French mythology

The only mythology in town: Neptune's fountain on Place Carnot
The only mythology in town: Neptune’s fountain on Place Carnot

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.
  • Soon-to-be neighbors Francis and Isabelle
    Soon-to-be neighbors Francis and Isabelle

    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.
  • Fresh bread at the market
    Fresh bread at the market

    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!

6 thoughts on “French mythology

  1. A lot of those stereotypes are based on life in Paris, where people are like city people everywhere. Also now that so many families have relatives in England or the States, the French are much less insular than they were oh, 15 years ago, when I began spending so much time here. Also you seem to have at least intermediate-level French. That must be a big help and must get you lots of points.

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  2. Ditto for us Bob. The French are marvelous, and have been very welcoming. And we too carry at least one or more baguettes home just about every day.

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  3. Yes, most of the things we thought we knew are not at all true. We (British husband, American me) find the French perfectly lovely most of the time. I did have a giggle about your beret reference, though, as just yesterday we were leaving Super U and the gentleman n front of us was carrying a baguette and wearing a beret!

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  4. Very well put! We could express similar feelings for most of the places in the world we have visited and lived in. Before every one of our numerous visits to the States people (who had never been there) would exclaim about the loud, brash ‘Americans’. Nothing could be further from our experience of meeting sensitive, engaging and open people (shame about Trump!).
    It’s the same the whole world over, what you GIVE is what you receive. You have approached your move to France in an open and receptive way, because that’s how you are! Happy days.

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  5. Absolutely concur on all counts!! When we first arrived in our rental house 10 years ago, the guy who took care of it invited us to his home for apéro, then to a barbecue with all the neighbors….and that was it…everyone at that party then invited us to their barbecue, and on and on and on. Now as soon as we land in France, our social calendar is filled. 3 years from now we will be living there full time. Our friends are ready and waiting!

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  6. Recently while on a theatrical tour of the Eiffel Tower the guide asked what I liked about living in France. When I told him that I liked the people the best, he didn’t believe me. I explained that everyone we meet is cordial, welcoming and helpful. He said, “even in Paris?” I said that even in Paris, in August, that people were kind and helpful. He responded, “You must love to travel to experience such joy, otherwise you would be like so many who only see the negative side of a culture.” I agreed with him that you find that which you seek.

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