Look at me doing a listy blog, I’m practically Buzzfeed. Once I get ironic GIFs of 90s tv shows and Real Housewives to illustrate my points I’ll be up and running.
So here’s what I’ve learned about France through years of investigation behind enemy lines.
: les Français, je vous adore, soyez pas blessés meme si je me moque de vous, j’aurais jamais passé 2 ans ici si j’étais pas contente. Bisouuuuuus, les gars!
1. Le customer service
French stereotypes are numerous and varied. Whilst I’ve spent 2 years in this beau country, I’ve yet to see anyone wearing garlic round their neck (although it is a source of personal pride that I have seen both an old man wearing a beret and smoking a pipe AND a woman in a stripy top on a bike with…..hold onto your seats, lads…..a fucking baguette in the basket. Somewhere along the line Frenchies also picked up the tag of being rude. This is completely untrue…..until you step into a shop. Maybe it was working for Walmart for 5 years and being Happy to Help, maybe it’s just that I have high standards for customer service but (and bear with me here) I like to be served with a smile and not a look that says I-will-shit-in-your-fucking-coffee-if-you-ask-me-where-the-sugar-is. You regularly have to ask to be served at a till and it’s not uncommon to have a dozen customers at each of the 3 checkouts they have bothered to open on a Saturday afternoon.
They’re also not shy about treating you like a shoplifter until proven innocent. If you have anything marginally bigger than a standard handbag, expect to have that shit cable-tied when you enter a supermarket. Last week I had a security guard run up to me and grab my arm in the dark alley I was walking down after leaving the shop, to accuse me of shoplifting. Nothing says “come back soon, valued customer!” like making you think you’re getting mugged.
2. Le weirdly specific jobs et le lack of communication
I feel like outside France people have job descriptions like “school secretary” or “working at the bank”. Here they have jobs like “Secretary for third year students studying English as a minor, whose names are in the first half of the alphabet and who had a dog called Snowy growing up”. If you go to your bank or somewhere with a question or issue and don’t happen to get the right person, the person you ask can do nothing for you. It is not their job to answer your wild queries. I went to the bank yesterday to change my address. Not only would they not do it, they suggested I go to my old branch (a short 4 and a half hour drive away) to do so. Non. Also this week I got my annual overtime payment, it was 2 months late and they underpaid me by about 80%. So far, so français. I got an email from a woman who worked for (I shit you not) the Department of Overtime. She told me it was not her job. There is a Department of Overtime and it was not her job. I’ll let that sink in while we discuss….
3. Les guys
Frenchmen, famous the world over as the most romantic, the best lovers and the most charming. Since my (French) other half reads my blog, I will agree with all of the above.Bravo, chéri! However, how did I get a 2:1 in a 5 year degree and not know that French men can be très vulgaires as well as coming on laughably strong?
Firstly, the vulgar. The other night a guy pulled up next to me and rolled down the window. This always puts me in a predicament, is it someone wanting directions? Or is it someone wanting directions directly into your vagina? I’m far too polite not to stop, in case they actually need help. Ted Bundy would’ve had me hook, line and sinker with the crying baby bit. After establishing that I had an accent, the young gentleman asked where I was from and then said “ahh Scottish girls are my favourite to fuck. Can I take you out to dinner?”. Excellent tactics. Open with the fucking, you want her to know you have a fully functional penis and you are raring to go. Then hit her with the dinner, show your romantic side. I’m pretty sure he spent the rest of the night driving about telling girls whatever area they were from was the best for blowjobs or whatever. As much as guys will always say stuff to you in the street, they’re purely playing a numbers game. I’ve gone out after a heavy night before looking like this and still got hit on.
They hit out with a “ooooh la, ravissante” to every girl that walks past them in the day and there’s a chance one girl will be having a fat day or have just broken up with someone and take them up on their chat.
The other thing is that French men move faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. So you kissed a guy last night? Congratulations, you’re now going out. You’ve been going out with a guy for 3 weeks, he’s just told you he loves you. If within 6 months he’s not told you he wants 8 kids with you and to stay with you forever….he’s gay.
4. Le weed
Hollllllllllly shit. Weed is everywhere. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t smoke weed. You can smoke outside bars and no one cares. You can walk about town at midday on a Tuesday smoking a joint as fat as your arm and no one bats an eye. As such, there aren’t really people that I’d class as stoners, because their defining characteristic applies to everyone. Oh, by the way, mum, I’m talking about other people here, I obviously wouldn’t smoke. That shit’s illegal.
5. Le speaking French
I wasted my time learning French. It is frankly astounding how long French people can talk without saying anything at all. You can say “ ahhh ouais, bah en fait….ouais bah ouais, hein” til the cows come home and you’ve still not said anything of substance. Another handy hint is just to shout “ahhhh putain, la vache!” every so often. These are all the Nickelback of words, you hear them but it’s just white noise, you’ve not comitted yourself to an opinion or said anything at all other than “ahhh yeah, well actually, yeah well, yeah, eh! fuck!”. No one will rumble the fact you don’t speak French for a good 3 months.
6. Le food
Oh my god. The rumours are true. Look at these 358 types of bread the tiny bakers down the street inexplicably churns out, look how 18 year olds have opinions on what type of wine they like (at 18, I was working with a complex formula of percentage alcohol:price per unit: label attractiveness), look how folk have an apéro. It’ll be the laddiest night ever, sitting in watching the football and talking about Scarlett Johansson’s nipples and you still start the night with a fine chilled rosé and some cured sausage. Back home, if you make a meal with your friends you make pizza or fajitas. No one has ever made anything different. Ever. Not even variations like calzone or burritos. Pizza or fajitas, whatyifur? Here, people will be like, why don’t we honey-roast some vegetables and have braised lamb. Guys here make their own mayonnaise and vinagrette and shit. Can you actually imagine a guy in Glasgow, half time at an old firm game getting up and going “aye, boys, just away to whip up some balsamic”. No you cannot, because anyone doing so would be instantly killed and removed from the genepool.
Also, people know when food is in season. Vegetables have seasons in France, it’s like the olden days! How quaint! Let me get out my ration book, I’m sure I took a note of when you could buy strawberries on the back of it. I asked where the spinach was in a supermarket once and the woman looked at me like I was mental and said “it’s January” and for one horrifying moment I thought “christ, is my accent so horrible that she thought I asked what month it was, like some raving Doc Brown type?”