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au contraire, mon frère

À propos of nothing whatsoever to do with orgtheory, herewith my observations after living four years in France on how Americans and the French end up doing exactly the opposite in many situations in order to arrive at the same destination.

Featured image1. In the US one stands on the side of the road and watch a parade go by. In France, everyone walks with the parade.

2. In the US, we use our hands to eat pizza, but it is considered bad manners to put bread on a bare table without a plate. In France, they eat pizza with a knife and fork, yet bread lives free as a bird wherever it may land on the table… but generally never on a plate.

3. In the US, some nice young kid with acne will come and bag your groceries or else the cashier will helpfully open a bag and place items in as they are scanned. In France, some bored looking middle-aged worker will throw your groceries at you and then demand after all of them are scanned whether you want a bag. But at least the people in line behind you don’t ask you about what you are buying.

4. In the US, all of the police have loaded sidearms and use their guns far too often to keep the peace. But one rarely if ever sees the military on the street. In France, there are roving groups of military men who brandish AK-47s openly in areas with lots of people. It’s pretty intimidating until you realize that those guns aren’t actually loaded.

5. In the US there are 10 deaths from guns per 100,000 people including suicides. In France there are 3. Overall, 5.5 Americans of every 100,000 will be murdered. In France the likelihood is 1 in 100,000.

6. In the US we leave the bathroom door open after doing our business to dissipate the evidence for the next person who arrives. In France, they keep it closed to keep the rest of the house from experiencing unwanted odors.

7. In France, sixteen people are killed in a terrorist attack and 2 million people took to the streets in protest. In the US, 152 people have been killed in attacks where at least four people were killed in the first ten months of 2015 and there has been a lot of discussion about it on TV.

8. In France, they buy bread every day from someone down the street who made it by hand that morning. But they buy milk once a month and let it sit out un-refrigerated until it is opened. In the US, we buy milk every other day and let our bread sit in its bag until it starts to turn green.

9. In the US, we smile at people on the street but would never presume to kiss someone you have just met. In France, it is considered fake to smile at someone you don’t know, but you are expected to deliver a peck on each cheek when being introduced to a woman for the first time.

10. The French think American women’s voices are comically high, too loud and pinched. They fail to realize that many of them constrict their throats when they speak in a way that makes them sound to Americans like they are auditioning to replace Jim Henson as the voice of Kermit the Frog.

11. The French observe the posted speed limit on their highways and find it odd that Americans routinely ask “how fast can I actually go?” Also, there is no advertising on the highways. At all. That part is pleasant. But the inability to imagine that you are in a struggle against that guy in the SUV you’ve been trading places with for the last 20 miles makes long-distance driving a bit less lively.

12. The food at rest-stops in France is, as you would expect, pretty darn good. But their idea of bar food is two pieces of bread with butter and a single very thin slice of ham.

13. If you attempt to order coffee before a meal in France the waiter will probably just ignore you and bring it afterwards. Because that’s just how it is.

14. In France, race (mostly Arab vs. European) informs just about everything that happens. But it is never discussed or acknowledged in the hope that eventually everyone will just blend together into a happy whole. In the US, we can’t seem to shut up about how race continues to divide us. But I didn’t appreciate just how important black culture is to mainstream American culture until I spent a few weeks being exposed to French radio. The US is a far more integrated society in some ways than we give ourselves credit for.

15. In New York or Chicago, one swoops in and scoops up dog poop the second it plops out for fear of creating a brown slip-and-slide for others who may follow. In Paris, picking up dog poop is about as acceptable as pissing in public. One moves the dog to the curb and lets the street cleaners get it.

16. The French used to get upset about the intrusion of English into their culture. But now that they feel like they are being overwhelmed by immigration from Arab countries, they are suddenly far more sanguine about cozying up to their English speaking brothers.  In the US, there is no official language.  But lord help you if you are a presidential candidate who dares admit to speaking French.

17. In the US, freedom of religion means that the government cannot influence your religious beliefs. In France, the idea of laicity roughly translates to “leave me the hell alone”.  It ensures one’s freedom from being influenced by other people practicing their religion.

18. French philosophy is about the hidden or buried meanings that lay behind the reality that we experience. American philosophy is about building new realities that are better than the one we experience.

19. In France, anyone with a high school education will have a pretty interesting take on philosophy and will leap into it over a (bitter, small) cup of coffee. An American talking about philosophy is either a latté-sipping student at the University of Chicago, Brown, Oberlin… or else is probably a future Unabomber.

20. Or both.

21.  The French (all Europeans actually) love to point out that Americans ask “how are you doing?” but don’t expect a response more complicated than “I’m good.”  In France one often hears “je vous enprie” as a form of “thank you”. It translates roughly to “I’m in your service,” yet I have yet to see anyone say this while bowing their heads and offering their wrists in submission.

22.  It is only in exactly three neighborhoods in Paris that people actually wear black all the time and dress like they are on a perpetual catwalk. In other parts of France, its considered cool for guys to wear three-quarter length pants, neon sneakers and enough gold around the neck to make Mr. T jealous. They make the Jersey Shore look like Milan.

22. In the US, we fill the wine glass all the way up (a) as a show of generosity and (b) to maximize the time needed between interruptive re-pours. In France, they fill the wine glass only to its widest point because (a) it smells best that way and (b) it ensures many opportunities to fill everyone else’s glass as a show of friendship.

23. The US loves lists. In France, they prefer paragraphs.

Written by seansafford

October 20, 2015 at 2:16 pm

One Response

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  1. 24. In the US, this blogpost will be Tweeted, re-posted, and shared dozens of times. In France, no one will notice.

    Liked by 1 person

    Howard Aldrich

    October 20, 2015 at 3:07 pm


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