| A few questions about France
Are the French
they're pro-French! Seriously
speaking, the French are "damned if they do" and "damned
if they don't". If they disagree with U.S. policy, they
are seen as anti-American. If they agree, they are seen as valets
of U.S. imperialists. What a conundrum! Felix Rohatyn,
former U.S. ambassador to France said recently : "The anti-Americanism
today encompasses not a specific policy like Iranian sanctions
but a feeling that globalization has an American face on it and
is a danger to the European and French view of society. There
is a sense that America is such an extraordinary power that it
can crush everything in its way. It is more frustration and anxiety
now than plain anti-Americanism." For more : click here.
Why are the French so cold (or arrogant or distant)
|In the absence of any relationship, silence
is neutral (in the street, in an elevator, etc...). Franco-American
anthropologist Raymonde Carroll
writes: "It is indeed in public places that Americans
in France for the first time have the experience, at times amusing,
but often unpleasant and even painful of cultural misundrestanding.
They feel rejected, disapproved of, criticized or scorned without
understanding the reason for this "hostility" and they
can only draw one of two conclusions : the French hate Americans"
or the French are cold (hostile / unpleasant / arrogant / despicable)"...
This is essentially due to the fact that Americans and the French
do not attribute the same meaning to verbal exchanges.... together
in a limited space ...the French person will recreate distance with silence,
the American with conversation..."
. For most French, Americans
are over-communicative and too familiar and they are always very
disappointed to see that this American who was so nice and friendly
does not even remember their name. For the French, if you are
not a friend, you must be not cold but neutral. If your are socially
too friendly with them, they think you are unsincere.... See
also Pascal Baudry who gives a psycho-analytical
explanation of it and read what Roman authors wrote about
Are they rude?
they disagree, the French express it verbally much openly than
Americans, who are more controlled and they are not at all afraid
of a verbal fight. They even enjoy it. One of the best explanations
for this was given by Nick Yapp and Michel Syrett in " Xenophobe's
Guide to the French " . It's simply a factual matter. The
French, they point out, are rude when they want to be. Their
rudeness is neither unthinking nor forgetful, they say. They're
rude when the occasion warrants it. Are they rude only to innocent
foreigners ? Of course not ! " Among
friends ", write Yapp and Syrett, " insults are
also frequently traded, but with no permanent damage to the relationships.
Quite a different case from England and the U.S. where if you
get to that level, the friendship is condemned for life ".
The point of all this is that if foreigners freak because they
detect rudeness, irony, or a slight, they should feel flattered.
They're being treated as if they were French !. A typical situation
where Americans consider rude a Frenchman who is sincerely surprised
by this reaction is the case of an instructor
who treats you as if you were a French student, whatever the
money you paid. Read more about it. Body
language, which is very different, may also explain why Americans
often consider rude a French person when he/she is not. The French
love to bawl each other out ("s'engueuler") and it
can be just a game and in any case totally harmless : Americans
hate it and consider it rude.
|During the German Occupation, why did the French support the shameful Vichy government ?
||Regarding the Vichy government and the behavior of the French, Americans are generally very severe : they like black and white. If your country is occupied by a foreign power you are either AGAINST it (a resistant) or FOR it (a collaborator). In fact, in such a traumatic situation, most people are IN BETWEEN and just try to survive. This is not specifically French, due to a particular weakness of this nation. In the Channel Islands, 25 miles from the French coast, which was the only part of the United Kingdom occupied by Germany, people behaved exactly like the French : very few collaborators, very few heroes, a huge majority of people trying to survive. Read more about life in Paris in WW2 in Rosbottom or Riding.
|Why is "customer service" so mediocre in France ?
||Many visitors (and all French people) have stories of poor customer service. The reason is probably rooted in the constant quest for equality, since the French Revolution. If you complain about the service, the answer will probably be "I am not your slave", "I am a citizen like you" etc.... For the French,serving customers is (often) considered as being a servant.
What a paradoxical country! Have
you ever wondered how France can be the fourth or fifth industrial
power in the world when people take to the streets on a regular
basis to go on strike? Or why the streets of this country of
wonderous monuments and museums are marred by dog poop? Or, speaking
of dogs, why there are large signs in restaurants and butcher
shops showing that dogs are not allowed, and dogs are in the
restaurants and shops anyway? Or why little French children look
(and are) so disciplined in school but when "let loose"
are so rowdy? Or why, when you try out your French, people look
at you like you're crazy? And the question of all questions: WHY DO THE
FRENCH LIKE JERRY LEWIS?!
