How to tell if you're French
by Nicolas Duvernois
This list was written in response to my E-Z home test for detecting Americans, and is intended to define by enumeration things shared by the vast majority of card-carrying, native-born French persons.
Nicolas, himself exquisitely French, is an engineer working for Peugeot. He emphasizes that he does not fit the norm in some respects, although he does not say which. And also, mesdemoiselles-- il n'est pas marié.
If you're French...
Heading for the Boucherie Chevaline
- You are familiar with Jean-Pierre Foucauld, Perdu de vue, Lagaf'
(for you, the best successor to Coluche), Christophe Dechavanne,
Jean-Luc Delarue, Nagui, Patrick Sebastien, Patrick Sabatier,
Michel Drucker, Jacques Martin, Mystères, La Chance aux Chansons....
- You don't think that the news on TV is reliable, much less so than the radio or the newspapers. And of all TV channels, TF1 is the least
reliable. On the other hand, you almost never listen to the radio, don't read newspapers, and get most of your news from... TF1.
- You like football (strangely called soccer in some curious countries
that call some ugly version of rugby, where players are allowed
to attack players who don't have the ball with them, football), tennis
(whose players are called tennismen), basketball (no question
of the NBA, of course), and Formula One (Indy is only a local championship, no matter what NASCAR thinks). F1 obviously proves that the only type of engines worth talking about are French. You think that the rules of cricket and baseball are incomprehensible.
- You do take your 5 annual legal vacation weeks, and you consider
yourself fortunate if you don't spend them at home.
- You may believe in God; if you do you are, in decreasing order of
probability, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Protestant or a Jew. In any
case, you believe in the separation of state and church...
and you think that a country with a motto of "In God we trust"
does not follow this principle.
- You think of canned food, McDo and so on as cheap food, and think there is nothing like an open-air market. You find it amusing that American tourists consider a visit to an open-air market as much of a must-see as one to the chateau of Versailles.) You also say that you prefer small shops-- but you mainly go shopping in supermarkets.
- You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys or guinea pigs to be
food-- but snails, frogs and horses are.
- A bathroom definitely does not have a toilet in it. Toilets are to be found in Toilettes or W.C. (Water Closet).
- It seems natural to you that the telephone system (yes, singular),
the power company (yes, singular), the railroad company (yes, singular), and the post office are public companies; they have no reason to be private, since they have missions de service public. In particular, the price should be the same for the same service anywhere in the country, no matter if it is in Paris or in the deepest hole in the Alps.
- You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work.
Getting a new phone is routine. Getting a Minitel too (kind of a
- Trains are good, especially the TGV (the one Americans won't build in Texas, because they strangely don't want to spend a single public dime on it). But you regret that the SNCF (the French train company) pays less attention to small lines, which cannot make any profit, because there are too few passengers.
- There are 6 main political parties in France, and that's a good thing (with plenty of variety among parties, it's easier to find one that reflects your beliefs), even if you don't care for the FN (which receives 15% of the votes, unfortunately). You probably consider that this small world is mostly rotten, and that all politicians quickly forget the separation between the executive and the judicial power (especially as, due to the organization of the French government, ministers can easily intervene to heat up or cool down an investigation into government misconduct).
- Socialism is a serious opinion, even if it tends more and more to
social-democracy. As concerns communism, if you consider that it is
no longer acceptable and if you are politically left-oriented,
you are likely to have a certain feeling of nostalgia for the
time when communism was an acceptable utopian dream.
- You find it very strange that the USA doesn't have any left party.
- You may be uneasy with the notion of race. The main difference
between races is some physical characteristics : colour of skin, ....
The rest is a question of culture, and everybody has a right to
his own culture.
- You think most problems could be solved if only people would put aside their prejudices and work together.
Marriage Court is in session
- You find Americans ridiculous, if not stupid or dangerous, with
their primary reflex to sue whenever they can get away with it,
even if it is their fault (typical example: trying to dry a dog in
a micro-wave oven and suing because there's not warning that it
shouldn't be done).
- You trust doctors, more or less, but you expect from
them obligation de moyens (duty to try to cure by any means),
but surely not obligation de résultat (duty to cure without any problems).
- You'd respect someone who speaks Spanish, German or Japanese, but you very likely don't yourself speak them well enough to communicate with a monolingual foreigner. You learned bits of English in
collège (when you were 12-16), but you've forgotten most of it. You think everybody should speak English. You cannot understand why native English-speaking persons refuse to learn any other language. But, before learning any foreign language, kids should first speak
- It is necessary to learn foreign languages, English at least:
you can travel and do business in the whole world with English.
(It's certainly not worth learning it for its culture.)
- You think a tax level over 50% is not scandalous. After all,
once those in that bracket has paid, they still have more money left than you.
- School is free through the baccalauréat (roughly equivalent to the first year of college for Americans), provided you go to public schools, collèges (French meaning!) and lycées. University (post-baccalauréat)
is not free, but it does not cost much.
- Higher studies last 2, 3, 4, 5 or 8 years, depending on the
degree you are studying for.
- The date comes first : 18/6/40. (And you know what happened on that
- The decimal point is a comma, as in all of Europe. Certainly not
a dot, except on computers.
- World War II was a quite troubled time for the country, and France
has not still gotten past this era. The US helped us to rebuild the country, generously, but in fact, they were no philanthropists.
What? Nothing about Cyndi Lauper?
- You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third
parties. Getting married by the mayor is the only legal marriage.
As for a church wedding, it's up to you, and it always comes after the marriage in the town hall. You have a best man and a maid of honour at the wedding -- a friend or a sibling. And, naturally, a man gets only
one wife at a time (and vice-versa).
