If you say the word “mythology” I bet that visions of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses come to mind. What if you add in French to the mix? Maybe kings and queens, cheese and wine, poodles and fries? Now that we’ve lived in France for a few months I thought that it would be interesting to compare our experiences with what we’ve always heard it should be.
- The French are hard to get to know—Two weeks after we moved into our first home here, the couple across the street held a party in our honor to welcome us to the neighborhood. A month after that we were celebrating with all of those same neighbors, and more, with a street party right in front of our house. The day we signed the papers to buy the house we’ll be moving into, our real estate agent invited us to a wine tasting with her family and several friends. Two weeks later the seller’s agent organized a cocktail party at one of the homes near ours so that we could meet more than a dozen of our soon-to-be neighbors.
The French don’t speak English—Neither Bill nor I are fluent in French yet but we do pretty well with casual conversations at parties or with neighbors, when buying things at the market or in stores, or even in more “technical” situations at the bank, post office, insurance agency, etc. Just don’t make us talk on the phone where we can’t see the other person’s expressions. We always start out in French (we do live in France, after all) but then if we stumble a bit, the person we’re talking with comes through either with just enough English to get us back on track or, often enough, just switches to English as if we’d been using that language all along.
- French people are rude—When we get on a bus, go to the checkout counter at the grocery store, or sit down at a sidewalk café, the first thing we hear is “bonjour”. When we leave a shop, walk away from a market vendor’s stall, or exit a museum, the last thing we hear is “Merci, au revoir!” A culture that is based on acknowledging your arrival and departure seems pretty friendly to me.
- The French don’t like Americans—I’m going to invoke an au contraire for this one. Time and again we see interviews asking people where they want to go on vacation and the USA is always on their list. We have been embraced by our neighbors on the street where we live now and on the street to which we’ll be moving. In our language conversation class, on the train, or even at the bus stop, as soon as someone detects our American accent (pretty easy) they want to talk with us. People here know more about American TV, films, music and politics than we do and simply want to know more.
Everyone wears a beret and carries a baguette—Haven’t seen a single beret yet but OK, even we can be spotted every day walking home with a fresh baguette in hand from the bakery. Half-point.
Some might argue that we look at the world through rosé colored glasses (or red or white, for that matter) but we’re big believers in giving out what you want to get back in return. We also know that a lot of our impressions are based on visiting Paris in August when it can be hot, very crowded, and all the French themselves are on vacation too. For comparison, even New Yorkers flee their beloved city in the height of summer for cool sea breezes or mountain vistas leaving behind their coworkers who couldn’t get the time off, to deal with all the tourists. I’d be grumpy too!