Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Before I start, if you could write a review of my blog here I would love you forever. Sorry to ask you to work, everyone!

I was looking at French newspapers over the weekend when it downed on me: most French politicians and, more generally, most French citizen share a similar trait. What is it? No, it is not the clothes. You could argue that, for politicians, it is the background : most of them are graduates of the famous ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration), which basically allows them to lead France without having to make a single penny running a business. And, if you must ask, France does have a school for judges. Honestly. But I digress.
We French work under the unwritten assumption that we are different. The usual rules of common sense do not apply to us. Let me explain: apparently, we French are one of the worst countries in terms of fluency in English. Quizzed about this fact, a fellow Frenchman answered back with another question (a classic trick) ‘ how well do other countries speak French’. It is typical, isn’t it? We are the centre of the universe, hence the others should speak French. Of course. How come I hadn’t thought of this?
What is your first reaction when someone tells you ‘well, but this is different’? It usually drives me mad. Being different is too often an excuse not to have achieved something or not to follow the rules. France needs to reduce its debt. 56% of the GDP is spent on public spending (vs 48,5% in this country or even c. 39% in the USA) but massive cuts won’t happen any time soon because we are different. How we will reduce our deficit remains a mystery to me.
Being French has everything to do with being an exception. It is in our genes, and we will always be reluctant to follow the rules. Mind you, such a skill can be an asset when you need to persevere. But, more often than not, it is a hindrance: we just don’t want to change!
I keep being asked when I will move back to France. The sad fact if the matter is that I don’t think that I ever will. I might be French, but I am different.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • Dody

    Do you know what I so enjoy about you, Muriel? You speak your mind! Plus, you do this so very well!! I am not simply reading words; I am hearing those words being spoken to me, at least in my mind. Still waiting for the day when you shall grace us all with a memoir or perhaps, a novel with a dollop or two of all your experiences.

  • Lou

    I am American, and it seems as if Americans take many of the same attitudes, they don’t want to learn any other languages, and feel everyone should just learn their language. They also think they are the center of the universe, and everyone should do things their way, that if it is American it must be the best. It’s hard to comment on the amount spent on public spending because of how divisive our country is right now on this topic, but I have noticed those receiving benefits are for it and those not receiving are against. Until they need benefits.

  • MuMuGB

    Thank you so much Dody. I think that there is something wrong with me. I am feeling less and less French. I don’t know why. As for a novel, Well, why not, but I probably need to gain some more momentum on the blog before doing anything! x from London

  • MuMuGB

    The public spending is just an example. Other countries have implemented massive cut programmes. But not France. Quite the opposite, they are recruiting more civil servants. Again, we are different.
    We also have our own law, actors, culture, food…What works for others doesn’t work for us. And as we might be quite vocal about it, well, some don’t like it.
    As for me, I don’t know where I belong any more!

  • What a well-stated post, Muriel. I do notice many of the things you mention about the French. While these behaviors can be irritating at times, it also gives your country a distinct personality. Since my husband has a connection with the academic world in France, I think I can speak to your observation about the education system. I think they need to open up all of their universities to more competition for students and programs among themselves. Students seem to be funneled into certain universities instead of the students choosing the one that best serves their needs and interests. Let students go in any direction they want instead of deciding in high school who is “university material” and who isn’t. You never know where innovation will come from. There may be many young people who would do great things for the country, but they don’t have the connections to get into ENA so the country misses out on the opportunity.

  • Josey Marina

    since when was “American” a language? and in the case of England who are now talking of teaching 7 year olds Latin, I have to ask why? Would it not be better and more productive to learn a modern language such as Spanish/German/Chinese?

  • Being your neighbour I grew up in the shadow of “la grande nation” and I loved to go shopping over the border: it felt like a holiday! The first time I was in Paris I was wondering (and felt rather hurt) why I was treated like a country pumpkin. Aha, my accent! Eating in Vietnamese restaurants restored my self esteem and contributed to my happiness.
    Then, years later, when my daughter studied (well, rather explored the nightlife of Paris) in Paris, everybody would immediately switch to English when we opened our mouths, the hurt felt equal to see above.
    Feeling different is ok but feeling superior is a no go!

  • SarahHague

    I suppose French used to be the language of diplomacy and the French have never got over the fact that arch rival English became the language of business and by extention everything else (thanks to the Americans).

    I fear for the state of France however, because serious action needs taking, but no one wants to hear about reforms that affect them negatively. They take to the streets and strike and cause mayhem until the inevitable u-turn happens. This postpones the pain, but doesn’t cure it. The impending crisis could be like falling off a cliff, may it may take something as drastic to show the French that there are no economic exceptions.

  • A delightful commentary on the joys of being French! I found this informative and learned some new things also. Thank you for sharing ‘from the inside.’

  • MuMuGB

    My daughters never learned latin at their primary school…It looks like yours is one of a kind! Actually, they were even offered to learn Chinese and they loved it. I suppose that it all depends on the school. the subjects and teaching methos can be very different!

  • MuMuGB

    So Sarah, tell me: you seem to have understood the French very well, so what are you doing there? I think that, if I were still living in france now, I would go bonkers. I just can’t stand the hypocrisy any more. Maybe there is something wrong with me!

  • MuMuGB

    You are right, there is a fine line between feeling different and feeling superior and we sometimes cross it! I am surprised that people were giving you a hard time because of your accent. So silly.

  • SarahHague

    I ask myself that sometimes, but it helps that I have a job, the sun shines a lot and I do my own thing. Plus the boys love their life.

  • MuMuGB

    Good for you. I have to admit that it would be difficult for me to go back to France. Despite the rain over here, that is!

  • Thanks for the chuckle. It is so interesting to learn to see your own country and your own people from the outside, as an expat. It took quite a few years of living abroad for me to see my own country, Holland, and the Dutch with a more objective eye. Helped along by my foreign (American) husband 😉