Racist Or Just French? Monoprix

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As an American woman of color in France, I notice all sorts of ways this country is lagging behind in its awareness of and sensitivity to racism. For example, my son’s been learning a song in his preschool class, “Les Petits Chinois.” The lyrics loosely translate to, “The little Chinese are like you, but yeah, they’re not like you because they do these weird exotic things like dream about dragons, wear thong slippers on the streets of Hong Kong and draw, instead of write, their language.” (N.B. I’ve taken some artistic license with the translation.)

While this appears to be a classic French kids song, are the teachers even putting it into context? Are they explaining that Chinese kids now wear sneakers and ride in cars (not bikes) to school just like they do in France and this song is an exoticized and inaccurate portrayal of China, especially modern China? Do they not realize how “othering” the song is? If you tell 4-year-olds via a catchy tune that this is China, don’t they grow up believing it until otherwise informed? And who’s going to do the informing? I haven’t decided if I’m going to raise some objections with the school but considering I’ve spent two paragraphs bitching, I probably should.

Which brings me to our new series: Racist or Just French?

In an effort to inform, question and analyze, I am pointing out French things I’ve come across that are at best, clueless, and at worst, racist. (Laziness and stupidity fall somewhere in the middle.) I know most people aren’t actively trying to be racist, but intention doesn’t strip away harm. Read that again: Intention doesn’t strip away harm. Sure, it might feel annoying to have things “constantly” called out as racist. Why are we minorities so sensitive all the time? But you know what’s worse? Being “constantly” surrounded by reminders you’re a second-class citizen because of your ethnicity. These are called microaggressions, btw.

I hope you see this series as I do, a way to start dialogue and have open discussions about race and culture so we do better as a society, especially when teaching the children in our lives, whether we’re parents or not.


Monoprix, I see you’re hopping on the Asian Beauty bandwagon because it was such a hot trend two years ago. Still, I’m happy to see my country get repped and respected by a huge French company like yours. Let’s spread the Korean skincare love.

But wait, I’m a little confused. Almost all the products here are from Korea—which has been the biggest thing in beauty—yet your headline is about the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Um, that’s Japan. Korea is the “Land of Morning Calm.” A quick search would have turned up that information. It’s not that you think Japan and Korea are the same, is it?

Because then you talk about “kawaii-girls.” Kawaii means cute in Japanese. Again, we are not the same country or people nor do we use the same language. It’s easy, though: Korean is spoken in Korea and Japanese is spoken in Japan. Also, Korea and Japan have a long, fraught history so best not to conflate the two.

So far, the main references are Japanese but the products aren’t:

1. Erborian is a very well-known Korean-French collaboration.

2. The Saem sheet masks have Korean words on the package!

3. This is just lazy. You can’t say a product from Maybelline comes “straight from Korea” because it doesn’t. The cushion compact technology does, yes, but Maybelline is as American as they come. (Until L’Oréal bought them.) The copy editor in me is offended.

4. Well, these are cute. We Asians love all things kawaii!

5. Can we PLEASE stop with the geisha references? I don’t dream of having skin like a geisha because I don’t want to look like I’ve slapped chalk dust all over my face. Why not just say, “Dream of having skin like Marcel Marceau?” But if you’re running with the geisha theme (free advice: don’t), show a Japanese product, not a Korean one.

Though I attribute most of Monoprix’s “all look same” tomfoolery to ignorance and sloth on the parts of the copywriter and marketing team, I don’t appreciate the casual interchangeability of Japanese and Korean culture. So casual they didn’t even bother to google the country they’re writing about. (I looked up the date L’Oréal acquired Maybelline because that’s what writers do! 1996.) It’s this kind of everyday negligence that leads to people saying, “Konichiwa” to me on the street, thinking they’re being a cultural ambassador when they’re actually being stupid and offensive. If you’re selling Korean products, don’t reference Japanese culture. Don’t perpetuate the idea that Asia is one country. We don’t go around talking about French paella, do we?

Finally, do some due diligence. It is 2017. The internet is an amazing tool for knowledge if you want it to be.

What do you think? Is Monoprix racist or just French?


