Today I had the pleasure of strolling around a beautiful town in France called Aix-en-Provence with my French born wife, enjoying the food, old world architecture, wine, cheeses and patisseries. It’s been heavenly. Listening to her banter in French with the locals has been fun to watch too. At 49 years of age this is my first long awaited trip to the land of the tasty baguette. It’s been way too long coming.
Over the years I’ve heard quite a few Australians (even close friends and family) make some quite negative comments about French people being rude and arrogant. Then, just recently I googled images with the words “funny France” just to find some funny pictures to post on Instagram. I was surprised to see a quite a few posters and cartoons lampooning the French as being cowards. I will deal with this one first…
I know war history fairly well so I can tell you this is a fallacy. It stems from the fact that France fairly quickly surrendered to Nazi Germany in WW2. Maybe the people who lampoon the French for surrendering to Germany are warmongers like the Nazis were. The fact is that no army or armies could have stood up the the German blitzkrieg (newly developed lightning tactics) at that time. The British put up a good fight with their outgunned and under armoured tanks but soon hightailed it out of there via Dunkirk to prepare to fight another day. The French Renault tanks were good but their defensive strategy could not stand against the vastly superior Nazi might at that time. Well organised air power, tanks and infantry all working together. It had never been done before. It would take another five years and the industrialised might of The USA, British (and British Commonwealth) and the USSR for the Nazis to be defeated.
What would you have done? Continued to fight a senseless, useless war? The beautiful city of Paris would have been obliterated by the Luftwaffe and many lives senselessly lost. To even imply that the French were cowardly for surrendering to Nazi Germany is an uneducated and ridiculous notion.
The French rude and arrogant? My father-in-law Jean-Paul Leroy was a driven man, before selling all his possessions to start a foundation for children in Indonesia with his wife he was a foreman at a mining engineering workshop and was known as a hard taskmaster. He didn’t suffer fools easily and he didn’t like laziness. Was he rude? Sometimes, was he arrogant? Yes occasionally, but he was also very compassionate, especially towards children and animals. This is one of the marks of a good person. I loved him dearly and he is greatly missed.
Two weeks ago my wife and I were in London on a hop on, hop off bus checking out the sights. The ‘old school’ tour guide was funny but a little obnoxious. He was quite rude to some French tourists and my wife and I felt sorry for the way they were treated, it was poor form. These sorts of cross cultural incidents happen here and there but can be avoided if we make greater efforts towards being kind and understanding.
I think one of the most common reasons for English speaking people thinking French people are rude is the arrogant expectation that French people should speak English in their own country.
French people are actually very polite. You walk into a shop and they will always say Bonjour Monsieur! It’s often said very emphatically and meaningfully. If you walk into a store speaking English and ignoring polite protocols then it’s no wonder that you may find the service lacking. A polite Bonjour Monsieur! and parlez-vous anglais? goes a long way.
I’ve also noticed a very strong comradery between work colleagues in France. We were at a train station getting help from a middle aged woman of colour and a young male colleague came in to start his shift and greeted her with the double cheek kiss. I thought it was very sweet and affectionate. I’ve never seen this sort of thing in Australia. We noticed it amongst workers in other places too, bars, cafes and restaurants, very meaningful, polite affection shown to work mates. I like it and I think it says something quite positive about the French people.
Are French people rude and arrogant? Of course they are at times… we all are. But I don’t think it’s fair to label them as such. Dig a little deeper, try to understand their rich culture a little more, learn a few new words, give your work mate a double cheek kiss. Then tell me how rude and arrogant French people are!