One of the most common stereotypes about the French (particularly Parisians) is that they are rude. Granted, I’ve only been here for a few days, but I think I’ve figured out how this belief came about. The French are not rude; you just think they are! What the French really are — and this is one of the reasons French women are some of the toughest, most confident women I’ve ever met — is independent. Therefore, they assume that you are a self-sufficient being also, so they don’t go out of their way to explain things, which comes off as “rude” to foreigners.
In America, the service industry and occasionally the government assumes that you’re dumb as a rock. Servers will walk you through the menu and go over the daily specials. On the subway, the intercom will warn you when the doors are opening or closing. At the start of every flight, not one, but 10 flight attendants will present the safety procedure, in addition to the lady in the recorded video.
Now, let me illustrate some of the differences in France. This morning, I woke up at 7:00 am to attend mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral. No, I am not Catholic. I decided to go to mass in order to avoid the tourist rush and experience a more authentic visit. The gothic architecture was breathtaking. Voilà une photo:
Anyway, the trip going to and back was very enlightening and I learned quite a few things. For example, buses don’t stop for you just because you’re sitting on the bench; you have to wave them down. On the metro, the doors don’t automatically open at stops; you have to physically pry them apart. When you stare at the doors blankly, waiting for them to open, the elderly French woman will not show you how to open them; she will step around you and open them herself. Also, no matter how lost you look, no one will offer to help you (which I like just fine).
Additionally, my first day here, the girl who’s renting me my apartment kindly offered me a tour of the neighborhood. She showed me the supermarket, the frozen goods store, the phone carrier store, McDonald’s, and Starbuck’s. Finally, we were several left and right turns from my apartment. Did she offer to walk me back? Nope, she told me I could look around and promptly vanished. Thankfully, I have an excellent sense of direction and made it back to Rue de Longchamp without much trouble.
While the above two paragraphs can be interpreted as examples of French people’s rudeness, it is just a matter of differing cultures. In France, people will tell you when those pants make your butt look fat, when your joke sucks, or when your question is stupid (and come on, we all know there are such things). Personally, I think false compliments are way worse than the simple truth. American parents could also take a page or two from the French parenting book. No, your three-year-old’s painting is crap and it does not resemble modern art. Often, I find that humans become what they are treated as. If you treat your child like he is a king, he will grow up to have the ego of a king. If you treat your child like an independent individual, he will become an independent individual.
Hopefully, the more Parisians expect me to act like a Parisian, the more I will eventually act like a Parisian. In the meantime, I’m meeting my language exchange partner Xavier at 3, who will undoubtedly have much to teach me.
Have you experienced the rude French phenomenon? What about your culture comes off offensive to foreigners but is perfectly acceptable to you?