Walloons vs Parisians : who is more self-centered ?


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Parisians are famous for being full of themselves and basically think that they live in the greatest city in the world. They refer to other French as "provincials", expect foreigners to speak French, and expect everyone to know everything about Paris. The French government has recently advised the Parisians to be more friendly and helpful with tourists, and not just snub them or feign not to understand them when they ask their way around.

The Walloons (Belgian French speakers outside Brussels) are reputed much more friendly and informal than the Parisians, more like the "provincial French". However, they are often as self-centered as the Parisians, if not more. I noticed it a few times lately.

For example, in a travel documentary, the Parisian presenter went to Wallonia. He first stopped in the small town of Binche. Talking with the locals, someone told him about the Gilles, giant puppets of the local carnival (which incidentally is the only Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity listed by the UNESCO in North-Western Europe). The French presenter wondered what the Gilles could be, and the local got a bit upset and replied "What, don't you know what a Gilles is ?", shrugging as if to mean "Have you just landed from Mars or what ?". Talking to other people, the Gilles came up again, and people were surprised again by the ignorance of the Parisian visitor. Those people couldn't understand how a Parisian did not know about the characters of their local carnival. It is true that it is the most famous carnival in Belgium, and all Belgians probably have heard of the Gilles, but going as far as to expect all French people to know about them is very revealing of their image of themselves. One could understand that a Parisian get upset by a tourist asking what the Louvre is, but not knowing the Gilles de Binche...

Other example. This time it is in Brussels, not in Wallonia, but the mentality is the same in this regard. Visiting the Royal Palace, I noticed that the explanations (in 4 languages) were written in a way that expected the reader to know who each monarch was, but also who this and that Belgian artist was. Some signs with the equivalent of an A4 paper of text mentioned that the work was painted by X, but did any information about that painter, when even a Belgian interested in arts like me had never heard of that artist. The people who wrote the signs were probably specialists who expected everyone to know as much as they did. As for the monarchs, they just assumed all foreign visitors knew them as well as the Belgians do. Again, that's pretty self-centered and supercilious. But it tends to be often like this in Belgium, especially in the French-speaking part.

This mentality contrast sharply with the Japanese one, which is all the opposite. The Japanese do not expect foreigners to know anything about their country, culture or language, and show (often disproportionate) surprise when a foreigner shows some knowledge about them.

Being used to the Belgian way of first assuming that others know, I found it quite insulting of the Japanese of always assuming that I couldn't speak Japanese, couldn't use chopsticks, didn't know Japanese city names or historical periods, or had never heard of traditional Japanese arts or festivals.

In Wallonia, a Parisian might still be forgiven for not knowing the carnival of Binche by making fun of the ignorance of Parisians for anything outside Paris. But a Frenchman living within 100km of the Belgian border would not have been so lucky, and would have passed for a real fool. Fortunately, Belgians have very different expectations of foreigners according to their country of origin and the distance they live from Belgium. Neighbours are considered almost as locals (normal in such a tiny country). Towards an Asian person, on the other hand, locals will explain about their culture or monuments. White Americans are usually in an awkward situation, as they are more expected to know about European things than Asians, because they are Westerners and have European roots. Yet, they are often as ignorant of Belgium as a Japanese tourist would be.

I don't think Belgians are very tolerant of ignorance about Belgium. Maybe that is caused by the complex of having such a small and new country with such a great historical and political importance, often not enough acknowledged abroad. So the reason behind the behaviour is different from the Parisian one, which is just arrogance.

But do not think that the Japanese are not proud in their own way. Their surprised at the foreigners' knowledge reveals a mindset that may be even uglier. If it is not faked, hypocritical surprised (and often it is genuine), it means that they actually think that foreigners are stupid and/or uncultivated. That means that they have a sense of superiority as high as the Parisians, if not higher. The Parisians at least think that everyone could become Parsian if they lived in Paris. To be treated equally to a Japanese, one must be Japanese. That's all the difference (between a cultural and racial sense of superiority).

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