If you have any Racist or Just French stories to share, email me at maggie@leslolos.com. As always, join the conversation in the comments here or over on  FacebookInstagram and Twitter. And please sign up for our newsletter for the most provocative stories from Paris and beyond.

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About Author

Maggie Kim

Maggie Kim is a writer, musician and the founder of LES LOLOS.

38 Comments

  1. I have to say I was a bit shocked when my daughter came home singing the same song. I agree with what you say 100%! I think it’s a mix of racism and just being French.

  2. Love this series!! I think “just being French” IS a bit racist!! And they accuse immigrants of not assimilating into French society…well they aren’t very accepting!

  3. That is insane! Shame on Monoprix for this, it’s just lazy marketing. Its very frustrating being teamed with another coutry because of proximity. The British media have a tendancy to “adopt” Irish athletes during sporting events such as the Olympics or even Irish actors during the awards season! “Good luck to British actress tonight, Ruth Negga”! Ruth Negga is Irish Ethiopian with the strongest Mayo accent youve ever heard Resulting in lots of Irish people screaming at the TV! Good article. I have never heard of the childrens song but I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.

    • Maggie Kim

      It really is laziness and not caring because why should it matter that Ireland and Britain are not only different but have had a lot of conflict? Same as Korean/Japan. We’re all the same, aren’t we? Aaaarggghh.

  4. J’aime beaucoup ton article. For many french people, Asia, like Africa, is a whole package. But if I may, I am black (from west indies) I have been in different countries in Asia and I remember that for many people there, I was coming from an undefined place in the world.

    • Maggie Kim

      Merci, Laura. And certainly, racism and ignorance don’t only happen here. I have no doubt in Asia, they were clueless, too. Wouldn’t it be great if we all just knew better?

  5. This series is everything I have wanted to say for the past 5 years. It’s such a relief to know I’m not just imagining it/being a hypersensitive American liberal. Thank you!!

    • Maggie Kim

      Thank you, Kate! No, you’re not imagining things and people saying we are, are just trying to gaslight us. If you ever want to express more, feel free! Despite the clapbacks, I’m continuing the series!

  6. Love this article!!! And I think it is both racist AND French, and the two intertwine frequently.

    I have a marketing background and this copy is ATROCIOUS. This would never fly in the U.S.! Cultural accuracy as well as cultural sensitivity is a MUST when highlighting products that specific to a region/country/people. This ad made me crazy…bouncing from Japanese to Chinese cultural references, completely omitting any reference to Korean culture altogether AND the products are Korean? *FAINTS*

    This is the challenge of what I call the “Faux Intellectual Know It All” which can also be quite racist. This is an educated French person who was raised in what they perceive to be an open, liberal environment. While the may have had some exposure to different cultures, the actual learning (if not a full on cultural immersion program) will often be based on surface level facts…i.e. just enough to say you know, without REALLY knowing.

    I liken it to always being asked if I sing gospel just because I’m African American. The French know African Americans created gospel, but not that all African Americans do not, in fact, sing, let alone sing gospel.

    The person who wrote the copy for this ad felt completely competent and knowledgeable and clearly did not feel the need to research, fact check or run it by anyone who might be an “expert” in Korean culture or beauty products.

    That is very French to assume you know it all, and culturally insensitive to assume you are capable of writing copy without checking your ish first. The topper: someone approved this mess for print and distribution and now thousands across France will think it quite okay to lump all Asian cultures together. Thanks Monoprix.

    Anyhoo, love this article and love this series. Happy to chime in with my deux centimes from time to time!

    • Maggie Kim

      Robin, I love your comment. It is EVERYTHING.

      I am so glad you see how cringeworthy the copy is, just from a professional standpoint! And I’m in total agreement that it’s the faux liberals who are probably the worst in trying to defend inherent systems of bias that benefit them.Bernie Bros

      Of course, it’s French Men who’ve become so angered they’ve had to hit back with, “No, *you’re* racist (or stupid or wrong),” without even taking the time to understand what is being said here. Because they know everything (see comment below, “I don’t know that song so it doesn’t exist.”)

