#12 – Two “French Letter” boxes

Two “French Letter” boxes [Alamy image ref: AEF1JR]

I’ve seen quite a few condom dispensers in small French towns (population around 5,000) but only one, in Chatillon-sur-Indre, offering several story-line or caption suggestions.First is the obvious connection with the French post-box which, if you are unaware of it – or live somewhere other than in the United Kingdom – “French Letter” is slang for a condom.

Then there is the “No Waiting” sign and the instruction about “Limited to 1 hour 30 minutes”… which would be pretty good going for most people contemplating any amorous act!

And then there is the big arrow… not only pointing to the machine, but being the recognized symbol for a male – the shield and spear of the Roman god Mars, which is also the alchemical symbol for iron, represents the male sex.

I don’t know how this photo was used recently in a UK national newspaper with 1 million print-run as a 1/2 page inside reproduction, but if it was “The Sun” or “The Mirror” the picture editors could have had a field day with the captioning!

Although I’ve sometimes waited around a corner to see if there were any customers at these machines, I’ve never been successful in snapping anyone. I guess most people are just too embarrassed to be seen buying one (although long gone are the days when the hairdresser used to whisper in one’s ear, “Anything else sir?”) However, they are a guaranteed set-up for posing a friend or two and having some suggestive fun with their expressions and body language!

A little bit of research has provided the following… from TheFreeLibrary.com…

Some nicknames of the condoms demonstrate international tensions. In Germany, a slang term for a condom is a “Pariser,” or a Parisian. In English, condoms are sometimes called French Letters. Why is France associated with condoms? This might be because other countries associated all that was decadent with France.

As a side note, a French Letter will protect you against the French Disease; or, to put it more plainly, a condom will help protect you against syphilis. Syphilis was called the French Disease because of the outbreak in the French Army in the sixteenth century; it was the Italians that coined that phrase (morbus gallicus).

The French, however, might have gotten their linguistic come-uppance with their terminology. The French called syphilis “la maladie anglaise,” or the English Disease. They even called it the Italian disease or the Neapolitan disease too. Other countries were equally derisive, with the Arabs calling syphilis the English disease and the Russians calling it the Polish disease.

Although most nationally-derogatory terms for syphilis are now in the past, the French still call condoms “la capote anglaise,” or the English raincoat.

And from wikipedia…

Julius Fromm (1883 – May 12, 1945) was a Jewish entrepreneur, chemist, and inventor of a process for making condoms from liquified rubber. Fromms became a synonym for condom in Germany. In 1928, the world’s  first condom vending machines were installed by Fromm’s company, but the interior ministry only allowed it to advertise the hygienic advantages of condoms, not the condom’s use as a contraceptive, because it feared a further decrease of the birth rate.


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