Fontaine à Chambéry

Fontaine à Chambéry

Monday, June 7, 2010

Why do French men feel the need to carry backpacks?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have observed countless French men carrying backpacks or "manbags," a man's equivalent of a purse. Why? In the U.S. men wouldn't be caught dead accessorizing with something that might make them seem effeminate. There is such a negative stigma against appearing unmanly in America. In a cultural sense, American men don't feel the need to fill a backpack with tons of stuff while walking around town for the afternoon--they just grab their wallets, go, and are good for hours. It's us women who haul around huge purses in order to tote anything and everything we may need, including a sweater, wallet, keys, phone, paper, pens, gum, tissues, band-aids, sunglasses, umbrella (in case it rains!), granola bar, bottle of water, medicine, camera, book, hairbrush, makeup...the list goes on and on. Of course, not all women do this, and in no way am I condoning this behavior--I myself am victim of the incessant need for carrying pounds of personal belongings in a chic bag "just in case I need it." Rather than merely enjoying an afternoon, it seems as if we are preparing for battle! Well, European men too.

While out and about in Chambéry one afternoon, I observed les hommes pictured above. I immediately noticed that the man on the right looked as if he was getting ready to go climb a mountain, so I grabbed my camera (from my purse, of course) and snapped a picture. What could he possibly have in his bag!? I thought that perhaps he was carrying a water bottle, jacket, camera, wallet, maybe a snack.... and then I blanked. Was he carrying his friend's junk too? But why the bookbag? Couldn't he just put the stuff in his pockets? Or carry some of it? Hmmm, odd. I turned to Robin and asked "Why is that guy carrying a bookbag?" "I don't know. European men just carry bags around I guess. I have a little one." "What!? You carry a purse!!??" "It's not a purse. It's a bag." Hmmmm, très intéressant.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that today women haul around bags full of personal stuff. Millions of years ago, we were the gatherers. While men were out hunting, women gathered nuts, berries, and anything else they could find for consumption that would increase the chances of survival. While I am no physical anthropologist and have not been trained formally as one, I do believe there is a correlation between the gathering/hoarding tendencies of our ancient ancestors and us today.

I do not understand why French men carry around bags full of personal belongings (or in Rémi's case, not full at all. All he had in his bag were cigarettes, and he doesn't even smoke. Bizarre!) It is a completely foreign notion to me, as I am used to American men being minimalists when it comes to accessories. It doesn't bother me though. It is nice to know that I'm not the only one hauling around tons of junk I don't need. But--if I needed it, I would surely be prepared!

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