Positioning in time and space

11Dominating the Facebook page is French Affair's cover image: with her back to the camera, and somehow suspended above street-level, a young woman gazes into a soft focus Paris streetscape leading towards the Eiffel Tower. From the outset, the page offers the visitor quite literally a position to occupy and the accompanying tagline proposes a means of doing so: "Dreaming of France? So are we." The visitor is invited to take up the point of view of the young woman, to use her imagination to situate herself in such a way that a certain filtered vision, iconic of France, is before her eyes, in sum, to take up a Francophile position. Although not exclusive to women, this position is explicitly portrayed as feminine.

  • 2 All posts and comments are quoted verbatim, with no modification to syntax, spelling or punctuation (...)

12If France is presented as a place to dream of, the elsewhere to dream from is also made explicit, and we shall see that Francophile positioning relies on a tension between these two. Time and location markers abound in both posts and comments. The posts by French Affair very often consist of a postcard-worthy photo of France, introduced by a few words relating to the day, the hour, or the season. The following examples from the last week in January 2014 are typical in referring to the weekend, lunchtime, dusk, etc:2

It's almost time for the weekend so says the Musée d'Orsay clock. YAY!! (31 Jan 2014)

Take a seat it's lunch time at Saint Cirq Lapopie in The Lot region. It's one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. (30 Jan 2014)

Nearly time to turn on the street lights .. hope you've had a fun day. (27 Jan 2014)

I love Sundays .. anyone want to come for a leisurely stroll with me around this cottage in Provence? Sigh .. (25 Jan 2014)

Recovering, shopping, exploring .. Hope you're enjoying your long weekend. (25 Jan 2014)

Wouldn't it be lovely to be in Paris this weekend .. any weekend, really! (25 Jan 2014)

It's Friday! Let's see what adventures we can have before the weekend .. (24 Jan 2014)

13The rhythm of daily and weekly life is emphasized in these posts as much as the desirability of life in a French setting. It is worth noting, however, that this supposedly French life of breakfasts, lunches and Sunday afternoons, corresponds to Australian Eastern Standard time. The "long weekend" (25 Jan 2014) refers to the Australia Day public holiday, and when French Affair raises a toast to Friday evening, it is time to leave the office in Sydney but only the start of the working day in Paris.

14Similarly, the meteorological reference point in the posts is local Australian weather, a hot Sydney day in the first of the following examples, and winter in June in the second:

It's going to be a scorcher in Sydney today - 39 degrees! So find a shady spot and try to keep cool.. (Oct 9 2013, photo: Jardin du Luxembourg)

Au milieu de l'hiver, j'ai découvert en moi un invincible été. – Albert Camus (In the middle of winter, I found within me an invincible summer) (11 June 2014)

15Followers of the page likewise refer to their location in Australia, with comments situating them in Queensland and Ballarat for example:

Lots of orange fallen leaves in north Qld - bit here we call it the dry season. (16 Oct 2012)

agree. Here in Qld weather so very different. (16 Oct 2012, comments on photo of autumn leaves, Palais Royal)

Have a cuppa tea and croissants fir breaky in Ballarat , Australia . Lol. Wish I was have them in Paris ... (5 Jan 2014)

16Here we see positioning at its most literal. Although not all the followers of the French Affair page are Australian, the majority live there, according to the information they share publicly through Facebook. They insist on their implantation on the other side of the globe, but simultaneously situate themselves in an imagined French daily life. In doing so, they emphasize the distance between their current situation and the image of France into which they project themselves. Moreover they repeatedly represent the latter as superior:

Breakfast .. the weekend .. could it get any better? (9 Aug 2014, accompanying a photo of breakfast in Paris, followed by comments "Only if I was in Paris!" and "Would be better if we were actually there!!")

Looking out on a long weekend .. Lovely!! But it would be even better if we could combine it with this stunning view from Gordes in Provence. (18 Apr 2014)

Looking forward to a relaxing Friday night .. and then the weekend. Doesn't get much better than that (unless, of course, I was in France.) (3 Jan 2014)

I agree – most things do sound better in French .. (1 Oct 2012, accompanying the sharing of the meme "Everything sounds better in French!")

17Even bad weather is more aesthetically pleasing in France:

Nov 2, 2012 "An overcast drizzly morning here in Sydney .. Paris does rainy so much better, don't you think?" (2 Nov 2012, followed by the comment "Paris does everything so much better!!!!")

