Friday, October 29, 2010

Excuse me, I'M speaking right now.

This is what my friend Bridget used to say whenever someone tried to interrupt her during a story.   It cracked me up every time (even if I was usually the culprit trying to interrupt).  And also reminded me of some of the fundamental differences between Americans and the French.

I figured the phrase would be appropriate today since I’m going to *ahem* tell a story.  Wednesday’s post prompted a couple questions about

1-      1.  how I came to live in France and
2-      2. what’s it like to live there?

Answer to #1-  I studied abroad my junior year of college.  It’s really not as complicated as it sounds.  Basically I took one semester of French my sophomore year- decided I wanted to be bilingual and applied to the program.  I got accepted and a couple loan applications later- was on my way!

I didn’t really grow fluent until eight months into the program when I left (okay, fine.  I was kicked out of ) the apartment with my American friends and started dating the drummer of my French rock group.   Three months later we flew back to the U.S. as a ‘party of three’ – me, my hubby, and our first daughter who was already in the works.  Hubby and I eloped so he could stay in the country.  He studied at the English program for foreign students while I tried to wrap up my senior year of college.   When our daughter was born in February, I realized trying to finish a 21 credit semester with a newborn was damn near impossible.  School work piled up along with hours of missed sleep and I finally decided ‘this isn’t working’.  We moved back to France in May 2004 and have been living here ever since.

Answer to #2-  Living in France did take some getting used to.  I honesty could take up pages and pages (I would write a book if it hadn’t been done a million times before) on how the French live.   So, I guess I’ll just give the BIG differences:

Culture: 
Americans like to entertain each other through every means imaginable.  It’s not just music, movies and television.  Americans like to entertain with their every word, story, or mannerism.  It becomes ingrained in how we move, act, and speak.  Honestly, I miss this.  I miss our humor.
The French don’t feel the need to entertain.  They don’t talk just to hear themselves.  When they communicate it’s for one simple reason- communication.  They don’t try and be funny (which doesn’t mean they never are- but it’s a different kind of humor).  A great example of this is French film.  There are no just plain funny French movies.  It’s all ‘dark comedy’ or ‘dramatic comedy’.  The French are all about interpretation.

Food:
American’s don’t have time to cook like most other countries cook.  Canned soup recipes have held on from their post world war glory days and Americans love savory stews and casseroles that are reminiscent of the calories we used to need when we were all frontiersmen or farmers that we really don’t need now that most of us are behind a desk all day.  The desire for the big meat and potato meals has stayed- but the time to prepare them has waned.  So in comes the crock pots, or the prepared frozen breaded chicken breasts, hamburger helper, frozen veggies, etc…

In France- health care is free (or paid for, rather, by the government) which means they WANT their citizens as healthy as possible.  French are prompted by their national news to eat by the seasons.  We always know what’s being harvested, where, and when to expect it in our grocery store.  We know what wines and cheeses have hit their aging date and what meats they should be consumed with.  While there are plenty of old time recipes (most often prepared in a pressure cooker rather than a crock pot to save on time and electricity) that have a crème or butter base- there’s a large preference for Mediterranean style cooking with olive oil and fresh produce.

Other tid bits:  
While French don’t like to entertain, they are fabulous at throwing temper tantrums.  From strikes out on the street, to creating a scandal at the post office- throwing a tantrum is how to get what you want in France.  Things not going your way?  Get loud.  Either that or a sob story.  French love a good sob story.  Again…it’s all about interpretation.

The French have a road rage that rivals almost any other country.  It’s like driving does something to their brains that turns even the most gentle and level headed individual into a raving, angry lunatic that spews obscenities with every breath.

