Archive for May 22nd, 2006

The Thinker

Fear of the French

What am I to make of this news article?

The French were voted the world’s most unfriendly nation by a landslide in a British poll published on Saturday. They were also voted the most boring and most ungenerous.

A decisive 46% of the 6,000 people surveyed by travelers’ website Where Are You Now said the French were the most unfriendly nation people on the planet, British newspapers reported.

Until now, I thought I liked the French. Of course, I have not yet actually been to France to verify these opinions. (That will change this summer.) Still, who could object to all those lovely French wines? Their renown French culinary skills? However, their food is just one of the reasons I should feel a kinship with the French. To use a French expression, they seem to get more joie de vie than the rest of the world combined. They get to take extended summer vacations. Most of the country goes on holiday after Bastille Day. Citizens are required to work no more than 35 hours a week. They have nationalized health insurance. You need a special exemption to work on Sundays. Retirement starts at age 60. Labor unions are not just a good idea; they are required. It is such a good system for French citizens (or from what I read native French citizens; immigrants tend to get a raw deal) that it is no wonder that young adults in France took to the streets recently to protest. A proposed law would have taken away certain of their rights, including the right to a secure job. The French get it: life is more than slaving away for an employer who can cut you off at any moment. Life should be more relaxed and less burdensome. Gosh, in France, it is even okay to have extramarital affairs. Everyone understands. Love and marriage do not necessarily serve similar purposes. No wonder my daughter wants to live in France.

If the French are as rude as alleged, perhaps it is from all that easy living. Maybe it gives you more time to look at everything critically. So perhaps that explains this British news report that the French are the world’s most unfriendly people. (This makes me wonder: haven’t they ever been in a New York City taxicab?)

Yes, I had rumors that French waiters were a bit on the rude side. Perhaps that is the problem: tourists are more likely to encounter waiters than perhaps any other class of French citizen. Likely, passing a class on customer service was not required for their position. Since French waiters have a job for life, there seems to be little reason to be courteous. Since rude waiters in America are not likely to get much of a tip, I have to assume that in France the tips are included in the cost of the meal.

Whatever. Now I am preparing for a rude French experience. I have been warned. I will not be in Kansas anymore. I can expect brazen prostitutes on the subways and outside the hotels. I will need to be mindful of the professional pickpockets. I shall be tactful. I shall not retort to the insults I receive by suggesting that the French should take a bath more than once a week. I shall expect the stores to close early and for many businesses to take a long lunch hour. I shall studious look both ways several times before crossing the street. As for Paris itself, although the word I keep hearing repeatedly again from those who have been there is “filthy”, I shall be mindful of its beautiful aspects.

I am glad we have our daughter to translate. Perhaps if they are cursing at me I will not be able to tell. Yes, I am sure I am a bad American, even though I did not vote for George Bush. (I need to get the t-shirt that says this, written in French, of course.) They will think that I expect everyone to speak English. Sorry, no, I will not take the time to learn French if I will only be there for nine days. You know, it is hard for me to feel offended where I live if someone is not speaking English. Heck, it feels like half the people I meet in everyday commerce are speaking in some other language, usually Spanish. It has gotten to the point where a number of the stores I go into have job applications in both English and Spanish. The managers tend to know Spanish; otherwise, they would not be able to talk with their own employees. It sure would be convenient if all the immigrants in my community spoke fluent English, but many of them cannot get out a simple sentence. Yet I shall not start cursing at them for their inability to speak my language.

So I imagine the French are a bit of a dichotomy. You will doubtless hear more about the reality of France after I return. Considering how much money it will cost us just to have a vacation in France (close to $3000 just for three airline tickets), and how dramatically I have now reduced my expectations of the French, I do hope all those tourists are wrong.

 

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