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How the French fool the World Print
France, the French and their culture. Read it so you realy know why you are going there and what's true and what's a lie about them.

What we learn and believe to be true about France come from members of family, peers, school teachers, books, TV, radio, press and above all from the French themselves. I envy those who in their teenage years were wise and aware of how much rubbish was being pumped into their brains. Most of us were probably not.

Having studied French since I was 15 years old, I have been exposed to many media that were projecting images aiming at creating a very positive feeling towards France and its inhabitants. Polish-French intergovernmental propaganda infected scholar program to teach us about historical and cultural bonds between the two nations. For 16 years, the language itself and my natural born resistance to it had been the most successful objective to see the reality for myself. A combination of personal and professional problems led me in summer 2003 to leave Warsaw and head to Grenoble. With a timeframe of one year and three clear objectives, I was anxious to confront my knowledge. I wanted to improve my language skills, to experience working with the French and to climb in the Alps. I didn't really expect to discover, that most of what I was made to believe about their country, had been out of date. To be more direct it was just a white lie, a frequent occurrence in life in France. "An over promoted culture" is a euphemism borrowed from marketing, which my French friends prefer me using, when I analyse the causes of my biggest disappointment.

To me The French are... oh please get rid of that old "you shouldn't generalise about people" atitude. Of course in every nation there are both good and bad people. They do differ old from young, rich from poor, those from north to southerners and those from big cities to villagers. Globally however, each country, with its multidimensional specifics has formed suitable environment for a unique set of human characteristics to thrive. One of a few strong reasons for not generalising about nations is the Holocaust. More recent, massive and ignorant oversimplification about the Muslims, reached dangerous racist borders as well. However, there is a clear line between the criticism deriving from generalisation and fascism.

Well, so if you permit? To me The French, in brief, are open and expressive extraverts, fantastic philosophers and spectators. Most of those whom I met in Paris and Haute-Savoie, work constantly on developing their artistic intelligence. They paint, sing, play instruments or at least they know more than an average European about the substance of art. I very often perceive them as superficial liars, which I hope results from my still imperfect mastering of their language. Much as can I be wrong about some personal characteristics, their attitude to foreigners is unmistakably arrogant. They are very generous with their standard client procedure: "Bonjour", a nice smile, "Voila" and "Eu revoir". A French friend of mine, who lives permanently in Poland, describes her countryman thus, "we are like a baguette, nice and crispy for the first five minutes and then hard outside and soggy inside".

If you turn out to be a more demanding customer then you are certain to discover the real French attitude to work and tourists. The only people I have met in France who seemed to like their jobs and be truly and consistently helpful is the staff from "Maison de la Montagne" in Chamonix and in some family firms. In general, the level of service in France is appalling. Procedural over complication, incompetence and complete ignorance of customer needs are the most common responses to tourists' inquiries. Aware of irresistible attraction of their landscape to tourists, the French appear not to care for a repeat business. "If you don't like it here, then we don't give a toss, there will be others to come anyway" they seem to be thinking. Worse than that is disrespect to the treasure, which they are in debt for incoming tourists' money, namely nature. Endless valleys, superb mountain ranges, cliffs and thousands of miles of beaches could provide stunning scenery for four more countries. I want to shout. Hey French people, wake up! The fact that it is vast doesn't mean you can endlessly pollute it. How much longer will they get away with leaving rubbish in forests and spilling oil in their seas? Mr. Bush, if you are looking for oil, go and explore French Beaches!

And finally, what's France famous for? What have they contributed to the world's cultural wealth? Ask yourself these questions before going any further.

Delicious cuisine, superb wine, fancy gardening and architecture, crispy bread, colourful comics, cheese, sexy lingerie, "laissaz-fair" lifestyle and stunning mountains? I bet you can add to this list a dozen other things. Now when you have them all, you can cross off every second from the list and change adjectives to less superlative in front of half of what is left. Oh yes, that is more like it. Hard to believe? Go and see for yourself but make sure you get under the skin to realise how well over-promoted is the image of French culture we get. Wide choice of restaurants, good lifestyle, ladies underwear, breath-taking scenery and cheese exceeded my wildest expectations. Above all, I was lucky to make most close friends and partners over there, and they showed me some of the best French virtues.

Chaos, disorganisation and consistent malfunctioning problems made me mad, effectively consuming the reserves of patience accumulated in the mountains. Wine, the French universal remedy for gloomy reality didn't work too well for me. Many people in France believe oblivion is bliss and get regularly pissed to drown their worries and forget the problems. Is this going to work for you?

Summary:

  • Not all that we have learnt about France is true
  • French culture is generally well over promoted
  • It is the gap between our expectations and the reality that makes us feel unsatisfied
  • French arrogance and mismanagement are not going to change
  • There is still enough to love and make us want to visit France again