Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Today I started to reflect on my writing journey. As you know, I am starting to get published here and there, which feels great, but there is one feedback I keep getting: apparently, my writing is too direct. As in: too in your face. Here is a short selection of the comments I had to deal with recently:

“Can Muriel tone it down a bit?”

“Your words are too strong – this is too negative ”

“This is far too cynical. Can we soften it a bit?”

“Again, too harsh”

“That’s not very nice”


Well, you get the gist of it. This made me wonder: am I really too harsh? Am I too direct? Because the thing is, I don’t think it comes from my writing. It is just who I am. Before you judge me too harshly, you have to understand that we French are far more direct than you British. It is a cultural thing. For instance, when someone is obese, we French will not be scared to say “you are too fat” or “you should lose weight”. Over here, it would be “you may be slightly overweight” or “have you thought of being more mindful of what you eat?”. We French don’t mean to hurt anyone, we just say it as it is. We were brought up that way. At school, we were never told that our work ‘needed improvement’. It was just ‘wrong’. In short, we are just doing what we have been taught to do. It’s a cultural thing.

To make matters even worse, I am already trying to tone down my opinions all the time. But apparently it isn’t enough. I have learned not to be as direct as I would like to be. Believe me, it was (and still is) hard work. But you see, it’s just me: I don’t see the point of lying or being nasty, because I believe that life is far too short for this type of behaviour. This means that I go straight to the point and cut the BS. Don’t get me wrong, I try not to be disrespectful, and I try to say things as nicely as possible (I don’t always succeed but that’s another story), but I don’t waste time: I always try to tell the harsh truth. If you can’t take it, well, tough luck, and move on!

So why do I have to tone my writing down? Does it mean that I have to tone down -gasp- who I am as well? Is-it some sort of coming-of-age thing (am I allowed to say that growing older really sucks)? Is it about becoming reasonable and balanced? Of course I am trying to see things from different points of view, but don’t you think that there is a time to think, and another to decide and act? Life doesn’t come with a choice of Instagram filters on it, right? You have to take things as they are, and move on. No need to sugarcoat them.

I like being very clear about what I like and what I don’t like. I like being passionate about lots of subjects. So tell me, what should I do? Tone it down, keep going, or is there another option?




  • Steve Humphreys™

    I say NO! You continue to write what you want If others don’t like what you say or your writing style … that’s THEIR problem, NOT yours. Keep it up, Muri-ELLL 🙂

    • Thank you Steve! On the blog I can write whatever I want. Not so much on someone else’s site/magazine/newspapers…I will have to compromise. And I hate it. There it is!

  • Oh Muriel, I so agree with you!! I have been working in anglo-saxon companies and countries for 20 years now and most of the time, the main thing they tell me in my annual feedback is “you’re too direct” “you’re too French”, “you’re too blunt”…

    Like you, I have been trying hard to tone it down, to adapt my writing in emails (I even developed a series of “template” sentences such as saying “I see where you’re coming from and it makes a lot of sense but have you considered….” instead of saying “I disagree”, to take gloves when starting to talk to someone, to turn my tongue 7 times in my mouth etc…

    but sometimes the true nature of me comes up again. And like you, I am tired of having to constantly twist myself.

    So in your case, I’d say stick to your guns and keep your French style. Isn’t it why they came to you and wanted to hire you to write in any case?

    • Stephanie, I totally understand where you are coming from. It feels like we are being punished for being, well, French. And it feels incredibly unfair. As for me, well, I will keep being myself!

  • Admittedly, I haven’t read that many of your posts as I’m newly subscribed. But, I think, you write how you want to write. Guy Kawasaki says, “Be bold!”

    • Thank you! I am free to write whatever I like on the blog, but for published article I have to comply. that’s life, I suppose!

  • James Casserly Omaexlibris

    I have to say I enjoy your direct approach, it is refreshing and I have never known you to write anything that is harsh or negative. I firmly believe we as a society could do with a bit more directness and less euphemisms. I hope you continue to be true to yourself and write as you feel, not as others wish you to. If they find you too cynical/negative/harsh, that is their perception and they don’t have to agree with or even read your writings. So my feeling is please continue as you are, it is perfect as it is.

