Taking time out of my busy schedule of destroying my academic future and avoiding paperwork I would like to engage in that Great British pastime we all know and love: French-bashing. Before any of my French friends get offended I would like to remind you all that I came to live in this country voluntarily and I love you all very much. However one cannot love anyone or anything without acknowledging and accepting their faults and believe me Frenchies you do have some.
Imagine the scene: you’re out with friends, everyone’s just got themselves a drink and you’re gonna get started for a fun night out. At this point someone will raise a glass vaguely and say “cheers” (or santé at the very least) and everyone raises their glass towards the centre and reply then start drinking. OH NO MATE. You’re in France now. Not only must you individually clink everybody else in the group but no arms are allowed to cross over each other and you HAVE to look each person in the eyes as you do it.
In all fairness this is quite easy and nice when it’s two or three people that you actually know and like but when you’re in a group of ten or accidentally at someone else’s family dinner (the French are very welcoming) it’s just awkward. I mean especially for us Brits, we don’t do eye contact at the best of times. I’ve been known to have hours of conversation with my best friend where we’re both looking at the wall opposite us instead of at each other. No one wants to be staring into the soul of that friend-of-a-friend of the girl you met once at a party when you go for a night on the town.
This may be all of Europe that does this or maybe absolutely everyone in the world has always done this apart from me and I never noticed. Here in France they sell “nature” yoghurt which is just yoghurt without flavouring or sweeteners. Ok so far. But what they then do is pour sugar into the yoghurt, stir it up and eat it. So at the school canteen, pudding some days would be yoghurt with a sachet of sugar. Can somebody non-French please confirm to me that this is NOT NORMAL? I feel like I’m going insane out here, I’ve even started to quite enjoy the slightly gravelly texture this produces but every time something just feels deeply wrong and I’m troubled by it.
8. School Years
I have two bones to pick here. Firstly, why, oh why does the cut-off for being in a certain school year fall in January? I mean I get that it means all kids born in X year are in X year, except that people repeat and skip years the whole time so that system definitely gets messed up. In England the cut-off is in September so every child enters the final year of school at 17 and finishes school at 18. You can normally guess someone’s school year from their age, and you definitely will be right on the second try. In France you can genuinely have 16 year olds and 18 year olds in the same school year and it’s totally normal. This is clearly far more complicated.
Sort. It. Out. And know, that whenever any of you guys tells me a story that starts with “When I was in CM2” I have no idea how old you were, I’m just nodding along.
This number does not need a bar across it. The only reason you guys think it does is because for some reason you all decided that the number 1 should have a tail. Also not necessary. Moving on.
So this is a cultural thing that a lot of people know about but it’s difficult to actually get to grips with how annoying this is. When a French person is in pain they will make a high pitched noise that’s normally written as AIEEE and the more pain they are in the higher the pitch will be. Unfortunately when I, an English human, am in pain I go OWWWW and depending on how much pain I am in the pitch gets lower.
So when I am at the very top of my pain scale, ie. when I DEFINITELY do not have time to think about what sound comes out of my mouth I make a sound that is totally alien and not related to pain in their mind. Even when I just stub my toe I am more likely to go AHHHH then AIIEEEE and this often results in people either laughing, or simply not realising you injured yourself. This bothers me because it’s not something you can adapt to. The sound you make at that moment has been trained into you culturally and was probably the first sound you learnt to make – because it’s important for people to recognise injuries….
Ok yes, it’s a cultural heritage and it’s really good bread but when the British joke about French having bread with every meal none of us ever actually think it’s with every meal. I have seen people have a bread roll when they are eating a quiche. A quiche is half pastry, what is that bread for? If your dish is already half carbohydrates you should not need bread. I went to Italy with French people once and they were talking about how much they missed bread…. while eating pizza. It’s like they genuinely have not realised that bread is not an essential food group.
4. Water Glasses
While we’re complaining about eating habits I have a very serious question here: why do the French hate water? Without fail, every single household, canteen or restaurant I have been to in France has teeeny tiny water glasses, like this:
This is not a glass, this is a thimble. THIS is a glass of water:
You see the difference? One of them you can actually take a gulp of water from and it not be empty. So help you if you dare be thirsty during a meal. After about the third time that you ask the water to be passed, people will start looking at you weirdly as if to say “Are you unwell, do you not like the food, why are you drinking so much?”. To which the response is “I enjoy actually being hydrated sometimes.” However perhaps perpetual dehydration is why French girls are so skinny. Who knows?
