This week has been busy with close, so I’m publishing a culture blog that I had in reserve! I’ll be back with the last of Innsbruck and Vienna’s NYE celebration soon! Since I’ve had several people ask me the same questions, I thought my cultural posts could include answers to these questions (since others may find them interesting as well).
The first is: Are French People Accepting of You? And the answer is, generally, yes. There are a handful of French people (one co-worker, the doctor and maybe one or two random people) who clearly had an issue with the fact that I live here and do not speak fluent French though.
Outside of those people, most of the French people I’ve met have been reserved, but polite. Once I became a “regular” locally, they were more than just polite – the cashier at my usual grocery store always shakes my hand now (we’re not quite at cheek kissing yet), the servers at the local restaurants know what I can’t eat and advise me on what to order, the ladies at the bakery helpfully correct my French, the waitress at the beer bar made sure to catch my attention and smile when greeting me and even the servers at the pizza place remember me and seemed pleasantly surprised by my improvements in French when I last went in. Becoming a “regular” is clearly helpful as it seems to take French people longer to warm up to you than it does Americans. Once they do though, it feels much more genuine – you actually had to earn it a little!
While the majority of the French are in that middle ground of politeness, there are also a handful of French people who seem fascinated by the idea of actually knowing an American. They think our accented French is “cute” and are curious about what the US is really like (vs what they see on TV) or they want to improve their English with a native English-speaker. There could be more French people who actually fall into this category, but it isn’t culturally acceptable here for a French person to approach a stranger and say, “Hey, are you speaking English? Oh, you’re American though? How cool! Why are you in France?” If a French person is curious about you, the odds are that you won’t find that out until you’ve become friendly over time.
I can’t say that my experience will be the experience for everyone though. When I mentioned being concerned about anti-immigrant sentiment in France right now, several people responded with some variation of “you’re clearly not North African” or “you don’t look Muslim” or “you look like you could be French” with a shrug or “your name is good since it’s English” and so I have nothing to worry about. Of course, this implies that if I did look North African or Muslim or somehow “not French” or had a different sort of foreign name that I could have something to worry about.
While this is sad, it clearly is not specific to France. Even in the US, there are “desirable” immigrants with “sexy” accents and there are other immigrant groups that are frequently called out as “undesirable” or at least subject to constant controversy. The irony, of course, is that these groups of “undesirables” change – at one point, the Irish were looked down upon in the US and now we love them and they clearly fall into the “sexy accent” category.
It is also fortunate that our general manager doesn’t seem to care about any of this. Since I’ve been here, he’s hired virtually anyone he thinks is qualified for the job – young, old, male, female, Middle Eastern-sounding name and even a non-French-speaking American! (poor guy)😂