The French can be negative
If you consider the optimism of the Americans like that dog in the film “Up”, the one whose tail is always wagging and whose positivity is his biggest asset, then the French would be a languid cat, whose biggest pleasure in life is looking good, living well and has a fascinating ability to say “Non”.
From taking pride in refusing to invade Iraq and going on strike every 3 minutes, the ability to say “No” is infused in every French man and woman. As an expat living here or a tourist coming to visit, being faced with unhelpful shop assistants, stubborn bureaucrats and know-it-all waiters can be confusing and troubling. But when you understand why they like to say no, then it’s a lot easier to join in and give a good Gallic shrug, knowing life will move on regardless.
So here are 7 reasons why they take such pleasure in shaking their head.
#1 They love to argue
Debating, having meetings, discussing, looking at every philosophical, religious, economic and social angle are indispensible attributes to a culture where nothing gets done. The French have an unquenchable need to pick a subject, often with complete strangers, and argue it, well, just for the sake of it. Just for the pleasure of it. The ability to argue and especially win an argument are prized attributes.
#2 They’re afraid of getting things wrong
At school, French children are graded, scolded, graded and scolded some more. The Nordic systems of no grades and letting children make mistakes are frowned upon with suspicion and distain. So this fear is translated into many French adults preferring to say “no” rather than getting the request wrong. Observe a group of non-native speakers talking in English, and the Frenchman will sit quietly, not daring to speak for fear of making even the smallest mistake.
#3 They can be lazy
It would be a really bad generalisation to call all of the French lazy. They may have a 35-hour work week, some lucky employees may have up to 11 weeks holiday, they may have the highest rates of strikes in the world, but it is still the 6th biggest economy in the world, and so there are a lot of people working. However, I think we will all agree that hard work is not something that most French people enjoy.
#4 They don’t like change
Here is a typical example. Almost all French people agree that the labour law is out-dated, doesn’t work and is slowly killing the economy. Recently the left-wing government brought out a surprisingly liberal new reform. One would have though it would please everyone. But after 1,000,000 signatures on a petition, delays and yes more strikes, and it’s back to same old, same old. Change is bad. Just say “non”.
#5 They prefer the underdog
The shopkeeper, the cheese maker, the local wine seller – these “artisans” are an important and valued part of the French economy. Furthermore, there are tens of thousands of associations in France, none of which are allowed to make money, and all of which were created to help people who can’t afford to pay for something. The French will say no to huge projects (airports, museums, changes in law, corporate takeovers) just because they value the small guy.
#6 They like criticizing
French politicians know that the positive reaction to their work comes in the election and when they’re in opposition. As soon as they’re elected it all just goes downhill. The French take criticism as a sign of intelligence. Looking for defects, for what is wrong, is considered normal code of practice. Of course when the person or thing is no longer there, then they are missed terribly.
#7 They like protesting
To protest is to say “no” to something. Protesting is an important and vital part of French culture. The legacies of the French Revolution and the famous strikes of 1968 are now so powerful that students like to protest in the street just to try to have the same success for themselves. Less than 7% of French people actually belong to trade unions, but this doesn’t stop them getting angry and protesting if they believe the cause to be an important one.
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