We all know the stereotype- the French are haughty, pretentious and downright rude. Except that each time I’d traveled to France, I experienced nothing but kindness. Sure they might laugh at your ridiculous accent, but I found that if you sincerely tried (a.k.a. don’t barge in with the “I’m from America and we’re gonna speak my language and do it my way” approach) then they were quite nice…in their own French way.
Until I lived here. In comparison to other countries, at times I’ve felt brazen and outspoken and rude as an American with my American ways. I don’t say Ma’am and Sir (although I’m sure many Americans do) and I can be quite loud and sometimes invade people’s personal space with my weird touchy laugh habit (thanks mom). But the French make Americans look like rule bound, guilt obsessed, polite pampered Brits. Sorry British but you guys do apologize for everything.
They don’t give a crap about your personal space, your personal problems, standard politeness or welcoming manners. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of French people who have been warm and receptive and helpful. But living here has introduced me to a distinct cultural difference of social standards. Like the girl who blatantly mocked me while sitting next to me on the train and then proceeded to completely invade my personal space even though she had TWO empty chairs next to her. Or the students who talk or text regardless of whether it’s me or the teacher talking. Or the people who cut in front of me at the grocery store or use babies to skip lines at the prefecture. Or the girl who literally sat on me because my SINGLE seat had the smallest bit of room apparently open for stranger seating. No asking, no eye contact, just big ass on my seat. I felt like a crazy person as I searched for someone to share eye contact in a “is this really happening right now?” moment but being polite is so n’importe quoi.
When I first arrived in France, my friend warned me with a story of how she was invited to three dinners before the french even talked to her. I have now sat through two gatherings where hardly two words were spoken to me. I sat as the silent, awkward foreigner, thinking about how if we were in America, I’d have a drink in my hand, know everyone’s name and be involved in some sort of conversation. It seemed unfathomable to me- it’s just common hosting sense, it’s just good manners, it’s just politeness, human decency- how rude! But apparently it’s not rude, it’s just French.
And it’s not just me. Even Paris’s transport authority acknowledged the rudeness with an ad campaign to improve social awareness.
But it’s not all that bad. I’ve heard that the French are hard to crack, but once you break through, they’re there for life. And I will say that rudeness aside, the blunt way of communicating can be quite refreshing at times. But a big ass on my seat will never be refreshing- it can go find its own!