When Data goes back in time to the old west in Time's Arrow, his strange appearance is noted by the denizens, and one asks him if he is a Frenchman. He responds in the affirmative, and later offers the simple explanation "I am a Frenchman" to others, often with a slight pause that implies this is a kind of running gag.

First of all, what would have made an occupant of the time period and location think that Data is a Frenchman? Were people from France know to have pale skin or something? Also, was this actually supposed to be a running joke (since it is repeated several times throughout the episode)? If so, what am I missing? If it is a joke, it cannot possibly be any worse than the ones in The Outrageous Okona.

  • 4
    This isn't even an original joke. It parallels the joke Spock used in that TOS episode (ears caught in a mechanical rice picker). It plays on the assertion that the inhabitants of that time are ignorant enough to believe something so absurd, plus all the various nationalistic tendencies we still see today.
    – John O
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 20:53
  • 5
    SNL: Coneheads. "We're from France!"
    – wbogacz
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 21:00
  • If I remember correctly, Data first says that he is French when someone comments on how he looks. He then continues to run with that story when other people ask where he is from.
    – Xantec
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 21:38
  • It also goes back to a holodeck episode in the first season where Data's appearance is explained as "being from Brazil" leading to "yeah, can tell by the complexion" - although, not sure why the computer controlled characters couldn't just ignore something like that.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 23:35
  • The Brazil line is an obvious joke, of course. Anyone who's ever been to Brazil can confirm that Data would look quite out of place there. What I never got was why Dr. Soong couldn't figure out how to make his skin color more natural in the first place. I mean, Japanese robotics engineers can do that now. I'm sure by the 24th century, that'll be pretty much common-place. Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 3:35

2 Answers 2


It is most likely just a running gag as American attitudes towards the French have been (at least in modern times) been relatively negative. HOWEVER there also exists the possibility that most of the more local characters in San Francisco Data would have met would never have actually MET a French man and instead could possibly bought into a variety of Stereotypes that would have been present BEFORE the 20th century. A more obscure one would be the use of white face makeup (often containing lead) that was popular around the 17th century (A little off from the time period I know), that both men and women in the Aristocracy would wear.

As can be seen here...enter image description here and here... enter image description here

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Oh Blackadder... how I miss thee...

I know this is shaky but at the very least that would help explain why they MIGHT be satisfied go off the assumption that Data is French because of his skin color (which they would have chalked up to the use of said makeup). Many arguments can of course be used against this. French fashion had the tendency to spread and so many of the makeup styles actually transferred throughout Europe, particularly to the English (remember paintings of Queen Elizabeth?) However I figured that this might be the only explanation worth mentioning past "it's just a joke".

Most likely though... is that "being French" has been a staple of American humor which has been beaten like a dead horse and it was natural that it would be used to get a cheap laugh.

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God forbid we actually come up with anything new.

  • Hilarious. I have to add the story of the town of Hartlepool who hanged a monkey thinking him a French spy. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 3:26
  • @DJClayworth That would be more tragic if it weren't so darkly humorous. lol But yes, it would seem to reinforce the "Ignorance meets French Stereotype" theory. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 8:00
  • Interestingly, there is one 18th century French fashion that spread to the USA and there survives to this day, though it has died out everywhere else: the style of table manners that requires switching the fork to the right hand before moving it to the mouth: slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/2013/06/… Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 8:42
  • @DJClayworth Sadly, that event probably didn't happen :(
    – Tacroy
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 19:10
  • French make up styles from the 17th century did not transfer to the 16th century Queen Elizabeth the First.
    – Sarriesfan
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 21:52

I have always assumed it to be a running gag comparing the multi-cultural Federation of the future to a relatively self-centered and ignorant American past. This and a tip of the hat to a similar joke in the original series (Spock's ears in being caught in a mechanical rice picker in City On The Edge Of Forever).

Another example is data being referred to as from South America in The Big Goodbye.

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