“So are all French as pretentious and snotty as they seem?” My friend asks me this question as we walk down the street, heading to lunch. I have returned to the U.S. for a weeklong visit while MB is in the Philippines once again.
“No, its just a different culture,” I reply. “They are more reserved than we are, and I think, we tend to perceive that as snobbery.” During my visit home, I am peppered with questions on this topic. “Are they all rude?” “Has everyone been mean to you?” “Do they hate Americans?” (“Do they really love Jerry Lewis?”)*
While I am not so sure about my answer, my friend seems completely satisfied. Of course she was; she is a dog. A cat would never have asked the question in the first place.
In the film “Up”, there is a scene where the travelers meet a dog who can talk. One of the first things that he says is, “I’ve just met you and I love you already” while he jumps up and down excitedly.
The dog is clearly an American.
The French, on the other hand, are more nonchalant, more aloof, more likely to have the cat-like attitude. “Ah, you feed me and what, I am supposed to be grateful? Pfff…I will piss on your shoes.”
The stereotypes about French rudeness and snobbery abound. There have been countless books written by English-speaking travelers that approach the subject (A Year in the Merde, A Year in Provence, Almost French, etc). The reality, however, is just that we are different. While an American waiter will needlessly check on you, “are you okay? Is everything just so great? Can I get you anything, anything at all? Perhaps a spare kidney, a goose that lays golden eggs?” A French waiter will take your order and bring you your food and then leave you to enjoy it…maybe he will do this nicely, maybe with contempt. Both methods have their values; its nice not to have to flag a waiter down and then have him roll his eyes at you just to get a water refill. On the other hand, what is more annoying than an overly cheerful waiter interrupting your conversation every ten minutes? “Hi, I’m Tammy, and we are going to have a great lunch today!”
When you walk into a party in France; it is not unlikely that no one will speak to you. I went to one, in which, even the host didn’t bother to welcome me or offer me a drink. But you can’t take it personally; these are cats, people! Do you expect a cat to immediately jump in your lap and cuddle you…not often. When a stranger walks into an American party; they are practically assaulted with friendliness, drinks and food shoved in their face, questions asked abundantly, speedy and informal introductions given immediately. “Come on, play with us! We are having so much fun!” Dogs.
So really, I don’t think its necessarily that the French are snobs; they are just cats. They are more reserved and less likely to maul you with affability. And while I will always be a dog person, cats are starting to grow on me.
*Contrary to popular American belief, I have seen no evidence of an abiding love for Jerry Lewis in France (though I have noticed some links in the sense of humor)