18Whatever one is doing, the participants insist that it would be improved by doing it in France or in a French way. A tension is evident in these posts between, on the one hand, a here and now identified as both far from and inferior to France and, on the other hand, a desired and idealized French existence. It is this tension that characterizes Francophile positioning on the Facebook page. Francophile positioning via French Affair is thus a paradoxical enterprise: while the page invites followers to indulge in a dream of French life, the interaction that takes place on it is firmly anchored in Australia.

19Curiously, this is the case even when followers find themselves in France, for they continue to comment on the French Affair page during their travels, emphasizing the temporary nature of their sojourn and recognizing themselves in the image posted by French Affair:

Unfortunately the day I leave Paris to return to Aus. (7 Jan 2014)

That's exactly what I'm doing coffee,croissants in Paris ! (5 Jan 2014)

Tuilleries - where we were yesterday - lovely gardens (27 June 2014)

I am less than 100kms from there at the moment ... perhaps a trip there in the next day or two before heading to Lamballe, Brittany (28 June 2014)

20In France, followers continue to detour via an Australian representation of France, and position themselves in relation to it. The following comment is particularly revealing:

I've been in France for the past 2 months, yet your posts continue to provide inspiration (28 June 2014)

21It suggests that France itself is not sufficient to "provide inspiration," and so the traveller turns to the French Affair Facebook page, in order to experience France through its picturesque representation as shared by an Australian Francophile community. And rendering one's travels visible to other Australian Francophiles, resulting in comments such as "I'm so jealous .. enjoy that wonderful country for the rest of us here in Oz" (28 June 2014), validates both the experience and one's status as a Francophile. The distance inherent in the positioning–dreaming of France from Australia–shapes the posts and comments even when contributors find themselves physically in France.

2.2. Situating oneself in relation to the Francophile position proposed

22The French Affair posts featuring a picturesque image are followed by Likes and brief comments in the form of sighs and expressions of nostalgia for previous visits to France, of regret that one is not currently in France, of desire to be there. Examples are plentiful among the following responses to an aerial photo of Paris under a blue sky introduced by "Hello Paris. Can I come to stay?" (17 Feb 2014), which received 220 Likes and 28 comments (Table 3), most posted within a few hours:

Table 3–Comments in response to the post "Hello Paris. Can I come to stay?" (17 Feb 2014), with gender and location of author.

Comment

Gender

Location

U and Me Baby!

F

Australia

Me toooooo!!!!!

F

Australia

Yes, please!

F

Australia

I wish.

F

Australia

Tres bon. Moi aussi. (Very good. Me too.)

F

Australia

et moi! (And me!)

F

*

Moi aussie! (Me too!)

F

*

Been there can't wait to go back one day.

F

NZ

I can highly recommend it!

F

Australia

Take me along too I like wine and art and food...

F

Australia

Oh moi aussi , j'adore Paris et les grandes magazines et beau coup des meubles. (Oh me too, I love Paris and the department stores and lots of the furniture)

F

Australia

I want to be there too

F

UK

Motherland.

M

Australia

Major sigh

F

Australia

avec plaisir ! (with pleasure!)

M

Australia

Oui

F

USA

Me too...

F

Brazil

Ohhhhh..OMG..please can I ?

F

Iraq

Been three times but want to go back!

F

Australia

sure, anytime

F

Canada, USA, France

August cant come sooner

F

USA

Oh the Paris sites!

F

Australia

That will be us in December

F

Australia

Good copywriting there !

M

Australia

Not a very nice place by all accounts. Pick pockets galore, beggars, lots of Arabs and Africans. It's not the 60's anymore.

M

Australia

OMG my very favorite city. xxx

F

Australia

Hello Paris. Can I come to stay?

F

*

One of my favourite cities in the world

F

Australia

23* Information not publicly available
These comments are typical of those appearing on the page in terms of the gender and location of the author (mostly women based in Australia), content and length of the comments (short expressions of agreement, wistful recollection, and anticipation), and language use (informal English and some simple French). Through the initial post, the page-owner positions herself anew as a Francophile, not located in but desiring a picturesque version of Paris. And with one exception, the comments follow suit, demonstrating that the dream is constructed collectively: followers indicate that they share the desire to be in France, invest the position with their own personal story of past trips and/or future plans, and use exclamations to express their emotional investment. Each comment of this kind is then in turn ratified by a Like from French Affair, which completes a loop of mutual approval and confirms the Francophile positioning of the followers, building a sense of community based on a shared world view. In addition, it reinforces the norms of interaction on the page.

