Full disclosure: I’ve always felt it was cliché and exaggerated for people to think of the French and French culture as romantic. Naturally, as with everything else, that’s a term that’s subjective, but I think we tend to have a general idea of what that means. I mean, some things may be, but technically any culture can be seen that way depending on how you look at it. I often encounter people who want me to speak French (my first language) because they think it’s a beautiful language, and in a way, I guess it might be. But mostly—maybe because I don’t know what it’s like not to understand French—I am also somewhat puzzled by it. Maybe it’s the slight accent they’re referring to? I’ve noticed Americans can be quite keen on them (but once again, can also depend on the kind of accent you might have). And why do some languages fascinate us more than others? I’ve always wished I could speak Arabic because that’s a language no one would expect me to speak and mostly because it’s so… ancient. 🙂 (I’m a Capricorn with a penchant for dated thangs… 😉 )
Having grown up in European culture (Belgian-born, with German roots on my mom’s side) and then spent a year in Paris, France as a young adult, I’ve definitely noticed some things that even I myself may not have paid attention to before because it was just ingrained in me.
This post is not to “hate” on French people and/or culture, but rather based on observations and experiences which for me debunk the impression that the French and/or its culture are necessarily romantic—or that it is more so than others. Obviously it’s also true that a few (or several) of these can apply to other cultures as well. Oh, and just for the record, here’s hilarious proof that love is *not* always in the Parisian air:
*Bare / bland / no make-up
I can understand disliking the look of too much make-up that makes you look too “painted on” as opposed to playing up beautiful traits you already possess. In the pre-Revolutionary era it was actually common fashion at the time to wear a lot of powder, big wigs, etc., so there’s an obvious departure from that. However the irony with make-up is that it can be tempting to wonder what’s the point of wearing it if it’s just going to be completely “natural”? What happened to showing some color, and/or artistic abilities and experimental side through that medium?
During my year in Paris, a (Mexican American) friend of mine had shared the story of a French girl who had seemed very confused when she saw my friend’s beauty products laying around. She hardly knew what her eyelash curler was and referred to it as “looking like a torture device.” Of course that’s not to say it’s reflective of all French women (or that the torture device reference is totally inaccurate) but to others coming from overseas, if anything, we’d half expected French people to know all about beauty-related things!
This was further noted when we’d go out; where our group of girls was often wearing more make-up than others–at least in terms of noticeable eye make-up. It does not necessarily mean that we wore “more” than they did, just perhaps ours was more visible and experimental in that sense? I would’ve loved—and semi-expected!—to see bold make-up when going out in Paris, but alas, that never happened. 😦
*Wearing all black
This is a typical thing that even I had never given much attention to when growing up in Brussels. That might be more of a Western thing in general since many Western countries see black as being classic and the easiest way of “looking chic.” However that can easily look unadventurous since it’s usually the default option. In some cultures wearing black would mean you’re in mourning and can make you look too severe or lacking warmth… which on some level is understandable.
I can easily say that one of the most creative outfits I saw worn in Paris was by a much older woman (maybe in her 70’s-80’s!) in the 7th arrondissement wearing a pink coat and a very big, flamboyant pink hat, complete with large peacock feathers all over the place! It was AMAZING, and unfortunately, rare. Once again, in a fashion capital place known for haute couture, I would’ve loved to see more experimenting on that front. (Again, you can see proof in #2 here).
My general experience was that people didn’t seem to wear fragrances… In fact quite the opposite. Perhaps that’s viewed as something you wear to go out, not on a daily basis (which makes sense) but here in the US the use of body sprays and the like are quite common, which didn’t seem to be the case there.
Now I won’t go into the various (older?) jokes I’ve heard comparing European vs. American hygienic habits… but let’s just say that at some point there may have been marketing data showing that the US was the largest consumer of soap.
*Women as not having as many rights as you’d think
When I think of romantic, it naturally involves the way women are treated. For a country that’s been through so much and made advancements in human rights, it seems that at least in some (shocking?!) ways, French women aren’t as equal to men as we think, or as it’s been made to seem. A movie that comes to mind is “Le Divorce”, which brings up various aspects of that.
*French people râlent! (aka b*tch a lot)
This was straight up said to me by a French guy, so obviously it must be true.
