Saturday, November 28, 2009

French Stereotypes

I've lived here for four years and have found many of the French stereotypes to be at least somewhat true. I guess like most things, there is a grain of truth to be found in the continuing existence of some stereotypes. For example, most French people do drink a lot of wine, though usually not at once; a large percentage of the population can be seen carrying a baguette at the end of the day; stinky cheese is usually served at the end of dinner; it seems as though more than half of the population smokes and for the most part, body odor seems to be the norm here. Of course, there are a lot of good stereotypes which are true about the French: they enjoy a heated debate, love art and philosophy, are well-versed in the art of conversation and relaxation and have a fantastic relationship with pleasure (food, wine, appreciation of leisure, etc.).

However, there is one stereotype I find to be particularly true and absolutely annoying. The French are undeniably rude. Certainly not everyone is unpleasant all of the time and I am sure that there are lovely people floating around who never, ever have a rude moment, but I have found an overall disregard for the normal politeness to be the norm here. Perhaps I am too sensitive (after all I was raised in a place where politeness is the ONLY art form), but I am not the first, nor will I be the last to point this out; as a generalization, it seems the Froggies go out of their way sometimes to be particularly unpleasant.

Two recent examples come to mind (the first of which prompted this post). The other day, a new friend and I were on the stationary bikes at the gym. We were talking, in English as we are both Americans, about random things. I would like to point out that we were having a quiet discussion about completely non-offensive things, like exercise and traveling. An older French woman sat down on the bike next to us, looked at us, smiled and then proceeded to tell us that we talk too loud, that she hates our accent and would like us to stop talking and that every Saturday we bother her, basically insisting that we immediately stop speaking. There were about 20 other available bikes, but she sat next to us so she could spew forth this anti-social poison. She even went to the trouble to involve a trainer, ineffectively tattling on us in order to get her point across. Oh, and my friend and I had only met the previous week and had been to the gym together twice, so the crap about us always being rude was a total load of poppycock. I've traveled a lot and I can honestly say, France is one of the few places where somebody would go out of their way to sit next to me in order to tell me I was bothering them.

The second thing was a bit more painful because it involved people I actually know and like. Last week in an attempt to celebrate Thanksgiving with my students (all of whom are older than 30), I made four pumpkin pies to take to work. I handed out 30 slices of homemade (from scratch) pumpkin pie. To be perfectly frank, it was one of the best recipes I have ever tried. Nothing fancy, just fresh pumpkin, condensed sweetened milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and vanilla and eggs. Well, out of the 30 people I gave the pie to at work, two thanked me. TWO PEOPLE said thank you. That's it. I woke up at five in the morning, baked four pies individually in my little microscopic oven and I got two mercis. Even that wouldn't have been so bad if it had just ended like that, but no, the French can't keep opinions to themselves. I had eight people tell me it was disgusting, four people throw it in the trash in front of me and most of the rest ate a bite and looked at me with a pained expression, like the idea of eating something so different from what they are used to would kill them.

I've not always had the best relationship with the French. And if I am completely honest, it has been a supreme effort on my part to remain open-minded (at times failing miserably) through this strange journey of mine. But I try because I do believe there must be some reason why the French lifestyle is respected throughout the world. However, sometimes it just doesn't seem worth it, like maybe there are just personality types that do not belong in certain countries and maybe I have the type of personality that just doesn't sync with France.


buffalodick said...

Arrogant ass holes! Most WWII French rifles are in perfect condition, as they have never been fired , and dropped only once... They learned to cook from Italians, and feel superior based on nothing but their own opinion..

Jennie said...

To me, it always seemed more of a "nosy, in your face, I want to tell you off so I can feel better about myself" attitude. French people do stick their noses into other people's business for no reason other than to complain for the sake of complaining and to hear themselves speak. I will never get used to it, and whenever it happens when I'm around (even if it's not TO me), I have to make a snarky comment and put them in their place because I am so sick of it!!! I really wish Frenchies would just keep their mouths shut.

And when it comes to things like American treats, I've completely given up. The French are not daring at all when it comes to new food (especially because anything that is American is automatically garbage, so they think) and I'm sick of people bashing on my culture even though they've never been to the US and probably only know one or two Americans and believe everything they see in stupid movies.

I've had my ups and downs with France, but at the end of day, I can't wait to leave this place sometimes...

Zhu said...

In both instance, I'd have been very pissed off and yes, this qualifies as extreme rudeness.

I must have changed because even I am lost when I go back to France and I'm not sure how to react.

I was in a store when I visited my parents last time, and I wanted to buy some nice pen (I like drawing). They were under lock and key. So I asked a salesperson if I could look at them, and buy a few. Her reply:

"Mais vous ne pouvez pas choisir d'autres crayons, qui ne sont pas dans la vitrine ?"

Er... no, I can't. This is your goddamn job, just do it and hand me the pens.

I was speechless and chose to laugh.

Generally speaking, I think North Americans are much more polite with "outside" people (i.e. in shops, in the bus, at work etc.). However, I find them a bit "rude" with their friends sometimes, it seems that people don't really matter - hard to explain.

But I find French rude towards anybody they don,t know, and very nice and polite with their friends and family.

Lindsey said...

It's hard to sync with the French even when you love living here. They can be abrasive, inappropriate and plain disrespectful. But let's face it, at least their healthcare system is better!

ps - you failed to mention that the trainer said to the bitter old woman "what is it now?" because she had made a scene with someone else earlier. Quelle surprise.

