After a particularly frustrating nonverbal couchsufring dinner experience, my return resulted in yelling at Antoine, “We have may have pride, but the French have pretension! At least we can be proud AND humble!!”
Though I wasn’t quite sure if that statement made the most sense, at the time it felt valid. Because I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again, the French can be rude. Or at least they could care less about being polite.
Their sarcasm is really just blunt meanness, they take over public transportation (and won’t even try to make room for others), they don’t notice their surroundings and could care less about your personal space, and they blatantly make fun of your accent (but to be fair, Americans aren’t much better, and plenty of Frenchies have been nice and patient with my accent…so really maybe this one doesn’t totally count). Oh and they cut lines- oh my god do they cut lines. Maybe it’s because of my dad’s embarrassingly indignant dedication to the principle of holding your place, (and dear god I’ve become him already!) but it drives me crazy when there’s no respect for the line. Waiting for my visa feels like preparing for battle as I try to preserve as much space as possible to gain rightful entry into the prefecture.
And forget pleasantries. They tell you like it is. If you’ve cooked a meal that isn’t what they’re used to, they’ll tell you, “Mmh. It’s OK.” In the U.S. we’d smile, take a “no thank you helping” and praise the chef for their efforts.
The other day, I witnessed an adorable little son helping his father withdraw money from an atm. He happily took the money out, and counted the tens and twenties. To which the father gruffly replied, “Yes. And how much is that?”, walking away without any acknowledgement of his answer. As if this kind of knowledge was expected rather than appreciated. In the U.S. we’d get all high pitched and celebratory, encouraging the child for their outstanding mathematical skills. True, we cater too much and over coddle our children, but throw the kid a bone!
Yes, compliments are few and often down right confusing. I’ve had to teach Antoine how to say things in less offensive ways. For example, he quickly learned, “that’s not the most flattering”, because, “that make you look like a potato sack”, just doesn’t quite work.
The hardest transition for me has to be their indifference to the presence of a foreigner. They don’t care if you talk, and they don’t mind talking at you. If you wait for people to ask basic questions, like “where are you from?” or “what’s your story,” you won’t get heard. Call me crazy, but it feels a little strange to enter new social situations where you’re the odd one out and interject with “oh and by the way, here’s some information about me…just in case you were curious…or even if you’re not…I’m going to throw it at you anyways…and now am I just talking at you since you didn’t even ask me a question to begin with??”. Yeah….
In part, all of these observances come from the transition from traveling abroad to living abroad (blog post on that to come). Things get demystified the more time you spend with them, especially when you’re jumping through bureaucratic hoops and administrative nightmares. Things that used to be cute, cultural quirks, now serve as irritants. In the past, I’d look at these moments and laugh, “Oh, that’s so french.” Now, with bitter annoyance I sigh, “That is SO fucking French.”
And if you don’t believe me, look at this image. Percentages and images always help.
It comes from an interesting little blurb about why the French are rude and how it may have ties to their legal system. Call it what you want, but legal system or no, it wouldn’t hurt for a few French pleasantries from time to time.
As irritating as it can be, I still have love for them. I always will. The French are unique in their straightforward ways of communication and who knows, maybe someday it won’t seem so abrasive. But I might have to request for someone to personally take me down if I start sitting on strangers, talking at you, or referring to you as a potato sack. There are lines that just shouldn’t be crossed…or cut.