24Agreement is not, however, the only possible response to the invitation to Francophile positioning: it is quite possible to refuse the dream, and to position oneself instead as an unsentimental realist, for example, as seen in the one dissenting comment in Table 3:

Not a very nice place by all accounts. Pick pockets galore, beggars, lots of Arabs and Africans. It's not the 60's anymore. (18 Feb 2014)

25Such refusals of Francophile positioning are rare in the data; only one other instance was found:

The place is a sh*thole Brendon!!.... (excuse my French) (3 Mar 2012)

26This example occurs as a response to an earlier comment on a post featuring an image of a balcony table set for breakfast with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Both these instances of "realist" positioning are posted by Anglophone men, one in Australia, one in Scotland. The first comment receives no reaction; the second receives a Like from a fellow Scot. These are the only comments that are not ratified by a return Like from French Affair, other than a small number in non-European languages.

27The vast majority of comments, on the other hand, demonstrate a willingness to perform Francophile positioning, and thus boost the potential for belonging through recognizing oneself and being recognized by others as part of this Facebook community. For affiliation is confirmed not only by the return Like from French Affair on one's comment, but also by other participants who take it upon themselves to evaluate the Frenchness of others, as seen in the return comment "You're French on the inside" (3 Nov 2012).

28A popular means of Francophile positioning is through displaying knowledge of destinations off the beaten tourist track, as in the following example of a post and comments, where participants seize the opportunity to show off their familiarity with lesser known French markets.

Saturday is a big day for markets in many parts of France. I love the sounds, the smells and the wonderful array of fresh produce on offer. Do you have a favourite market in France? (18 Jan 2014)

  • My favourite food market is at Bourgueil in a Tuesday, plus there is a fabulous patisserie by the old stone market hall

  • I just loved the Market in Cours Mirabeau , Aix en Provence . It had everything ,including gorgeous shoes!

  • St Remy de Provence-love that town and the markets make it come alive

  • L'isle sur la Sorgue

  • AMBOISE - in the Loire. My friend, with no French, made best friends with elderly gentleman stall owner. As she left he said to her: 'Je vous aime' - yes - very formal 'vous' for a declaration of love!!
    I love France.

  • Usez

  • Pezenas in the languedoc, Sarlat in the Dordogne, Bastille in Paris!

  • Love the market in Revel.

29Similarly, French language is used to enhance Francophile positioning. Although interaction on the page takes place primarily in English, many posts include simple French expressions, often with errors (as seen in Table 3 above). Rather than communicating information, their function is to strengthen the association with France, and to this end, mastery of the language is less important that its value as "the most obvious icon of Frenchness" (Coffey, 2010: 122; cf. De Nooy, 2014).

30Although less numerous, comments by native French speakers can also be found. Some of these consist of expressions of nostalgia, for the Francophones–generally expatriates–are not immune to the seduction of the idyll proposed in the French Affair posts:

The countryside in France is spécialy beautiful and I wait for holidays to go to SErre chevalier in thé Alps so wonderful pitorresque place and St Raphaël on thé french Riviera! (29 Mar 2014)

Can't wait to go home for holidays (17 Feb 2013)

31Here the distance between their current situation and France is still emphasized, but the representation of France has a proprietary edge, with the reference to "home" and the non-native errors in the English lending authority to the evaluation of French holiday destinations. On other occasions Francophones take a didactic stance, correcting information or offering more detailed knowledge:

Ah non , il y a Croissant , et Pain au chocolat (No, there are croissants, and there are pains au chocolat) (2 Nov 2012, correcting a comment recommending "un croissant avec chocolat")

cette vue est la place des merciers a Dinan 22100 côtes d'armor en Bretagne. France. (This view is the Haberdashers Square in Dinan, postcode 22100 in Brittany, France) (26 Mar 2014, identifying a photo)

j'adore les deudeuche !!!!! (2 CV = 2 chevaux !!!) il y en a dans Paris pour promener les touristes ! (I love the Citroen 2CV! (2 CV = 2 horsepower!) They have them in Paris to take tourists around!) (5 Oct 2013)

32Comparison of these posts with those of Anglophone contributors illustrates the nuances possible in the ways in which Francophile positioning can be performed.

