France and I have been in a committed, albeit somewhat rocky, relationship for five years. Now our time together is coming to a bittersweet close. However, despite our impending breakup, I’ve learned at least five things in five years in France.
1. The customer is usually wrong and always tiresome.
Being a student and desperate for cash, I work as a supermarket cashier. Initially, I followed my preprogrammed praise-the-customer settings, à l’américaine. However, working alongside Froggies, I discovered this was unnecessarily exhausting. I’ve learned to respond to customers’ negativity and insults with unflinching dry sarcasm, or if I’m in the mood, open hostility.
2. Do not look both ways when crossing the street. Follow your gut.
I learned this one by watching Clumsy Girl traverse bustling downtown Parisian streets as if she were the only person around for miles. You’ll waste a lot of time waiting for cars to stop for you. If you emanate confidence as you cross rush-hour traffic, they’ll stop. They’ll be angry, but even impassioned Frogs won’t run you over out of spite. They hate paperwork.
3. Apologies are a sign of weakness.
Upon careful observation of Hasty Boy, I found that people treat him with authority because he never admits he’s wrong. Though he constitutes an extreme example, this can be generalized to the French population. Don’t expect that man who just bumped into you to excuse himself. And that pharmacist who made you wait an hour to drop off your prescription for pain medication following your wisdom tooth extraction, clearly she’s busy and doesn’t need to justify herself to you.
4. Space expands as you add people to it. It’s like physics or something.
Forget how small your apartment is, you can make your party as big as you want. So people will sit on the floor, whatever – within the hour they’ll be too drunk to mind. You think you can’t fit twelve cashiers into a five-square-foot stronghold? You’d be wrong. You’re in a hurry but the tramcar looks too full? Just get in there, it’s amazing how much room opens up for you.
5. Finally, and most importantly, you can get away with murder if you pretend not to understand what people are saying.
I speak French fluently, but I use this often when I do or say something socially awkward, which occurs several times daily. Saying “Sorry, I think I misunderstood” or “Hang on, I believe I translated that incorrectly” will get you out of an uncomfortable situation in a pinch. I was a tad aggressive at Laser Quest the other night and ended up having my antagonized victim apologize to me when I insisted, “I’m not French, I don’t know what you’re saying!” Foreigners are naturally at a disadvantage here, so this just evens the playing field.
Though I’m sad to be leaving, I know I have a mission. It is my duty, nay, my moral obligation to impose these values upon the American people. I’m kind of like a missionary for French culture.