Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Anti-French-Basher Strikes Again!

I feel like I've spent the last five years defending the French. Ever since the explosion of anti-French sentiment surrounding the administration going into Iraq, people have jumped onto the French-bashing train (but not the Germans or any other state which didn't support Bush).

Why is it that Americans hate the French? They always say it's because the French hate us. But could it be a projection? Americans go over there expecting the French to hate us, and they act in such a way that just ends up creating the very situation they fear. For instance, they go into a restaurant. The waiter doesn't speak very good English, so it's a bit difficult to communicate. The waiter doesn't check in at the table every 10 minutes or so, so the Americans get very angry because they think they're being snubbed, and they act rudely to the waiter. Now, honestly, if someone acts rudely to you, are you going to be very sugary sweet back? No. The waiter is going to return the rudeness, because honestly it's not in the French culture to be friendly just for the hell of it, especially in the face of rudeness.

Some things to keep in mind when you're traveling in France (yes, French culture is in fact different than American culture, and you can't expect it to be the same as here):

1. Meals are not a quick affair. Gastronomy is a serious thing in France. And even if you're not at a gourmet restaurant, it is normal for French people to spend a hour or two or three at their dinner. Eating, drinking, and enjoying eat others' company and conversation is the reason they're there, not just to run in, eat something so they don't feel hungry later, and run on to the next planned event. The waiter does not check in every 10 minutes as it would be disruptive. He takes the order, brings the food, maybe checks in once or twice during the whole dinner to make sure nothing else is needed. He's probably not going to respond well to a loud "Garcon!" with a waving, snapping hand.

2. The French are not deaf. They also do not all speak English. Yes, English is the most popular foreign language at present (the current Lingua Franca, or should I say Lingua Anglica?). But this does not mean that they are trying to be rude or difficult if they don't speak it well. Please remember, if you are in France, you are the one speaking the foreign language, and they will appreciate it greatly if you at least make an attempt to speak French, or let them know you don't speak it. Just using bonjour, merci and au revoir will really warm the French up to you. And please please please, if someone isn't understanding what you're saying in English, this is not because they have a hearing impairment. It is because they don't understand what you're saying. So don't raise your voice, because that's only going to make them think you're an ass and cause them to act rudely to you. Try using gestures, simple words, and talk slowly. That will get you much farther than shouting.

3. There will always be rude people. Try visiting NY, LA, Boston, Chicago, or any other big city. There are many pleasant people in each city, but there are always the bad apples who are going to be rude, aggressive, nasty, and haughty no matter where you go. It just makes it harder when there's a language and culture barrier as well, so don't bring ego into it. Just remain pleasant and don't feed into the obnoxious American stereotype.

4. Definitely try out new things. You didn't go all the way to Paris to eat in Pizza Hut or McDo and get coffee from Starbucks, did you? You can get plenty of that when you get home. The French are very proud of their culture, especially their food, wine, and art. If you make an effort to try to learn French culture and interact with them on a level they're familiar with, that can only endear you more to them (as long as you're not picking the food out of your teeth, getting drunk off the wine, or talking about how the paintings would look great in your local Olive Garden).

5. If you do speak some French, try talking to them about the current events going on. For instance, if there's a presidential election happening (like recently in May), then ask who they think will win (and why). Other topics of interest might be social issues like unemployment (very high at the moment), immigration, or the cost of living (which skyrocketed after the Franc changed to the Euro). If you're not comfortable with such serious topics, or your French is a bit more limited, try asking for a recommendation for a current French movie they enjoyed, or what their favorite part of Paris is that you could visit. The French love to talk. Once you get them started, they're happy to chat for hours on end, even in retail stores.

The French do recognize that they have a bad reputation as being rude to tourists, even though they feel they do try to be friendly. There's a big push at the moment for everyone to become just a bit friendlier and more helpful to tourists, since it is such a big industry for the city. So they are trying their best to meet us halfway. But it's not going to be all peaches and cream if Americans don't bring their half to the table too.


Gopi Rajaseharan said...

Getting political, are we?

I have always found it interesting how some Americans go to Paris to propose marriage while other Americans hate anything French. Must be a love-hate thing :)

mielikki said...

Ok so I just read this post.
Once again, I agree with you. I went to Paris in spring of 05, and had the best time ever! My French is very limited, but I talked with many people, enjoyed their food, and their culture, and. . .
never had a problem. It was so much fun. I get 'homesick' for Paris, still.