Friday, February 21, 2014

5 French Cliches

When experiencing a different culture, it is only natural to search out clichés. It puts us in a “familiar territory” of sorts, allowing us to feel as though we are in “the know” when we see a recognized (or stereotyped) behavior. However, clichés can be a slippery territory; they always lack originality. They can strip a person/culture of their unique identity. As the French poet Gérard de Nerval said: "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile."

The use of or the searching for a cliché is usually due to the inexperience of a subject. The very best way to avoid believing a cliché is to get out: explore, interact, ask questions, and try new things! Below find a list of 5 French clichés that simply aren’t true.


Cliché: It’s impossible to have a bad meal in Paris. Times are changing in Paris, it seems. It all started with a salad that a waiter convinced me to try. It was exquisite! It was because of my first great experience that I began to hunt for my new favorite on every menu I came across, and ordered it several times throughout our stay. However the evening when my chevre chaud salad arrived to the table lukewarm on semi-toasted, semi-soggy slices of bread with globs of honey sprinkled throughout torn up bits of iceberg lettuce I knew I had witnessed the death of a cliché. (To make things even more interesting, it seems that plenty of Parisian cafes and restaurants have recently adapted the use of the microwave to prepare their meals for customers.)


Cliché: The French are rude. Simply not true. People are rude. An entire country/culture is not. I have heard this from several people: and some have never been to France! For those who have been to France and still are of the same opinion my first question is “Do you know any French?” The answer I usually get is a “No, but…” And there it is. I cannot stress this is enough: Paris may be a world famous tourist destination, but Paris belongs to the French. They speak French! As expats, tourists, etc, please know that French is the language of where you are, and it is rude to expect someone in their country to speak your language! Do you have to speak French correctly? No. Will you be corrected if you don’t speak it correctly? Most likely. 
Culturally, from a young age the French have been taught the importance of “correctness”. As Americans, we have received encouragement and positive reinforcement in all that we do from a young age. As Americans we might expect to be quietly pulled aside and gently corrected if we are wrong. In France expect to be corrected on the spot. It’s not rude, it’s a difference of cultures. I personally have been charmed by the kindness and hospitality of the French. I’ve had perfect strangers give me a detailed tour of their neighborhood and it’s attractions!

Cliché: The Parisians don’t wear sneakers/trainers. Like, ever. Oh yes they do! I’ve even seen white ones.

Cliché: The French do everything slowly, they are lazy. One slow, meandering stroll through the métro will set this cliché to rest. See also: the cafe waiter. When speaking with a French friend of mine (who has also spent 3 years here in California), she said something very interesting: “I don’t want more money.” Does that surprise you? It floored me. Who doesn’t want more money? Who doesn’t equate more money with a more fulfilling life? As an American, I had a hard time understanding that thought process - which isn’t to say that I disagree with it. Personally I think it would be liberating to share her outlook.


Cliché: It’s a mystery how the French (Parisian) women stay so thin. Cigarettes, espresso, and the metro. According to some resources the number of smokers in France is actually increasing. Nicotine and caffeine are both known appetite inhibitors, and when you throw in all those métro steps multiple times a day, you’ve got yourself a pretty solid answer to how those croissants don’t linger on the hips. (And if you're like my French friend, you will often skip a few métro stops by walking to save some change.)

Can you think of any clichés (French or otherwise) that you’ve encountered? 


4 comments:

Ritika Mahendru said...

What an interesting post it is! I have never been to France, but it was good to know about French..

Kim A. said...

You knocked it out the park with this one Amber! So the French stay thin by MOVING IT! I love it. Sedentary lifestyles will add on the pounds. I love cities that based on activity. When I visited Miami, it was the same thing. People walked, roller-bladed and rode bikes. Miami set it up that way. Here in New Orleans, we have the food but not activity. Horrible streets and crime. People want to get out, but are afraid to do so. Sorry about your meal! The microwave can definitely be a terrible thing. I need to learn French. Is everything in French? Menus? Signs? If so, I definitely need to learn it and buy one of those translators. Great post and have a fab weekend.

http://www.averysweetblog.com/

Vij said...

Great article! Love it. Love you!

-Movies on my Mind- said...

One has never frequented France. This is a rather embarrassing admission considering it is my neighbouring country, but I've never even been through it in transit. I have, however, worked with French nationals who have always been charming and graceful people. (They may have been Québecian, but go with me on this one.) I think many of the hang-ups my fellow continentals have with the French stems from the way the Napoleonic wars rattled Europe and Russia in the nineteenth century. The sheer arrogance and sophisticated belligerence of Napoleon's army stunned the defensive troops, the British feeling the greatest insult. Therefore, many ill-conceived stereotypes prevail here and continue to be perpetuated. WWII helped appease such ignorance, but we Europeans are often not satisfied unless we're vexed with each other, especially the British who I do feel have a terrible superiority complex over other European nations.

Claude Lévi-Strauss always argued that while Germany was the country of philosophy and England was the land of economics; France is the terrain of politics. Mainland Europeans, like your French friend, are not governed by a senseless pursuit of monetary wealth. An average German family has two-years worth of savings to keep them going in the event of a job loss, whereas your average Briton is always two paycheques away from being homeless. The British aren't happy unless they are spending, which is why depression rates are comparatively higher here than in other European nations. I adore the French attitude to wealth, who in fact have a 75% tax rate for their wealthiest citizens (though the richest French people are moving to London now to avoid paying it). Your Californian French pal and me are simpatico because I neither believe that money delivers joy. One needs only enough to get by, the rest needs to be redistributed. (You're vociferously shaking your head right now, aren't you?)

Talking of stereotypes, I just saw a giveaway video of you on YouTube (not being creepy) and your rendition of a valley girl accent was wicked. One chuckled manically on seeing it. You're a natural comedian.

Death is an American metal band, right? I'm far too young to have been into them, but they seem more prolific stateside than here. American metal isn't really my forté, Amber. It's far too angry for me.