The French’s many stages of humiliation – and what they have in store for you !

daisybelle.jpgChaque semaine, Daisy Nguyen, étudiante en troisième année de sciences politiques et de droit à l’Université de Californie, en échange cette année à Sciences Po, nous racontera la vie vue par un bon tiers de la population estudiantine de notre institut – en anglais.
Every week, Daisy Nguyen, a third year exchange student from the University of California studying Political Science and Law, will relate life as third of the Sciences Po students see it – in english.

Second quarter has started and new foreign exchange students have already realized that half the FAQ pages on the Sciences Po website lead to corrupted url’s. Many new students will have already stumbled upon the most bitter of foreign feelings- when after making your best, calculated attempt at your most meticulous French sentence, it is faced with a Frenchmen’s look of incomprehensible bewilderness. And with that, I extend to you an over-enthusiastic Welcome! You will no doubt feel terribly torn from the society you once knew, but I take it upon myself to share with you (and maybe even help guide you through) the many stages of humiliation to learn French culture and language. A daunting task it may sound, however being an exchange student at Sciences Po for the past five months, I am ready at your disposal. After first quarter, I am a self proclaimed expert in self-humiliation. From banks to administrative processing, you name it, my broken French and I have overcome it.

I left my warm, sunny homeland on the beaches of California for the freezing cold that is Paris. As I write this, I have already contracted ‘la grippe’- the flu. In part, because the weather is a malicious son-of-a-gun, but mostly because appropriate winter clothing is extinct in California and only now am I adjusting to their popularity.

Stage 1: French Banks

For the most part, I attempt to avoid banks as much as possible. For one, they are rude and hostile. Americans will find that French banks are everything the American ones are not. Where American banks rely solely on customer service and appreciation, French banks could care less about what you think about them. Note to be noted, the bank doors here are ridiculous. For the weary exchange student, this is your first test in French humiliation, how to get through the god forsaken doors without having the lady behind the counter scream at you with ridiculous arm movements. But I digress. I have already had a scuffle with a bank manager, who was screaming at American tourists in the lobby of BNP Paribas. One of his great and memorable lines was, “You arh in France! You haz to speak Francais!”. The tourists were terrified; I’m not sure whether it was because he was screaming incomprehensibly or because they mistook his franglais for a demonic curse.

So my fellow foreign misfits, what to do in the wake of French intimidation? Take it in, laugh, and remember this is all apart of myriad of stories you bring back to your own country. You might not think it so hilarious at the time, but looking back you will have to tell the folks back home of the man in the bank who screamed his little beret off. Don’t let the downsides to French administration get you down. The problem is when frustrated foreigners allow the angry moments to mask the other breath taking parts of this experience. Take it from a fellow American: living in Paris is hard but worth every snotty remark and upturned nose. And besides, I love mustaches and macaroons so really there’s not much too complain about.

Yours Truly,
Lost, bewildered, and loving it

PS: Stay with me this semester as we embark on this sometimes disheartening, but most times hilarious adventure through the ups and downs of French culture!


  • Andy

    Daisy, it’s really too bad that you would hang on to your clichés (mustache, beret? Come on) although you’ve been here 5 months. But I read your more recent articles and they were more mitigated.
    I agree with the people who argue that it would be really great if more tourists (especially from America) tried to speak just a little French (bonjour, excusez-moi, merci would be already a big step ahead) and stopped assuming that everyone, everywhere speaks English. This rule of mere politeness works for every tourist in every country, including Thailand or who-knows-where – that’s what guidebooks are for. It’s really not that hard.
    But in Daisy’s defense, she just told one anecdote and she never said that French don’t speak English. She could have avoided some expressions though (our doors are ridiculous???). So much for the dialogue between different cultures…

  • amanda

    All the comments from the pissed off French people are a perfect example of what Daisy’s talking about. BRAVO and i will be tuned in

  • lauren

    Daisy this is a fun article and as another international student I can vouch for it all being true and just as hilarious as you described. (All the french commentary only proves you right, but they’d never admit it of course.) And going from sunny cali to this- bon courage!

  • Duriane

    Thank you Daisy for this fresh air among LaPéniche’s articles!

    It’s funny to see French feeling offended when their culture is criticized, when they do exactly the same thing abroad (you should listen to their conversations when they return from their year abroad).

    Looking forward to reading your next articles!

  • Roger

    I really enjoyed this article, it was fun and refreshing!
    (Daisy, some commenters are rude, but it’s love. Hidden love.)

  • Martin

    Daisy, I am sorry, but this is just sooo cliché-American. Why can’t (luckily only some) Americans accept that if they go abroad, things will be different there than in the US? If you don’t like that and are unhappy about the fact not everyone will understand you, then I’m sorry, but stay in California.

    Ever thought of how humuliating the procedure in applying for an American visa is? When you are actually asked if you have AIDS? Ever thought of the fact that if you cross the boarder just about anywhere in the US the immigration officer will only speak to you in his local American accent (and diction and speed)? Because in his mind, if someone wants to go to the US he just obviously has to speak English. I’ve been through all of this about 3 times, even Russia are more user-friendly in this.

    As for your doors adventure – the first time I have seen this anti-robbery system of doors in banks was in Southern California 10 years ago.

