You can learn French with the TV series A very secret service, a French caricature of the 60's

Learn French With TV Series: A Very Secret Service

Lis cet article en français ici. Fais l’activité liée à la vidéo ici.

Learn French with TV series so you can immerse yourself in francophone culture and have fun while learning! 

In this article, we analyse an extract of A Very Secret Service, a French spy series first broadcast in 2015. You can watch both seasons on Netflix.

A Very Secret Service is a parody of the French intelligence services. André Merlaux joins the spy service as a young trainee and discovers the surprising organisation of the French secret service and the multiple diplomatic incidents he has to deal with.

With its caustic humour, the series, simply makes fun of colonialist Gaullian France and its administration. If you still have any doubts about how funny it is and you are an advanced learner, read the review by France Inter, which could not be more positive.

Watch the extract below a couple of times. You can add the automated French subtitles or the English ones, and you can access my free activity about this scene, all in French, on this PDF. Below I’ll explain various details you’ll come across in the extract.

1. Learn French With TV Shows and Learn About French Culture and History 

This scene happens in the French Intelligence office of the French Intelligence, (les services secrets). Many details show that the story unfolds during the ’60s. 

First, the French and American agents mention their collaboration during World War II and their victory against the barbary (Nazism). They also evoke the General (De Gaulle) and the Marechal (Pétain). Both were important characters of WWII. General De Gaulle left France to England to organise the Résistance while Maréchal Pétain collaborated with the Nazis in France, where he set up a new authoritative government in Vichy.

In the second part, the conversation revolves around the American election between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. The conversation seems to be showing each country’s voting trend at the time although the Democrat candidate Kennedy was elected with a short margin. The French want an experienced and mature candidate, like le Général, whereas the Americans prefer le Maréchal, more conservative. 

2. Learn French With Comedies and Enjoy the French Sense of Humour

This comedy is a parody of France in the ’60s, and caricatures many stereotypical aspects of the country. First of all, I’m sure you have noticed how arrogant the French agents appear; they completely minimise the importance of American intervention during the War. We all know how decisive the American landing on the coast of Normandy was in the final Liberation. 

Another stereotype is about French people’s poor English. As Merlaux, the trainee, welcomes the American in quite good English, his colleagues remain stunned: “Merlaux, vous parlez anglais?!”

Besides, sexism seems everywhere in the show. The only woman in the French team speaks only once, only mentioning how charming Kennedy is! This detail perfectly shows how women were perceived at the time. In the series, this agent uses her charms to work and obtain information, which her boss approves fully. 

Finally — and this is a very common stereotype about French politicians — they love women and have regular affairs with them. In this scene, the Americans are convinced Kennedy won’t be elected as everyone knows he has many relationships with women. On the other hand, French agents don’t see any issue with this! The huge gap between the French and American cultures is well highlighted: both camps are looking at each other, puzzled! 

I have chosen this specific TV series as it’s easy to follow. They don’t use many slangs or shortcuts, which normally make French TV shows quite hard to understand, even for advanced learners. 

If you need more ideas about how to learn French with TV series, you can view my blog post about the 3 best resources to practise French listening. I hope it helps and let me know if you have enjoyed the extract or liked this sense of humour!