“The French are assholes.”
This is a lie. The French are not assholes, they’re just… Coconuts.
Let me explain. While working in Paris a few years ago, teaching English to Air France employees, I attended a workshop for said employees. It was for their cabin crews, to help them better deal with foreign passengers, to understand foreign mores and sensibilities. A class on ‘cultural sensitivity,’ if you will. I was there as an ambassador for Irish civilisation and susceptibilities.
During the workshop, we were treated to an exposition on a rough theory that proposes there are two types of people, usually based on their cultural background. People are either peaches or coconuts. Peaches have a soft exterior; they are friendly, outgoing and chatty. Coconuts, conversely, have a tough exterior; they are reserved, stoic and distant. Irish people, for example, are typically peaches. French people, on the other hand, tend to be coconuts.
Due to their hard exterior, French people (especially when in France, and even more particularly in Paris) are thus perceived to be arrogant assholes. This is simply not the case. They just have a different way of doing things; different rules for interacting with each other. It can thus be very difficult to fall in with a group of strangers on a night out in Paris, for instance, whereas in Ireland it is the norm to interact with as many people as you like.
The flipside is that Irish people, according to this admittedly loose theory, have a hard core, an inner sanctum to which they will grant very few people access. They will befriend 20 people for a night and then never see any of them again. The French, however, true to their coconuttiness, have a soft and sweet interior. Once their hard outer shell is cracked open (by having the craic, perhaps), they can be effusive in their warmth and friendship. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Once their hard outer shell is cracked open (by having the craic, perhaps), they can be effusive in their warmth and friendship.[/perfectpullquote]
When one person is a coconut he or she is called quiet and introverted. When an entire nation acts like this, they are labelled arrogant assholes. This is actually quite unfair – think about how many of your close friends are through and through introverts. Maybe you yourself are one. I think you’ll agree that they are some of the most steadfast and reliable friends a person could wish for.
For a single person to be a coconut is acceptable, but not so for an entire nation. On the other side of the coin, peachiness is accepted both individually and nationally, and for obvious reasons. Who doesn’t like that guy or girl who is the life of the party? And then there’s the whole Irish nation! A good-sized island off the Northwest coast of Europe, full of people who are perceived as being warm, friendly, and ‘mad for the craic’.
The French have a reputation in the English-speaking (read: Anglo-Saxon) world for being arrogant and difficult. As well as the abovementioned reasons, there are also some salient historical factors to consider. The English and French struggled against each other for world dominance for centuries, and then along came the States – another English-speaking world power – to take the reins. The French have thus been on the back foot, culturally, for about two centuries now. Imagine that. Several generations of playing second fiddle; perhaps they can be forgiven for being a little prickly.
In no domain is this better epitomised than that of language. For centuries, French filled the vacuum left by Latin as the language of international diplomacy. As such, the French take their language extremely seriously, to the point of refusing to speak anything else in certain situations. Just watch this short clip of Sébastien ‘the Caveman’ Chabal, a French rugby player, funnily refusing to answer a British journalist in English.
Such obstinacies do little for the public image of the French, but they are of course entitled to speak their own language when, where and how they please.
And there you have it. I hope to have done enough to plead the case of the French and their apparent asshole arrogance.
Just remember: back foot, two centuries. How do you think you’d feel?