I read that Salma Hayek, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson all three stated their reasons to dislike the French (or at least, the parisians) : cold, unsmiling, unfriendly and rude, but sometimes also too polite and too uptight. I’d like to explain this to the americans who’d like to understand what is true or not in here1.
First of all, I must say that the three actresses are right, but they should know that nobody will ever hate the French as much as the French already do hate themselves. The French are all at once able to love their country only in a very peculiar case : when the bad remarks come from strangers. And not only we can’t bear bad opinions, we also think we deserve adulatory comments for anything we are. On french TV, for instance, it’s always quite embarrassing to see the show host asking his guests from abroad to say how much they love France, French (both people and language), French food2, French cities, French manners, French humor, etc. The French hate themselves but they want to be loved. Or something of that kind. And they feel very concerned when they are mocked in american talk-shows.
But apart for that national problem of self-esteem (from here it seems America has its own), I can’t say if the French are rude. I’m juste sure that in those matters, they are very different from the Americans, from the British, from the Scandinavians, from the Chinese, from the Japanese, from the Slavians, and even from close neighbour people like the Swiss or the Belgians3.
The first time some genuine americans came to my house — a couple of people of my parent’s age —, I could’t decide if they were on drugs, if they were mad people, or if they were laughing at us. They went to us in our lame and dirty suburban train, running across a quite sad lanscape, to arrive in our ruined house and see our savage garden (okay, I’m exagerating a bit). They seemed mad to me because they were shouting stuff like « marvelous ! », « beautiful ! », « wonderful ! ». It was loud, quite agressive, I felt a bit insulted, in a way. Would I’ve been the guest, I’d have only said something like : « oh, you have a cat », « your flowers don’t seem in a great health » or « you must pay a huge insurance, with that terrible roof ». That would have been more appropriate, honnest and, therefore, polite.
But time passed, and I met other americans. I noticed they where not all alike, depending of their age but also of the city where they came from, but also, I discovered their outrageous politeness was not mockery at all, but not exactly sincere either : it’s just the way they do.
An american friend from a small midwest county told once a saying her mother engraved in her brain : « If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all »4. This saying is quite impossible to understand for a regular French : in the movie Bambi, where it is said by the rabbit Thumper, the french translation is « If you only have mean things to say, then keep your tongue ». It’s quite different, isn’t it ? Another friend, who grew up in San Francisco, once told me that people from his city were all nice, and the umpleasant persons like himself (he’s of course not) had no choice but to flee to France. The Americans are quite positive people, I guess, while the French are dubious, cynical, and negative like if such an attitude could prevent them against som evil eye curse.
What is disturbing when someone from one culture has contacts with someone from a different culture, is how hard it is to understand the communication codes that matter : is a friendship deep or superficial ? Is a compliment sincere or just conventionnal ? Is the person laughing with you or at you ? Is the person depressed or despising ? Is the smile truthful or faked ?
The answer to all these questions comes with experience, but I guess that the French actualy are arrogant assholes. Anyways don’t get impressed, the french are used to criticize a lot, it’s no big deal. And remember we make the best cheese and wine — and that’s why I couldn’t move anywhere else myself.
And some people are nice.
- Please do excuse my english expression, I didn’t really go to school and I didn’t have a chance to practice this language for decades. And it’s not a way of talking. [↩]
- In a little France guide for the american businessmen, I read that Americans where quite disturbed about how endless are french meals, and the fact that people don’t only eat, at a restaurant, but also casually discuss business. In american movies, I already saw people talking business while eating, but it seems the french way (or mediterranean way) is quite different. [↩]
- I mean the ones who speak French… Who feel like beeing extremely different from the people of their country that don’t use French. [↩]
- She also told me once that she felt in love with her French husband in England, admiring how non-conformist he was : cheating in files, beeing quite rude, etc. — but once she came to live in France, she discovered that her sweetheart was not an admirably over confident free mind but just some french guy. [↩]