Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

When in Rome....

I spent last week's long weekend in Romania for my master's program.  I had a great time, and I'll probably write more about it later, but I wanted to share quick some of the funnier moments that came with spending five days non-stop with a group of 30 Frenchies.

Every morning, we would meet up at a certain time to began the day's activities, and there were systematically one or two stragglers.  When they would finally make it out of the hotel and board the bus, everyone would start shouting "Wooooo!".  The first time it happened, I thought they were cheering because we could finally take off.  But as the week went on, I realized that their joyful Wooo! was actually the equivalent of our low-toned Boo.  It was pretty disconcerting - 1) because how could I not have realized this after ten years in France?  and 2) it was just so darn happy sounding.

One of the female administrators of our program had a thing for one of my fellow students, and it became blatantly obvious during this trip. But the thing is - this guy is newly married with young children.  So many debates were held about whether what she was doing was immoral or whether or not he was a grown man and it was his choice. I'd say about half the group thought he should keep it in his pants and the other half thought he was free to do as he pleased.
Probably one of the most common complaints I heard throughout the trip was about the lack of coffee after meals. It was pretty hilarious - most people took a sort of "I mean, really - how dare they not include coffee in the menu??" attitude.

After the trip, a bunch of us were on the RER heading back to Paris, and the main topic of discussion was whether or not the women had done "la bise" with the program director.  None of us had - we all stuck out our hand, but several felt he had been hoping to do the cheek kisses. No one had wanted to set a precedent though, because then we would all have to bise him at the university as well.

The director also started tu-ing us during this trip, so the discussion then turned to whether or not each of us had tu-ed him back.  A lot of the older ones said yes, because they tu people who tu them, whereas myself and some of the younger ones said no.  I just didn't feel comfortable saying tu to him yet since he is older than me and the program director and we're not really buddy-buddy yet, so I am still vous-ing him for now.

As people were saying goodbye and getting off at the various RER stops, there was a lot of confusion about who had already done la bise and who had not.  And it's true, when you're with 30 people, it can be hard to remember who you've already bised and who you haven't.  I had to laugh and point out to the group that things were a lot simpler in that respect in the US - there's no formal and informal you and no bise-ing.  Those who hadn't been to the US were like "Well, what do you do then?".  I replied that we either just say hello, or wave our hand or sometimes hug.  And once I explained what hugging was, a debate began on whether it was more personal than biseing...

Et voila - a few of the "only with French people" moments I had during our trip.

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Blogger Wonky73 said...

Oh the complexity of French interactions. Makes me happy I work in the US where there are basically 3 rules. Shake hands, don't say anything sexist, don't say anything racist.

May 14, 2013 at 5:47 PM  
Blogger fashion survivor said...

I think hugging is definitely more personal and for a while I was on a one-woman crusade to introduce la bise among my friends and acquaintances, which failed spectacularly. But I hate hugging people who aren't family or close friends. All that body contact! Yugh.

May 15, 2013 at 4:15 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Love this post!

As for the hugging, if it is a real hug it is much more personal (and invasive IMO) than the bise.

I cannot stand the fake way Americans hug though, standing as far apart as they possibly can with only their arms touching the other person's shoulders. BLECH. Shake hands if you don't want full body contact, is what I say, and mostly I don't.

I'd rather kiss any day of the week.

May 15, 2013 at 10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's an open question: in a situation like you described with the older director (a person in position of authority whom you know in a professional context only), if he is tu-ing you and you continue to vous him, is that considered (by the French) to be rude, or a sign of respect? My guess would be respect but you just never really know. Your thoughts? Just curious.

Also, on hugging: I would never hug a French person I didn't know extremely well, like my sister-in-law or one of our very close friends (and even with the friends I'd probably skip the hug unless THEY initiated it). Why, even though I'm a major hugger normally? Because it's not in their culture here to hug; they bises-kiss instead. Whereas even with an American I may not know well, I might hug them even on the first meeting -- an example would be yesterday when I met one of my blog readers here in Paris: we both went in for the hug first and THEN did the French bises thing afterward. I don't even hug my older step-kids, but I do hug the Little Guy (when he'll let me). When I was in England last week, and meeting my hosts where I was staying, it was a hand-shake situation only.

I try to take the lead of the person I'm with, when it has to do with greeting someone from another culture. It's safer that way.

May 15, 2013 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Ksam said...

@Lisa - I think it can go either way, depending on your tone?? I have a handful of clients that I still vous after all of this time just because I respect them so much. Hopefully they are not offended that I am tu-ing them by now!

May 15, 2013 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger Michelle Couny said...

to answer one of the questions above, I think it shows respect to continue vous-ing somebody, if it bothers them at all they will tell you to use "tu".

I miss hugging!!

May 16, 2013 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Mil said...

That is so true. French people can go on and on (and on... ) about these topics and I even find myself doing it too now (oh gawd!).

It is weird to be the odd one out on trips like that but culturally interesting...

May 16, 2013 at 4:31 PM  
Blogger The Paris Chronicles said...

Oh man, what a great way to bathe in cultural immersion! Although I just can't keep my mouth shut at a dinner party with French people, most of whom will stand behind the "extramarital relationships are VITAL to a primary relationship" party line. This is where my American flag really starts flying (in terms of how I view committed relationships).

BTW: did you see the trailer for the DSK movie slated to be released in 2014? Depardieu is the perfect actor to play him...such a sweaty, ugly man.

May 17, 2013 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Jadie said...

Sam, there must be times when you feel like a "stranger in a strange land." Don't you just wish there were someone you could exchanges glances with during these moments?!

May 20, 2013 at 6:12 AM  

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