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Thread: European cultures : (1) The French

  1. #26
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    hehe, that's pretty funny. But to be fair Paris has nice points, but I think it depends whether you have money or not, and what you do for a living. Like life in any city, "it's alright for some".

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    In The Secret Life of France, Lucy Wadham largely confirms my description of French culture and mindset.

    Compared to the English, she perceives the French as :

    - theoretical, obsessed about ideas (as opposed to the pragmatic, factual English)

    - conformist and conservative in term of clothing (unlike the eccentric Brits)

    - formal and civil when it comes to language (whereas the English are polite but informal)

    - relaxed in their attitude to time (a world away from Germanic punctuality)


    She rightly points out that French humour is actually more wit, with a heavy use of puns. The Brits, in contrast, like to make fun of themselves (something the image-conscious French can't understand) and have an acute sense of comic, absurd and sarcastic humour. Lucy Wadham writes that the French tend to prefer grandiose tragedy over comedy.

    The French and English-speaking definition of freedom differs a lot, Wadham explains. For British or American people, freedom is linked to the sense of property and private space. Being free means owning your own house and having the right to protect it against intruders. I will add that "No trespassing" signs are indeed rare in French-speaking countries (or most of Europe outside the UK and Ireland). The French sense of freedom equates being freed from the burden of working so as to have free time to dedicate to one's hobbies and past times. This cultural difference is best illustrated by the attitude of the French vs British nobility in past centuries. While the French nobles had to leave their castle to attend the King's court in Versailles, the British aristocracy spent as much time (and money) in their castle as possible, because a big castle was the paragon of their status. Freedom for the French meant being able to enjoy your time as you liked, even if that meant staying at the King's court and abandoning their castle.

    Gender roles represent another major cultural gap across the Channel. The Brits, like other Germanic and Protestant nations have become strongly feminist, giving rise to a strong tension between men and women. Men go out together, and women together, but the two groups do not mix much socially when they can avoid each others. France, like other Latin and Catholic countries, is just the opposite. Gender roles have not been shaken much by feminism in France, and society has consequently preserved a certain gender harmony, where men enjoy socialising with women and vice versa. Indeed, the French would be very bored without these constant male-female interactions and seduction games.

    This relates to another primary cultural divergence. Aesthetics is one of the deepest French values. Beauty, elegance and charm are a national obsession. People have to be beautiful to be valued in France, however superficial that may sound to the British ears. In a society where both men and women put so much care (and artifice) about the way they look, it is only natural that seduction and gender roles should be of primordial importance. Wadham writes : "Paris is all about Beauty. Everything else - including such things as commercial gain, prosperity or efficiency - is secondary." She goes on saying that plastic surgery is five times as common in France as in Britain.

    Seduction inevitably leads to sex, another French forte. According to a Durex survey I mentioned in the Interesting facts about France on this website, the French are the nation where people have the most sex in a year. Wadham reveals a hidden facet of Parisian bourgeoisie that is much more difficult observe than other cultural aspects of France : adultery. The second chapter of her book is entirely dedicated to it, and the book's title makes a reference to what she calls the Secret Garden, in reference to the French saying that everyone is entitled or his or her jardin secret (meaning "secret love life"). She explains that adultery does not carry the same strong negative feelings as in the UK, or even Italy, and that the French accept it as an inevitable and necessary part of life, as long as it is kept discreet. She says that most married people have at least one secret lover, and that both husbands and wives expect their partner to have one - although they don't want to know about it. France is still a libertine nation.

    This was a revelation even to me, as this part of French culture is not shared with Belgium, and maybe not that common outside the Parisian bourgeoisie. French-speaking Belgium would be much more like puritan Britain, I would say, where men and women are jealous and uncompromising about cheating. The figures speak for themselves; Belgium has the highest divorce rate in Western Europe just above Denmark and the UK.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 17-11-09 at 15:40.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    This was a revelation even to me, as this part of French culture is not shared with Belgium
    ...And not shared with France too.

    It's just another typical anglo-saxon cliché about France. Useless.
    Btw, the part about the French nobles also is completly false.

