After a year in
France we had to face up to the questions of our friends in America.
How do the French feel about themselves and how do they treat one
another? First of all, you have to understand that the French are
very smart and extremely fast. They are accustomed to expressing themselves
quickly in the minimum number of words and then going on to another
subject. Obviously, this does not lend itself to good communication
or understanding, particularly with strangers. In another vein, they
are slow to become intimate, but they are capable of very special
and close friendships.
Secondly, there are some special French traits to consider. In his
Lettres Persanes published in 1721, Montesquieu wrote that after one
month in Paris he noticed no one walking. They all sped by and jostled
him on the streets. His experience could have been written today.
It is still a game to maneuver for position at a check-out counter.
And jostling a stranger on the street is not considered impolite.
If you accidentally collide in a crowd and you hear the word Pardon,
you can be sure you didnt collide with a French person.
Once we were walking on one little street where the pedestrians were
particularly determined. They would stride purposefully down the narrow
sidewalk, assuming everyone in the path would jump into the street
or somehow disappear ahead of them. Out of self-preservation, I learned
how to stride that way myself. It really worksbut I did have
one precipitous collision with a French person who was also striding
purposefully. I accidentally let slip a pardon and immediately felt
Automobiles are something else. Few of the cars give turn indications.
To do so would be to reveal ahead of time their traffic game plan
and give other cars plenty of time to dart in front or to pass on
the turn side.
We did find an undercurrent of resentment against America in general.
The French understandably resent rock and roll music and the absence
of French music on the radio.
A final explanation to tourists: Each French person is different.
The French are not intentionally rude to tourists; the truth is they
can be worse to one another. And rudeness is not considered impolite
if done with style.