My wife is a Francophile. She loves French people, French cities, French food, and pretty much anything else found within the boundaries of France. Six months of living in France have done little to cure her. I on the other hand am more skeptical. I’m skeptical of pretty much everything and everyone. It’s an attitude I believe to be very French and therefore just one more reason for my wife to love me.
I have spent six months in France sans rose colored glasses (refer to confession of skepticism above). My conclusion thus far is that the French people are very much brothers-from-another-mother. We share the most fundamental of beliefs. Family and friends are cherished. Individual freedom is sacrosanct. Justice for all (Europeans & North Americans) is foundational. The French people that we have formed even the most casual relationships with have been generous, friendly, and interesting. No doubt there are plenty of assholes here, just as there are in America, but we’ve been lucky enough to avoid them.
The closer you get to the “individual” the more alike we are (could this be true even outside of Europe and America?). Strip away government, culture, and religion and we all share the same fears and desires. Of course that’s only ever going to happen in John Lennon’s imagination. The point here is that French people and American people are very much alike in ways both big and small.
But it’s the little differences that make our life here so interesting, so foreign. If there were no differences at all, we could have stayed home and I never would have been tortured by the 20 French verb tenses and moods or the coffee (more about that in a minute).
When we recognize these little differences it is impossible (for me) to avoid making judgements about them. My wife is an unreliable judge (refer to confession of Francophilia above) in these matters. Conversely, I am completely objective and without bias and therefore more qualified to present this indisputable list of things Americans just do better.
Music La Musique
I’m not sure many French people would even dispute this one. The world is in love with American music. We hear American music everywhere we go in Europe. The Spanish especially have embraced the golden age of popular music. You can’t walk more than a block in Barcelona without hearing Tears for Fears or the Human League (yes the 80’s was the golden age, it’s a fact, look it up). The French don’t even do their own popular music that well (the Belgians do). One of my current favorites here in France is Stromae (yep, Belgian).
Movies Les Films
This one is a little less definite. There are some French films that I love. There are even more that are unbearable. My wife and I will differ here. I see no point in taking two hours out of my life to watch people yap at each other on the big screen. I can get that any time I want. Right now in Toulouse the following American movies are playing at the biggest theatre. How many French films are playing at the theatre where you live? I think I’ve made my point.
I couldn’t leave this topic without giving you at least a taste of a current French film. What’s it about? Who the hell knows!
Parking Le Parking
The French motto liberté, égalité, fraternité comes into play here. At least liberté does, as in – I’ll park wherever and whenever the hell I want to! I believe there are actual parking laws in France but I cannot confirm that. I think the only time anyone gets a parking ticket is when they’ve committed a violation (parking on top of grandma maybe) that just can’t be ignored. Other than that it’s like a Mad Max movie. Every man for himself (so much for fraternité).
Not smoking Non Fumeur
Not much to say here, they smoke too much and treat the world as their ashtray (as do smokers everywhere, it’s disgusting, please stop).
Our French friends are not at all stingy with their smiles. French strangers on the other hand hold onto them like the last piece of pain au chocolat. Come on French people, smile! Why not lead with a little openness? Be generous and give us a grin, it’s fraternité after all!
Pets Les Animaux De Compagnie
We have seen French people dote over their pets with the zeal of upper middle-class American DINKs. Unfortunately we’ve seen way too many pets (dogs) off leash in places they shouldn’t be with owners blocks away apparently not caring whether the dog is playing in traffic or peeing on that little old lady who just got parked on.
Combine #5 with #6 and you’re breaking my wife’s heart. It’s torture for my dear sweet wife to walk down the street and be ignored by the passing pooches. Apparently the dogs have been taught not to smile too. I’m not even going to bring up the poop.
Worst of all are the vagrants with pets. Apparently French law makes it a real pain in the butt for a police officer to detain someone if they have an animal with them. The officer becomes responsible for making sure the pet is properly cared for once mom or dad is in the slammer. The cops don’t want to deal with it. The result is that every vagrant/free spirit living on the street has a pet. Do you think these animals are being well taken care of?
As promised in the sentence above, I’m going to talk about coffee. The French use mostly Robusta beans in their coffee. Apparently the bean is a remnant of France’s colonial aspirations in Southeast Asia. They’ve been drinking it so long that they don’t realize how bad it is.
So you start with an inferior bean, then what do you do? Burn it. I’ve heard “French Roast” defined as “Burn until you can’t taste the coffee”. Could this get any worse? Yep. Take that burnt coffee and pour it into a thimble. Voilà you’ve got a French cup of coffee.
To make your coffee drinkable it will come with two giant packets of sugar. You’ll also get a small cookie or piece of chocolate. This is provided to help remove the foul taste from your mouth. It’s baffling to me how people can spend hours on a cafe terrace sipping one thimble of “coffee”. Maybe they just put their cigarettes out in it…
After six months that’s all I’ve got to complain about, grumpy dogs and bitter coffee. I guess I think this place is pretty great too.