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    The Brits, in contrast, like to make fun of themselves (something the image-conscious French can't understand) and have an acute sense of comic, absurd and sarcastic humour. Lucy Wadham writes that the French tend to prefer grandiose tragedy over comedy
    Please Maciano, stop to talk about france and French culture...

    1- To make fun of ourself is the national sport in France...

    2-We prefer tragedy???
    Shakespeare was English...Molière was French...
    The biggests success of our cinema in our country are:
    -Bienvenue chez les ch'ti (comedy)...
    -La grande vadrouille (comedy)...
    -Les visiteurs (comedy)...
    -Le corniaud (comedy)...
    -Astérix et Obélix (comedy)...
    -Le bronzés (comedy)...
    -Le diner de cons (comedy)...
    -etc...
    Last edited by Gavroche; 16-05-11 at 13:57.

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    VonRoust.. It is a subjective writing of Maciamo.
    He just cited... An English article..
    And says he largely agrees with it.

    Well, I don't.

    In The Secret Life of France, Lucy Wadham largely confirms my description of French culture and mindset.
    It only proves how wrong the English think about Europe.
    People in Belgium have a tendency to have a garage sale of their own heritage and culture.
    First they supported the Spanish, then the Austrians, then the French, then the Germans, and now the British and Americans.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reinaert View Post
    People in Belgium have a tendency to have a garage sale of their own heritage and culture.
    First they supported the Spanish, then the Austrians, then the French, then the Germans, and now the British and Americans.
    What are you talking about ? It is not because what is now Belgium passed from one country to another that Belgians "supported" these countries. I fail to grasp your point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by VonRoust View Post
    Please Maciano, stop to talk about france and French culture...

    1- To make fun of ourself is the national sport in France...
    VonRoust, you misunderstand a lot of what I write. I think it is because of your level of English. French people might like to make fun of other French people, or to criticise the government. But it is a rare thing to hear French people in an international community making fun of French language, culture and historical heritage. The French are very chauvinistic about their country, language and culture. Almost every time I tell a French speaker that French language has a poor vocabulary compared to English, French people almost automatically protest and try to defend their mother tongue. It's funny because it is also true of native French speakers in Belgium. I am myself a native French speaker, but my multilingualism has led me to have a more critical view of my own mother tongue.

    Quote Originally Posted by VonRoust View Post
    2-We prefer tragedy???
    Shakespeare was English...Molière was French...
    The biggests success of our cinema in our country are:
    -Bienvenue chez les ch'ti (comedy)...
    -La grande vadrouille (comedy)...
    -Les visiteurs (comedy)...
    -Le corniaud (comedy)...
    -Astérix et Obélix (comedy)...
    -Le bronzés (comedy)...
    -Le diner de cons (comedy)...
    -etc...
    Yes, I have seen all these films, and like all of them. But in the passage I quoted, Lucy Wadham wasn't writing about film-making, or literature for that matter. She was referring to French social and political life, to the way people interact with each others. One excellent example of grandiose tragedy is what is happening with Dominique Strauss-Kahn now. You have to admit that there is little comedy in French business or politics. Contrarily to American, Australian or British politicians or CEO's who like to open a meeting or conference with a joke, the French look very serious. High-ranking French people like to look important, grandiose... France is a very vertical society, where people look up to the boss, and speech is very formal and distant. It contrasts with the much more egalitarian approach of Germanic people (especially Scandinavians) as well as English speakers (especially Australians and Americans).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    What are you talking about ? It is not because what is now Belgium passed from one country to another that Belgians "supported" these countries. I fail to grasp your point.
    Well.. It's very simple. People in Belgium are accustomed to blow with every wind.
    I am Dutch, and I know the Dutch have also done that. But don't make an intellectual fuzz about it.

    But if there is one thing I don't like, is the way English write about other people.
    English humor is very rare.
    Only brought by true English intellectuals.. Like the Monty Python team.
    For the rest the English are quite boring.
    And a lot of humor is very cheap. For instance.. Benny Hill..

    In The Netherlands cabaret and also stand up comedians with a sharp political and sarcastic style of entertaining were influenced by comedians in Paris.
    In Belgium the people were totally unaware of that.
    Some Belgian artists were only accepted in Belgium, after they had a successful tour in The Netherlands.