In contrast to the above (because the French are often walking talking contradictions) -the French are much more polite than we give them credit for.  Actually, I’m convinced that the stereotype of them being ‘rude’ is due to this over politeness.  When you walk into any commerce in France, the common protocol is to say ‘hello’ to the person behind the counter and ‘goodbye’ when you leave.  When you ask someone for help you begin with ‘Hello, I’m sorry to bother you but…’-  You probably aren’t really bothering them, it’s their job.  But if you don’t say your sorry about it, they’ll act like you are bothering them.  If you don’t say hello when you enter, they won’t speak to you the whole time you’re there or will be crisp and cold because you are the ‘rude’ American who didn’t say ‘hello’ or just burst out their question without the proper introduction.  In the French’s eyes- we’re the rude ones and they’re just reacting to it.

35 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I was pregnant when I got married. My mom kept telling me not to get pregnant or else I wouldn't fit my dress. I guess I got the last laugh on the one. Not only did I fit my dress, I actually had breasts to fill up the top part. :D

Some of French sounds great. Like the food. Canada has "free" healthcare (we pay for it with our taxes), but we eat like the Americans. ;)

mshatch said...

it's nice to know that while the French are better at some things (food, health care, communicating to actually communicate) we Americans aren't as awful as we are sometimes portrayed. Thank you for posting this; I hope to hear more of what it's like to live in France - hmm, maybe a weekly blog idea?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Something happens to my brain when I get behind the wheel. I'll have to see if there's any French in my background.

Laura Pauling said...

Yes! A weekly blog post! So much fun to learn about other cultures or Americans living in other cultures! Thanks for sharing.

Renae said...

This was such a great post. I loved hearing your story!

Emily White said...

I think because I grew up in a little country town, I can actually sympathize with the French way of doing things rather than the American way (except for the sense of humor). Frozen or boxed meals just aren't done (it's fresh all the way) and we always waved and said hello to everyone we passed, whether we were driving in the car or walking into a store.

I would love to visit France someday, but I'm afraid to do it because I know possibly two words in French.

Joanna St. James said...

exactement! I've only lived here for 4 months so am still in the getting used to it stage.
You should watch le diner du cons and neuilly sa mere I loved those.

E.J. Wesley said...

Just got back from my first trip to Paris, and I agree; the French aren't nearly as rude as people think. Now, I wouldn't call them big fuzzy bears of love and joy, but everyone was cordial.

@ Emily: Trust me on this, you don't need to know 2 words of French to visit. They'll take your Euros either way.

Summer Ross said...

I suggested this post to my Prof pour Francaise. I find it interesting that these differences apply.

Lenny Lee! said...

hi miss katie!

i like knowing lot more about you and where you live. i didnt ever got to france but i could like to some day. i hope you tell us some more about france.
...hugs from lenny

Meredith said...

These differences are fascinating--I never thought about it, but Americans definitely focus on entertaining others and being the life of the party. And I never knew that about French shopkeepers. That would explain a lot... :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This was fascinating! Good grief, I was totally hanging on your every word! Ha ha. Thanks so much for sharing, Katie. :-)

Laura Marcella said...

Wow, that's really interesting! I love learning about different cultures. Good to know about the super polite thing whenever I go to France!

I love how Europeans eat. They don't scrimp on any of the good stuff, but they're so much healthier and thinner because it's all in moderation (except maybe the Italians, lol). European portions are so much smaller than American portions. It really is gross how much and how badly we Americans eat!

Ricky Bush said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm just glad that my daughter didn't move to Spain after her semester abroad. A friend of hers, that she talked into doing the same, did stay--and then moved to Argentina. Hers folks have plenty of travel money so it works for them.

Colene Murphy said...

Wow those are crazy differences. It would make me sad not to entertain people when I talk to them. It's the only thing I really like about talking to people, making them laugh or getting a laugh. I never thought about it not being that way.
I wish we were all that polite though! I HATE when people don't say hello to me at work! Especially when it's part of my job to say it first! Why wouldn't you respond the same?! oh well.
France sounds amazing, different or not. Great to know more about you! You should def. have more of these kinds of posts!

Melissa Gill said...