*Moodiness with foreigners trying to tackle the French language
For a long time I didn’t know what to make of this one, since as a speaker I never experienced issues with it (although a sales guy did once try to correct me when I employed the Belgian French word for ninety, which is nonante, instead of the French quatre vingt dix, or literally eighty-ten… *eyeroll*, seriously). However, being around friends who were learning and sometimes struggling with the language, in time I did come to see the reality of the occasional unnecessary frustration displayed by French people over such encounters. It’s like some don’t want to make the effort to speak English—or meet you halfway—or just don’t want to bother. Some of that may even be linked to their politics depending on your background; ie: you could get treated differently if you’re discovered to be American as opposed to an English speaker from elsewhere… And now although I’m talking about almost 10 years ago, during which the French masses strongly opposed the Bush administration and involvement in the Middle East, I think it’s generally known that some French people may still openly display anti-American sentiment in different ways.
But France being as diverse as it is, this may be true mostly of older generations, since young adults tend to be friendly and willing, if not multi-lingual. There is truth to other cultures being warmer and more helpful on that front, with Spanish and Latin American cultures immediately coming to mind.
For a culture that prides itself on its rationalism and fact-based approach likely influenced by its Enlightenment era, and with all the evidence around smoking’s health effects, why this is still so part of the culture is beyond me. Many times when I’d get asked if I had a cigarette (fairly common in Paris) and I’d reply “no, I don’t smoke”, I’d get nearly bewildered looks. As in what; c’est pas possible!!! LOL! I don’t get it; what is the lure of smoking? Since when is smelling like an ashtray a turn-on?! Plus in the long-term it can affect your skin, nails, taste buds, sense of smell, etc. Even in the cafés, restaurants and bars we’d go to that had a non-smoking section, it was not at all closed off so that the smoke was still all over the place (can you say complete fail!). I’d go home with my clothes smelling like cigarettes and all I can say is I threw my clothes in the wash ASAP.
This may well be the 2nd to worst one. I’ve heard things like in French culture it’s almost expected for the man to cheat and the women just go with it—or have developed a nearly nonchalant attitude about it. This is completely UNACCEPTABLE and I will always love the to-them-proud American attitude of a woman putting her foot down and not accepting this kind of disrespectful treatment. Obviously ending a relationship with someone is not always the easiest thing and comes with its complications. But I am generally shocked and disgusted at this kind of laissez faire behavior about it. As much as things may have changed, it may well be a cultural remnant from the pre-Revolution era, further fueling the idea of men “romancing” women left and right.
Oh, and just in case there’s any confusion: IT’S NOT FUCKING ROMANTIC TO CHEAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There are enough people in the world that you can find yourself single partner(s). As a believer in (if not daily recipient of) karma and that what you put out there comes back to you, that’s OBVIOUSLY a major FUCK UP. (Thinking about reaping what you sow is generally wise advice.)
American psychic Edgar Cayce had deemed France’s sin as being lust, and at least in some ways, I can see how he may have been on to something.
Loyal love = romantic!
*No or limited interest in spirituality, God, religion, etc.
This is perhaps the most regretful one. True, with the important history of the French Revolution and the abuse of power by the church, it isn’t surprising that it’s still affecting the culture to this day. However, what does that have to with spirituality? And clearly, here I assume people already distinguish between religion and spirituality, which may not be the same thing. Just because a religious institution took a message and corrupted it does not mean that a. the message itself isn’t true (read: love God above all and your brother as thyself), and b. that you can’t create / build upon what was screwed up on before. Why should you have to completely dismiss it because of others’ abuse of it? The rise in extremism (which can happen with anything in life, not just religion) may further push people away from spiritual subjects, but that’s like indirectly letting others influence what you think while allowing them to dictate how your experience is going to be, which is simply not true.
Religion and spiritual lifestyle are obviously very personal things but still valuable concepts I’d hope everyone would explore: seek out your true source and connection with the highest power (it’s usually referred to as God, but people may call it different things, such as divine energy, mother earth, guardian angel, guiding light, etc.). The point is there’s so much more to us than just focusing on the PHYSICAL side of life. But overall, I’m a strong believer that a person’s spiritual life will affect all other areas of life, and as such is the most important factor to consider and/or begin with.
So there you have it! I love the French country and culture for what it offers and as always, the things that don’t suit me I simply don’t allow into my experience. C’est comme ça! 😀 ❤