2.3. Bodily positioning: self-projection into the dream of France

33A large number of the picturesque posts take the form of invitations, both verbal and visual: in addition to explicit textual proposals are photos that position the viewer to act in a certain way, as in the examples in Table 4.

Table 4–Examples of posts inviting the reader to project themselves into the image of France.

Photo

Text

Date

Café table set for two, with champagne glasses, two empty chairs

Take a seat .. who's ready for an afternoon apero?

8 March 2014

Path leading to door of stone cottage

Just a little stone house in a little French village would be fine thanks. I'll take this one in Giverny. Monet's garden and I could be neighbours.

11 Jan 2014

Dining table and chairs on the terrace of a large country house

Sunday brunch anyone? Wouldn't this be a superb spot!

11 Jan 2014

Close-up of a basket of croissants

Le petit-déjeuner est servi .. Here's hoping you create a wonderful day.

7 Jan 2014

Blue Citroen 2CV with passenger door open

On y va .. Jump in the car and let's go! It's the long weekend. YAY!!

5 Oct 2013

View down the centre of a cobbled village street

Shall we go for a Sunday stroll?

27 Oct 2012

View into driveway of large country house covered in creeper

On a rainy night like this, I'd love to be sitting next to the fire having an apero inside this fabulous farmhouse near Bergerac. Anyone care to join me?

15 June 2012

Filled champagne flute on tray, with bottle of champagne and bottle of blackberry liqueur

Pheww .. that was a big day! Anyone care for a Kir Royale?

7 June 2012

Tables set for meal outside restaurant

Lunchtime .. pull up a chair and let's see if we can spend a whole afternoon here.

5 May 2012

Balcony table set for two with champagne breakfast and view of Eiffel Tower

How nice would it be to wake up in Paris this morning? Mmmm ..

2 Mar 2012

34As viewers we are invited to project ourselves into the photo–to sit in the chair, drink the glass of champagne that appears within reach, walk down the path, get into the car–and imagine our bodies in another space. Projection is prompted by the absence of people in the photos: a space is left vacant for the viewer, making it easier to imagine one's own body and story in the image, to position oneself physically in the chosen vision of France. Projection is also encouraged by appeals to the senses: not only sight, but especially taste, smell, and touch. The interaction may be virtual, but it is far from disembodied; on the contrary it demands sensory awareness. And the responses show that followers accept the invitation and play the game, as can be seen in the comments on a post featuring of a sleeping dog in front of the menu of a crepe restaurant with the text "Lazy lunch hour. I'll have the one with lemon please .." (7 Feb 2014):

  • I will have one with Gran Manier!

  • I just want one more . . .

  • I just want someone else to cook them!!! so I can eat them hot and quickly!

  • I'll have the creme de marron, thank you.

  • Yep, I'm a citron et sucre fan too!

  • lemon with a green tea.

35Followers not only project themselves into the image of the restaurant, but show they belong there through their familiarity with the items on the menu. Here posing a question has created a scenario giving rise to a clear co-construction of Francophile identity, as participants vie with each other to position themselves as connoisseurs and perform what they see as Frenchness.

3. Discussion

36Through its Facebook page, French Affair has created a predominantly Anglophone community where followers are repeatedly invited to dream and identify with the group by positioning themselves as fellow Francophiles. A brief consideration of gender and culture is called before, before a discussion of the Facebook affordances that promote this form of identity construction.

3.1. Francophile positioning: gendered and intracultural

  • 3 Cf. Levenstein (1998; 2004) on the gendered nature of Francophilia in North America.

37French Affair's Facebook page offers daily opportunities to position oneself as a Francophile, a position depicted as feminine in the cover image and taken up primarily by self-identified Australian women. Together they form the community that French Affair envisages as its mission. Attempts to explain the greater appeal of France among Australian women than men can be found in Pesman's historical work, which finds the wives and daughters of the colonial élite travelling to Europe to acquire "badges that proclaimed status, refinement and culture" (1996: 24), and De Nooy's (2015) analysis of recent travel memoirs, which shows the construction of France as the ideal site for realizing a postfeminist version of the self3.

