Freaking Out Frenchie

So the other night MB and I were sitting watching an episode of French Masterchef.  The contestants were in the middle of a challenge in which they had to create a thin hollow ball made of out sugar (not exactly like the BBQ challenges of US Masterchef).  In one part of the challenge it was necessary to roll out and work the hot sugar “dough” which is at a dangerously high temperature, they have to wear special gloves.  One contestant is working his dough and talking about how hot it is and how you must be very careful.  The contestant next to him then accidentally sticks her naked elbow into the dough and lets out a scream.

His response…without so much as an eyebrow flutter:  “Mais…voila.”  As the girl next to him clutches her burned flesh he shrugs and returns to his work.

It is hard to fluster a French person.

The French are not big reactors when unusual things occur but instead just take them as though they were the most normal thing in the world.  When walking home in last weekend’s bizarre snow storm we saw a man in a car that was stuck.  MB went to go and help him and within moments the next few people who walked by did the same.  There were no introductions or laughs or camaraderie…no one ever said “woah, what happened?”  They just calmly set down their grocery bags and walked over and did it before continuing on their way.

“Quoi?”

In the US it would have been a conversation, hands would have been shaken, huge thanks would have been given and later that night the guys who helped would have told their families.  It wouldn’t have been a big deal or anything but a mini-event, something interesting and noteworthy in an otherwise standard day.

The uber blasé-ness of the French is something that I have noticed for a while now and that I get no small amount of amusement from.  I mean, I love it when something bizarre happens on the street and no one reacts.  Am I the only one seeing this?  And not to give to many plugs to Masterchef but it provides another excellent example.  In the US or Australia version, when people find out that they have made it past auditions there is great excitement and enthusiasm – sometimes awkward and rambunctious hugs.  In the French version there will be a nice dignified smile and a “thank-you”, luke-warm excitement at best.  Wait?  Where is the lady who falls to her knees and praises Jesus?  NOT in France.

Recently, however, I have discovered the Achilles’ heel of the French blasé.

In French class last week, our professor was asking us questions about daily routine and life.  The question came up of what do you have for breakfast.  Two of the students answered that they didn’t have breakfast.  Instead of shrugging (“ouais”) and continuing on with the lesson, he stopped…horrified.

“Wait, you understand what I asked, yes?  What is it that you eat for your breakfast today?”

“I didn’t have breakfast today.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I never have breakfast.”

“Never?!?!?”

“No, don’t like it.”

“But…I…what?”

This conversation went on for about 15 minutes while the teacher continued to flip out about lack of breakfast eating.

Later that week, MB and I started discussing how different life will be if we ever decide to have children.  We were talking about an upcoming dinner party and considering how different entertaining would be with children in the house (different, terrifying…however you want to describe it).  I mentioned that instead of a long aperitif before dinner we would need to try to have the dinner more quickly and then have drinks afterwards so the kids could go off to play, sleep, what have you.

ME: Yeah, I mean, god, do you remember being like 4 or 5 years old and stuck at your parents parties?  Horror!

MB: Yes, but I mean you don’t need to get rid of aperitif.

ME:  Well, I don’t mean get rid of it but just you know…like a half hour instead of an hour or hour and half and then just hang for drinks after.  It would just be easier for little ones’ attention spans.

MB: You can’t just change your life for your child!

ME:  Um…dude, a child is going to change your life.

MB:  But you have to set some boundaries, no?

ME: Of course, but I’m talking about shortening aperitif not getting them ten puppies.

MB: I don’t think it would be necessary; the kids would be fine for an hour beforehand.

ME: SERIOUSLY?  Do you really not remember being a kid stuck with boring adult conversations, and oh my god, an HOUR?  Think about how long an hour is when you are 5…it is FOREVER!  (I can feel a panic attack washing over me as post-traumatic stress from childhood comes back)

MB:  But they need to learn.

ME:  Remember that they wouldn’t be having drinks during that hour.  It’s not even fair.

This gives him pause.

The conversation continued for about 10 minutes with increased vigor until we realized that we were talking about a completely made up situation involving non-existent children (yes, it took us 15 minutes to realize it was a pointless disagreement to be having).  But I was struck afterwards about how vehemently MB protected his aperitif…even against all reason and practicality.  He was…flustered.

“You may take my life but you will never take my aperitif!”

Just like my French professor he was irrationally unnerved by the idea of food/beverage/dining protocol being disrupted.  Park sideways on the middle of a sidewalk?  No one will bat an eyelash.  But dare to upset the “naturel” state of drinking and eating and you will definitely freak out a Frenchie.

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31 Responses to Freaking Out Frenchie

  1. I love this. It is so true!

  2. Big Sister says:

    This is brilliant and true.

  3. Amen sistah. Today in Menton, the Pompier were on the beach, lights flashing, resuscitating someone after nearly drowning at the beach and no one seemed interested. Why… It was 12 noon and everyone was hurrying to lunch, God love ‘em.

