Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why make it easier when we can make it 10 times as hard?

My friend Brittany has been studying here since September. She warned me before I came here that the French national motto seems to be “Why make it easy when we can make it 10 times as hard?” These sage words have been proven to be true. Time and time again. And again. And again. Not only are the French pains in the ass, they seem to take pride in it. One has to suffer to be French, and the French enjoy pain. I should have realized this in middle school when I learned to count in French. The numbers start becoming weird at 70. Instead of having a word for 70, it is soixante-dix which literally translates to sixty-ten. And the rest of the decade continues sixty-eleven, sixty-twelve, sixty-thirteen etc. As soon as you are able to wrap your head around the 70s, you get to the 80s. A single word for 80 simply could not suffice so they say quatre-vingts.(four-twenties). If that mouthful doesn’t trip you up, ninety sure will. 90 equals quatre-vingt-dix (four twenties ten). Therefore, to say 99 in French, you have to multiply and add your way to quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (four twenties nineteen). This type of ridiculousness exemplifies the French national motto. But, in middle school, I was too dazzled by the pictures of Gay-Paris to run like hell away from this bullshit.

One system that the French do inefficiently is school. During our first week of school, we registered for classes. OH wait, JUST KIDDING. That’s a complete lie. In France, you don’t register for classes until the week before you take the final exam. You look at the really confusing class schedule at find a class you might like and just show up. This is a pain in the ass because no one knows how many people are going to show up for the class. There could be 1,000 kids or no one. My history of the South of France class had nowhere near enough seats for it the first class. Pain in the ass. Je ne get it pas.

Another pain in the ass: books. At Penn State, we have our lovely student bookstores, which have all of the books needed for our classes, organized by class. I love this kind of sense and logic! Well, there is not a “student bookstore” in France. I didn’t expect there to be one and it’s totally fine. I can find my way around a bookstore and get what I need. HOLD UP… the bookstore does not order enough copies of the book because the class wasn’t supposed to have 20,000 students in it. So they have to order it. When will it be in? Then end of the semester. Perfect. So, I expedited shipping on Amazon but it still won’t be in til Feb 24th.

School and things related to school do no even give me the biggest headaches. The French cannot form a line. Instead of an orderly, wait your turn type of deal, they prefer to swarm the cash register/tram entrance. I feel the French should watch that Cici’s commercial. He’s a line jumper!

Not only do the French behave in inefficient manners, they are rude. And no, it’s not cause I’m from the States. Obama smoothed that one over for us. They are just rude. It isn’t so much that everyone you meet is rude. There exist many exceptions to this generalization (my homestay, Corrine, Guilhem at the cell phone place who not only hooked us up with phones, but set them up for us, the guy at the corner shop who jokes with me, the guy in the cafeteria who winks at me daily, Camille, this kid in my English class Yohann who bonded with me because we both have hs in our names you don’t pronounce….etc). The difference is that when the French are rude, they are REALLY rude.

Customer service does not exist in France. In the US, “customer is always right.” In France, not only are you wrong, you are wasting their time. I went to Café Riche to write in my journ (see blog pic) and I did what you do in France, which is sit yourself at an empty table. It did not have olive oil and balsamic or salt and pepper shakers like the other tables. The waiter rushed over to me and stated with ‘tude “Just to drink is over there.” And quickly pointed his finger toward tables that were the same size as mine and like one/two tables over. He yelled this as he was running past. This experience may not sound like a big deal, but complete with eye-roll and a 20 minute wait to get a coffee afterwards sealed the deal. Waiters and shopkeepers are rude and impatient. Some of it is just a cultural difference. In France, waiters prefer not to pester you during your meal, so you usually have to signal if you need anything. That’s fine. But many people in the service industry here behave in ways I wouldn’t towards anyone. At first I tried to keep an open mind. In the US, we can be over the top in terms of customer service. “Hi, how are you folks tonight? What can I get for you? Do you have any questions? Would anybody like some more water? OH sure, it’s no problem at all…” I’ve been a waitress, I know what really goes through a server’s mind. Then I thought, NO! It is completely asinine for anyone in general to be rude to someone who is smiling, polite, and obviously well-intentioned but a little confused. The people who made me grit my teeth when I was a waitress were the people who were rude to me. Je ne get it pas.

Store clerks are just as bad. The French don’t value patience as a virtue. In Carcassone, Kate and I were browsing a store and then we wanted to leave. The glass door was jammed shut and we were trying to gently pry it open without breaking it or the fra-gee-lay things around it. The store clerk came over and yanked it open for us talking to herself about how we were idiots. First of all, we were trying not to have to yank open the door. Second of all, you shouldn’t assume that just because someone traveling to your country isn’t speaking your language to the person she is with doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand your language. Third of all, if she new anything about English, she would know “idiote” in French sounds really similar to its equivalent in English. Maybe she does know this. Which would be worse?

I am in 2 English classes here. There are 7 Americans in each. One class has about 12 people total and the other has about 20. Therefore, we are pretty prominent in both classes, but we do not dominate the conversation. There is a frenchie in both of the classes who has ish with us. The first class, she raised her hand in the middle of conversation, while the prof was speaking and asked “Why are the Americans allowed to be in this class? Shouldn’t they be studying French?” Who in the HELL do you think you are telling us what we can and can’t take? We have the right to take any class here. If I were in a French class at home, I would LOVE to have a Frenchie to hear him talk/his opinions. That is so flagrant to just interrupt the prof and pose a question like that. If you hate Americans, that’s fine. Have your opinion. But why would you take a class studying American literature taught by an American professor who doesn’t speak French? There are plenty of other English classes to choose from. The next class, she was telling the class where she found the book we need. After giving us directions, she motions to the American students and says “But be careful, they don’t speak English.” How condescending! We speak English in that class because it’s an ENGLISH class. We wouldn’t go into a French bookstore and start speaking English!

Yesterday, Kate and I were having lunch. We were sitting by ourselves in the cafeteria, minding our own business. Towards the end of our lunch, this guy who had been sitting behind us turned around and said out of the blue in English, “Excuse me, but if you are in France to study French, why are you speaking English?” I was flabbergasted, but I calmly responded in French “When we are with French people, we speak French, but when we are with each other, we speak English.” Why in the HELL do I need to explain that???? I would never go up to people in the US and ask them why they weren’t speaking English!!! Maybe it’s because we don’t have an official language in the US. I’ll have you know, French asshole, that they tried to make English the official language in the US more than once, but that gesture was deemed unconstitutional, undemocratic, and an infringement on individual liberty. How about them apples?? I feel like people in the US have this stereotype of ourselves, “Welcome to America, Now speak English.” This is true to some extent, but the French are ASSHOLES about speaking French in France. You have to clandestinely speak other languages amongst other foreigners.

My housemom told me about once many years ago when her family did a houseswap with a family in Dublin. She said she cried when she left because the people there are so nice. Granted, she did tell me a story about a boat she was on that had to dock because of bad weather and this man who lived nearby gave all the passengers fish and beer. That is really nice. Everything else she described was just normal human behavior. Novel concepts such as helping a woman carrying a lot of things carry something, or holding the door for someone, or smiling at someone on the street.

Even though I just went through a major rant, the French don’t really get under my skin that much. I’ve developed a really tough exterior here. I hope the US can handle my complete bitch exterior when I come home. I might lose all my friends.

Totally fine.


  1. Wow! Glad you got THAT out! We're here for you. Vent away!

  2. I'll still be your friend :)