04 April 2007

Intercultural Annoyances

Today I was thinking about what annoyed me most when I lived in France, and what generally annoys Americans in France. Of course, the most obvious is the closing of shops between 12 and 2 and on Sundays. For working people or students, these are obviously the best times to get your errands done, but Protective Mother France makes sure you have your rest time.

What else did I come up with? The dog poop is always a big winner on the French-bashing forums. No one cleans it up or nudges their dog to a less-traveled portion of the sidewalk. I also remembered the infuriating tendancy to tune out contradicting opinions, which I characterize by saying "The French love to tell you what you think." And of course, I can't forget the old chestnut of teaching schoolkids to be sheep for the rest of their educational lives.

I used to say that there were certain things that French people did that drove me crazy, and that I probably wouldn't be able to live there all my life. Having been absent from these annoyances for a long time now, and having experienced some radically different cultures within the US, I started to wonder if they would still be annoying if I were to move back to France. For some reason, I think I might now have more patience for some of them.

To be fair, I asked Frenchy what things bother French people about Americans. Since he's so culturally conditioned to the US by now and since he's naturally laid-back anyway, he had a hard time thinking of many things that would be deal-breakers for Frogs in America. Here's the few he came up with.

  • Not having free health care baffles us. It's a basic human need. Why should you have to pay for it, and so much?
  • Many French girls don't like the way American girls talk. We call American girls "les ohmygawds," and for a reason.
  • The way you eat. Americans are constantly snacking. A bagel at 10, pretzels and M&Ms at 4. We're taught to wait until the next meal. Why can't you just wait?
  • And then guys will spend six hours at the gym, bulking up. No wonder--they have to work off all the pretzels! Do you really have to be the size of a linebacker to be attractive?
From there the conversation degenerated into a comparison of the relative merits of soccer versus the popular American sports, and of the various body types that permit excellence in each. (Pretty much all our conversations wind up about soccer.) In any case, neither of us could come up with more than six or seven things that drove us nuts about theother culture. In looking over the list now, I'm not even sure that any one by itself would really be a deal-breaker for me, making me move home in despair after a few years. The difficulty of navigating official French bureaucracy might drive a person over the edge, but fortunately that isn't a daily occurrence. Does this mean that American and French cultures are more compatible that I have previously thought, or does this mean we're both remarkably tolerant?

Food for thought. But not between meals, of course!

No comments: