Are français/e naughty or nice? Well, that dépend on your définition…
In the U.S., this stéréotype existe: All Français/e are naughty. That is to say that they are mean, rude, vulgaire, lazy, and sexuel. But, is this stéréotype really true? I like to think that, for the most part, it’s…tralse (aka true/false). It’s a culture différente, so, the ‘cultural rules’ are not exactly the same as those of the U.S. For exemple, vulgarité (to an extent) is normal in France. Today, I saw a sign on a teacher’s mailbox at the high school where I work that used this word: Fucking. This is unheard of in the U.S. In fact, I’m 100% sure that if a teacher had this sign at the high school where I worked, that teacher would be suspended…at best. But, this sign wasn’t seen as vulgaire nor did it pose an issue with students being disrespectful. Another exemple: les français/e use this word all of the time: merde. It pretty much translates to shit or damn depending on the situation, but it doesn’t have the same harshness as its English counterparts (at least it seems this way).
One thing that I’ve had to make clear for French high school students: You can’t go running around Chicago in the middle of the day saying, “Fuck,” without people looking at you like you’re ignorant or have less value than them. If you’re over 21, you might be able to get away with it if you’ve been drinking at night. But, aside from that…vulgaire words are left for close-knit situations. For exemple, it’s completely normal during a situation when you’re at home with friends. This is différent in France. I even heard teachers use the word merde in front of my elementary students last year! You, the Américain(e) expat, get used to it. The fact that the French choose not to hide their vulgarité doesn’t make them “naughty”. Jennie, in her post, Swearing in French and Degrees of Vulgarity, couldn’t have explained it better than myself: “swearing in French is much less obscene than in English – which is perhaps more detrimental to French students learning English than vice versa.” It is for this very raison that I educate French students on this cultural concept.
Because Américains view the French in this “naughty” way, does that mean that Américains fit into the “nice” catégorie? I’m sure we like to think so; however, what do the French think? “Américains are friendly and ‘all smiles’ on the outside, but what are they really thinking?” This leads into the stéréotype that Américains are ‘nice’ upfront, but talk shit behind your back. For exemple, you just got a terrible haircut. An Américain is likely to complement the style even though he/she secretly thinks it’s hideous. A Français is likely to tell you the truth. It is this honesty that gives French the “rude” stereotype. If the French are being honnête, then should they really be considered “naughty”? Also, the French don’t necessarily walk around smiling at strangers all the time. First of all, why do we (Américains) do this? We don’t know strangers and we don’t owe them anything. Do we really smile all the time because we genuinely wish good on everyone we encounter? Or, do we do it because it has become a facet of our culture? I’m not afraid to admit that, more often than not, I don’t even realize I’m smiling. In this cas, I’m not genuinely being “nice”. So, does that mean Américains are “naughty”? Honnêtement, it’s not black and white. There will always be things that Américains do that les Français find blasphemous and vice versa.
The différences have been laid out (google is flooded with articles and blogs about them)…but, are there any similarités between France (les Français) and the U.S. (les Américains)? In a culture that is accepting more and more influence Américain, I think it’s safe to say that similarités existe – even if they, just like the différences, are stéréotypes. For exemple, the young Français enjoy fast-food as much as young Américains. Sure, les Français also enjoy eating a nice family dîner; however, the ‘lunch’ trend among the young Français is fast-food (FYI: fast-food has taken over the dining market in France!). In addition to fast-food, the Français enjoy fashion as much as Américains (FYI: the stéréotypé Américain style ‘sweatsuit’ is gaining more and more of a following as an everyday clothing option in France). Other similarités inclut (but are not limited to): the rise in appreciation of architecture moderne, the use of iPhones and other Apple devices, the founding idée of égalité (think: révolutionnaire war), the liste continues…
In général, we tend to focus on the différences between countries (again: see google); however, the similarités are just as important and, thus, shouldn’t be ignored. Similarités are essential for expats: Similarités open up the door to more cross-cultural friendships as you find that you have more in common with each other. ♦
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