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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello, to all of those who are fortunate to have made France their second home, I wanted to know what your experience has been as far as cultural differences. Have there been events or situations that really struck you as odd, mainly because you came with a different set of values?

Thanks in advance for your sharing.
 

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Oh most definitely! And despite popular opinion, being married to a French national doesn't really give you an edge on these sorts of situations, because DH doesn't see the "disconnect" in any of these situations, and can't explain them to me even if I ask him about them.

The classic one was when I asked him whether I should use "tu" or "vous" with his mother. He said he didn't know. Then I asked him which he used with her. Again, he didn't know. So I made a point of listening to hear how he addressed her, and found that he cleverly avoided using any form of second person - said things like "how is my mother doing today?" or "what would my mother like?" So I just wound up avoiding addressing her directly - though I was extremely fond of her.

The use of "tu" and "vous" is always tricky, because it can be used to belittle someone or to cut them dead if they are getting too chummy, and people not used to dealing with us foreigners often don't think that maybe we're just making a simple mistake.

Then there is the institution of the French dinner event - can be a wedding or large birthday dinner. Rather than doing it in the sequence we "anglo-saxons" might be expecting, they stretch out the courses with games, dancing or speeches between the courses rather than after dinner, or with the dessert or coffee. Most big party type dinners wind up lasting until after midnight, with dessert not being served until just before or just after midnight and coffee after that.

I used to think it was just my husband's family, but it seems to be the formula for most big dinner events (at least in the area where we live). A Parisien friend of mine told me that it's considered rude to attempt to leave before midnight - or before the final course has been served. (Not convenient for those of us used to retiring early - or who don't like to try to sleep on a full stomach.)
Cheers,
Bev
 

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It took me a while to realise that in France lunch time means from around 12 'til 3.

And it also means everything stops! Not so much in big cities, but in most towns (especially in the South) shops close, parking (in metered bays) becomes free, and in villages the noise level drops to almost silence. Restaurants, however, are open.

Sunday - almost dead. Depending where you are you might find a small supermarket open, but don't depend on it. Again, especially in the South, all the large stores are closed on Sunday.

I'm told that certain tourist resorts have stores open on Sunday, but I've always avoided tourist resorts.
 
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Bev, I'm fascinated by your account of the tu/vous dilemma with respect to your parents-in-law. I have never heard, or heard of, a natural child of either gender, addressing one of his natural parents as 'vous', irrespective of age. I'm trying to recall if there isn't a class and/or period factor (from previous reading) that can affect this, but it seems unusual to me. Aside from royalty and the haute bourgeoisie, of course!

Distance (not physical, but in relationship terms) can affect how one addresses parents-in-law. It is more natural to start off with 'vous'. Sometimes closeness can bring you to feel that tu is more appropriate, and by way of example, I began to 'tutoyer' (and he me) my father-in-law after my first marriage very early on (I was in my early 20s, he was a laid-back, jazz piano-playing, opera singing, debonair guy who acted as if he was a teenager right through until his 80s). In a way, he would have felt awkward had I used 'vous' - it would have aged him. His daughter was in a serious road accident before we reached our first wedding anniversary, but 'tu' remained the preferred form of address whenever we spoke, until he died.

Second time around was different. Already in my 30s, 'vous' felt more comfortable; although my father-in-law and I instinctively knew we would have been ok with 'tu', his stand-offish wife wouldn't have liked it. Then following their daughter's unexpected death, after nearly 20 years, he and I suddenly began to 'tutoyer' each other; it was an empathy thing. MIL and I grew if anything even further apart, so 'vous' it remained; no chance of that ever changing.

Vous seems to me to be perfectly natural and acceptable in most parents-in-law situations, I can't imagine how it would be seen to be otherwise - it's a natural term of respect between parents-in-law and gendre/bru, until/unless parents-in-law suggest otherwise (it's more their place to do so, an age and respect thing).