First question : Are The French
Read about Turkish
toilets.... and visit a site devoted to public street
toilets (!) in Paris
this famous painting by David, "Marat, the Revolutionary
leader stabbed in his bathtub", a humorist (who? I read
it's Mark Twain) said "Too bad, for once, a Frenchman was
taking a bath"
YOU KNOW THAT. ? A key-concept to better understand the French
: France and the US have a very different vision of friendship.
In France, when you are close to someone, you have to share his/her
problems and give your opinion : this is being a good friend.
You are committed ! Not giving it would be the sign that you
do not care about him/her. This is why the French love very animated
conversations in which they strongly disagree between themselves,
when Americans try to avoid it to protect friendship. With a
friend, you can talk freely and express openly your disagreement
: it doesn't affect your friendship. This is why the French are
sincerely surprised when Americans say :"You disagreed with
our foreign policy : therefore, we are not friends". It
is also important to know that for the French, if it is more
difficult to create a contact, friendship is expected to last
longer ! A common idea in France is that, for Americans, friendship
is more superficial than for the French and it is difficult to
make an Anerican friend : try to make a French friend.
Other questions... (read the answers in this site)
|An excellent book by Pr. Rosbottom to answer questions such as : What was everyday life in 1942? Are the French ferociously anti-Semitic? Was Vichy a Fascist state? Were all Frenchmen resistants from day 1? And many others.
surely have many more questions such as these about France and
the French. Harriet has tried to give an answer to some of them
in her books. If you have other questions you'd like to have
answered, please contact us. Your question might be selected
for our "Question of the month" section!
See 50 questions on
France (US State Department).
| Best possible answers
to some good questions
about France and the French refer to French history : here are
a few examples of Over-Simplifying
Answers (O.S.A.) to (frequently asked) good questions (G.Q.)
G.Q. Why is France
such a bureaucracy? O.S.A. Just an
example to illustrate WHY some aspects of French life are indeed
bureaucratic. It is much more complicated to create a company
in France than it is in the USA. One of the reasons is that to
hire people (or be self employed) you have to comply with French
labor rules, one of them being that any person employed MUST
be adequately covered against hazards of health, professional
life and old age. You are therefore required to go through a
rather complicated process with several agencies (Securité
Sociale, Urssaf, etc) to benefit from health coverage, retirement
plan, unemployement benefit etc.... The French view is that if
this coverage was not mandatory, the poorest, the weakest, the
most stupid and people lacking foresight would NOT be covered
: the responsibility of the society is to expect that some people
will not be responsible and must be protected against themselves
so they do not die in the poor-house or rely on the the "
generosity " of the wealthier. It is the role of the State to ensure it.
Conclusion : if creating a company is more complicated, it is
not (or not only) because the French are stupid and lazy, it
is also because they have a different (not better, not worse
: different) vision of life in society. When they learn that
40 million or more Americans do not have health coverage, the
French are sincerely horrified (as much as you are when you talk
about the French bureaucracy !). See how to deal with a bureaucrat. Read my column : "Socialized
medicine? Give me a break".
G.Q. I was in France and everyone was nice to me
: how come ? O.S.A. Many
Americans believe that France is violently anti-American and
that Americans will be ill-treated when in France. Nothing substantiates
this prejugé and this question is just irrelevant.
Remember that criticizing American policy is not criticizing
individual Americans. For this reason, comments like " the
last thing the French would want to see is the crowning of a
Yank as Tour champ.. " or " There were, for example,
few signs of war-related anti-Americanism at the French Open.
" (both in Time magazine, July 7, 2003) are just as stupid
as saying " I had a cup of coffee with my neighbour and
he did not try to kill me ". I receive many messages or
questions of this kind (see
one) and it is extremely depressing for me that they can
even be formulated.
G.Q. : Why
did France lose the war in 1940?
O.S.A. : it was the third
Franco-German war in 69 years, WW1 had been a massacre (more
than 1,3 million French soldiers killed, to compare to 300 000
American soldiers in WW2 on two fronts with a population 5 times
bigger: see detailed figures),
French governments were corrupt and incompetent, for French leaders
the major threat was communism and not fascism, the chiefs of
the army were incompetent, their strategy was absurd (building
a fortification line, which was bypassed), Germany (80 million)
was bigger than France (40 million), etc... Remember Pearl Harbor
? What could have happened if the distance between Japan and
the USA, instead of several thousand miles, had been the quarter
of a mile (this is the distance between France and Germany) ?
France was crushed and this led to the shameful Vichy
regime. It is a fact that this rapid military defeat was
a shock for the whole world but is it fair to make stupid jokes
about "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys" ? After all
Japan and Germany surrendered in 1945 (even an American army
did in 1942 : remember Bataan?) and Fox News does make stupid
racist jokes about it... Read : Tuchman
or Paxton and see Kubrick's
Paths of Glory
If you visit the Normandy beaches, do not miss the "Mémorial
de la Paix" in Caen. It is not just another museum of war
and military artefacts : it is formidable tool to better understand
the origin of WW2 and the defeat of France.