    • Thanks a lot James. I will keep the same tone on the blog, but might have to ‘tone it down’ elsewhere…

  • Karen Nelson

    If you attempt to comply, the next comments will be along the lines of: “you don’t sound French”, “you are so vapid”, “can’t tell you apart from so and so..”. You are in Shakespeare’s territory so heed Polonius and “to thine own self be true…”

    • In short, whatever I do, it will be wrong. Why is life so complicated again?

      • Karen Nelson

        Not what I meant…read the Polonius bit again. Life is complicated unless you’re a one-celled creature.

  • A Polyglot Mum

    Don’t you dare tone it down! If they can’t handle it, they simply do not have to read. It’s called choice.

    • Hear hear! But if you want to be published, well, you have to compromised. That’s he way it is. I am still learning.

  • Be yourself. Words to live and write by.

    • I know Brenda. It’s just that it can be difficult when you want to get published!

  • Miss Bougie

    Pas de langue de bois. Straight to the point, Muriel!

    • Will do! As always…

  • In the states, that would be called politically correct speech. Yeah- it sounds just as bad when you hear that crap here.

    • It never stops…It’s simply everywhere!

  • tracy shephard

    I am sure I should have been born French, I have so many French traits …

    • Maybe you are…French ancestry, you know?

      • tracy shephard

        oh i would love that connection 🙂

  • Jacqueline

    I was surprised to find that people find your writing too direct or negative. I don’t find it that way at all. First of all you are not writing as a “reporter” or “journalist” where you just want to report the facts objectively. rather you are giving your opinion. Second, I think we’ve become too “politically correct.” It’s one thing to be diplomatic but another to have to tip toe over issues. Some have said we really don’t have freedom of speech because if we say something we have to be careful to be politically correct, not to offend anyone. This point of view was expressed most recently after the islamist attacks in Paris and elsewhere. They were attacking freedom of speech along with the Mohammed portraits in their acts but people were saying if anyone writes or says anything about a particular ethnic group, race, religion, gender etc they too get attacked in the press for being insensitive etc.
    Muriel, you are never going to “please” everyone. If people get angry reading your opinion, that’s their issue but if you’re going to try to please everyone and write what everyone wants to hear rather than ideas to ponder or debate then you might as well not write at all. Just my two cents but then again, I’m a direct person too. 😉

    • Well, I am glad that I am not the only one. My blog is my personal space, which means that I can say pretty much what I want. But if I have to publish a piece, it is another story…

      • disqus_72GXGq6drQ

        you always have that discussion with the publisher….like work…you have freedom to do as you re told

  • Lynn Zubir

    Keep it going, the world’s already too complicated as it is. 😉

    • Thank you! Will do my best!

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  • I think you forgot to add a few more comments to the above. How about.
    “Who cares what others think?” Is that direct enough? How about,
    “If others have a problem with how you express yourself, it’s their problem.”
    Don’t go changing who you are to please a few people.
    Rant away, express it exactly how you want it said. Don’t sugar coat.
    I love how you can be so frank and direct, and yet I’ve never found it to be offensive.
    I’ve always thought you relate your thoughts with all best intents, never harsh or bitter.
    Like some of the other comments below, I was surprised to read this. Don’t change! If you do, it’s not your words, it’s theirs. Speak who you are. We will still be reading and enjoying.

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  • disqus_72GXGq6drQ

    Non! However you have lovely eyes, legs etc…not sure about the strands of hair nearly covering your eyes … All this is far longer and less brusque way of saying you are attractive.
    Apparently some like to mitigate comments with fillers which may make great chick -lit and even novels but you forget or ignore the key point when reading a blog or column and so makes for poor advice too!

  • dth

    I used to work for a German guy. I’m very direct at work and used to be castigated, but my German colleague would have exactly the same opinions but he was always given the benefit of the doubt as he was German his directness was expected.