All to describe how diffficult it is suggest some kind of definitive rule governing the 'tu'/'vous' issue, except in more straightforward cases (such as with vous in a child addressing an unrelated adult, or in subordinate business relationships, or when first being introduced to a stranger, etc).

Class and region are factors. Chatty paysan southerners are more likely to use tu than vous, early on, especially with their fellows. But it's more awkward with outsiders/foreigners where vous feels safer much of the time, at least before people get to know each other properly. Mountain folk, the montagnards, are harder to get close to, so vous is used more frequently. In cosmopolitan areas, the edges to these 'rules' become blurred.

Generation is another factor - peer groups of university students would sound very odd vousvoying each other, even shortly after they met for the first time. Then again, when the class factor is factored in, to add a little nose-in-the-air distance, amongst students of a certain background vous may be the standard form employed.

As for the use of tu/vous to indirectly express approval or disapproval, how very true. In a situation when you would normally use vous, suddenly switching to tu can be very insulting, depending on the tone of the conversation. Or if someone tries to be prematurely familiar with a 'tu', a deliberate 'vous' in reply can be quite a putdown.

I've sometimes heard foreigners using tu with abandon and clearly inappropriately, and after years of immersion it feels unnatural and even rude to me at times. Not so much when it's obvious that the foreigner has just arrived and barely speaks the language, but when he/she has been around for a while and can express him/herself clearly. It sounds insensitive, boorish, as if the foreigner hasn't taken the trouble to understand how it works.

So to those unfamiliar with this highly complicated situation, a rule of thumb is to always use 'vous', except when addressing children up to say at least mid teens, and until/unless invited otherwise.
 
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Another point on the thread heading, 'culture shock'. Just personal opinion, but as a Brit I can think of no difference I would describe as culture shock. Sometimes I think there are more similarities between 'old Europe' nations, than between the UK and our Anglophone cousins across the Pond, despite the language differences.

Culture shock is definitely something I've felt when in Africa, or Asia... but it doesn't really start on this continent for me until I reach eastern European countries, or the likes of Turkey, etc.
 

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I have heard of any number of families where the children address Mom and Dad as "vous" and especially where the husband and wife use "vous" with each other. (There is a marvelous French film about one evening in the life of a very bourgeois couple like this.) The Chiracs were rumored to be such a family.

It tends to be an old fashioned thing these days - it changed as those of our generation were growing up (which is, I suspect, why my husband and his sisters just kind of avoided the whole issue however they could).

Then, too, there is the whole issue of the new daughter or son in law just entering the family - and to some extent, there is a ritual progression you just have to go through, especially if there is some "special circumstance" involved (like a second marriage, which is an issue in some families, or a foreigner).

I can recall all the "culture shock" of having the American management visiting our plant (in Germany), where we addressed everyone in the plant as Herr This or Frau That. The Americans were very adamant about using not just first names all around, but nicknames. David became Dave, and Robert was Bob - and the Germans (as most Europeans) were just as shocked as can be.
Cheers,
Bev
 
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I clearly don't mix in the right circles! Yes it's a generational/class thing, but one that has largely died out, except in a certain tiny echelon of society. But certainly in many years of bringing up children in France, and mixing with their friends and parents of all backgrounds, I'm pretty sure I've not heard a singular vous from child to parent - ever.

Come to think of it, I can't recall ever hearing husband and wife address each other as 'vous' either.

It's pretty standard (at least where a nanny isn't doing most of the child raising) for the mother and father to use tu to a baby/young child. Naturally, the child learns to respond in kind.

But as you suggest it would be a bourgeois thing (and even there I should think it is hardly common with younger generations). But if/where it still happens, it nonetheless represents only a very minute percentage of French families.
 

