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.
Have you heard of Paris Syndrome? Let me explain: it’s a surprising phenomenon whereby Chinese or Japanese tourists arrive in Paris and seem to undergo some sort of mental breakdown. I was told that they experience raised anxiety levels, delusions, irrational feelings of persecution and hostility, hallucinations, or even collapsing. Some tourists had to be sent back to their home country in a medicalised plane. I kid you not. So what went wrong ? Well, the main theory as to what’s happening here is that they have an incredibly romanticised belief in what Paris is like thanks to countless media and film portrayals. Paris is the city of love, everything is beautiful there. All women are polite and look like they come straight from a French New Wave film. I hate to break it to you, but the reality is quite different. To cut a long story short, Paris is mostly a normal city, coupled with some tangible differences in behaviour and manners between Asiatic and Parisian culture. So for instance, our waiters are not always nice. Our drivers might accelerate when you want to cross the street, and don’t expect apologies when you are shoved on the street. This can induce an intense and debilitating form of culture shock. Dear oh dear. It’s hard to see the reality without any filter sometimes. But maybe, just maybe, it is a necessary part of growing up? Just a thought.
When I say that I run ultra marathons, one of the first questions I get is usually along the following lines:
‘But what do you think about when you run for such a long time? Isn’t it boring?’
The truth is that it’s so hard that I don’t think. I just put one foot in front of the other as best as I can, and thinking would be an unwelcome distraction. It’s all about sparing my mental energy.
This weekend, this simple strategy worked again. What happened? I realised a childhood dream: I ran the Canyon De Chelly ultra marathon in Arizona. Running this race was one of the main reasons I started training. I also vividly remember a substitute teacher who taught our class when I was about seven. He was passionate about Native Americans and told us about the Apaches, the Navajo code breakers, Geronimo and the Wounded Knee massacre. It stuck. In fact, I can still remember the tune we learned about life in Arizona.
Fast forward almost 40 years (time flies right?), and here I was, trying to be part of the race a thousand miles away from London, and managing to get in despite the crashing website. It only dawned on me a few weeks later: I was in. Me being me, I immediately started organising the logistics. I was supposed to go with a friend of mine, and possibly our respective husbands. But life happened, and as the start date was approaching it was only me who could go. Frankly, I thought about dropping out. Because, you see, it wasn’t just a race: I actually had to go to Chinley. It was an expedition. The only way was to fly to Phoenix and then rent a car to drive 500 km to the place where the race started. The thing was, I didn’t really like driving and I had never driven in the US. What to do?
As you may have noticed, I am a nomad at heart. This year, I am going to realise a long standing dream of mine: I am going to run in the Navajo Nation. It will be my very own Arizona dream come true. What can I say? I might be French, but I am also a citizen of the world!
When I was a child, I loved learning about Native Americans. For instance, we were taught about Geronimo, and I was imagining arid plains and wild horses. What would it be like to hunt buffalos and other animals? Every day, if I were living there, we would pick fruits and seeds. We would not be interested in settling down in a permanent community, we would just travel and enjoy life!
Now that I am going to experience it, it feels a bit like going back in time, and I can’t wait.
What will I do there? Well, I will run an ultra marathon of course. Which one? One of the most beautiful and exclusive ones: the Canyon de Chelley Ultra (http://www.canyondechellyultra.com). I am a bit worried, because we are going to start running in sand, cross streams, and then apparently there will be a ‘technical climb’ to go on top of the Canyon -and then we do it all over again on the way back. As I train in London, I think that I might find the conditions a bit challenging. Let’s just say that it’s going to be an interesting race (did you hear the British understatement ?).
Hello from Sydney! It might be winter over here, but there is a bright sunshine and I have put some sun cream on. Winter? What winter? Give me a winter like this any time! Seriously, I am not sure I can take another grey British winter.
Let’s face it: things are a bit bleak in London. I thought that political changes would bring a newfound enthusiasm in my adoptive country, but the exact opposite seems to be happening. People keep complaining, and there is a lot of scaremongering. Turning over a new leaf isn’t as easy as it seems, I suppose. It certainly hasn’t brought up the best in British citizen recently.
Things are, well, different over here, in Sydney. It’s the space, you see. I think that the flat I have rented is twice as big as my London home, for a fraction of the price. Even the commute, on the ferry, seems so much nicer.
It’s time for me to come clean: I can’t keep up. Things are moving too fast for me, and I don’t understand the world we are living in any more. But first things first:
THANK YOU: my e-book was downloaded thousands of times while it was free, and reached #1 in its category (Humour & entertainment). I am humbled, and was very pleased to receive lots of positive comments. Once again, thanks for your support.
