French people, cool and relax or formal and stuck up ?


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France is a country of contradictions. Many countries are, but France is certainly more so than the rest.

It is a country that has for motto "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité", and yet is the most elitist and stratified society in the Western world.

It is the country of cool French lovers, yet a nation of arrogant brainiacs.

It is the most visited place on earth, yet notoriously one of the most inhospitable and unhelpful with tourists.

French language has long been the West's lingua franca, and yet it is one of the most difficult language to learn (even for natives) and probably the most intolerant of grammatical mistakes and non-standard accents.

French people have a reputation for having a relaxed attitude to time, like other Latins. They take long lunches, arrive late at appointments, leave work early, work less than everyone else and still complain than they work too much.

Yet, at the same time, few cultures are as formal and rigid as France's. They use the formal "vous" with everyone that is not a close friend, a family member or a child, while even the Germans won't do with with the same obstination. Dress-down Friday's are mostly unheard of in France. It is still unacceptable to do business without a suit and impeccable looks.

The French care more about diplomas than almost anyone else, and it is not unusual for French students to study over 7 or 10 years at university, instead of 3 to 5 years most other countries.

The importance of the boss, and the distance with his (or exceptionally "her") employees is wider than what most English speakers could imagine possible. The boss is the boss, in France, and he is always right because he is the boss. Yet, stories of boss-employee love affairs at work are more common in France than almost anywhere else. It's almost a national sport.

French politicians typically graduate from the prestigious Hautes Ecoles, and live a world apart from the ordinary folk. Yet, in what other country of its size and economic importance can you see government ministers at variety shows and TV debates with comedians, actors, models and even rap singers ? That is common occurence in France, almost on a weekly basis. That is an opportunity to see politicians under a new light, in a much more relaxed attitude (and rather informal language) than when they make public speeches or interviews for news channels. This is not likely to happen in Britain, Germany or Japan !
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I can sympathize with the people who consider the French stuck up. I had a rather unfortunate encounter with a middle-aged French man in Italy who was quite impolite to me just because I exchanged a few words with my mother on the phone. Never annoy the French on their train ride :sorry:. He lectured me about the manners of the civilised[ world after poking my knee quite rudely and even though I apologized and said that "I'm sorry, we just have different it differently, I guess", he just wouldn't let it go. What amazes me, though, is that if my country is so uncivilised that we actually bother to ask people if we want them to do something instead of poking them, what kind of country does he come from? :?

Sadly I'm unable to generalize his behaviour to cover all French people since I happen to have a very sweet natured and generous French friend. Whether it's my loss or theirs, I couldn't say :hihi:
You can't judge a culture from just a few people you have met. It's already hard enough when you have lived half of your life in that culture. In my case, things become more obvious when I take my distance and look at French culture from outside, compared to my experience in other countries or cultures.

Most people can't really understand their own culture until they have lived for a few years in another one to compare. The more different is the other country where you live, and the easier it is to see your own culture on a brand new angle.
In general, I find it extremely disappointing that people are sometimes simply unable to be nice. It doesn't take all that much effort, really :clueless:
I think good people and bad people and also nice people and rude people are found everywhere. We can not really generalize them to one region or state.
The only place in France that I have been to is Normandy - but the people I met there were some of the friendliest and most polite individuals that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Extremely helpful, patient and tolerant in giving directions to an American who I'm sure was utterly butchering their language. I saw a warmness that you don't see often in the States. Maybe Normandy is just an outlier, but - solely based on that region - I definitely did not get the impression that Frenchmen are "inhospitable with tourists". In fact, I'd say that they were far more polite than the Germans and Italians that I met were.
It's indeed very difficult to find common traits to the French, as there are so many different and parallel, even paradoxal Frances. I was lucky to live in a sweet town (more like a village in fact, but the locals are proud of their bastide) in the notoriously laid-back south-west. My mother comes from a big town in northern France, and I had the opportunity to criss-cross the country a lot, and if one thing is true, it is that the French come in all kind of packages. To me, the most brutal paradox is the big town/countryside difference. As Maciamo stated, working in France can be an unsettling experience, as personal initiative and bringing your own experience in a company is seen as a threat. At work, you are supposed to go with the flow. As for the French and tourists, there are indeed a lot of horror stories, but I believe they are limited to the huge tourist magnets like Paris and the mediterranean coast. I'd be sick to see my hometown invaded all year long too I think...
Concerning foreign languages, I can definitely tell the French are not better than the Spaniards or the British. I have understood that for foreign language teachers, the stress is on pedagogy rather than the language itself. This might explain why French teachers of English do not speak the language fluently, or at best with a dreadful accent. Dubbed TV programs and movies are partly responsible for that.
The only thing that I think is not a myth is a typically French arrogance due to the aura of the culture and its appeal worldwide. It seems, however, that the latest generation could not capitalize on former French culture (music and cinema are in free fall, with no modern Delon, Brassens, Bardot and the days of French literature beaming over the world are long bygone). France has been one of the great losers of globalization...
I have only ever encountered deliberate rudeness and transparently anti-English aloofness on a regular basis in Paris, but then the English delight in this familiar cultural trait and thoroughly enjoy baiting the 'snooty' Parisians. Outside of Paris, in places such as Normandy and Aquitane, I have encountered nothing but civilisation, sweet natures and geniality.

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