Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Are zee French rude?

Today, for no reason, I remember being a fun-loving, hairy, irreverent youngster living in Paris. My French was pretty bad and my head was in some strange places. I remember the thrill of non-conformity and also the sense of public humiliation I learned to quickly repress. I remember leaving that city, and only then realizing how uncomfortable I had been. But, it was a learning discomfort. A challenge to my smarmy core.

It's no secret that many Americans can be in for a rough ride when visiting France. Two possible reasons: our sense of commercial entitlement, and our lack of social formality. Yes, the French reaction to our natural behavior can appear rude, and in some cases they truly mean it. Generally, the French are a direct people who will rarely stifle their disapproval (Bof!). Mostly this "rudeness" is a declaration of astonishment that we have broken form and stained the fabric of their long-standing ways and means. It's a small country. There is an robust spectrum of codes that inform the national identity - there are ways of speaking, ways of behaving, ways of interacting - deeply etched patterns that define the culture. The individual expresses themselves, their opinions, within this balanced, almost unconscious structure. In other words vive la difference, but respect the margins. You MUST.

So Johnny USA saunters into a French store and wants some bread. It's good he hears. He wants that bread! But what Johnny doesn't know is this: "Most of the stores and businesses in France are owned and operated by the local people (entrepreneurship thrives in France). When you enter such a place of business, even though you think you are a customer, in their mind, you are a guest, and MUST behave as such. They get to choose whether they want to do business with you, depending on how you behave. So.... when you enter a store, you MUST say, "Good day Mister/Madame" ("Bonjour Monsieur," or "Bonjour Madame") NOT just "Bonjour." And when you leave the sore, you MUST say, "Thank you and Goodbye" ("Merci, Au Revoir Monsieur/ Madame") Anything less than that is considered rude and may potentially get you ignored or responded to in an abrupt manner." (from

Americans don't like being told they MUST do anything. It's a threat to our rebellious nature, our rock and roll fantasy, our corporate bad boy image, our monster trucks, our casual cool. Marlon Brando taught US how to be rude in the 50s. It's our thing. And we're just not gonna take it from some guy in a kerchief and a beret.


Blogger Hone Williams said...

bon anniversairey Paul.... The big quadracade on this 24th day of January! Life is just beginning... The French have no idea... :)

6:06 AM  

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