All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

French, the language of diplomacy

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince...Image via Wikipedia
Talleyrand, nineteenth century French diplomat.
There are certain myths about France.....smartly dressed women, seductive men, good food, good manners....which means that you tell someone you live in France and they go all gooey eyed and start burbling about how lucky you are to live in this earthly paradise.

A quick look round la France Profonde might disabuse them somewhat.....the local notaire's wife in the dressing gown and slippers in which she passes her morning would be a good shoo-in for Mrs. Proudie at the breakfast table in 'Framley Parsonage' while her husband's seductive powers appear to be limited to seducing the folding stuff from your wallet to his.
Good, don't let me get started on andouillette and food poisoning from fruits de mer again as for good manners! I have never been on the receiving end of so much rudeness as I have experienced in France.

I used to like going to the big vide greniers...the ones involving a whole suburb of a big for the investment of time and petrol there was more chance of finding something among over a hundred stalls than at a village one of twenty.
Accordingly, we were heading for one that had been advertised, when we ran into signs for another on our route...that had not been advertised.
Experience had told us that even if an event had been advertised, there was no guarantee that it would be held so, just in case the one we were heading for had been cancelled, we thought we'd try the one we'd found.
By this time we had passed the designated parking area and were driving into the town.
The streets were full of parked cars, but we found a spot by the river which still had space and pulled up.

As we walked away a band of young men with red and white striped tape appeared and started marking off the river bank in front of the cars.
One of them called out to us to get our car shifted....this was a no parking area. There was to be an event with boats which would be arriving in four hours' time.
My husband replied that there were other cars there, and that, when we parked, there had been no tape...neither were there any 'no parking' signs, even on the crayon on cardboard variety.
In any case, we would only be about half an hour.

Now for what follows, a little explanation is in order.
This was a group of four young men.
My husband is a pensioner and at that time had not long come out of he even looked frail.

One young man ran over to us and shouted
'Do as you're told!. The parking area is over there.' Indicating the signs we had passed on the way in.
'Can't you read? Ignorant as shit! Get out of here!'

My husband repeated that we would only be half an hour, so we wouldn't be in their way and, besides, he wasn't up to the long walk from the designated parking area.

The other young men came up and one said that if we didn't move the car they would push it into the river.
My husband said that in that case the organisers would be hearing from his insurers and turned to walk away.

At that moment they made a rush for him and jostled him, shouting abuse...until a woman on the bank called them off...and they left us alone, threatening to report us to the gendarmerie!

Well, we had come to see what was on offer, so we carried on towards the stands....somewhat shaken up...only to see the gendarmerie van pulling up at a signal from the young men, who gathered round it, pointing towards us.

We went over, to find that we were accused of attacking them after deliberately parking in a no parking area.

Now, the gendarmerie does not like trouble.
Trouble involves returning to the station and unearthing the typewriter, so on that ground alone there was no chance that they would take up the complaint.
I am not so sure that the absurdity of four young men complaining of being attacked by a couple of pensioners would have saved us...this is, after all, France.

The young men were sent about their business, we explained what had happened and the gendarmes kindly suggested that they could best solve the problem by guiding our car into a spot reserved for handicapped drivers right alongside the stands.
The which they did.

'You don't want to make a complaint, do you?' asked one, with the air of a dog who sees the prospect of being back on the lead after a wonderful run in the park, and, so as not to spoil his day, we agreed that we did not.
There would have been no point to it, as the only people who would have been inconvenienced were ourselves and the gendarmes.
The louts would have gone untouched.

That's an extreme example, but it's not an isolated one.

I've had abuse from the counter staff of France Telecom....abuse from the driver of a car who was blocking my exit from my own house....abuse from young men in kayaks on the river which runs through the garden....abuse from the hunters busy shooting my rooks on my land - I've even been abused by a notaire! Twice!
And that's just the stuff that comes to mind.

Didier complains bitterly about the lack of everyday manners.
Gone are the days of the automatic 'Bonjour' on entering a shop.....the polite recognition of other people's existence.
Gone the polite 'Bonjour' from children to adults they encounter.
'It's everyone for himself, these days,' he grumbles. 'And they don't bother to hide it.'

I just wonder about this streak of rudeness in French doesn't seem to me to be just a recent phenomenon, more a manifestation of the nature of French society, where you spend your life making sure that you don't annoy anyone with influence.....and working off the resulting stress on anyone you perceive as being weaker.

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  1. See. As an ever polite, dapper Englishman, I knew I had a reason to feel superiro over the damned Frenchies! ;-)

  2. Although my spelling / typing leaves a lot to be desired.

  3. Steve...whoops...that was in answer to the first one, not the second!

  4. I am horrified and devastated. No more dreams of moving to France for me.

    Great post though.

  5. Lo, not quite the vision of 'la belle France' to which we are accustomed, I agree!

    I've been enjoying your blog...and that china cabinet!