So what am I talking about? Well, first of all, hi from Melbourne where I am spending a few days. I was very lucky not to fly British Airways, and was surprised to see the chaos at London airports. Between you and me, the tickets on Qantas were cheaper anyway. What is going on in my home country? I couldn’t help thinking that BA computer system must have been hacked but right now I might not be thinking straight.
I must admit that I was pleased to get away from London. The Manchester attacks had reminded me of the 7/7 bombings (read here http://frenchyummymummy.com/how-i-became-a-londoner/), and it’s always a bit of a difficult memory for me. Except that, this time, things were even more awful: children had been specifically targeted with a nail bomb. When does it stop? Every time you reach a new low, something worse happens. The whole episode made me feel useless and none the wiser.
2016 is finally over. What a year!
Now bring it on, 2017! I am happy to report that I am spending the first days of the year in Australia, and I love it. Despite the very high temperatures, things are very chilled over here. I find it incredibly relaxing. I just wanted to share with you my initial findings on life down under. Let me know if I forgot anything. And this much I know: it will be hard to go back to London. I have read somewhere that it was cold and foggy, and I am not looking forward to it at all…
- First of all, nobody, and I mean really nobody, has asked me where I was from. In the same vein, nobody has commented on my French accent. In London, I am asked where I am from on a daily basis. In fact, I think that it has become some sort of national obsession. Over here, nobody cares. The only questions I get are ‘How are you?’ and ‘Where did you buy your bodyboard?’. Period;
- Australians are a lot fitter that their British counterparts. In England, I often get the gym all to myself. Well, over here, the gym is always full, even at 5am. Having young little ones is not an excuse to skip a workout, and I have seen mums who bring their toddlers, put them in a pram in the corner of the fitness center, and exercise as if there were no tomorrow. Wow!
- Australians talk to each other. This really came to a revelation, and at first it made me feel uncomfortable because in England you tend to keep yourself to yourself. And if you have to, you start your sentences with ‘Excuse-me,…’. Well, things are clearly different in Oz . Simply put, you don’t have to apologise to talk to somebody. People greet me on the street all the time, and this morning, a fellow jogger even wished me a happy new year. Unbelievable. I tried to smile and say something nice, but I must admit that after years of being looked down upon when I open my mouth to say something, I felt a bit rusted. What can I say? I have become British;
- Everyday, I am in awe of Australia’s outstanding beauty. Seriously, what more do you need when you wake up and see this?
- Continue Reading
Whether you live in London or in Paris, some things never change: you live a fast-paced life. This means that you are always rushing around. Always.
I hadn’t realised how fast-paced my life was until a few days ago, when I landed in Australia for some much-needed holidays. To cut a long story short, things are a lot more chilled this side of the world. And although I was a bit surprised at first, now I like it.
In London, we look down on whoever dares to walk too slowly. We expect a quick service when we go to a restaurant. Our grocery shopping is done in less than 10 minutes. We moan when the Tube is a few minutes late. We are always in a hurry, and juggling far too many plates. Of course, I am no exception. I always have something to do, somewhere to be. It never stops.
Recently, during my travels, I have had far too many comments regarding my nationality. I keep saying that, yes, I am French-born, but I now have a British passport, to no avail. Once again, whatever I do, I am ‘the French one’. That said, we French are the envy of the world, right? We also have the reputation to be rude and arrogant. I have therefore decided to make the most of it. Here is how…
Let’s start with the obvious. In order to be true to your reputation, don’t check in online, turn up as late as possible and change the seat a few times. That will teach them, right? Stay hydrated: this means that it’s OK to arrive at the airport already drunk, and continue the party onboard. Make a huge fuss to be upgraded -we French moan all the time, so just go for it… Jump the queue, and argue that it can’t be possible that all these people are travelling business class anyway. Just do it. There is always someone who does it. Why not you this time?
Let’s face it: there’s nothing glamorous or exciting about commercial air travel, especially if you have to go to Stansted airport at the crack of dawn. That said, that’s not an excuse to dress down. High heels are a must, and will amaze your fellow passengers. And don’t forget your sunglasses at all times to complete the look.
As I am in a good mood today, and as I have had enough of the doom and gloom, I thought I’d share with you the accumulated wisdom of my many years spent travelling the world – a definitive guide to make air travel palatable for you, but not necessarily for those around you. After all, if I am the French one, warts and all, I need to act like one…Every cloud has its silver lining, right?
It happened when I was going through airport security, in Nice. I couldn’t help noticing that the older gentlemen right before me had suppositories in his plastic bag. Then it downed on me: I had completely forgotten about suppositories. You see, nobody uses them this side on the Channel. In fact, I hadn’t missed them at all. And I am pretty sure that my (British) daughters didn’t miss them either. Hmmm, I am not sure I will ask them. Some things are probably better left unsaid.