  4. Diary of Why says:

    I react the same way in the face of those non-breakfasters. It’s just sort of…unfathomable to me. How do you survive?? How do you not DIE of HUNGER before LUNCHTIME? Non-breakfasters, what’s the deal?

    • breadispain says:

      haha! It’s metabolism – when I have breakfast I am STARVING by lunch and without I’m all good. If you don’t eat you don’t get as hungry because you metab slows down…it’s why you lose more weight by eating breakfast than not. haha – okay way too much information! :)

  5. I laughed at least 4 times reading this post :-)
    It’s just so true, that’s why it’s funny. The weirdest thing is that you may find that French kids love apero. For me and my siblings, it was always the occasion to stuff our faces with chips, peanuts and assorted snacks that we would never get at home otherwise. Also, we could get coke or some other soda that was also forbidden at home. We didn’t just wait for our parents- there were usually other kids to hang out with while the grown-ups were talking. So don’t worry! Your kids will love apero as long as you don’t allow chips and coke at other times ;-)

  6. gautier says:

    vous etes une belle personne .PARFOIS je me fache ,Mais je sais que vous etes une belle personnes .Un sercet sur les Français il ne faut pas le dire .UN FRAN9AIS A TORT SURTOUT QUAND IL A TORT

  7. Crystal says:

    I don’t eat breakfast either, but I have a cup of coffee every morning. It’s more than enough to get me through til lunch. I think you can train your body to do that though. And I don’t have an appetite in the morning, so the thought of forcing food into myself makes me nauseous.

    I used to have many conversations about food with my former adult students. No one seemed that shocked when I told them I didn’t eat breakfast. Most of them simply had a croissant and a coffee themselves, usually on the walk from the metro to their office.

    And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to be blasé, personally. I get uncomfortable around people who are very extravagant/extroverted, and I’m definitely NOT a hugger, so I actually like how subdued the French are. I fit in better with them than outgoing and emotional North Americans, in that respect.

    Great post, as usual!

  8. gautier says:

    VOUS AIMER plus la France que les Fraacais

  9. Andrew says:

    Another way is to order wine and ask for a straw

  10. Theresa says:

    I’m always a fan of pointing out the differences in culture — so much fun to read! Keep it up. :)

  11. I love, love, love the way you write. That’s it. I am just not going to be afraid of being geeky/stalker/gushy and am just going to say it. Because truly, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

    And I may have an answer for you about your last post! It just so happens that my honey was originally from the Vercors and thinks it is highly possible that the lip-to-cheek bise IS a Grenoble thing. He said it was a way of showing that it is “genuine, not just an air kiss”–voila!

  12. Pat in Toulouse says:

    I just recently discovered your blog and have a lot of fun reading it.
    I’m French/German, grew up in Germany (but with a French mum and a French education), travelled a lot and now live in France with my French husband and two of our three kids (the eldest has already left home). Your post made me want to add my two cents on two subjects: As someone pointed out above, kids do love apéro – but, and this is important, don’t expect them to eat a full dinner afterwards! :) And as for excitement after passing auditions on tv shows: try and watch La Nouvelle Star or something like it, lots of excitement there!
    Looking forward to your coming blog posts. :)

    • breadispain says:

      Hi Pat! Thanks for reading! I love getting some French readers to see if they agree with my perspectives or not so happy to have the two cents! :) Oh my goodness – I didn’t realize there was La Nouvelle Star in France – I will SO be watching that (my husband will want to kill you for this, haha). I’ll be on the look out for some good reactors there! :)

  13. Hi, I’m thinking about this one. I find the French pretty excitable, but maybe I’ve been here too long (37 years!). They do ignore what doesn’t concern them, I must admit, but in a traffic jam, they don’t seem too cool or if you mistakenly jump the queue at the market. But then, maybe it’s living in Paris.

    • breadispain says:

      Ah true – I did want to include a caveat about traffic, in particular. I have seen some pretty excitable behavior in traffic – often from MB who is almost always calm and collected! :)

  14. Kassandra says:

    Sounds like the French aren’t into a lot of drama (cue US reality TV!) which would suit me just fine..except for important things like eating!!! Then…drama!!! :)

  15. I’m so laughing and I’m so glad Heather from Lost in Arles recommended your blog because after the breakfast and the cheese baby thing she sent us to I’m your newest fan! I have to say the French have their priorities straight!

    XX
    Debra~

    • breadispain says:

      Thanks so much Debra!! I have a lot of fun writing all this stuff – glad that you are enjoying it! :) (I also have a good time enjoying all the French priorities while living here!!)

  16. Bonjour! I found your blog on my friend Heather’s today (Lost in Arles.) I have long been an observer of cultural differences. As such, it’s always fun for me to see my countrymen through the eyes of a foreigner… especially if said foreigners’ writing style is as lively as yours. I am your newest “Follower…” — A bientot. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  17. thefrancofly says:

    On a routine summer trip to Brittany, I sliced my baby toe in half on a razor clam. Blood everywhere and all I got was a “c’est pas grave!”. But whenever I am one sweater short on a brisk evening, I get harrassed, “you’re not cold? Are you sure you are not cold?”

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