    I know the people of the French speaking part of Belgium wanted to identify themselves with France years ago, but the French only see them as "More Roman than the Pope".

    I speak 4 languages, Dutch, German, French and English, and I pretty well experienced what Europeans think of each other.

    And my sympathy goes to...
    France.. Twelve Points... Douze Points.
    Germany.. Eleven Points ... Onze Points.

    This were the points I give. The rest gets nothing.

    One remark.. I hope the French kick Sarkozy out of office soon.

    And Maciamo, it isn't very wise to cite a text from an English writer.
    They didn't die from the first lie they wrote, and even all the other lies they produced after that.

    The best way to solve a lot of problems in the EU is to throw the English out!

    Last edited by Reinaert; 18-05-11 at 22:18.

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    The best way to solve a lot of problems in the EU is to throw the English out!
    But they do a lot of things with European countries...

    With the passage of time, our economics and political differences will disappear and they will understand that U.E. is the best way to peace and social innovations...

    The French has changed their point of view about England since "Eurotunnel" have been built...and i think the reverse is true

    They are our oldest allies and our best enemies...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    The French are theoretical. They prefer rhetoric, abstractions and ideas to facts and practical thinking.
    Let's rephrase it: The French are keen at collecting solid significant facts able to support a valid theory.
    The Brits (and Americans), when it comes to foreign cultures, tend to pick up irrelevant facts, randomly chosen, biased enough to suggest assumptions actually made out of thin air.

    Find me, in the English litterature, something that can compare to La Démocratie en Amérique by Alexis de Tocqueville: nothing, niets, nada!

    Have you ever read Das Spektrum Europas, of Hermann Keyserling? If not, you should. This book was first published in the 20's and is still amazingly insightful. Here again, the quality of equivalent British/American essays is just appalling.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    IFrance is still a libertine nation.

    This was a revelation even to me, as this part of French culture is not shared with Belgium, and maybe not that common outside the Parisian bourgeoisie. French-speaking Belgium would be much more like puritan Britain, I would say, where men and women are jealous and uncompromising about cheating. The figures speak for themselves; Belgium has the highest divorce rate in Western Europe just above Denmark and the UK.
    Divorce rate is per se of no significance if marriage rate is not taken into account.
    In France, like in Scandinavia and UK, about half of all births happen out of wedlock. Surprisingly, Belgium clusters with Southern Europe with less than 25%, which probably reflects the strength of the Catholic church in Flanders.

    I recently had a look on Mrs Wadham's book. Honestly, it's a heap of sweeping generalizations and flat out demented assumptions. One of few interesting pages is the one when she says being ashamed at the pervading and illogical British hatred of the French, which she admits is not at all reciprocated.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Neustria View Post
    Let's rephrase it: The French are keen at collecting solid significant facts able to support a valid theory.
    The Brits (and Americans), when it comes to foreign cultures, tend to pick up irrelevant facts, randomly chosen, biased enough to suggest assumptions actually made out of thin air.
    I'm feeling something,....feeling strong emotions.... emotions of ....hmmm,...nationalizem?
    Viva la France!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Neustria View Post
    Let's rephrase it: The French are keen at collecting solid significant facts able to support a valid theory.
    The Brits (and Americans), when it comes to foreign cultures, tend to pick up irrelevant facts, randomly chosen, biased enough to suggest assumptions actually made out of thin air.
    And you expect me to think that you are not entirely biased toward your country ? (to the point of jingoistic bigotry, obviously)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Neustria View Post
    Divorce rate is per se of no significance if marriage rate is not taken into account.
    In France, like in Scandinavia and UK, about half of all births happen out of wedlock. Surprisingly, Belgium clusters with Southern Europe with less than 25%, which probably reflects the strength of the Catholic church in Flanders.
    You are not contradicting my assertion that France is more libertine than Belgium, Britain or Germanic countries. The French are much more free about sex, more open about marriage and take cheating more lightly, almost as an inevitable part of life.

    It's interesting that in that regard the French are culturally closer to the Japanese, with the notable difference that the French are less scrupulous about dissimulating their affairs (the French would have sex with their extra-marital lovers at work, in a car or even in the conjugal bed, rather than in a discreet and anonymous "love hotel", ubiquitous in Japan).