      I can not even with the gospel singing. That is a WTF?! that’s going to make me pull my hair out.

      Thank you SO MUCH for being here and for your thoughtful, intelligent words. If ever you’d like to contribute to the series, I’d be thrilled to have you. X

      • Maggie!

        So glad you like the comment and *EEEEEEP*! re: if ever I’d like to contribute to the series, you’d love to have me??? *FAINTS* Thank you for the offer and I’d be delighted to!

  7. Some French guy on

    WOW ! Really ? This article is exactly what it is against … As a french guy, I’ve never ever heard any song called “Les petits chinois”.

    Using the same logic, all American are racist because they try to limit the muslims in their country ( thanks Donald).
    Racism is about everywhere in the world (and sadly in France too) but just this new serie is stupid and insulting toward French people.

    Well, won’t do anything debating with someone that could effectively write this (and with such clever comments too).

    • Maggie Kim

      Hello, “Some French Guy,” way to stand up for yourself, and I assume all French people, by hiding behind an anonymous handle. If you “as a french guy” have never ever heard any kids song called “Les Petits Chinois,” it mustn’t exist, right? Because you must know every kids song from when you were 4. That is some rock-solid evidence there, Some French Guy. Especially considering another mother mentioned in the comments how her child also came home singing that song. Do you even have kids to know what songs they’re currently singing in school?

      And DAMN STRAIGHT, many, many Americans (possibly 60M of them, including DUMP and his administration) are hella racist. Nowhere does this article say Americans aren’t. This article, in case it’s not clear, is about the racist experiences I and other POC go through here in France. I’m going to have to attribute it to a lost in translation effect because if you think I’m saying all French people are racist, then you didn’t understand much. But that’s ok, Google Translate is pretty crappy.

      This is so exhausting to repeat, but looks like it must be said again: REVERSE RACISM AND SEXISM DO NOT EXIST. So no, this article is not “exactly what it is against.” That you’re unable to see beyond your anger and indignation that an Asian-American woman dares point out an example of how Monoprix did it wrong shows exactly why articles like these need to be written.

      Finally, you are the third Frenchman who’s come to defend the honour of French people everywhere, but you’re the one who’s done it with the least amount of insults (you should feel proud of that, Some French Guy), which is why I’ve allowed your comment. I hope expressing your absolute ignorance of race and its societal dynamics has made you feel better.

      • ” In its 2014 annual report, published in March 2015, the SPLC counted 784 “active hate groups in the United States”: 72 Ku Klux Klan (KKK) groups, 142 neo-Nazi groups, 115 white nationalist groups, 119 racist skinhead groups, 37 neo-Confederate groups, 21 Christian Identity groups, and 165 “general hate” groups (subdivided into anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant, Holocaust denial, racist music, radical traditionalist Catholic, anti-Muslim, and “other”)). ”
        These groups are LEGAL in the US, not in France !
        I just read this today :
        On Monday, multiple fliers posted by members of Vanguard America ― a white supremacy group ― were found on the University of Maryland Campus.
        “A notice to all white Americans,” one flier read. “It is your civic duty to report any and all illegal aliens. …They are criminals. America is a white nation.”
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/racist-posters-college-campuses_us_58caee3ee4b0ec9d29da21ef?q7p&
        Racism is unfortunately everywhere on the planet : Americas, Africa, Asia etc…
        Anti-french racism in America and Britain is called ” french-bashing ” . When France refused to join the USA in the invasion of Iraq we witnessed a Nation wide ” french-bashing” in America, orchestrated by the american government with the help of many politicians, artists, news papers, tv and radio stations. They all insulted the President and the people of France ( and I mean worse than the risible ” freedom fries ” ).
        I am french and I agree with you that there is racism here but you seem to make it a french specialty : ” racist or just french ” sorry but the sentence itself IS racist.
        You live in France, I lived in the States so without boasting I guess I know a little.
        No hard feelings ! Have a good day !

        • Maggie Kim

          Hi Gerard, thanks for your comment. Perhaps it’s a translation issue, but this series isn’t saying or even implying that ONLY the French are racist or ALL French are racist or that Americans are beyond racism or aren’t racist. To the contrary, if you read other stories on the site, you’ll see how FULLY AWARE I am of the racism in the US. I grew up there. I lived it. And the election of this horrible POTUS only underscores how racist America is. I know many people say, “Oh, you can’t call 60M people who voted Dump racist.” Yeah, well I can and do. But that doesn’t mean I can’t point out the racism I and other POC see and experience living in France. It’s not an either/or. And I’ve said it before and will say it again, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS REVERSE RACISM. There is prejudice, yes, but a dominant culture (in this case, white and French) can not and will never experience racism. You are more than welcome to decry the series title as prejudiced or xenophobic—that’s your opinion—but you can not call it racist. Because it’s not. French bashing has to do with xenophobia, not racism.

          I thank you again for your comment, but I do think you’re not getting the full nuance of the article, much as I most likely wouldn’t get the full nuance of a similar piece in French. However, I’m glad you’re here and glad you’re open to discussion. Have a great day, too!

      • Hi Maggie ! I have to say that I was a successful expat living in the 6e arrondissement for several years (now I live in Bordeaux), and for the first time in my entire life, I encountered racism by the “cultured bourgeois” living in my neighborhood. There is racism in America, but I had never seem it so blatant. While walking down the street in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, a well dressed French woman walked by me, and actually made noises like she was speaking an Asian language (in a very mocking way). I had been walking down the street, minding my own business, and this woman walked by me making these noises to my face. I am half Chinese, half caucasian. It was appalling.

        I have now become accustomed to the unfriendly glances by certain people…

        • Maggie Kim

          Oh Tricia, I’m sorry, that’s horrible. I’ve been surprised, too, by some of the people who’ve behaved so appallingly. Well-dressed, seemingly cultured. What bothers me is also the way people try to downplay it, “That’s not racism or that’s not that big a deal, simmer down.” (Which is an argument I’ve gotten over this piece.) When you’re dealing with microaggressions your whole life (as a woman and a POC)—even from a simple marketing flyer—when does it become a big deal? When do we say, Enough? (Clearly, for me, it’s now!)

          • Completely agree with you ! So glad someone is speaking up about this often hidden topic in France.

  8. Love this article and your breakdown of this piece of absurd, infuriating advertising. Intellectual laziness or flat-out racism: the cause doesn’t matter, the result is the same, mixing up different cultures and languages because whoever wrote/created the campaign couldn’t be bothered to understand the difference themselves. Looking forward to the next piece– sadly you won’t be short of material!

    • Maggie Kim

      Thank you, Mary! You’ve exactly hit the nail on the head: result is the same and they’re spreading this idea to all their customers.

  9. Suzie Roth

    Tangential: During last year’s “Korean Beauty” ad campaign, a Spanish press event for Sephora featured Lucy Paradise. The Spanish (Caucasian, I think?) pop star sang in English but (according to Wikipedia) was into manga and had a Japanese ParaPara group before becoming a K-Pop sensation. Touching on as many demographics as possible — with Spanish, Anglophone, Japanese, and Korean appeal — she’s the whole package…except she’s not Korean…or Japanese. Maybe she had great skin?

    • Maggie Kim

      Well as long as she’s into manga and is a K-pop sensation… that makes me laugh, though, let’s make her the UN of beauty!

  10. Good article – thanks. Having lived in Japan and Hong Kong for a total of 30+ years, I am always bemused and somewhat put out by the ignorance on display in France about matters Asian. Now that I’m here full-time, I notice more and more of these references that both glorify and somehow belittle Asian ways and products. Who IS going to tell the kids that Chinese children are just as hip, if not more so, than kids in the West. And that the Japanese have tech products way before the rest of the world.

    • Maggie Kim

      Thanks, Linda. I’m so glad to hear your POV and yes, that’s the question: Who’s teaching the kids? I said this elsewhere: I’m not interested in censoring problematic songs or books or even ideas, but I do have a problem with not using them as a jumping-off point for discussions about race, gender, equality. I don’t think it’s too young at 4 to point out, This song is about “old China” and here’s what it’s like now. We don’t have to get into a whole “othering” talk at this age but we can try to lesson the inherent exoticism of this song. And how about differentiating the countries in Asia instead of presenting it as a monolith? (so much work to do!)