G.Q. : Why
is France so strongly centralized?
O.S.A. : the whole history
of France is the building of a state
by the monarchy, against powerful local autonomies and cultures
(Brittany, Burgundy, Toulouse, etc..) ; the kings and the republic
have always been afraid that the country would split and central
state persistently reinforced its power, its language, against
the rest of the country, its cultures, its languages. Read :
G.Q. : Why aren't
the French more grateful for what America did for them? O.S.A.
: Americans are very often upset by this. You must consider that
it depends on the generation : for young people, WW2 (not to
mention WWI) does not mean much. You must also consider that,
even grateful, you cannot take into consideration this sort of
historical fact in your decisions with no limit in time or in
issues (developping a competitor like Airbus or a having a different
foreign policy): it is as if the French blamed the USA for not
supporting 21rst century French policy because France supported
the American Revolution (and actually this was a common thought
in 19th century France : read
more and see Roger).
Gratitude is no synonym for automatic conformity or subservience
(read a 2003-letter to the IHT). Constantly reminding people how proud you are having
helped them shows that you think that you have gained a permanent
control on them and it can be very counterproductive : read the
story of the immortal Monsieur
Perrichon and the
guide for the GI's by the US Army. American must understand
that the French are BOTH grateful and free to think differently,
and they have a different vision of true friendship...
G.Q. : Are the French anti-Semitic? O.S.A. : It is a fact that the number of anti-semitic
incidents is growing in France (and in Europe). France has the
community in the world after Israel and the USA. There are
anti-semitic people in France and episodes of French history
illustrate it sadly (affaire Dreyfus,
Vichy regime). However, Americans should keep in mind two facts
when they read the US press : questioning Israeli policy is not
synonymous with anti-semitism and when young Arabs write obscene
graffitis on a synagogue, it is an exaggeration to write that
" the French are anti-semitic " : the Israel-Palestine
conflict has enormous repercussions between the Jewish and Arab
communities in France. The number of anti-semitic threats or
acts has risen from an average of 100 (1995-1999) to 600 (2000-2005).
There are indeed anti-Semitic acts in France but it is grossly
exagerated to say that it is an anti-Semitic country. Here is
a recent example : Mr. A., a Tunisian indicted by a Tribunal
Correctionnel for swindling and various other charges placed
a request to challenge the judge using the argument that she
was Jewish and would be prejudiced (Nov. 3, 2003) ; he lost his
case, was sentenced to a huge fine (the maximum legal amount)
for contempt of court and the State is suing him for anti-Semitism.
If the New York Times had reported the story without mentioning
the whole story, it could make (another) shocking headline such
as " Rise of anti-Semitism in France : in Paris, a defendant
challenges his judge because she is Jewish ". Beware of what you read (sometimes) in the US press ! (for
example : after a strong condemnation of anti-Semitism by President
Chirac, the headline in the International Herald Tribune/New
York Times Nov.20, 2003 was "A less-than-full condemnation
of anti-Semitism" with nothing in the article to substantiate
this depreciating headline). Beware also of what you DON'T read
: anything favorable related to the French attitude toward anti-semitism
: see an example
and read an opinion by an American-Jewish in Paris. One must add that French Muslims have a more favorable attitude
toward Jews (71%) than UK Muslims (32%) : see a European
comparative study ; read my editorial on the bias
in the U.S. press and read Harriet's column "France without Jews is not France".
: Why are the French against religious
freedom in schools? O.S.A.
: We do not mean the same thing by "religious freedom".
For Americans, it means "anybody can have his/her own religious
belief and show it". For the French, it means "anybody
can have his/her own religious belief and NOT show it",
not to offend people who have other religious beliefs or no religious
beliefs whatsoever. The recent law on the Islamic
veil is to protect this French concept of religious freedom
Read more about religion in France.
More questions : go to top
of the page and see a list of FAQ.
A French Quiz
Who is the employer of professors in public schools and universities ? How do you choose your doctor in the French health system ? What is the French national bird ? What was the main cause of suburban riots in Nov. 2005 ? etc....
Click here to try to answer these questions
in my French Quiz (all the answers,
and many others, are on that site...) !
|To related pages : more (#2) and more
(#3) questions, to questions for US
diplomats and GIs, etc...
To top of the
Back to home
For more on intercultural
differences, order Harriet Welty Rochefort's books :
- "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
- "French Toast, An American in Paris
Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press,
New York, 1999
- "French Fried, The Culinary Capers
of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
events, testimonials, etc..)
or separately, Harriet and Philippe speak
about Intercultural Differences
here for information.
If you like this site, please bookmark it or create