[Photo] Monique

An Irregular French Letter

As rude as each other!

Talk to a Frenchman about the English and he may well refer disparagingly to les anglo saxons who are trying to destroy his way of life, to a country that can’t cook a decent meal or serve a decent cup of coffee and to a capital city that is fog-bound most of the year. The fact that London won the Olympics was in itself evidence of cheating.

Speak to an Englishman about the French, and he may well moan about rude shopkeepers and supercilious wine waiters and you will find a surprising number who still think that the French eat nothing but frogs legs, snails and garlic. Having come through their Thatcher revolution, the English look smugly over the Channel towards the French who still endure apparently endless strikes and high taxes.

Hopping between two countries as I do can be quite tiring, when you are trying to defend each to the other.

So it was with some mixed emotions that I read recently that Reader’s Digest has carried out a survey to test the levels of common courtesy in 35 cities. Their researchers scored London and Paris as equal fifteenth.

The fact that both cities were down there with Buenos Aires and Johannesburg, below Sao Paolo, Zagreb, Warsaw and Budapest for goodness sake, was a blow, but what was great is that they were equal. They could have been equal top or equal bottom, it wouldn’t have mattered. The joy for me was that they were equal.

Of course, many British visitors to Paris think that all French waiters and shop keepers are rude. Perhaps it’s different for me because I’m French, but I find good and bad in London and Paris in about equal measure.

However, I have found that the mantra “je vous en prie, c’est moi qui vous remercie” is usually about as sincere as a face of American white teeth telling me “you’re welcome”. For a bit of fun, I have written a song about a French shop assistant determined to close up for lunch regardless of customers and I have called it … Je vous en prie. Here are a few of the lyrics.

Ah ……
Another day, another hour,
Another morning ticks by.
Another customer, another sale,
Another lie.

“Au revoir Monsieur Madame
Je vous en prie
C’est moi qui vous remercie.
Au revoir Monsieur Madame
Je vous en prie.”

I dream of lunch. A little fish.
Perhaps a glass or two of wine.
When this one’s gone, I’ll lock the door.
It’s almost time.

Oh my God! They want to buy.
Try to look away.
Don’t meet their eyes. Not quick enough.
Got to improvise.
Hide the tag. Put on the smile.
Try to look sincere:
“Quel Domage! It’s not your size.”

“Au revo
ir Monsieur Madame etc

To hear an extract from the song, go to the jukebox section of my web-site or buy the album Paris Lite on Amazon.

You may have picked up a wonderful article on the same subject posted recently by Charles Bremner on his Times blog, called “Combat with French waiters”:

Why not share your own thoughts with me and other readers on these topics through my blog.

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