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It took me a while to realise that in France lunch time means from around 12 'til 3.
Not to mention BeerO'Clock, which happens with French workman at 5.00pm everyday from May thru October........! The English caught on to that one quick!And I still don't know how many kisses I'm supposed to give or receive. I always get it wrong and find I'm backing away when somebody is diving for the next one, or worse, I'm going for another round with a fit young guy, and he's moved back. Ho hum.:confused2:
 

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Hello, to all of those who are fortunate to have made France their second home, I wanted to know what your experience has been as far as cultural differences. Have there been events or situations that really struck you as odd, mainly because you came with a different set of values?

Thanks in advance for your sharing.
There’s a big cultural difference I’ve noticed. These comments only apply to the Herault Department as I can’t speak for the rest of France.

There are a significant number of burglaries in this department. Virtually everyone we know here has been burglarized at least once if not several times. My in-laws house was broken into three times. The local paper, The Midi-Libre, reports an increase in larcenies. In many cases it’s young people committing the crimes. In other cases its roving gangs from the East.

What I don’t understand is why this situation is tolerated and people don’t demand action. In the county in Virginia where I live people would:
• Use the political process, informing their local representative that if he expects to get re-elected, he’ll fix the problem.
• Work with the local police to identify solutions.
• Work at the local level to ensure adequate resources are allocated to combat the situation.
• Form neighborhood watch groups to patrol and report suspicious activities and individuals to the police.

Speculation as to why the problem persists:

• The police don’t have the manpower and financial resources to cope with the problem.
• Burglaries are so frequent the police are apathetic and rationalize that the victim will be reimbursed by their insurance company.
• Juveniles will generally not be incarcerated and will soon be back on the street to continue their crimes, so why bother?

Maybe it’s because Americans have more of a problem solving take charge attitude that most of us would demand action. I thought the fundamental duty of any government is to protect its citizens. :boxing:

Apropos of the vous/tu comments, It's my experience that young Germans liberally use the informal "Du" rather than the formal "Sie". I guess they're becoming Americanized.

Tchuss.
 

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The police situation where you are may be related to the way the French justice system is organized. I don't totally understand how the system is organized in France, but there are a couple factors that seem significant:

The gendarmes are actually organized at the national level, not at the local level. The local officials (i.e. at the mairie) don't have much (if any) influence over the gendarmes. Some towns have a city or municipal police, but (at least according to my husband) the local police are kind of informal and seem to have pretty limited areas of authority.

There is also this whole thing about the "investigating judges" that Sarkozy is supposed to be eliminating. It doesn't seem to be the duty of the police/gendarmes to investigate crimes - at least not in the sense we're used to it in the US (or from US based cop shows). Now, the investigating judges they are trying to get rid of don't deal with local crimes like burglary, so I don't know just who is responsible for this sort of thing. But it doesn't seem to be the police.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
tu et vous, du und Sie, tu y Usted
These have definite implications for how social language is used with certain people. In both Spanish and German I've tended to use the polite forms with people I don't know that well, even within family. I imagine the same kind of precaution is appropriate in French. With people you would like to be "familiar" with, it's always fine to openly ask if it's appropriate to speak in the familiar way with them. I'm glad to now know the proper term in French: tutoyer. ;)

I've heard the cheek kissing can be a bit difficult. I found this in a French language textbook I'm using to learn French though I'm not sure how accurate it is:
In many French-speaking countries, people kiss each other on the
cheek or shake hands when they meet. In everyday situations, men
shake hands, while women more often kiss, and mixed couples will
kiss or shake hands depending on their level of acquaintance. The
kiss (\le bisou" or \la bise") begins on the right cheek rst, which
means you should move your head to your left ; the number of kisses
varies from one to four depending on the region or country and on
the level of emotion. A kiss or handshake is also given upon leaving,
even if the two parties have only been together a few minutes !
Another aspect of French-speaking cultures you should be aware
of is the space between people. In many countries, people stand
much closer together when talking than Americans do, so do not
feel intimidated or
 

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Tutoyer and vousvoyer, plus giving les bises are two of the trickiest areas for newcomers to France (at least among the anglophones).