  6. I believe it's a reflection of the world's society at large, not just that of one country or another. Pity, isn't it? Youth have little to no respect these days, and as far children... well, I think a great majority are coddled to the point of being self-important.

  7. Another Day of Crazy, I suppose it's the backlash from the time when as kids we were constantly reminded of our lack of if there was any chance to forget it!

  8. I think it's really sad that basic good manners seem to have disappeared. I haven't been to France for many years, and although I did enjoy my holidays there, I have to admit that I did often find the French very rude and bad mannered. (Unlike the majority of Turks of course)

  9. Ayak, Turks, whether in Turkey or in France, have always been super for me..kind, helpful and sympathetic.
    The older people in rural France are super too..but as they die out we have their grandchildren..rural yobs, out of control.

  10. I remember reading an article a while back saying that many Japanese tourists had to receive psychological help after visiting France, because they were unprepared for the rude treatment. I thought that sounded odd at the time, but maybe not. lol. I think people are getting more rude all over, though, for whatever reason. But since I've moved to Denmark, I have noticed that cashieres are often ruder here than they were back home. Strange.

  11. We often get seated in our regular restos at a table close-ish to the door as we are the official ''Greeters of Bonjour'' to later customers.
    We are on the elderly side, but once greeted we always get a reply!
    Probably think we are daft anglaises.

  12. So unfortunate for you, I have heard that there are some areas in the 'France Profonde', as you have so delicately put it, where the locals do not take kindly to 'l'etrangers'. We are fortunate as in the decade we have been here we have found only one obstructive/rude 'personne' and she was in the Hotel des Impots. Our locals, both in the town as well as village, have always been polite to us - but what they think or say when we have left them - well who knows!!

  13. choochoo, Tourist France can be very rude indeed...poor Japanese!

    Lesley, I expect that most people take it for granted that someone greets them....but, as with Didier, I do notice that it is becoming less prevalent.

    Trisha, locally, the problems are with the chasse and the rising breed of young rural yob...Didier says it's because they don't have to work the way he did, live on the dole and have the leisure and energy to make themselves unpleasant.
    Mark you, Didier also reckons anyone from over the departmental line is an 'etranger'....

  14. I live in the country as well, but honestly I've never run into anything like that! Of course, there are the surly teenagers, but otherwise, people have always been quite cordial.
    I'm so sorry this has been your experience here. It's not right and it's a shame for France.

  15. Dedene, to be fair, this happened in a big town dormitory suburb, but out here in the sticks while most people are very nice indeed there has always been a 'rough' element who plague the locality generally.

    The incident I've written about really took me aback....because, a bit like your village's association night, most people who run events are super, so to be subjected to this aggression was something totally unexpected.

    No doubt it could have happened in any just happened to be France!

  16. I hope Mr Fly - and you - were OK after that. Pleae excuse possibly dodgy grammar.

  17. Pueblo girl, yes, thank you...we were. Just a bit shaken up, that's all.

    But thinking of other incidents over the years they happen when we have been standing our ground over something or other...and that seems to drive a certain type wild!

  18. Oh, I recognise the type all right - the kind who are deeply offended by foreigners standing up for themselves in the other's country. Basura.

  19. Pueblo girl, Basura indeed!
    There seems to be a certain type who think that you the foreigner, know nothing and can be walked all over.....and are, as you say, deeply offended when they find that not to be the case!

  20. What a horrible experience for you and Mr Fly.

    Luckily I am able to say that so far, in the fifteen years we've lived in deepest France, we've very rarely met any outright, deliberate rudeness except from a salesman in Planete Saturn, one in Leclerc and one in Geant.

    On the other hand, the custom of shop assistants and cashiers answering and engaging in unnecessarily prolonged telephone calls whilst they are in the middle of serving you drives me potty. Hasn't anybody explained to them that they can say "Just one moment, please," into the telephone while they hand you your change, or receipt, so that you are not obliged to wait 20 minutes while they concentrate on the caller? Does that count as rudeness, plain ignorance, or are we Brits too impatient?

  21. nodamnblog, the telephone thing is infuriating.
    I was shopping with an elderly French friend once when we met with this and I was about to dump our purchases and leave.
    She was astonished!
    After all, as she pointed out, the girl couldn't give a damn whether we bought anything or not, so the gesture wouldn't hurt her and the boss would never learn of it anyway!

  22. That's French wisdom for you! It hadn't occurred to me, but of course, your friend was quite right.

  23. I think my ex-h is the rudest person I've ever come across. He's French. A lot of it stems from his inviolable impression of himself as centre of the universe so feels entitled to sail through life unthwarted. As this is a silly approach he gets greatly frustrated and lashes out verbally.

  24. was a viewpoint which would never have occurred to me either.

    Sarah, French mothers have a lot to answer for, i feel.