French Connections: Are the French Rude, or Are We?
For Americans, today is Memorial Day and a day off of work (but not for all). It’s shockingly one of the few days that is NOT a holiday here in France in the month of May! Summer has definitely begun in Nice with glorious weather all weekend: mid 70’s, blue skies with lots of sun. The tourists have landed, the beaches are filling up and the Brazilian acrobats are flipping their way down rue Masséna and along the Cour Saleya. This is what is in store for me when I spend my summer on the Riviera.
Sunday the water was still a bit cool, but calm and clear. A few people were swimming and there was still some space left between sunbathers. The people watching was great as it always is. One older very tanned woman alone on the beach changed her bathing suit every few minutes, depending on if she was swimming or sun bathing, which she did topless. In order to change right there in the open, she wrapped a towel around herself and then very skillfully removed one suit and then stepped into the other, all while holding the towel and making sure not to show too much. In the course of four hours, I watched her do this at least one dozen times. I never learned what was her nationality, but I remember watching the Italians on their beaches doing the very same thing – one suit was for swimming, while the other was for sunning. Go figure?
I’ll be back in Nice in time to emcee the “Meet the Authors” event on June 23rd. Organized this year by Ella Dyer (author of “Nice in Nice.”) The line-up of local authors for this free vent is in the process of being confirmed, so you’ll be getting a notice very soon of the details. In the meantime, be sure to mark the date of Saturday, June 23rd on your calendar, from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Scotch Tea House in the Carré d’Or (4, Avenue de Suède), just near the Meridien Hotel in front of the Parc Albert 1er.
Many residents leave Nice during the summer peak season, but that’s exactly when I love it most, even though my own street becomes a kind of circus. Walking down rue Masséna is akin to maneuvering Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, there is never a dull moment from the constant entertainment and that makes it fun. Being a shopping street, punctuated by restaurants, it’s dangerous to my pocketbook, but it’s also where I find a lot of the best bargains.
Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading over to the “Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires Etrangères” on the Quay d’Orsay to deliver my presentation on suggestions to the “Audition de la Mission Sport et Tourisme” on their “Mission de la Promotion du Tourisme” to make Americans feel welcome during the 2024 Olympics.
I’d like to thank all of you who wrote in with your own suggestions as it was very valuable to see what cultural clashes are experienced over and over again by so many of you. Interestingly, this wasn’t an exercise to teach visiting Americans how to deal with the French, but to teach the French how to deal with Americans! This is putting “the shoe on the other foot,” so to speak, and I quite enjoyed seeing it from another point of view.
Let’s face it, we don’t want the French to behave like Americans, but we do want them to understand us as much as we want to understand them. Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, if just once, when we forget and fail to say “Bonjour” before asking a question, that we aren’t reprimanded? Or if we don’t know the right question to ask to get the right answer, that they might actually volunteer the answer in anticipation when knowing exactly what we need to know. And how about making an effort to care that we are customers who patronize them, rather than just a burden a salesperson or waitperson must deal with?
France 24, the national news channel, runs a special new monthly feature titled “French Connections Plus.” In the first episode, “Florence Villeminot and Genie Godula explored the ins and outs of French etiquette: why are French people considered so rude when there are so many rules governing how to behave? Is it all just a big misunderstanding? They share tips for how to rub French people up the right way and get a lesson in table manners from etiquette coach Countess Marie de Tilly.” I watched with earnestness since it was so “au courant” (up-to-date) with my own task. This episode touched on much of what you wrote me and much of what I will have to say – particularly the part about saying “Bonjour!” But of course, it’s for Anglophones to learn French culture, not for the French to learn more about us. Watch it for yourself.
I plan on reporting Wednesday on tomorrow’s encounter at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Wish me luck – you know I’ll be nervous!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. f you haven’t already registered for the Paris Writers Workshop in June, now’s the time. I’ll be moderating and participating in the panel on “The Personal Side of Writing” on June 27th from 6:40 p.m. to 7:20 p.m. Other topics to include: age and the writer, balancing family and writing, balancing the day job (or commercial writing) and creative writing. It’s free to the public, so do join us! You’ll find us at Forum 104, 104, rue de Vaugirard. And btw, there are still places in the Short Story/Novella seminar with Alecia McKenzie, so don’t wait to sign up!
P.P.S. Our West Village NYC cozy studio apartment is available for long-term sublet starting October 2018. Please contact Erica for more information.