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Impeccable Manners: Who Cares? Certainly not Leon in ITV Comedy Mister French Taste

By Maria Kern

KoldCast’s smart comedy series Mister French Taste offers a rare glimpse inside the world of a wealthy Hong Kong family. Targeting an international audience, the show explores cultural convergence and the hottest topic du jour: the ever enviable and forever elusive French way of life. Searching for that certain air of savoir-faire, hoards have turned to French lifestyle guides along the lines of Bringing Up Bébé, French Women Don’t Get Fat, and Parisian Chic: A Style Guide, an instructional manual penned by former Karl Lagerfeld muse Inès de la Fressange. Widely regarded as the ultimate authority on the finer things in life, including cuisine, fashion, and art, the French are known for their enduring influence as tastemakers. And what could be in better taste than impeccable manners?

You are watching Episode 1 of Mister French Taste

“The Job Interview”

Finding the appropriate person to teach the rich and spoiled Leon Wong manners and proper social behavior is not as easy as it seems. Have a peek at some of the colorful competition that Mister French beat out for the lucrative job!

Click to watch Mister French meet his student, Leon, for the first time.

Each episode of Mister French Taste zeroes in on one key element of etiquette according to the French school, from the proper way to drink wine to the art of seduction. Series producer Veronique Girma is originally from France and looked to her own experiences living in Hong Kong when developing the series. “I noticed that etiquette, in particular, can trigger some of the greatest cultural misunderstandings and can lead to embarrassing but amusing situations,” she says. “Etiquette is subjective by nature; that is why we chose it as the overarching theme of our series. It is such a rich topic to explore and a fabulous playfield for a comedy!”

These days, the web is paradise for critics of the rich, famous, or both. The ridiculously engrossing Tumblr Rich Kids of Instagram mocks children of the upper crust, appropriating their images of leisure and luxury—from their private jets and Rolex collections to champagne-soaked yacht trips. As discussions of income disparity and maladroit millennials move online, KoldCast is the ideal platform for a series like Mister French Taste. The web format allows the show to reach its intended audience—a sophisticated, international bunch, and Girma the creative freedom to produce something topical, clever, and original. The series features a triangular relationship between the sophisticated Lily, the impolite and unrefined Leon, and Mister French Taste himself, etiquette coach to Hong Kong’s elite. Girma explains, “Etiquette is quite in vogue in Hong Kong. Some families will use the help of tutors, and more and more companies are turning to etiquette coaches who specialize in business etiquette.” Hired to reform Leon’s borderline atrocious behavior, Mister French Taste encounters some significant episodes of culture clash in his student-teacher dealings, leading to some hilarious predicaments.

Osric Chau as Leon Wong, Olivier Malet as Mister French

Many films have depicted expatriates in France through a romanticized lens set in the birthplace of cinema, from Le Divorce to An American in Paris, while Mister French Taste offers KoldCast viewers a clever riff on the fish out of water theme, designing a show around a Frenchman based in Hong Kong who embodies all the traits one would expect—from his natty style of dress to his penchant for women. Yet Mister French Taste takes a self-aware approach by presenting stereotypes without indulging them. “In China especially, the French language is associated with romanticism. Humor is an excellent way to take a sane distance from what sounds “normal” to you, and the use of stereotypes allows a better understanding of your own references and what they mean for people from a different culture than yours,” says Girma. As a nation that has produced many of the most quoted intellectuals and acclaimed artists, la République française sets the bar for fans of the highbrow. However, holding any large group of citizens to these preconceived notions is dangerous when outliers don’t fit into the cultural mold, and the series maintains a sense of humor about popular beliefs. Says Girma, “The ability to laugh about yourself and your own culture is, I believe, proof of intelligence, wisdom, even. In the series, we enjoyed playing with clichés.”

While customs certainly differ across borders, the basics are simple to decipher: please, thank you, and excuse me are fairly universal terms. To avoid cultural misunderstandings in France or Hong Kong, two main rules apply—avoid hugging and, perhaps the most cited American faux pas, never speak loudly. Meaning anyone other than perfectly patrician should study up on Mister French Taste’s règles du jeu before making any moves, overseas or otherwise. As for popular fascination with the French, Girma doesn’t expect the buzz to die down anytime soon. “I am convinced that there is a truly inherent French paradox: the French can trigger admiration for their very developed sense of culture and identity, and at the same time, their legendary moaning and arrogance can be so irritating. This love-hate relationship contributes to keep Francomania alive!”

Maria Kern is a contributing blogger at The Sixth Wall, Supercool Creative, and a graduate of Mills College in Oakland, CA where she earned a degree in Legal Analysis. She is interested in creative marketing, film production, and the science of branding. Maria finds creative inspiration in all things media and pop culture.

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Must Reads 7/29/2014