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    The thing I find most perplexing about the French is the reluctance to accept new words into the language, or to borrow words from other languages.
    This is my first post on the forum. I am the first generation born in the US from a French speaking family from Quebec. I am trying to understand my French heritage and this seems to be a wonderful place to learn. I believe to learn a culture one has to understand their history. Not the history of kings and queens but the history of the people. So I pose this more as a question then a statement. My understanding of Modern French is that in reality it is a relatively new language. Before the French revolution if one left Paris and traveled into the interior of France a person would have a great deal of difficulty understanding the langauge. In fact one village would find it difficult to understand the next village. The French revolution took great efforts to standardize the language and eradicate these dialects. Eventually not speaking proper French was taken as a sign of ignorance and through time generalized to all non french languages. This is just a speculative thought.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 05-10-11 at 10:14. Reason: tags

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    Quote Originally Posted by brunetmj View Post
    The thing I find most perplexing about the French is the reluctance to accept new words into the language, or to borrow words from other languages.
    This is my first post on the forum. I am the first generation born in the US from a French speaking family from Quebec. I am trying to understand my French heritage and this seems to be a wonderful place to learn. I believe to learn a culture one has to understand their history. Not the history of kings and queens but the history of the people. So I pose this more as a question then a statement. My understanding of Modern French is that in reality it is a relatively new language. Before the French revolution if one left Paris and traveled into the interior of France a person would have a great deal of difficulty understanding the langauge. In fact one village would find it difficult to understand the next village. The French revolution took great efforts to standardize the language and eradicate these dialects. Eventually not speaking proper French was taken as a sign of ignorance and through time generalized to all non french languages. This is just a speculative thought.
    The standardisation of languages is a very recent process. It is not until universal compulsory education was introduced in the late 19th or early 20th century that one standard language became spoken by the whole population of large European countries like France, Germany, Italy or Spain. It is only since WWI (when soldiers from all parts of the country met on a daily basis), then with the media revolution (radio from the 1920's, then TV in the 1950's) that people who traditionally spoke dialect started preferring the standard form though.

    France was actually somewhat of a pioneer in standardising language in the late 18th century, although modern French is just a slight evolution of the traditional Parisian French dialect of the 17th and 18th centuries. What changed most is the way of speaking rather than the spelling or grammar. It is probably easier for modern French speakers to understand 17th century Parisian French (e.g. Molière) than it is for English speakers to understand 17th-century Southeast English (Shakespeare).
    Last edited by Maciamo; 05-10-11 at 10:14.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    The standardisation of languages
    Pity

    The joy of finding and listening different languages/dialects with the one language in a country is tremendous. Hope I am not around when everyone speaks one boring same same same old language within a country. yarn....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    2) pretentious/arrogant/chauvinist (about their country and culture) => especially Parisians. Many people tend to confuse Parisians for all French people. However, even the French themselves agree that Parisians are much more arrogant and unpleasant than average. Unfortunately, most visitors to France get their first (or only) impression of France in Paris.
    Maciamo, like you I traveled quite a bit. I agree that Parisians are more pretentious and chauvinistic than the rest of France. But with regard to other countries, the impression that the French are worse on that front is mostly due to a "first impression"; other cultures for instance (brits and Americans) will put more smiles and nice forms to it, but if you discuss deeply with an American or a Brit you will very quickly come to face with a firm belief that (as Americans put it) "America is the greatest country on Earth".
    Same thing with the dutch, spaniards, Italians and Germans.

    I once had a conversation with a nice British lady. the convo then fell on Johan of Arc; Within seconds, the Union Jack was brandished up and high and I thought she would burn me to the stake right there!!!
    "This delusional slut!!" she went....

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    Quote Originally Posted by bertrand View Post
    Maciamo, like you I traveled quite a bit. I agree that Parisians are more pretentious and chauvinistic than the rest of France. But with regard to other countries, the impression that the French are worse on that front is mostly due to a "first impression"; other cultures for instance (brits and Americans) will put more smiles and nice forms to it, but if you discuss deeply with an American or a Brit you will very quickly come to face with a firm belief that (as Americans put it) "America is the greatest country on Earth".
    Same thing with the dutch, spaniards, Italians and Germans.

