photo by Emily Faulstich

The typical traveler to Japan, China, or Africa is more open-minded than the typical traveler to France. The fascinating rites of the Chinese, Japanese, or Zulus may cause travelers considerable discomfort and inconvenience, but travelers in these countries tend to accept the obstacles stoically, reasoning (rightly) that things are just done differently in foreign cultures. For some reason, when it comes to the French, North Americans drop this reflex. When North Americans are faced with France’s peculiar way of doing things, they do not reason that they are dealing with an ancient people who have their own way of doing things. Actually, they accuse the French of being inefficient, overly bureaucratic, unhyigenic, and stuck in their ways. And they take it personally.

 Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong

Just a little food for thought from a new book I’m reading. I’ll come to the defense of the French at every opportunity (except, of course, when discussing WWII, and then it is totally acceptable to refer to them as “cheese eating surrender monkeys”) but especially when Americans harp on the French for being, well, French. As the punctuation-averse Gertrude Stein once said, “America is my country but Paris is my hometown.”

What are you reading?

16 thoughts on “Quotable

  1. Not sure being unhygienic is acceptable in 2013 though. They must be a bit guted that they have a reputation of being smelly though surely. There aren’t many worst things to have as a cultural stereotype. Hilarious.

    I am trying for the eleventyseventh time to get into Wolf Hall. It’s hard work but I know it’ll be amazing by about page 100 but can tween to get past page 33. Humph

    1. There’s a difference between stereotypes and cultural practices. In as many times as I’ve been to Paris, the smelliest French person I’ve ever encountered happened to be in Quebec at an amusement park as a kid. It’s not like France doesn’t have showers, or perhaps the most varied and high-end selection of luxury perfumes (and candles –like Diptyque!) in the chance that they don’t shower every single day the way Americans are accustomed to. Are they rude? No more rude than some Philadelphians I’ve known and loved. Are they standoffish? Not as much as the English (sorry Birdy, but it’s true!). The stereotypes are endless: they have sex all day and smoke Galoises and only eat baguette. By those standards, Americans are all loud, own guns, and want to bomb the Middle East into oblivion. The stereotypes don’t bother the other 200million of us it doesn’t apply to, because we know it’s just ignorance.

      Things like almost every store in France being closed on Sundays, that’s the kind of cultural practice that I, and the book, was referring to. It enrages people that they can’t get whatever they want on Sundays, but the French simply choose to take it as a day of rest. Dealing with a French bank and needing a thousand different types of ID? Only being able to produce Roquefort one specific way? THOSE are cultural differences. Stereotypes like ‘all French people smell’? Not exactly on the same wavelength.

      Stick with Wolf Hall, though! And after that you have to read Bring Up the Bodies, also by Hilary Mantel. So so good. xo

      1. Hey we are proud of our aloofness, it’s a badge of honour! Our dislike of fake friendships does make us come across as standoffish, I can totally see that.
        Ask Sam whether she thinks the French are rude ;)
        I found the waiters surprisingly polite. But then British waiters are supposed to be rude too and they used to be but we’ve got much better at service so cultures can actually chsnge. in fact I believe the French are changing the sunday shopping laws this week.
        I think US perspectives on European countries are very different to European countries’ perspectives on each other. We are like squabbling siblings which I think is why we don’t hold each other in awe in the way Anericans sometimes seem to.
        Did you read Garance d’Ore’s post about Parisiens this week? Was meant to be funny but did make Parisiens look like a bunch of arrogant,vein arses.
        I know I’ve probably made you cross again now!

        1. I love the English! My family is English, I completely understand all of their idiosyncrasies and quirks. The standoffishness doesn’t bother me at all, was only using it as a comparison. The funny thing is, New Englanders here have the same sort of distant/cold reputation, too. I’m sure things are different if you’re a European, everything seems very foreign and removed on this side of the pond. I know the French/English have a long standing frenemy relationship :) xo

  2. i hear what the quote is saying and i can definitely see that, but i certainly don’t think i can relate. one of my favorite things about traveling (or used to be ;)) is the difference between cultures. who wants to go somewhere and have it be the same as where you came from? it’s true france is an ancient culture and that’s part of why i love it so.

    also, on another note, if anything i would (will) be much more nervous to go to France because i think in the other countries/continents mentioned, i’d also have a lot more leeway myself – i’d obviously be different and my cultural faux pas would be expected. and probably less so in france and i’d probably make more mistakes in france because i’d be nervous and trying too hard because i have been wanting to go for my whole life and i just wanted to be accepted. i am joking. but not really.

    1. The sad thing is, while you & I share the idea that you’re supposed to embrace the culture of the place you’re visiting, too many people go to France (and everywhere!) expecting things to be like they’re used to. Where do you think the stereotype of the ugly American tourist came from? ;) It’s just a common courtesy to learn at least a few passable phrases in the native language. Do you know how much outrage there is from Americans (I know a few of them!) from having to “press 1 for English”?? And yet they go to France or Italy and expect them to speak English and get offended when they don’t want to. It infuriates me!

      But mostly I just want to give you a hug for your adorable anxiety spiral!! The French honestly aren’t too hard on tourists, as long as you give it a shot. J once said “Si!” to a waiter by accident and apologized profusely but the waiter just laughed and said it was okay. They appreciate the effort and would probably think you are très cute for trying :) xoxo

  3. Surrender monkeys – I’m definitely keeping that in my back pocket to fling at someone later. I am halfway through Under the Dome. Really have to pace myself with Stephen King and it’s fairly obvious why they turn all of his books into movies / tv shows. Because the script writer won’t have to do a damn thing except for find a good place to end each episode. And he kind of does that work for them too.

