Sunday, July 14, 2013

I'm not grumpy, I'm French

When you see a cute bunny rabbit, I see dinner. When you see a fluffy adorable animal, I see gibelotte de lapin or civet de lièvre. This is just the beginning of our cultural differences. You might think that I'm angry all the time, but actually I call it realism. One time, not too long ago, I was happy. It was horrible.

The French are known for being grumpy, unfriendly, moody, curt, and impolite. You worship positive thinking. We soak in negativism. Is it depression, at the level of the whole population?  In the 1960's the French singer Barbara was singing Le Mal de Vivre. Are we afflicted by a bad case of spleen and ennui?

I remember when I moved to New York, 16 years ago, people kept asking me what I thought of New-Yorkers. "Argh, poor you! They're not too rude?!" they kept asking. "Rude?! New-Yorkers rude? Are you kidding? They are as harmless as a litter of new puppies. They're not rude at all! They are nice and charming and smiling people. They say 'good for you' for every little piece of toot that you produce."

Instead, the French wear their rudeness like a medal. We invented rude! You think it's a figure of speech?! Not at all. Rude is a French word. It means rough, harsh, hard, rugged, coarse, mannerless.
What do you expect from a country that produces the best wine in the world, the most delightful food, exceptional fashion, a superb health care system and a movie industry so sublime that it is granted a cultural exception? All these blessings should make them happy? They are miserable, not fools! The French will give you all their malaise, their mal de vivre, their spleen. Baudelaire was madly in love with melancholy. "I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy", he wrote.

We also invented Joie de vivre, the opposite of Mal de vivre, but somehow it was short lived, and the French collectively settled for the Mal!

Last I was in Paris, I stopped at Aux Deux Amis, a diminutive wine bar in Paris. The name of the bar means Two Friends. Naively I though that the service would be friendly.  The name was terribly misleading. I ordered a glass of red wine from Loire Valley. It was so abrasive that my front teeth hurt. When I dared say that the wine recommended was a bit young, the bartender reacted as if I had insulted him and his family over twelve generations. It was not annoyance that the bartender expressed, it was wrath. I still want to believe he's suffering from Tourette syndrome. Or he is French. That's all.

Cocteau, the early 20th century French poet and playwright said: "The French are grumpy Italians." I won't bring the Italians in the equation, they are just innocent bystanders. But I'll tell you that today; the French psyche has not changed one bit. As reminiscent of 1789 and the French revolution, the French want to protest, contest and complaint. They are unhappy and they are determined to let you know. The president is so lackluster, dull and uninspiring that after over one year in office, even Obama doesn't remember his name and calls him President Oolong instead of President Hollande. The French know their president's name but they are less that 25% to think highly of him. Rather than calling him Hollande or Ollong, they prefer to call him Flanby, from the brand name of a caramel custard (flan) with the consistency of Jello.

Don't tell a French man he's depressed. He's very happy, but he's lucid about his surroundings. Because hell yeah, if it's sunny now, you can be sure that it's a sign it's gonna storm later. The favorite expression of my grandmother was "On va l'payer",  "We will pay for it". So don't rejoice. Instead, moan, contest and be negative. According to a new study, it's good for your health (which of course, the French think to be dreadful!). Happy Bastille Day.


  1. but you guys do wear your grumpiness in the most elegant way!

    1. Elegance and Malaise go hand in hand! With a sip of Saint Emilion all the better.

  2. I agree, I am french but since I traveled to North America I see France in a very different way!
    People are SO grumpy in France!
    I want to live in North America!

  3. That scares me. I am going to date a French man who I met at the college.
    He was rude to me quite a few times by cancelling our meeting in the last minutes.
    At one time he didn't turn up at all. As for me that is so rude by far. It was hurtful and insulting.
    The trouble is I cannot forget him. We are still in contact with each other. Do you think I should back up before it is too late? I need some advices please! cheers!