Behind That Face Lies
A Veritable Database
She’s not only more fun to look at than I am, she’s also, according to one set of criteria, smarter. Photo of Flora Coquerel, Miss France 2014, by Georges Biard.
Readers, I have terrible news. You’d better sit down. I’m not sure how to break it to you… This won’t be easy, but I guess I should just come right out and say it: I am never going to be Miss France.
I’m just not qualified. Believe me, I’m as shocked as you are. And you haven’t even heard the worst part yet.
Although I never wanted to admit it, I had always kind of, sort of, rather suspected that I wasn’t physically qualified (not female), maritally qualified (not single) or nationality-ly qualified (not French). But now, as it turns out, I’m not intellectually qualified either.
Alas, yes. As I recently learned from a local Paris news publication called, sensibly, The Local, the contestants in the annual Miss France competition are given, along with sashes, flowers and lascivious sidelong glances, an exam to test their general knowledge.
Of course, as soon as I saw the article, I knew that I had to take the quiz. My first thought was, “What’s a young, beautiful-by-shallow-minded-media-standards French woman got that I haven’t got?” Followed instantly by my second thought, which was, “Oh wait, let’s not even go there.”
Indeed, I should not have gone there: of the 40 questions on the quiz, I could only answer 14 with certainty and another five with hesitancy. That’s a score of less than 50 percent — by my American high school’s standards, an F-minus.
With my self-esteem, not to mention my dreams of one day parading around on national television wearing a tiara, rapidly fading, I looked up the quiz from last year’s contest to see if I could do any better.
Alas, no. Again, I only scored 19 out of 40. Holding on tight, as a guy with bad hair once sang, to my dream, I tried again with the quiz from 2012. At last, I got at least a D-plus, with a score of 24.
So how is it that a college-educated, semi-well-read-and-traveled man of letters (mostly vowels) like myself came out so poorly on a test conceived for a group of people less than half his age whose biggest accomplishment in life so far has been getting born?
The answer lies in the questions. Those on the Miss France quiz fall under 10 categories, including history, economics, literature and math, but also fashion, (French) television and beauty contests.
This means that, from my point of view, the questions on the Miss France quiz fall under five categories, to wit, in order of increasing difficulty:
Category 1: Questions that I could have answered drunk, asleep, in the second grade or all three.
To demonstrate their steel-trap grasp of “math and logic,” the candidates grapple with stumpers like “What is the square root of 9?” and “Complete this sequence of letters: A, E, I…” (both actual questions from the 2012 test).
Speaking of logic, the pageant organizers seem to be eager not only to elect Miss France, but also to get her the enfer out of the country. Two of the three tests that I looked at included a problem like this:
You take off for New York at 2pm and your flight lasts for 5 hours and 30 minutes. Eastern U.S. time is six hours earlier than Paris time. When do you arrive in New York?
Even in the first grade, I knew the answer to that one: just in time to make it to the Russian Tea Room for lunch.
Category 2: Questions to which I once briefly knew the answer but have since purged it from my brain in order to make room for more lust.
I’m sure that at one time or another in the meandering course of my existence I knew things like “What is the capital of the Dominican Republic?” (from the 2014 quiz) and “In which year did Michael Jackson die?” (from 2012).
However, much as I acknowledge the excellence of the former’s music and the latter’s efforts to thrive as an island microsociety removed from the realities of the world, I really don’t think about either the country or the entertainer enough to retain such information.
Category 3: Questions to which only a French person could be expected to know the answer.
Examples here include “Name the quiz show hosted by Jean-Luc Reichmann on the TF1 television channel,” “Who composed eight tracks on the album Love Songs by Vanessa Paradis?” and “Who introduced the 35-hour work week in France?”
You know what I’m doing with my five extra hours of leisure every week? Not watching dumb quiz shows, not listening to even dumber pop music and not remembering the names of intelligent French politicians.
Category 4: Questions to which only a French person competing in the Miss France pageant could be expected to know the answer.
Not surprisingly, I was unable to answer a single question in the beauty contest category. Examples:
“Who was the honorary president of last year’s Miss France ceremony?”
“Where will the next Miss Universe pageant be held?”
“What title was Marine Lorphelin awarded in the last Miss World competition?”
If I had been obliged to give answers, I would have said, “Once again, not me,” “In the universe,” and “Miss Congenitally Advantaged.”
Category 5: Questions to which no one who actually has a life could be expected to know the answer.
I think I can be proud of not knowing “Who is the ‘face’ for Chanel No.5?” or “What is a Victoria’s Secret Angel?” let alone “For how many seasons did ‘Desperate Housewives’ run?”
As the eminent 19th-century British philosopher Herbert Spencer noted, in one of history’s most oft-abridged misquotes, “To play billiards well [or score high on a beauty contestants’ quiz or, need I mention, ‘Call of Duty Black Ops’] is a sign of an ill-spent youth.”
Actually, in tallying up my pathetic scores, I left out part of the test: the Miss France exam always ends with an essay question to examine the examinees’ English skills.
This year they were asked to describe, in English and in five lines, the most embarrassing moment of their lives. Now, that part I can ace:
One day someone knocked on my door.
To my surprise, it was Miss France.
She offered to accompany me to my upcoming high school reunion.
Dressed in her outfit from the Swimsuit Competition.
If I could pass a simple quiz.
Note to readers: David Jaggard’s e-book Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011 is now available on Amazon as well as iTunes, iBookstore, Nook, Reader Store, Kobo, Copia and many other distributors.
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