It’s all over the press. In case you’ve missed it, here is a quick summary: the Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has impregnated one of his staff, a much younger woman, while still officially married to his long-suffering wife (with whom he has four children). The affair was an open secret in the Canberra circles, but completely blew out of proportion over the last few days (I am not sure why. Politics, probably). There are now questions about the use of taxpayer money (you are not supposed to employ your partner. But was she his partner?), and also because he presented himself as a ‘family man’ (The irony!). Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing is a sorry mess and I am #teamfirstwife all the way, but, being French, I am struggling to understand the media frenzy. What I am trying to say is this: in France, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. It would be considered, well, a private affair. All French politicians find a way to employ their friends, mistress and family members. When they can’t, they ask a fellow MP to do it for them, and they return the favour. More often than not, knowing who has slept with whom is a guessing game in political social circles. But apparently, not in Australia. What am I talking about? Well, because of the ‘Barnababy’ scandal, Australia has banned sexual relations between government ministers and their staff. This is called the #bonkban, and has been trending on Twitter.
This much I know: such a sex ban couldn’t happen in my home country. People would laugh at it out loud. You have to understand that things haven’t changed in my home country. Sexual harassment is still rife in France, and more often than not it is considered acceptable. Recently, there has been a scandal about a senior minister having an affair with a young intern twenty years ago. She accused him of rape a bit more than ten years later, but the limitation period had expired. Somehow the story resurfaced recently. Nothing will happen to him, and there won’t be any #bonkban in France -nobody has even considered, let alone mention it. Let me make something clear: if the intern had been my daughter, I would be fuming. I would have considered beating the guy up (I am 25% Sardinian -don’t mess with me). Nobody has defended her, nobody has even mentioned that, when you go to work, you expect to be safe from your boss’ advances. At least, the Australians are doing something, and trying to address the problem. Obviously the ban will be difficult to enforce, and I am sure that there will be lots of difficulties, but hey, kudos to Australia. In the meantime, it looks like the elites in old Europe will never change. Why am I not surprised?
Wherever I go, I seem to take my Frenchness with me (whatever that is, really). Like most civilized countries, France has a particular set of rules, and don’t you dare ignore them. When visiting my home country, you’d be wise to keep some of these social norms and expectations in mind. We are not as tolerant as we look. Now you are warned. Truth be told, we will actually be aghast at your breaches and blunders. But of course it goes both ways: you will find us odd from time to time. Or rude, bizarre, even arrogant maybe. We are just French, warts and all. Don’t hold it (too much) against us, we were born that way. Cultural awareness and respect goes a long way, so here are 7 things NOT to do in France or with a French friend. Oh, and the list is far from exhaustive, feel free to add to it…
We Don’t Hug, Unless We Are REALLY Close
To kiss or not to kiss, that is the question when meeting people in France. Some even call it the conundrum of the bise. It’s a cross-cultural minefield of greeting gaffes, especially if you are too familiar with someone. I once almost slapped a British colleague who kissed me a bit too close of the corner of my mouth- in my opinion. I am sure that he meant no harm, but I haven’t forgotten it (and it was, like, 10 years ago). In other countries, you might welcome someone with a hug, a peck on the cheek, a high five, a firm handshake or even a kiss on the lips (the Russian way!). Simply put: in France, don’t do it. The customary greeting between friends is to kiss both cheeks once or twice, depending on the region – PLEASE no sloppy wet ones, it’s disgusting, just light kisses. Even casual acquaintances and colleagues might greet each other this way. Just follow suit. Oh, and a hug is mostly reserved for lovers and close family.
As some of you may know, I eventually set up a small business in France when I was working in London. To cut a long story short, everything had to be done from London (which wasn’t always easy), and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. I know that it looks completely counter-intuitive. Truth be told, I could have set the business up when I was living in France. Except that I didn’t. Why?
When you can’t see what’s right in front of you…
Well, it’s quite simple really: I didn’t see it as a business opportunity when I was living in my home country. It just hadn’t crossed my mind. I had been taught quantum physics and all sorts of complex scientific theories, and as a result, to me, a business had to be complicated. Something to do with sending rockets into space, for instance. Anything less would be, well, a waste. Meaningless. Not even worth considering, in fact.
To make matters even worse, our schools, from the infant classes through to university, penalise failure. Generating innovation and making changes challenge our usual ways of thinking, but we French have never rewarded being different and taking risks, which are two fundamental aspects of innovation. In our education system today there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ culture where individual’s ambitions are crimped. It’s actually even worse: everyone must fit a certain mould. Everyone must be on the same median, on a pre-defined bell-curve. In France, everybody has to learn the same things and imbibe the same knowledge. However, at the end of the day each student has to find a way to differentiate him/herself. No wonder France is one of the most depressed nations!