    I once had a conversation with a nice British lady. the convo then fell on Johan of Arc; Within seconds, the Union Jack was brandished up and high and I thought she would burn me to the stake right there!!!
    "This delusional slut!!" she went....
    Eheh, Italy the greatest country on Earth as firm belief? Good joke! =D xD

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    Quote Originally Posted by Riccardo View Post
    Eheh, Italy the greatest country on Earth as firm belief? Good joke! =D xD
    Ricardo,
    During the final of the world cup 2006 (France - Italy) I was on an italian cruse ship in the Mediteranean.
    So I watched and cheered my team (France) alone with my wife in the middle of thousands of Italians. I can tell you, Italians are quite chauvinistic when it comes to their team. When Zidane head quicked the Italian, I thought they would throw me overboard.

    Also dont talk to an Italian about Mona Lisa because as a frenchman you might be treated just short of a thief...

    I guess in a sense every country wants to be respected; if one country starts to believe that someone else is trying to take over, the locals will draw the claws; the question is how deep is that chauvinism and under pressure how hard will you fight to defend your way of life....

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    It doesn't matter where in the world there are always some people who are either arrogant, ignorant, superior, chauvanistic, pretentious, or just plain stupid (lol). I don't think these faults are dependent on any one nationality, rather they are human and depend entirely on the mentality or outlook of the individual.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Antigone View Post
    It doesn't matter where in the world there are always some people who are either arrogant, ignorant, superior, chauvanistic, pretentious, or just plain stupid (lol). I don't think these faults are dependent on any one nationality, rather they are human and depend entirely on the mentality or outlook of the individual.
    We this kind of attitude we are never going to be able to discuss cultural differences between countries, and specificities of regions like Paris. I do believe it makes a big psychological difference to be raised in in a proud and beautiful city like Paris, once the centre of the Western world, and still the global capital of fashion, gastronomy, etc. It's not that difficult to imagine why individuals who are used to the Parisian lifestyle since their childhood could be tempted to look down on country backwaters or less gorgeous or exciting parts of the world. City people have always had a tendency to feel superior to country people. The apotheosis of city life resides in Paris, London and New York more than anywhere else on Earth. However, Paris is special by being more elitist than London or New York in many respects. London and New York are overwhelmingly populated by outsiders who moved in and created cosmopolitan cities. Paris was built by the French elite for the French elite, and looks down on outsiders.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    We this kind of attitude we are never going to be able to discuss cultural differences between countries, and specificities of regions like Paris. I do believe it makes a big psychological difference to be raised in in a proud and beautiful city like Paris, once the centre of the Western world, and still the global capital of fashion, gastronomy, etc. It's not that difficult to imagine why individuals who are used to the Parisian lifestyle since their childhood could be tempted to look down on country backwaters or less gorgeous or exciting parts of the world. City people have always had a tendency to feel superior to country people. The apotheosis of city life resides in Paris, London and New York more than anywhere else on Earth. However, Paris is special by being more elitist than London or New York in many respects. London and New York are overwhelmingly populated by outsiders who moved in and created cosmopolitan cities. Paris was built by the French elite for the French elite, and looks down on outsiders.
    What is being discussed is snobbery, which is not a cultural difference. That, unfortunately, is to be found (in one form or another) everywhere. Personally, I haven't found Parisians to be any worse than in other places like London or Athens.

    I agree that city dwellers look down on country people, but the sentiment is also returned. Country people are also quite disparaging about city people and find endless source for amusement in the (supposed) ignorance of city dwellers to the country and it's way of life. It is all very silly really and has been going on as long as I can remember, more than likely since man first began to live in towns and cities as opposed to those who farmed the land.

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    Maciamo,
    I will first clearly state that I am French although I am not living in France anymore and being married with a German.

    Well, I read the whole thread and I am pretty amazed by several things :

    1/ Talking about "the french culture" you stated almost only negative things (the first 6 points you mentioned are critics more or less disguised).

    2/ Your reference and therefore your "analyse" is not neutral but based on anglo-saxon books. Therefore, your way of talking about "French culture" is a comparison with the anglo-saxon one. Is the anglo-saxon THE culture we (human beings) have to refer to juge another one ?

