The French, with their dazzling history, behave vis-à-vis everyone as if they know everything about everything! They feel they are the best in all areas, hence they give lessons to the world.
Whether in daily life (grocery shopping, at the market, or the post office), in politics or in administration (which stagnates the whole country) the French claim to know the truth. And don’t forget that France is the country of human rights and reigns in the art of living, elegance and good eating. In short, according to any Frenchman, he lives in the greatest country in the world. And, even if he has a habit of bitching or complaining, he will tell you that there is nowhere better than France in which to live well.
In the field of education, it is true that we are a reference. For example, the way of educating children is completely different than that applied in the US. A child in France is a representation of his parents. That is to say, the child should be polite (say “Bonjour Madame“ and “Merci Madame“), should be well groomed and well dressed in all circumstances (even on the playground), wait without complaining while his mother tries on 25 pairs of jeans and shoes, stay at the table for hours without crying, and ask permission to leave the table.
All of this is very different from the American educational system, which is more lenient with young children. We, the French, have a mission with our children when it comes to learning good behavior. And, in order to achieve a high standard, we are forced to drill them. Yes, it must be recognized that we yell at our children to say “Bonjour Madame”, not just “Bonjour”. We prefer that they say ‘how’ and not ‘huh’, insist they finish their meal before having dessert, demand they return from the park clean and not full of sand, and instruct them to do their homework/chores before going to use their smartphone or play games on the internet.
I recognize that we are strict, but we believe this is for their own good. And, I would add, the more we yell at our children, the more we love them! This is one of the contradictions that adds to our charm!
Regarding our aggressiveness: even though I’m French, and consider myself as having a good upbringing, I agree with foreigners living in Paris that it can sometimes get pretty rude out there.
TIPS TO HELP YOU STAND UP AND BE HEARD
How to quiet the honking car:
Whether you’re in a car, on the subway or a bus, in the supermarket or another public place, you can feel the aggression. If you drive in Paris, you often get honked at. Drivers will honk if you wait a split second too long at the light change. Here’s a tip to throw off your attacker: smile politely, and take your time.
On the metro or bus, you get upset because a young man has taken your seat. Politely ask him, without raising your voice, to let you have that seat because he’s younger. Use humor and flatter him on the good shape he’s in compared to you, who is exhausted by your children, your husband, your venerable age, or simply because you are pregnant!
How to react to being berated in public:
In the supermarket or in the shops, you can feel oppressed because you are expected from the get-go to say “Bonjour”. As a life coach, I find this inappropriate and unpolished — contrary to what everyone might think! The “Bonjour” from a cashier can be aggressive or assertive, and even “systematic”, devoid of any real meaning. However, if you don’t reply, we will consider you arrogant or snobby. So if someone “attacks” you by saying “Bonjour”, say politely “Bonjour Madame“, look them straight in the eyes, and add “I hope you are well”. The cashier, the baker or vegetable merchant will feel valued and recognized. You will have pleased him.
Overwhelmed by the French table setting:
The French take their time around the dining table; it is a national sport. We enjoy, celebrate, and we discuss, but beware — there are some rules to know and to follow. It depends on who you are with, but be aware that you will be judged and appreciated (or not), by how you present yourself. If you are at a loss with all the cutlery, or how to hold your glass, the key of what to do (or not) is to follow the hostess.
Being grilled in private conversation:
In conversation you can be hit suddenly by intimate, personal questions such as: “What do you do for work?” or “Where you live?” The interrogation may seem intrusive, especially if it appears to classify people as rich or not rich, intellectual or uneducated, etc… Pay attention to your responses and be diplomatic. You can either respond with humor or minimize what you say by describing yourself as not interesting at all. You will get the opposite response, and people around the conversation will be interested in you with kindness and curiosity!
To summarize: do not be impressed by our air of superiority, we are like everyone else. We need to be loved, recognized as “the best”. So, feel free to flatter our egos, say that our women are beautiful, that French food is the best, that our country has exceptional wines, that we have incomparable, refined manners and gallant men. Defend yourself with humor, show that you are learning, that you understand us (though sometimes it’s hard) and, even so, you love us!