Monday, 10 October 2011

Why the Good Thing About France Might be the French

Often, in expat blogs, interviews and conversations, foreigners living in France are asked what they like about the country. Generally, the replies include food, wine and some combination of the weather, the fashion or the scenery.

I think I have yet to see in writing an example of a foreigner mentioning the French.

Read or listen to expat rants, however, and you will soon lose track of how often the judgement "that's so French"is made in relation to bad manners, bad customer service, bad administration and pretty much any other bad thing you can think of. Given that many of the ranters are people who have expressly chosen to live here, it makes you wonder why we don't all just head back home.

It's as if we all believe that oft-quoted saying about how France would be a lovely country if it wasn't for the French.

(I don't have an awful lot of experience to go on, but I suspect this is less true for foreigners in other countries. Italians are friendly and hospitable, Americans are endlessly positive and even the British get praised in a wry kind of way for their sense of humour.)

I've been pondering the reasons for this for quite a while now and the only explanation I can come to is that it's precisely because so many of us choose to live here, as opposed to being forced by circumstances, that we are so critical: we're continually asking ourselves if we've made the right choice.

Anyway, it seems to me that this situation is very sad, that we whiners are being very rude to our hosts in our endless criticisms, and that it's time to start giving the French credit where credit is due. So here's a challenge: what are the best things you can think of about living among the French, with no buts, althoughs or if only-s allowed? (I know that this will be highly over-generalised and potentially patronising, but at least it's in a positive way!)

Here are some of mine:

The French value intellect: in this country, reading, going to museums, speaking foreign languages and watching Arte instead of reality TV are activities to be admired and will not have you exiled from the society around you for being a snob.

The French know how to drink enough to lubricate the machinery of social interaction without binge-drinking. (And yes, the wine is pretty good too!)

The French love their language. Ask them to explain a grammatical point to you and this is one moment when you are very unlikely to witness a Gallic shrug. When you can understand their wordplay, it gets even better.

The French value peace and quiet. And if people are disturbing that, they won't hesitate to tell them so.

Those are a few to start with. What are yours?


  1. The French love quality over quantity. A good Chanel suit over 10 from H&M.

    The value originality - they can take that Chanel suit and add in a H&M blouse!

    The French don't take love for granted and test it often.

  2. I like the emphasis on family, at least in the countryside, where most families still get together for the repas dominical.

  3. I love that you can have serious conversations with French people and even violently disagree on something (politics, religion, etc) but they're still your friends! A couple of months ago one of my American friends (living in the States) said to me on the phone "Are you arguing with me?!" as though it was against the rules. I've really come to enjoy being able to disagree with my friends; it means you can have your own opinion and don't have to worry about whether or not you share the same beliefs when you enjoy their company.

    And I echo Ksam too. When the French say family is important, they mean it. In the US people say it like it's something trendy, and then expect everything to be open on holidays and have no vacation to spend time with their kids.

  4. Yes, I agree with Ksam and L. The fact that my exes family made it a point to have their Sunday meal with the grandparents every single week was very surprising (in a good way) to me.

  5. I totally agree with all of these!

    L, it's funny, but I've always been more aware of what you said about "arguments" at work. It took me a while to learn to be bolshy enough here, but now I love that you can say your side of the story and people don't take it personally. And that's even more important in friendships!

  6. The French are fiercely patriotic and family minded...this I love. They are also eclectic in their tastes...their likes and dislikes make them unique and interesting....I also believe they have a real passion and eye for beauty...This is enviable and one of the many reasons I spend most of my time in France....xv