    Not being French by origin myself and having travelled all around Europe, I think France is quite good at accepting foreigners. Of course, I get pissed about the bureaucracy, the slowness of administration etc., but so far, I’ve always succeeded to get everything done. People have been mostly kind to me. The French are actually quite reasonable and friendly towards foreigners, much more than in Spain for instance. There in on one week of travelling, I found only two people « behind the counter » that actually spoke some words in English.

  • J.

    Ce n’est ni du mépris, ni prétentieux, ni désagréable de dire que c’est aussi normal que dans les banques en France on parle français. Bien sur c’est essentiel de pouvoir communiquer, et l’anglais y aide, mais dénoncer l’incapacité des français à parler anglais c’est retourner aussi le problème: ce n’est pas parce que l’anglais est une langue internationale que les anglophones ne doivent pas apprendre d’autres langues, et si on ne connait pas la langue, et qu’on arrive pas à se faire comprendre, ce n’est pas de la faute du guichetier qui n’a pas forcément eu une formation efficace en anglais.
    Le concept, l’humour, et tout ça c’est intéressant, mais un peu d’auto-dérision et d’humilité font aussi du bien, non? LE problème ici c’est qu’on a l’impression que l’auteure veut mettre de son côté ceux qui ont vécu la même chose et du coup on se sent un peu out quand on est français. PAs très efficace pour la cohésion français – internationaux.

  • K.

    En lisant vos commentaires, on ne s’étonne pas que les internationaux trouvent les étudiants de Sciences Po méprisants, prétentieux et désagréables… C’est fou ce que les gens peuvent aimer critiquer. Moi j’ai trouvé l’article sympa, divertissant et bien écrit.

  • lesud

    Dans le même genre, mais en beaucoup plus drôle et incisif, lire « A year in Merde » du journaliste anglais Stephen Clarke.
    Si la rengaine « les Français sont arrogants et ne parlent pas anglais » n’est pas nouvelle (et pas totalement infondée), il est dommage que ce soit la (seule ?) musique retenue par une étudiante US en programme d’échange à ScPo après plusieurs mois passés aux porte du quartier latin, en plein coeur de Paris. Et cela montre que l’accueil (l’accompagnement ?) des étudiants étrangers peut être optimisé.

  • T.

    (btw : moi je trouve que cet article est une initiative vraiment innovante et sympa, et l’ironie et la légèreté avec lequel le sujet est traité, rendent la pillule de la fermeture des français à l’international moins dure à avaler)

  • T.

    Moui… Si on va par là, les petits français qui partent en Asie, en Inde, ou dans n’importe-quel autre pays à langue rare, y compris en Europe et dans les facultés proposant des cursus intégralement en anglais pour les étudiants ne parlant pas la langue locale, se retrouverons bien con quand ils réaliseront qu’ils ne sont même pas capable de dire « bonjour » dans la langue d’accueil, voire qu’ils n’en maîtrisent même pas l’alphabet. Et un raisonnement (dangereux) comme celui de wtf les exposerait à une pluie d’insultes en suédois ou en thaïlandais… Ca fait juste quelques siècles que le français n’est plus la langue internationale, la France devrait finir par s’y faire…

  • wtf

    Défendre son patrimoine linguistique, c’est accepter l’idée que c’est aux étrangers (américains par exemple) qui viennent en France de faire l’effort d’apprendre des rudiments de la langue française et non l’inverse. Ce n’est ni de la xénophobie ni de l’antiaméricanisme primaire, simplement une élémentaire question de politesse.

  • wtf

    D’un côté, il est évident que les français pêchent dans la pratique de la langue de Shakespeare (et ce n’est pas l’enseignement des langues à Sciences Po qui va améliorer la situation). D’un autre côté, on peut reprocher à l’auteure son exaspération face à l’attitude de ces chauvins de français incapables de se plier à l’impérialisme culturel des américains. Les français tentent de défendre leur patrimoine linguistique et c’est tout à leur honneur.

  • wqsp

    Article très sympathique et intéressant ! J’ai hâte de lire la suite. Quant à la place de l’anglais en France, il serait temps d’admettre que nous sommes totalement attardés…

  • Antoine

    rien de plus stérile comme approche que les comparaisons par « nationalité », ou « pays ». Tout ce qu’elle aura découvert pendant son année à l’étranger en France, d’aucun lui diront qu’elle a eu une expérience parisienne, rien de plus.

  • Frédéric Oudéa

    Moi je suis complètement d’accord, la BNP c’est nul.
    However, in the french banking system you never pay any fee at any ATM, whatever your bank is. We are the only one in the world with the spanish to do that, so that’s a fair counterpart; even if it does not excuse the bad service you may sometimes have !

  • Daisy

    As an international university, competing against the ranks of other internationally recognized faculty; English articles make Sciences Po, well, international. Not to mention accessible to the hundreds of foreign exchange students that make it the unviersity it is acclaimed to be. There is apparently a strong resistance against English in n’importe quel type d’institution, I’m still trying to understand why.

    BNP has a huge sign at the front desk stating « We are an international bank, we speak Engilsh! ». You can imagine my horror when they start screaming at people who expect them to uphold their advertisement. I also can’t help that English is the international language, and American banks will never be so accomodating as to advertise languages they don’t speak, including french.

  • lesud

    Un peu decevant côté humour …
    … et; by the way, je n’ai jamais croisé de guichetier à Los Angeles ou San Francisco qui parle français dans une banque !!!
    Mais l’idée est bonne (l’oeil américain) … juste à peaufiner.