In Germany, it was comparatively easier. We addressed everyone as Herr This and Frau That and while doing so, we used Sie (the formal). You generally duzen'd someone only if you addressed them by first name. And, even better, there was a "ceremony" of sorts when you agreed to duzen someone (i.e. use the familiar form and first names) - involving drinking beer together.

The French are more subtle. It's generally best to start with vous, but now and then you'll run into someone who is "offended" by being vousvoyer'd when they feel they are "close" to you. And you get very strange looks if you (by accident) use vous with children or animals, who are normally tutoyer'd.

Bisous are worse! Most people start on the right as mentioned in the article you cite - but some start on the other side. To some extent, it's two for acquaintances and four for close friends. But then you run into the situation where you pull away when someone is "expecting" to do four. You can get out of it if you claim to feel a cold coming on - and I expect to be able to avoid some bisous this winter thanks to the swine flu.

Then there are the "hypocritical" bisous - where you're expected to bisous someone you really dislike but you have to kiss them because they are family or close to a family member, or sometimes just a dirty old man (or woman, I suppose). Or worse, making bisous with folks with really awful bad breath (and dental hygiene is another of those "cultural differences" that crops up more often than you might expect).
Cheers,
Bev
 
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The 2/4 bises split holds true for the Paris region and large parts of northern France. There are many regional variations, including some surprising ones like a single bise in the extreme western Brittany department, Finistère. It's just two in the Lyon region and surrounding departments (whether close family or not), an unwavering three in parts of Provence and Languedoc, two again in the Pyrenees, the Alps and Eastern France, a 2/5 casual acquaintance/family-close friends split in Corsica, a majority 4 in parts of the Loire Valley and the Champagne area. Confused? Some interesting stats in pie chart form towards the bottom of this page!

As for H1N1 fears, they've already banned the bise in a couple of schools... wonder what effect a major epidemic would have.
 

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The police situation where you are may be related to the way the French justice system is organized. I don't totally understand how the system is organized in France, but there are a couple factors that seem significant:

The gendarmes are actually organized at the national level, not at the local level. The local officials (i.e. at the mairie) don't have much (if any) influence over the gendarmes. Some towns have a city or municipal police, but (at least according to my husband) the local police are kind of informal and seem to have pretty limited areas of authority.

There is also this whole thing about the "investigating judges" that Sarkozy is supposed to be eliminating. It doesn't seem to be the duty of the police/gendarmes to investigate crimes - at least not in the sense we're used to it in the US (or from US based cop shows). Now, the investigating judges they are trying to get rid of don't deal with local crimes like burglary, so I don't know just who is responsible for this sort of thing. But it doesn't seem to be the police.
Cheers,
Bev
Well this only points to a cultural difference; that people are willing to tolerate this situation and not form a grass roots movement to bring about change at the local level. I'd be very surprised to hear if burglaries are not investigated in the UK. Laws are only good as their enforcement, otherwise they're superfluous. A case of breaking and entering can rapidly escalate to case of assault and battery and it's usually the same people that are responsible for the crime spree. I wonder if the President's house were burglarized things might change?

Speaking of the Gendarmerie, my wife's Uncle Roland retired from the Gendarmerie and lives in Bonson. In fact we stayed with him one time on the Gendarmerie installation in Lyon when he was still active duty. He grew up in Africa and had quite a collection of African artifacts. Wouldn't you know it, thieves broke into his house and took everything. There is no way his collection can be replaced.

I don't see the point of security cameras if no one is going to look at the evidence. The best solution to the problem is deterrence; an increased security presence, not excluding hiring private security companies operating within the framework of the law: most criminals don't like to be observed caught in the act. Either that or have my friend's cousin Guido from New Jersey "talk" to these people ::pound:
 
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I wonder what the odds are on being burgled in the US... These stats aren't very recent (2005), but they show some interesting regional differences and trends around France. The Herault isn't the worst department, but at a 9.13 in 1000 chance of being burgled each year, it's well above the 'safest' department at 2.10 (the Cantal). Most show significant drops year on year.