Michelle said...

Hi, I don't know you but I read your blog from time to time. I used to live in the Netherlands and I searched far and wide to obtain all the ingredients needed to make super yummy American-style chocolate chip cookies from scratch. I even imported the vanilla from the UK. I took them into work -- where instead of receiving gratitude -- I was told that it wasn't my job to be making cookies. Even though I am now back in the States, I never do nice things for colleagues anymore. The experience in the Netherlands was that painful. So I do sympathize.

Jules said...

How frustrating and sad... especially about the pumpkin pie (one of my favourite American things).

Since I've only visited Paris three times I don't have as much experience there and so haven't had any major issues (however, as a fellow Pisces, being sensitive, I try to block out negative things, so maybe it is moreso that then not having experienced rudeness.) My husband on the other hand, though, always notices those things, especially in the your lovely City of Lights. He vividly recalls some moments of rudeness to which, apparently, I was oblivious to ; ).

I guess every place has its positive points and not so lovely ones... so hopefully for you, Paris' beauty outweights its not so pleasant aspects.

Overall, I think you are a lucky one living abroad, so just keep relishing in the lovely lifestyle of France, I guess, and try to block out the stuff you don't like as much...

Angela in Europe said...

Buffalodick-They definitely at least act superior. Sometimes I wish I had their confidence.

Jennie-Sometimes (more often now than before because I am so discouraged most of the time at the moment) I feel like I should just pack it all in and go back to the States. I hate feeling that way and I hate that others feel that way.

Zhu-You could be correct with the being nicer to friends bit, but because I don't have that many French friends I can't confirm. I am sure I am not seeing the whole picture.

Lindsey-Lovely lady was there today giving me hateful looks.

Michelle-The clash of culture often results in hurt feelings. I am sure. I remember one time I made an Indian guy cry simply for saying something that offended him. I cringe every time I think about it.

Jules-I know I am lucky to live overseas but with all learning experiences sometimes the lessons are always pleasant.

Pardon My French said...

Some days I just want to give you a hug. There are rude people in every country, but the French do have a particular style. Back home there are also people who don't like to try new things but they'd have to be pretty low-class to throw it in the trash in front of the person who cooked it.

We may talk a of Nascar in my family, but by golly, if you put a plate of anything in front of them they will either eat it all up and say "That was real good, honey, thank you," or they will wrap it up and say "This is so good, I'm going to take it home and let the others have a taste." Even if "the others" are just their dogs, they'd never let on they didn't like it.

As for exercise woman, I'm sure she's just jealous because she has no friends to talk to. My vote is to sit right next to her next time and shout OH C'EST VOUS BONJOUR MADAME COMMENT-ALLEZ VOUS HO LA LA IL FAIT CHAUD ICI HEIN etc and watch her get all riled up. I mean, really, what can she do? Or even better, you get on one side of her and your friend on the other and have a long, detailed conversation in French over top of her head. Call each other "biloute" and then publicly time how long it took for her to go tattle on you. It's a prime opportunity to have some fun, if you ask me.

And my favorite story of manners is when someone gave me chocolate as a Christmas present when I was pregnant and another student in the class said I shouldn't eat it because it would make me fat. Merry Christmas to you, too, lady.

Canary said...

Hope it is Ok to fly by and read sometimes, because I just happened to come here and love your blog! :) :)

Angela in Europe said...

Thanks Pardon...sometimes I feel like I need a hug!
Canary-Please stop by anytime.

Juliatuc said...


I randomly found your blog after typing french stereotypes in google and I have to say that your article made me giggle a wee bit.

I happen to be french, currently live in Wales, and most of your article is just disapointing. It actually upsets me to realise that some people can't even realise how lucky they are to have the opportunity to experience a culture different to theirs.

I think that the bit that striked me the most is when you talk about your so called politeness. When Jennie comments "I really wish Frenchies would just keep their mouths shut." it is contradicting your whole point. Don't know if you've actually realised yet. And that is rude.

The features you point out to be french are deceiving, you clearly haven made the effort to try and go deeper in the french culture. There is so much more than people carrying baguettes around, and apparent "body odour"... I actually laughed at that.
Also, the lack of open-mindeness you point out is quite amusing, considering their is so much diversity within the country. Open your arisings a bit and if you bother trying to understand how it works, I'm pretty sure you will make plently of french friends. France is not America.

You think that we are rude, but how rude is it to just put 60 million people in the same bag, wrapped up in stereotypes, and to publish it on the internet, just because you are not contented with where you live? Have you been forced to move there?

Most of the points you make are actually offensive and it is just sad.

So yeah, I think that is pretty much all I have to say. I don't mean what I've written down in a horrible way, whatsoever. However, consider growing up or just going back home if you think that the French are such twats.

Angela in Europe said...

Juliatuc-I could tell you the same. Grow up! This is my blog to express how I feel, when I feel it. I don't have to apologize or validate anything I say here. If you don't like what I write, don't fucking read it. And to be honest, considering how many people HATE french people, I don't think I am so off in my observations. I don't hate the French and if you had bothered to read any of my other entries you would know as much, but what happened is you read one article, "giggled" as you said (although you might need to look that word up in a dictionary) and basically told me I am an asshole. I am only publishing your comment so my other readers can see the asinine comments I get.