38Communication on the page is characterized by a generally harmonious atmosphere and anodyne remarks: comments tend to be brief indications of agreement, and the Likes on both posts and comments signal mutual approbation, confirming the Francophile positioning of participants. The only mark of disapproval that appears is a lack of response: on the rare occasions where a negative or Francophobic comment appears, it is simply ignored. This echoes the findings of Gregg and Driscoll (2008: 134), who characterize the default affect of Facebook as "cloyingly positive." In this respect participants follow what Gantz identifies on Pinterest as "women's discursive strategies" (2013: 21), in contrast with the acrimonious debates that characterize many current affairs discussion forums.

39The confirmation by Australians of each other's Francophilia and the temporal and spatial anchoring in Australia, evident in both posts and comments, demonstrate the intracultural nature of the majority of the interaction on the site. Although it is often assumed that the Internet and social media facilitate contact between cultures (Hanna & De Nooy, 2009), they also provide opportunities for avoiding direct contact with another culture by connecting instead to the familiar (Huesca, 2013). Here the encounter with France is mediated by French Affair.

40Remarkably, this is the case not only for those who identify their location in Australia, but also for the followers who continue to connect to the French Affair page while in France, looking to it for "inspiration." Their travel destination has been idealized to the point where, in order to be fully enjoyed, it has to be experienced through the lens of its Facebook representation, a stereotyped vision of a leisurely life in a postcard setting. In her book on stereotypes, Rosello (1998) reminds us of the origin of the word: in printing, a single solid metal plate could be cast to replace an entire page of individual characters. This "stereotype" (also known as a cliché) could be used instead of the original, which became superfluous. Similarly, the cliché–in snapshot form–of French life on Facebook ultimately serves to render superfluous the original experience depicted, to the point where the French Affair version of France becomes the reference point even when followers find themselves in France. Being there is experienced through its simulacrum (Baudrillard, 1981), a hyper-mediated version of France.

3.2. Facebook affordances shaping Francophile positioning

41On French Affair's Facebook page, followers project themselves into a fantasized France, able to stroll through village streets or enjoy a virtual coffee without recourse to dedicated software such as Second Life. Exercising the imagination in this way can be likened to armchair travel, the vicarious experience of travel through books and films. The affordances of Facebook and of the networked devices by which Facebook is accessed, however, bring about significant differences with respect to traditional armchair travel, of which the most notable concern the level of interactivity, and the rhythm and visibility of interaction. These shape the mechanisms by which Francophile identity is enacted.

3.2.1. Interactivity, visibility, repetition

42Unlike the traditional armchair traveller, engaged in what is often a solitary activity (reading a book, watching a film) or sharing her position with a select group, Francophile positioning through the French Affair Facebook page is public and interactive. Followers who accept the position proposed–appreciating an idealized France–and respond online with an approving comment, soon see their contribution "liked" in return, confirmed. And not only is their reaction visible to all, but their comment, indeed even the fact of clicking "Like," is relayed instantly to all their Facebook friends through their newsfeed. The page thus encourages and publicizes both one's identification with a Francophile community and recognition by others of this positioning. Furthermore, followers are regularly made aware of new French Affair posts via their own newsfeed and notifications. Thus they are regularly summoned–often several times a day–to imagine themselves in a French postcard setting, to connect with the Francophile ideal and with those who share it.

43In short, Facebook multiplies the opportunities to deploy one's Francophile identity, an identity that is in turn reinforced through the regular repetition of its performance, and broadens the audience to whom it is displayed.

3.2.2. Rhythm of interaction

44The French Affair Facebook posts are short–the invitation to imagine ourselves in France arrives in drip-feed form, an image and a few words at a time–as are the comments. The mean length of utterance of the sample comments in Table 3 is five words, and comments often show traces of speed in their composition, such as the use of SMS abbreviations, spelling errors, elision. Followers click on "Like" or type "Me too," rather than engaging in prolonged interaction. The responses thus consist of fleeting "gestures of presence" (Gregg & Driscoll, 2008: 130), hasty expressions of Francophilia. This makes for an interesting contrast with the leisurely lifestyle pictured in the French Affair posts, which encourage the visitor to use all their senses to enjoy the present moment in beautiful surroundings, echoing the call to "slow living" (Parkins, 2004a, 2004b).

