Since being in France, it has been hard not to notice the different ways the French communicate with each other. I’ve only experienced the “rude and moody” stereotype once since I’ve been here- although it could not have come at a worse time; on my first day, speaking to my first french person. It may have caused a few tears, and a lot of dread for the coming months, but since then all French people have been more than welcoming!
Their greetings, I think, are the things that stand out the most. They are really important to the French, and if you forget to greet them in the appropriate way, they can take real offence!
First of all, there is the kissing! Two kisses! Every time you meet someone. Every time you say goodbye. Its so intimate I’m still having to get used to it! There have been a few awkward “almost bumping heads with other pairs of kissing friends” moments but I’m getting there! Plus, the kissing can also be advantageous when there are any nice-looking people around…The French, and my international friends (who all tend to kiss just once), always ask what we do to greet each other and my response is always a bit vague. What do we really do?! We shake hands with people we meet for the first time, we hug if we’re close friends, but I still have no clue what we do to show we’re glad to meet a friend on the street! I need to introduce the kissing in Scotland. Every response I get when I say “we shake hands when being introduced” comes with an aghast expression and a comment on how the “British are cold people!”. Every time without fail!
And with regards to the people we don’t know so well, and kissing is not appropriate (I’m still learning when this is), you always give a wide smile and a “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir!”. While passing everyone in halls, even if you’ve never met them before, you always say hello. Its not even considered polite, it is a neccessity! From this, I have no idea where the French got their reputation of being rude; its definitely not the case here!
And I have also found their general conduct when just chatting to their friends is very intimate. They’re always very close to you, whether just close by or by putting their arm around you or other physical contact (but that’s to a cold British girl), and its made me realise how little we British really make physical contact. Its never even crossed my mind before but now when someone is talking to me, I am always conscious of the closeness. It definitely needs a bit of getting used to.
The French are also very expressive with their hand gestures, and with parts of speech which don’t mean anything. I’ve found its very common for them to blow raspberries when they are not happy with something. The gestures, and the raspberries, are so helpful to me though- as even with my limited French, although it is definitely improving, I understand a lot of whats going on by piecing together what I understand of the conversation and the way they are acting.
So overall, with the kissing, the closeness and the expressions- the French do not do things in halves! But I’m getting used to it and ‘m sure I won’t even think anything of it in a couple of months!