The national French figure (5.7 per 1,000 people) is lower than in this older worldwide national study (6.1) but interestingly, France - according to those figures - is statistically safer, in terms of burglaries, than the US!

Clearly the threat of having your hand chopped off is the best deterrent of all! (See Saudi Arabia)...
 
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Interesting stats on the probability of violent assault too, around the world. France actually does quite well in comparison to the likes of the US and the UK in these figures from the Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, (1998 - 2000).
 
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<<<I'd be very surprised to hear if burglaries are not investigated in the UK. >>>

Be surprised, then. There is a saying nowadays in the uk - 'Get yourself mugged. Call the plod, and call for a pizza at the same time. See which arrives first'.

The police are so intent on reaching their 'targets' that they spend their resources on easy wins rather than real crime... take a look at the truly disgusting case of Fiona Pilkington in the news at the moment if you dont believe me.
 

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I wonder what the odds are on being burgled in the US... These stats aren't very recent (2005), but they show some interesting regional differences and trends around France. The Herault isn't the worst department, but at a 9.13 in 1000 chance of being burgled each year, it's well above the 'safest' department at 2.10 (the Cantal). Most show significant drops year on year.

The national French figure (5.7 per 1,000 people) is lower than in this older worldwide national study (6.1) but interestingly, France - according to those figures - is statistically safer, in terms of burglaries, than the US!

Clearly the threat of having your hand chopped off is the best deterrent of all! (See Saudi Arabia)...
It could be this particular town is the outlier and the data becomes normalized as you throw in the entire Herault population. I wonder if all victims even bother reporting an incident to the police knowing the police aren't going to do anything. If this is the case than the statistics could be off.

The neighborhood where I currently live is pretty safe. We have a neighborhood watch association and quite a few people have security service providers but about five miles south of here its a different ball game. Speaking of ball games, I'm taking my "Louisville Slugger" (Baseball bat) with me to France and if anybody breaks in, I'm going to hit a line drive to their knee-cap.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Tutoyer and vousvoyer, plus giving les bises are two of the trickiest areas for newcomers to France (at least among the anglophones).

The French are more subtle. It's generally best to start with vous, but now and then you'll run into someone who is "offended" by being vousvoyer'd when they feel they are "close" to you. And you get very strange looks if you (by accident) use vous with children or animals, who are normally tutoyer'd.

Bisous are worse! Most people start on the right as mentioned in the article you cite - but some start on the other side. To some extent, it's two for acquaintances and four for close friends. But then you run into the situation where you pull away when someone is "expecting" to do four. You can get out of it if you claim to feel a cold coming on - and I expect to be able to avoid some bisous this winter thanks to the swine flu.

Then there are the "hypocritical" bisous - where you're expected to bisous someone you really dislike but you have to kiss them because they are family or close to a family member, or sometimes just a dirty old man (or woman, I suppose). Or worse, making bisous with folks with really awful bad breath (and dental hygiene is another of those "cultural differences" that crops up more often than you might expect).
Cheers,
Bev
I had mentioned the possibility of asking an individual whether it was appropriate to use 'tu' instead of 'vous', in Spanish this is appropriate. Is this something that would be possible with the French? Or would it cross an invisible cultural line?

Bisous sounds like an adventure. I'll keep the cold option in mind.
 

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I had mentioned the possibility of asking an individual whether it was appropriate to use 'tu' instead of 'vous', in Spanish this is appropriate. Is this something that would be possible with the French? Or would it cross an invisible cultural line?

Bisous sounds like an adventure. I'll keep the cold option in mind.
:nono: My resident expert, my French wife, informs me this is not done in France. It is the same in German. I never used the informal "Du" without an invitation, as it presumes a level of familiarity that the addressee may not be comfortable with. On ocassion, when I got to know someone, I would invite them to use the familiar or let them call me by my first name. Often, the person would reciprocate.

Ciao
 
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