45What the interaction lacks in duration, however, it makes up for in frequency. The call to appreciate Frenchness can arrive at any moment, including while we are on the move or otherwise engaged. The portability of connected devices means that for many, access to Facebook is always at hand, indeed in one's hand or pocket, rarely further than the bedside table, through a device that has become an extension of oneself. Transported on our person, such devices keep us in continuous contact with our various social worlds (Boullier, 2011, 2014). Much of this contact currently occurs via social networking platforms, with Facebook users typically accessing the site multiple times a day for short periods of time (Bozkir, Mazman & Sezer, 2010; Dahlstrom et al., 2011; Junco, 2012) via mobile and/or stationary devices. This rhythm of access and interaction intensifies the re-positioning required of participants. Firstly, the posts from French Affair are interspersed in one's newsfeed with posts from other Facebook pages one is following, which may appeal to quite different aspects of one's sense of identity. And secondly, the constant proximity of mobile devices means that responding to notifications and reading new posts frequently occurs alongside–indeed intermixed with–other online and offline activities and social practices. This is a communication platform that encourages users to attend to multiple interlocutors at the same time. Responding to an update from a family member, a colleague, a sporting club, a new acquaintance, and French Affair, all in the space of a few minutes and quite possibly at the same time as a face-to-face interaction, requires rapid shifts in positioning.

46Clearly, the Francophile positioning of the followers of French Affair is not definitive but necessarily provisional, as a quick look at their Facebook profiles demonstrates. In some cases, Francophilia is an important theme, dominating self-presentation in the profile picture, cover photo and list of Likes, although not to the exclusion of all else; in others it is juxtaposed with photos and news of Australia, and more diverse friends, pastimes and Likes. Clicking through the posts on one's newsfeed encourages a fluid transition between positions, as we navigate between the posts of contrasting social worlds on the same page, or as Boullier (2011: 43) puts it, between "circles of belonging of which we are merely the intersection." The rhythm of Facebook interaction thus gives rise to a continuous intertwining of identities, a "simultaneity of lives" (Turkle, 2011: 160), brought together under a single username.

4. Conclusion

47Facebook facilitates a form of public identity construction enabling rapid transition between social worlds. The Facebook page of French Affair provides a multimodal semiotic space in which to pursue the construction of a Francophile identity, through projecting oneself into an imaginary space of style and beauty represented as French. Posts promoting a picturesque vision of France invite followers at regular intervals to recognise and declare themselves as Francophile, to sigh, reminisce, and engage their senses in a collective dream of a leisurely existence in tranquil settings, and to express an emotional connection to this position and the worldview it entails. The performance of Francophilia may be brief and interleaved with more prosaic facets of their lives, but is nonetheless ratified through Likes and approving comments and broadcast to their social circle.

48Underpinning the interaction is an assumption of distance between the dream and an everyday life that is usually anchored in Australia. The dream is preserved by an Australian Facebook page that protects its followers from unmediated intercultural contact and the pragmatic realities of life in France. Constantly available, inviting and inspiring, endorsing and validating, the French Affair Facebook page and the community it has created enable a Francophile identity to be constructed and maintained online with minimal effort. Through Facebook, this virtual Francophile identity can be activated, reactivated and advertised in a few taps, clicks or keystrokes, bringing it instantly within reach, unlike the projected "French" lifestyle, which remains in a realm of perfection just beyond one's grasp.

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Notes

1 Driscoll and Gregg (2010) point to the auto-ethnographic nature of much contemporary research into social media, where the distinction between participants and researcher is somewhat blurred. This is the case in the present paper, in that the author too is a follower of the Facebook page and from time to time shares its posts.

2 All posts and comments are quoted verbatim, with no modification to syntax, spelling or punctuation. Examples in French have been translated idiomatically by the author with no attempt to reproduce any linguistic errors that may appear in the original.

3 Cf. Levenstein (1998; 2004) on the gendered nature of Francophilia in North America.

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Référence

Juliana de Nooy, « How to be virtually French: Australian Facebook users' co-construction of a Francophile identity », Alsic [En ligne], Vol. 20, n° 1 | 2017, mis en ligne le 02 mai 2017, Consulté le 11 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/3002

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Auteur

Juliana de Nooy

Juliana de Nooy is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Queensland, researching intercultural computer-mediated communication, intercultural memoirs, and identity and difference. Her publications include Learning Language and Culture via Public Internet Discussion Forums (with Barbara Hanna), Twins in Contemporary Literature and Culture and Derrida, Kristeva, and the Dividing Line.
Affiliation: University of Queensland, Australia.
Email: j.denooy@uq.edu.au
Web: http://researchers.uq.edu.au/researcher/234
Address: School of Languages and Cultures, University of Queensland, Q 4072, Australia.

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