3. The letter H.
The letter H in French is not pronounced. It is always a silent letter. I can understand that this therefore makes it difficult to pronounce the letter H. That’s perfectly natural. However it still confuses me because you know what the letter H is in English? Well firstly it’s not freaking silent so don’t you be looking at me all offended when I fail to understand a sentence where you’ve consistently left out a whole consonant. But secondly, it is an aspiration, it is literally the sound that breathing makes. Everyone try this: sit at your computer and breathe out through your mouth. If it made a noise, CONGRATULATIONS, you just said the letter H. If it didn’t make a noise then I can only use this as more evidence that French people are in fact aliens who have not learned how to imitate human breathing yet. This theory would actually explain several things on this list.
2. High Fives
You thought the High Five was sacrosanct? A universal sign of joy and camaraderie? ha ha NO, SUCKER. In France a high-five is followed by a fist bump. No one will ever tell you this and I don’t think they realise that it’s different in other countries. I mean, in other countries it’s just a high-five. You put your hand up high, and you hit the five fingers together. Otherwise it’d be called the “high-five-low-knuckles” and that’s not so catchy.
What sucks about this one though is that it catches you out in both countries. In France I’ll sometimes end up rejecting the second half of a high-five and offending someone’s ancestral honour. In England I will occasionally go for the fist bump and remember that I have been naturalised by the aliens then sit in a corner and consider my life choices. However this did once end me up in a very amusing position when I high-fived an English friend who also lives in Paris and we both went for the fist bump then looked at each other as we realised that 16 years of English cultural programming had failed to do it’s job on either of us.
Ok, so you’re probably looking at that thinking “that’s weird, what could possibly be wrong with paper?” And you’re right, it is weird, French paper is so freaking weird and I am so angry about it.
This is the cultural difference that no one could prepare me for because while every other country in the world is agreed that lined paper is just paper with lines on it, French lined paper looks like this:
WHY IS IT A GRID FORMAT? You know the last time I wrote on squared paper – maths lessons! Why are there so many lines? Not every day is a calligraphy course you know. What makes it worse is that French people seem to prefer writing in blue fountain pen or biro so you’re working with paper that is covered in tiny unnecessary lines, with very loopy swirly handwriting on top, which is written either in fading blue fountain pen ink or very thin biro lines. This is not reasonable, France. Not at all. Also why is your margin so large? It takes up like a third of the page, I like being able to actually use all of my paper to take notes but this margin is just getting in the way. Do you know how much of the rainforest you could save if you just got rid of a couple of centimetres of margin?
And it doesn’t stop there. Even if you ask for a piece of rough paper you will most likely find yourself against squared paper, although it will probably (thankfully) not have a margin.
BUT IT DOESN’T STOP THERE EITHER
oh no. The French have a special type of paper called a “Copie Double” which is used for when you’re doing a test or writing an essay. Many teachers will refuse to accept work or get very angry if your work is not on Copie Double. In itself the Copie Double is not so complicated, it’s just two pieces of paper that haven’t been cut in half so it makes a sort of booklet. I guess it’s practical but it also makes me wonder what paperclips did wrong. (although since paperclips are called “trombones” I can see where the confusion set in.)
The thing is that I’m alright with the French having their own special calligraphic booklety paper if only they would realise and accept that it is not normal. This is not just me talking. I went through the period of having to ask people what a Copie Double was only to find myself faced with a group of people that had never considered that their strange arcane practices would need explaining “a copie double is a copie that’s double” they would helpfully pronounce. I have watched every Erasmus student go through the same process of teachers getting annoyed at them for this. I suppose I could have warned them, but I don’t really know them and also if someone had told me “Hey, I see you’ve done your homework. Just be aware that certain teachers may get irritated or may even threaten to take marks off because you haven’t written in on paper that is folded down the middle” I would have thought they were a total nutter. Because that’s insane. I have seen friends confused by this paper, I have seen many nationalities confused by this paper, I have seen grown adults confused by this paper, I have seen Oxbridge graduates confused by this paper.
And at the end of the day, not even I would have ever thought that paper could hold cultural differences. It seemed like a basic fact of life. A universal constant. I guess our only revenge against the tyranny of French paper is the anglophone musical notation system. Yeah, you know ABCDEFG for scales and such? We’re the only ones who do that. Everyone else uses the Do Re Mi system. I guess the Sound of Music makes a lot more sense to them.