The French are not nice. They are cold and rude. They are not collaborative. They don't smile; they are always grumpy.
Among my students, many live in France or travel often here, and sometimes they give me feedback about their experience, especially with the French... and it’s not always very positive!
But, why do we get the impression that the French are not nice and that they are cold with people they don't know?
Let's try to see why we get this impression that the French are not nice and see if this preconceived notion is true.
Respecting personal space:
The first reason that might make us think the French are not nice is the respect they have for their personal space.
The concept of privacy in France is deeply rooted in the culture. Historically, the French have always been keen to separate what belongs to the public sphere from the private sphere. Imagine a kind of secret garden that each person protects. You don't share the contents of this garden with just anyone. This reserve might seem odd to some, but it is rooted in a deep desire to protect one's intimacy.
So, sometimes when someone is a bit too familiar or warm with a French person, they might feel their private space, their private bubble, being invaded or threatened. It's then important to approach the French gently and respect their personal space.
The second reason we might think the French are not nice is because of their direct communication.
Ah, the famous French frankness! Unlike some cultures where things are left unsaid and hints prevail, the French often prefer to say things as they are. This transparency aims to prevent misunderstandings, but it can be surprising, even shocking. But believe it or not, it's often done in a spirit of clarity and mutual respect. After all, why waste time guessing what the other person is thinking?
So, don't be surprised if a French person speaks directly to you and doesn't tiptoe around you.
Let's talk about the smile. In some countries, smiling is commonplace, handed out generously.
But in France, a smile is often a more significant gesture. It's like offering an intimate gift.
If a French person doesn't smile at you right away, it's not that they are rude. It's just that they reserve this gesture for a genuinely sincere moment. Again, the French don't really have a filter. If they don't want to smile, they won't smile. But when they do feel like smiling, consider it a truly genuine smile.
France is a diverse country. From north to south, each region has its own identity.
It would be simplistic to think that the attitudes of Parisians reflect those of the entire country. France is not just Paris. It's often said, and it's true, that Parisians are the coldest of the French. But Parisians do not represent all French people.
Just as New York is different from Nashville, Paris is different from Marseille. Each region has its own vibe, its own warmth. Parisians might seem more reserved than the inhabitants of southern regions, and the welcome might be very different.
France is one of the most visited countries in the world. Some cities, like Paris or Nice, receive millions of visitors each year.
If some locals might seem a bit distant, it's sometimes because they are simply tired of the crowds. Tourist areas are often overcrowded, and locals might get weary of the constant flow of visitors. This weariness can sometimes be perceived as coldness. Imagine living in a beautiful city... but constantly overrun by tourists. It can get a bit draining, right?
So, you often get a warmer welcome from the French if you go to smaller towns or typical French villages.
It's true that the French can be unsympathetic and cold. The reasons I've just mentioned can explain this behavior, which is typically cultural. French culture is rich and nuanced. But it's always good to remember that every interaction is unique. That's not to say that every French person you meet will be unfriendly. On the contrary, you're likely to meet more friendly French people than not, but we often remember the bad experiences more than the good ones.
And it's true, at first sight the French can seem cold and it's quite difficult to interact with them, but once you've built up a relationship of trust with them, they'll be most likeable! Who knows? You might be surprised at how deep a connection you can make!