mercredi 6 avril 2011

On French politeness and chivalry

Random thoughts...

I wrote about French politeness before but it still continues to amaze me. To be honest I don't consider myself that rude but I guess to the French I may sometimes seem rude and lazy. I've slowly changed my ways though ;)

For example, in Australia, it's very rare to find shopping trolleys with coin-slots. Aldi, the German supermarket has them but that's about it as far as I know. The supermarkets hire people to go around to all the parking lots and nearby streets to collect them which I think is a truly dumb idea as it just encourages people to be lazy and selfish, not to mention criminal (for those that steal them). This would never happen in France (or other nearby European countries) because they would NOT hire someone to collect the trolleys when they can implement something mechanical/electronic that costs much less. So anyway, I ALWAYS bring the trolley back to the trolley bay.

I remember one of my earliest experiences of this French politeness think-of-others thing. It was November 2009 and I had just started my first French course (at an adult evening college). I met this French guy (through Couchsurfing) for conversation practice. After my class we met up and went to Darling Harbour (which is a touristy spot not far from the heart of town in Sydney). We had something to eat in the food court and he went to put the tray back where it belongs and I mentioned that I usually just leave it on the table (for the cleaners to collect). I suppose you could call it laziness or selfishness but depending on my mood, I guess I do it half the time and the other half I don't.

A similar thing happened in the airport when I was in Singapore. When the passengers go to the x-ray machine everyone has to leave their water bottles behind and most people just left theirs on the stainless steel benchtop. However, since I was flying to Paris most of the passengers were French and I noticed that most people made the effort to walk all the way around the benchtop to put it in the bin.

Then there was another time a few weeks ago, I was with one of my French Couchsurfing friends and I put my hand into my small/tight pocket in my coat (it was cold). I had a tissue or two in there and then as I lifted my hand back out the tissues accidentally came out with my hand and fell to the ground. I left them on the ground (afterall, the ground is filthy - ew) and thought nothing of it but my friend actually made me go and pick them up and put them in the bin! I was mortified. I thought it was rather hypocritical considers he smokes and litters cigarette butts all over the place but I just did as asked and then nothing more was said about that.

Then there was another time only very recently when I was taking some photos in a park and accidentally walked in too far... The French have a 'thing' about walking on certain lawns and without realising it (because I was so focused on the tree with pretty blossoms I wanted to photograph) I'd walked onto a 'forbidden' part of the grass/ground (not that there was even any signs about it!) but I guess I was being rude/naughty/bad according to my French friend so he told me to get back!

There was another time not long after I arrived and I was looking at some hair accessories in the toiletries aisle in the supermarket. There was something on the ground (which was there before I got there) and this man just came over out of the blue and with a big huff put it back on the shelf and gave me a really dirty look! It wasn't even me who had dropped the thing on the ground but I guess it was deemed rude because I didn't pick it up! (or he assumed it was me who'd dropped it).

They're the main examples I can remember but I am sure there are others. I feel terrible if others think that I'm being rude and I'm quite conscious of this fact and always observing others and trying to copy their behaviours. But then again I'm only human and nowhere near perfect...

There's one thing I really don't like doing though. When you go to a French clothing store and try on something in the change room, more often than not you have to put the clothes back yourself! Exactly where they came from. And if you want another size/colour etc they won't get it for you. I really really hate that.

Now, onto French chivalry. Prior to coming to France I'd read a lot of books, blogs, websites, articles etc about the culture here. After being here now for over 6 months and being a single woman I can definitely say - without a doubt - that the average French man is far more chivalrous than average Australian man (I know I could open up a whole can of worms about the Anglo culture and gender equality blah blah blah but I won't).

I have a very clear memory from about a year ago, in Sydney, where I with a bunch of people I didn't know well but we were working together volunteering one long night... We came across some beers and helped ourselves to them (after all our hard work ;) ) I don't even drink but I was in the moment and thought, "what the heck".. except I couldn't open it and I asked the guy next to me if he could open it for me and he said something like, "OK but don't think I'm doing it for everyone" and he had a real attitude about it. I was really shocked and remember clearly my thought at the time that I doubt a French guy would act like that!!

Here in France everybody holds the door open for everybody and when I'm with a guy he'll let me walk through the door first the majority of the time (depending on who it is). I cannot remember that happening back in Sydney. I don't know. Maybe I'm imagining it since back home I didn't exactly spend a great deal of time hanging around male friends like I do now!

Something else I can't remember if I've mentioned on my blog before... One day I was getting a key cut and eating a baguette that I had just bought (afterall there are never any seats anywhere except in a restaurant and I finally had a seat whilst waiting for the key).. and the guy said "Bon appetit" to me. At the time I thought it was really nice but now I realise it's normal. The other day I was on the train and the train conductor said "Bon appétit" to a passenger, not because the passenger was special, not because he was especially polite (I don't think..maybe) but simply because the guy was eating!

What else? 

The language! OMG where do I start? The French language itself is overly formal, stuffy and super super polite. If you were to translate it into English and say that to someone they'd laugh in your face.

I'm so used to using all the French greeting words now that I think if/when/once I go back to Australia I'm gonna miss it a lot. I will also miss hearing French like crazy. Even now when I hear people (strangers) speaking English I don't like it. I only want to hear French!! To be honest, I have to admit that the day when I won't get to hear French all the time will be one of the saddest moments of my life. The longer I stay here, the longer I want to stay...


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