Thanks for posting this Katie. As you may have noticed I'm extremely facsinated with your life, and have always wanted to know the answers to these questions. Also thanks for saying that about the way to approach people in shops, etc.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great post. We get "free" healthcare here in the UK as well (got to love paying our taxes, lol), so we are similar in that.

I never noticed the saying hello to the shopkeeper before when I've been to France. I'll pay more attention next time. :)

Kathryn said...

Oh, I would LOVE for my hubby and me to live abroad in France for a few years. We have plans in the works to live in a different country for at least one year - we'll see! As a Canuck, I had mild culture shock when I moved to the States, but I imagine it would have been like a different world, moving to France!

Kate said...

Fascinating post - but for me it's the insights into Americans I find intriguing. It's the French who are 'normal'. :-)

Dawn said...

I love this. I always wanted to study abroad, but never really had the guts. Stupid, since I would have loved to live in Italy for a year. Or forever. Thanks for this post.

Nicole Zoltack said...

How interesting. I really enjoyed this post and agree, you should make this a weekly feature.

Old Kitty said...

Oh thanks for sharing how you ended up in France - it's a great story!!!! Very romantic!! I am always in AWE at anyone able to speak more than one language so that's just brilliant that you now straddle both cultures!! That's just the best!!

I will always treasure the times I spent there with my ex and his family (they loved going to france - 4/5 times a year) and never have a bad memory of the people/food etc and that's me who survived being a vegetarian over there! LOL!

Take care
x

Anonymous said...

Marrant ton post ! ;)
Love you !
Jc

Bridge Marie said...

This is all so interesting. Haha, I'm an anthropology student and just spent a semester in the Netherlands, so I love this stuff. I especially liked your observations on where the rudeness stereotype comes from.

Really cool! And sorry to give you a post lacking American humor, haha.

Melissa said...

This is all so fascinating! Thanks for sharing I love learning about different cultures (and more about the lives of my fellow - awesome - bloggers!)

LTM said...

it's also a much older culture... I wonder if America will evolve in such a way. There was a time when our two countries were much closer than they are now. Very interesting!

love the "origin" story. You funny romantic~ ;o)

Melody said...

Haha, I quite enjoyed this! :)

StaceyW said...

VERY interesting post! I've spent only a whirlwind weekend in France, but I thought the people were really friendly. Maybe it's because I said 'bonjour' when I entered a room! ;)

Fascinating glimpse at another culture. And yeah, maybe it's been done before, but I bet you could write a great new take on an American girl living in France.

Shelley Sly said...

This was such an interesting read! I never knew any of that about France. Thank you for sharing, I really enjoyed reading!

Jamie Gibbs (Mithril Wisdom) said...

This is an awesome post :) I like the idea that the French seem rude because we don't know enough about their culture to be polite to them.
I've only spent a long weekend in Paris, and the only time I felt that the French were 'rude' was when I spent an afternoon in Montmartre, but that was in all likelyhood their reaction to having to deal with a Welshman who had a broken grasp of the language and properly screamed 'tourist' :P

Vicki Rocho said...

Fascinating! You'll have to make this a regular feature!

notesfromnadir said...

I really enjoyed reading this. How wonderful to read that they eat what's IN season & how their gov't wants them to be healthy!

I hope to read more about France as it's such a fascinating place.

Nate Wilson said...

I don't know how the French quantify it, but I'd argue that Amelie was a plain funny French movie. Or maybe it's the exception to the rule.

I'd always kind of assumed the stereotype of the French as rude was a result of them being less forgiving of rude Americans than other countries (or perhaps a concept perpetuated by their rivals the Brits). Yet, the culture differences certainly make for fascinating stuff. Wonderful post!

Samantha Vérant said...

You've never partied with the vitners from Nimes! Talk about entertaining. Haha. I think there is a difference from the North to the South. Still, don't wave at strangers...

Guinevere said...

What a fun blog post! It was neat to learn more about life in France - thanks for sharing!

I love the states, but I dream of going expat for a few years at least one of these days. Definitely want my future kids to see more of the world than just America!

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...