- If a man has sex with another man, he's a homosexual.
- Calling somebody by his/her name implies that you know him/her
- If you're a woman and pretty enough, you perhaps occasionally
go to the beach topless.
- You'd rather a film be dubbed than subtitled (but enough people disagree that films are often available both in VF (version française) and VO (version originale).
- You seriously expect to be able to transact business, or deal with
the government, without paying bribes.
- If a politician has been cheating on his wife, that's his private
life. In fact, journalists should not bother with it. It doesn't speak of very good personal morals, but if he is a good politician, his
career should continue.
- Just about any store will take your credit card, provided you owe
more than 100FF (about $20).
- Firing somebody is not always possible (e.g. the délégué du personnel is pretty much immune).
It has to be justified. If it can't be justified, the company may
be condemned to pay damages.
- Labor Day is on the 1st of May.
Vive la Nouvelle France
- You've probably seen La Folie des Grandeurs, Les Visiteurs,
Casablanca, ET .... If under 40, add Terminator, Rambo #n, and other Hollywood junk. If not, add several films with Bourvil, Gabin,
Fernandel, ..., Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, ...
- You know the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Dire Straits,
Pink Floyd, Queen, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Johnny
Halliday, Telephone, Eddy Mitchell, Véronique Sanson, Francis Cabrel. If not (or may be even if yes), you know Guy Béart, Jacques Brel, Maurice Chevalier, Georges Guetary, Edith Piaf, Jean Ferrat, Tino Rossi, Charles Trenet, ....
- You count on excellent medical treatment. You know you're not going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases. You think dying at 65
would be a tragedy.
- In school, you learned the history of antique Egypt, Greece and Rome, of France, bits of European history, French geography, bits of European history, geography and recent history of the USA, China, and the former USSR.
- Your country has been conquered by foreign nations (England, Germany, 3rd Reich), but always defended itself and is still free.
- You're used to a wide variety of choices for almost anything you buy.
- You measure things in meters, kilograms and liters-- as everybody in the whole world does, apart from a few strange countries who refuse to use such a simple system.
- You're not a farmer.
- Comics typically appear as hardbound books (albums). Comics sometimes but not always appear first in specialized comics magazines.
- The people who appear on the most popular talk shows are mostly
entertainers, politicians, or rather strange individuals. Authors
and artists have special talk shows, generally later in the evening.
- You drive on the right side of the road. You stop at red lights even
if nobody's around. If you're a pedestrian, you cross streets on the
appropriate walkways when cars are stopped at a red light-- but also anywhere at any time, when you think it's safe.
La mission civilisatrice
- You think of Canada as a pleasant and peaceful country. Quebec used
to be called "Nouvelle France". The Québécois are your "American cousins". You suport them in their attempt to protect their difference from English-speaking Canadians. Voltaire's description of Canada as
"some acres of snow" (quelques arpents de neige) is
stupid and deprived France from an important place in North America.
Same comment about Napoleon's selling Louisiane to the USA.
- You consider the Volkswagen Beetle to be a medium-sized car.
- The police are armed, but not with submachine guns.
- The biggest meal of the day is at noon.
- The nationality people most often make jokes about is the Belgians (with their famous chips).
- There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night.
- You feel that your kind of people aren't being listened to enough in the government and the National Assembly.
- You wouldn't expect both inflation and unemployment to be very high (say, over 15%) at the same time, but you know that it has happened in France and that it still happens in many countries these days.
- You care more or less what family someone comes from (especially when this "someone" wants to marry one of your children).
- The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided equally between their children.
- You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It's
likely you don't see that many plays, either.
- Christmas is in the winter. Unless you're Jewish, Muslim, atheist or non-Christian in any way (but in fact, often even if you are...), you spend it with your family, give presents and put up a tree.
- You may think the church is too powerful, or the state is; but you
are used to not having a state church (since 1905) and don't think
that it would be a good idea. (There's no typo there. Till 1905 Catholic clergy were paid by French taxes; and this system still continues in Alsace-Lorraine. Church schools also receive some public support. Proposals to either lessen or increase this support elicit enormous protests.)
- You know almost all the capitals and leaders of Europe.
- You are more or less familiar (depends mostly on age) with Mafalda, Lucky Luke, Corto Maltese, Tintin, Astérix, Gotlib, and Moebius.
- You've left a message at the beep.
- Taxi drivers always complain about something.
- You think that Social Security and Assedic (unemployment payments) are good ideas and should continue. You also think that some people
profit from them without trying to find a real job, which is deplorable.
You hear (or read) that these agencies are always running a deficit; that's a pity, but you are not ready to pay more for them.
- If you want to be a doctor, you need to get a bachelor's first.
- If you want to be an engineer, you don't go to universities, but to
Grandes Ecoles (as far as I know, this is typically French).
- As concerns former French colonies, those of Africa and Asia, you consider that it is a good thing that they are independent. However, you think that France's giving them access to modern civilization was a good thing.
- Great Britain is a part of Europe. Unfortunately, the (literal and actual) insularity of the British make them difficult to deal with. They have a strange notion of having a special relationship with some transatlantic nation, such that they sometimes forget that they belong to Europe.
- Journalists may write about everything but usually avoid the private life of public people. They only speak of private life (I'm not talking about the gutter press here) when people choose to make their private life public.
- You are proud of the baguette française. If the baker near your home makes one which doesn't suit your taste, you may buy your bread 10 km away.
- You are proud of being able to eat more than 600 different types of cheeses.
- With a certain nostalgia for the '60s, you think that intellectuals should have an important place in public life (in fact, it's pretty much the only justification for their existence). Intellectuals act as the mirror of their society.
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