    1. Do you want to hear something crazy? The only Stephen King I’ve ever read was his memoir “On Writing.” Oops. I don’t do well with horror or scary things or anything remotely within his wheelhouse, so I think I’ll stick to non-fiction when it comes to him :) xo

  4. i really love this quote. steven would love to travel to japan one day but my excuse is that i don’t want to go unless we speak the language! and with france? i’d go every year even if i didn’t speak the language! it really does give food for thought how adventurous and open minded types think of the two differently!

    1. You could easily pick up some key phrases! Not sure if the Duolingo app has Japanese but that’s what I’ve been using every night for my French and I am absolutely in love with it. Plus, the pay off to learning some Japanese is that you get to go to Japan! I’ve always wanted to go. xo

  5. I am not equal to the task of defending the French against the label of “surrender monkeys” but it cuts me to the quick and I can’t let it pass. France was invaded by a vile and vicious enemy and, unable to overcome the might of the Nazis, they did indeed surrender and then had to live with the consequences. The story of that occupation is mostly told in great broad brush strokes but perhaps it should be better viewed in the millions of small kindnesses and quiet acts of bravery that the French people dared to attempt. I read your blog and know how you love France so I’m surprised if that is your truly considered opinion.

    1. Did you watch the clip? It’s a link to an Irish comedian’s impersonation of a French stereotype during the Iraq war years. It’s actually very funny, and that’s where the quote is from. It sounds funny, but it’s a joke. However…

      France was indeed invaded by a vicious enemy, I don’t deny that. You know how much I love France, but that doesn’t mean I have to overlook their collaboration with Germany during WWII. They resisted the occupation for three weeks before surrendering. Three weeks. They then formed the Vichy Regime, which immediately started rounding up Jews, Romas, communists, etc., and worked closely with the German forces. Let’s not try to pretend otherwise. The Vichy Prime Minister was even photographed shaking hands with Hitler and was quoted as saying he was “hoping for the victory of Germany.” 70,000-90,000 Jews were sent to Nazi internment camps by the Vichy Regime.

      I am sure there were many, many French people (the majority, I’d even say) who resented the occupation but did what they had to to survive. I can understand that. But there was a willful governmental surrender and collaboration with a more powerful enemy for which the French will always be responsible. Considering it took the US another year or so to even get involved in the war, I can’t say France is at the top of my list of things I’m upset about over the entirety of WWII. The French people are an amazing culture, and I adore them. Did you know that there are more Jews living in France than any other mainland European country? Or that making antisemitic remarks or even denying the Holocaust in France is illegal as of the 90s? So while I may quote “cheese eating surrender monkeys” in jest, I’m not blind to the fact that they’ve taken great strides to right past wrongs. The majority of the civilians living in France during WWII must have hated every single second of the occupation. But then there are people like Coco Chanel who had relationships with Nazis and even worked as a Nazi spy. It was a war. Hating the French won’t undo the Holocaust or bring back the countless ancestors and relatives my family lost, so I may poke fun but it’s nothing more than that.

      WWII was a dark, evil time, but I can’t give France a pass for it just because they’re France. They share a measure of blame the same way my own country and government do for our delayed role in that war. I do honestly admire the way the French were so vocally opposed to our invasion of Iraq, though. They were right about that, and America responded by renaming foods with the word French in them, like “Freedom Fries.” I have a whole slew of things I could say about my own shitty government during the Iraq war, just like I’m sure everyday regular French people felt about the Vichy Regime in the 40s. I would never want to offend anyone (let alone a French person or fellow Francophile!) by that quote or video clip, and I hope I’ve cleared up my position with you. I appreciate you reading here. xo

  6. You know my husband had clients in Paris when we visited and I thought all the French people were really warm and nice. It was really funny how they imitated our American accent or the cowboy accent but I think there is the classic stereo types in every corner of the world.

    I am currently reading Catcher in the Rye and then I got an Ann Rice book because a friend of mine told me that I should be rotating literature and creative imaginary books because it helps our brain use both sides of it more often. I am not totally sure if it works but I am willing to try it out lol :)

    1. Ha, the classic stereotypes are pretty unavoidable, but I’ve always found the French to be warm and friendly too! It never fails to crack me up when foreigners do “American” accents.

      I like your friend’s theory! I like juggling a few books at a time, myself, I’m in the middle of three right now. I WAS reading four simultaneously but I finished one, a non-fiction look at the economics of art sales. Not as dry as it sounds :) I love Catcher in the Rye. I might have to re-read it now that you mentioned it! xo

  7. ha, but it’s so much fun to complain about the French. I used to live there, and I love Paris, and I’d kill to go back there. but still… it’s so much fun to complain about the French ;)

    I’m reading ‘the Prague cemetery’ by Umberto Eco and ‘the time keeper’s daughter’ at the moment, but I’m kind of stalled with both of them… xo

    1. I love the French! I don’t have much to complain about, yet, haha, maybe after a few more trips? I guess it’s different if you live there :)

      Whenever I get stalled with books (that’s such a good word to use, too. stalled) I don’t try to fight it, I just move on to another book and let myself come back to the first one (or fifth one, since I’m always juggling a few) when I feel like I want to. There’s no rush :) xo

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