  11. Thank you for this essay! I don’t even remember how I found it but it makes me feel a whole lot better about the stuff I’m shaking my head over (practically daily) having just moved to Paris. I thought (or rather was told) I was being overly sensitive.
    My french husband (of 15 yrs) has done little to prepare me for the culture shock of France. Maybe that’s a good thing. Nothing like learning a culture (the good and the bad) via the Polar Ice Plunge method.

    • Maggie Kim

      Not oversensitive one bit. I think we don’t react enough sometimes because everyone’s trying to gaslight us into believing it’s not racism. You’re always welcome here, Cathi 🙂

  12. Pingback: TRIBUNE – « Racism or Just French ? », quand une américaine d’origine coréenne s’interroge sur le racisme en France – L'Afro – news, enquêtes, reportages

  13. Really appreciate this well written and thought out article, thank you! As an Asian- American, Korean-American woman to be exact, who has lived on and off in France, I’m shaking my head at the sheer ignorance and laziness of the Monoprix ad. It’s 2017, and there is no excuse for this colonialist/exotica/Asians-are- all-the-same mentality. I highly doubt any French person would clump their entire French-European culture, history, and identity with a German, Swedish, or Dutch. In fact, Europeans are easily quick to point out the unique characteristics and cultural idioms of their own native country. Obvious language differences too- does everyone assume that a French person speaks Dutch? Or every Italian knows German? Come on, Monoprix. The copy on the ad is so back-asswards, it’s embarrassing. Trop embarrassing. They pulled from the Asian stereotype bag, which we all know, stereotypes only perpetuate and contribute to racist thinking and perception. Geishas? “Land of the Rising Sun” on KOREAN made products? Labeling anything cute with colorful little animals from Asia as Kawaii? I understand Japanese culture is a thing in France (hello, palais de Tokyo), but clearly, this ad is blatantly ignoring and dismissing that there’s another Asian country that exists and has its own thing happening. That it is Korean technology and products that are actually on their bourgeois shelves. So, thank you, but no thanks, Monop, on misinforming and encouraging ignorance to all your customers, both young and old. Kinda like marketing California sparkling wine as Champagne. It’s not. Just because it has bubbles and is a similar color doesn’t make it the same thing. Not even close, right? And the French even have laws about what’s officially Champagne. Or a certain cheese. Or whatever French specialty product is oassociated with cultural identity. And damn straight a French person will get into a heated argument with any non-French person about what is REAL Champagne, that if the poor sap doesn’t show knowledge and R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for the bubbly elixir, French person will have no hesitation to ridicule and humiliate poor sap for his stupidity and low cultural IQ. So, what gives, Monop?

    I always had this feeling that Monop was trying so hard to be quasi-hipster with their marketing, but inevitably still stuck with their original colonialist bourgeois mentality. They’ve been around since 1932. (btw, thank you Internet for that info. See, that was SO easy!) There is something about shopping there that cultivates a stench of class leveling. Yeah, they have a pretty wide and convenient selection of products from groceries to maquillage to housewares, and I shop there because of that. But, it’s definitely French. And as an Asian-American, I say that with simultaneous adoration and an eyeball roll.

  14. PS. Want to share another reason why due diligence is necessary, and a simple, seemingly “harmless” ad with racist stereotypes is dangerous for perpetuating ignorance. Because, according to Wikipedia, “Monoprix is present in approximately 85% of all French towns with a population of more than 50,000.” Yup. That’s ALOT of people allover France that can confuse Korea and Japan as the same by this misinformed ad. That’s a lot of French folks that, most likely unconsciously, can perceive that it is totally fine to continue stereotypes and see Asians as all the same. That’s sheer irresponsibility on Monop’s shoulders.

    • Maggie Kim

      Yup. That’s exactly it. Their reach is so far and wide and they’ve now let it be known across France that Korea, Japan and Asia are one big, Kawaii country. And look how easy it was to find out the info about Monoprix! You weren’t poring over microfiches for hours to find it because google and wiki. Sigh.

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