    These 2 points are related as these kind of english books treating about French culture are almost only critical or often simply the evidence of a lack of sensitivity (is that an english word?) and comprehension of another culture as theirs. Everyone could personnaly juge what culture is the most arrogant...
    These 2 points have also in common to seem to be neutral or innocent although there are not. Maybe (and that's what I think) you didn't even notice that they were ideologically charged.

    3/ Getting more specifics. I agree with some points. The 1st 3 for example. The 4th and 5th ones sound a little bit more problematic to my ears because there are a bit big (english) clichés that are mostly not true.

    4/ The english language. Well, except that is again a typical pro-english motivated refraint, as someone said before me: French don't speak english to tourists cause they mostly cannot. As simple as that. And the explanation lies principaly in the way we learn foreign languages at school : "never speak, but listen and write". People don't trust themselves. beside, I'd like to add that : a/we don't have to speak english and it's disturbing to take that lack of knowledge (or lack of envy) as a reproach. No one has to to tell us we have to speak english (as harsh as it sounds). b/ other european countries don't do better. Spain, Italy for example. And young people in GB or Ireland can also only one language. For me it's basically the worst.

    5/ Arrogance ? Actually, I never fully understood that point. But as a French abroad I often feel the arrogance of the others. Well, I guess, you never see "arrogance" in your own culture but it's basically in diverse forms in every culture. I lived in Germany and in many ways there are arrogant (well, problems come always from the others...). Not talking about the Danish with their national flags everywhere (even on the birthday cake!) and their anti-european tendancies (well Danemark is better...), Italians and so on, it's endless...
    One thing : "service" is different in France and in the US. The feeling that the french taxi driver or waiter is arrogant come often from the fact that he doesn't want to take the time to be polite and helpful with the american tourist.
    And the last thing about that : how contradictory to say that the french dont show off with big cars/money and that they are arrogant ? In Germany cars are a very strong status symbol (as in the US), is that not a kind of arrogance (I have money and I show it to you/you don't have this car so you're poor ...) ?

    6/ However, I would add : the need for being independant (well, contrary to Germans we never considered ourselves "inferiors" to Americans). Which can been seen as "arrogance".
    Also : as the British (we have many common points to my opinion), we had an empire, we lost it and our prestige, we are very critical towards ourselves and tend to dislike us a lot as in the same time we love ourselves and are secretely very proud of being what we are. Hence, like the British we are in a kind of "identity crisis".

    7/ Playing with our language is very important. There is a lot of humour in the french society. Words are often used in 2 different meanings at the same tme which lead to ambiguity. We play (I mean the ones who can and care for that) a lot with it. Hence, our society is very "sexualised". Language play a strong part in this sexualisation of the society. That is very french !

    8/ Down on earth. As the Germans and unlike the British, French generally don't like to spend the money they don't have on their accounts.

    9/I disagree with your sentence : "France is a very vertical society, where people look up to the boss, and speech is very formal and distant. It contrasts with the much more egalitarian approach of Germanic people". Actually I agree with the part about France but it's the same or worse in Germani countries such as Germany, Austria or Switzerland where titles are eveywhere in the public life (on the ring bell you are Dip. Ing. etc) and where hierarchy is as strongly seeable as in France if not worse sometimes. Scandinavians are much more informal. And of course THE reference : the US and the Brits...

    10/ you wrote : "The French take cheating more lightly, almost as an inevitable part of life". Wow. Yes and now. Reading that could lead to believe everyone is cheating all the time. It's a very serious question and a source of broken families and divorces. That is not taken lightly, there is simply less hypocrasy than in the anglo-saxon societies and less puritanism and morality. And as you added : "It's interesting that in that regard the French are culturally closer to the Japanese". Well, maybe because as the Japanese, French are pretty much laics. Well, I guess that's again a very positive french thing you failed to notice.
    But this is huge boll***s : "with the notable difference that the French are less scrupulous about dissimulating their affairs (the French would have sex with their extra-marital lovers at work, in a car or even in the conjugal bed)". This is an americanised view of France. Ridiculous.

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