French Urban Legends

Part Deux

Some of the crazy things, French Urban Legends, you hear about the French are alas, true.

Before I go off on my rant, please understand that in spite of what you’re about to read, I love France, and the French, and under no circumstances would I wish for a potential visitor to revise their vacation plans because of what I’m going to reveal. But in the interests of “détente” I’d rather you know before you go.

So read on. These are a few of the oddities you’ll run across once you set foot in France.

The French Hate Standing in Line.

This French Urban Legend is TRUE.

I’ve yet to decide after 28 years of living in France whether some of the French don’t know how to stand in a line at the post office, or a bank, or if they simply refuse.

I’m wondering if the refusal, if this is the case, might be a rebellious reaction to WWII when the Germans took over France and imposed their rigid line of conduct on the unruly French. Germans know how to stand in line. Unfortunately the Nazis knew how to force others to stand in lines as well. Grim thought there, but possible.

No where is this more evident than the post office. The really surprising thing about the taking-cuts stuff is the profile of the cut-takers.

Quite often she’s a tiny, old, empty-armed lady who weasels her way in front of a whole queue of people laden down with packages, waiting their turn to be weighed up, pay up and leave.

Invariably she has a problem which takes a succession of four managers of varying importance and 10 minutes each to explain away her problem and she leaves empty-handed and angry looking. This, without a glance at the 8 people she cut in front of, whose arms have stretched 6 inches longer in the meantime. While much huffing and eyeball rolling is done, no one actually says anything to the rude granny, so the next time she’s confused about something, she’ll do it again. Every post office seems to have their share, making package sending an ordeal.

There is of course, the line at the supermarket as well. The phenomenon here seems to involve the relationship between French humans and their personal space.

France is a small country, with quite a lot of people living here. The square inch per capita ratio is much smaller than in, let’s say, Oklahoma. Therefore, when you’re out and about in public, the French are literally more in your face than Oklahomans. When they engage in conversation with you, they stand about a foot away from you. In Oklahoma, you might have 10 feet and a fence separating you from the person you’re talking to.

This space-to-person relationship really comes into play on a Saturday afternoon at the supermarket. Give these space-deprived people a shopping cart to manoeuvre between you and themselves and all hell breaks loose.

I found that when my children were younger, like under 18, the safest place for them was in the cart. Crushing of small feet is well within the realm of probability.

The driver of the shopping cart wheels into the checkout line just behind you, and the personal space relationship is tampered with once again. They’re aiming to maintain the 12 inches ratio and forgetting that they’ve got 36 inches of shopping cart between their body and yours. The behind of the driver in front is quite often flattened. Since some of us have worthy shock absorbers located just there, no real danger is at hand. It is, however, a very annoying but lends credence to this French Urban Legend.

The average French family boasts more dogs than kids.

This French Urban Legend is TRUE.

I read somewhere a while back, that the average French person is more likely to have several pets than several children. It’s not that the French don’t like kids. On the contrary, they really do, but they really, really like pets. Especially dogs.

Practically everybody has one. Or three. And the dogs accompany them everywhere.

Yup, to the doctor’s office, to restaurants, to the movies. Everywhere.

I was in the pharmacy just this afternoon and the pharmacist’s assistant had fuzzy legs, very long, curly red hair and was of Irish origin. She was curled up under a table just inside the back office well in view of her favourite person and the customers. If you spoke with her, she responded with a kind thump of her tail, which is more than might be said for some pharmacist’s assistants.

I don’t have an issue with this. The dog wasn’t on the table licking the candy-coated pills, or drooling into open bottles of cough syrup. All meds in France arrive pre-packaged at the pharmacists beforehand, and there is no longer any sort of preparatory handing or individual pill dispensing anyway. So the worst wrench of the strict rules of hygiene might be a stray dog hair landing in the plastic bag the packaged pill boxes are carried out in. I tend to avoid licking the inside of plastic carrier bags, so my opinion might not be valid, but just saying.

On one specific occasion, my pet patience was put to the test in a very chic, upscale restaurant in a very chic, upscale French city, both of which shall remain unnamed. The customers at the table next to my own, where I was celebrating my birthday with my significant other, had a small dog of the pompous, fussy sort. And no, I won’t identify either the breed of the dog or name the owners. But you can easily imagine the genre of person and pet I’m referring to.

The set menu was priced at something like $120, excluding wine, so suffice it to say we were not at the local burger doodle.

Poochy’s owners ordered their own meals and then proceeded to order a specially prepared dish for Poochy.

I was horrified.

Poochy’s meal came at exactly the same time mummy and daddy’s did, and was served .... drum roll please….on the same kind of china. It was placed on a folded napkin on the floor next to mummy’s feet. Poochy went to town and licked his Limoges china plate spotless. The sauce dressing my fish was so delicious that I actually envied Poochy’s zeal and lack of table manners. However, although I was in expensive company, because I’m certain Poochy’s price tag was mostly made up of lots of zeros, I refrained from following suit.

Let me re-assure you. This experience was really out of the ordinary. In 28 years, I’ve never again witnessed anything like it. But, if there’s one place on the planet it could happen, it is in France, thus a popular French Urban Legend.

Well-behaved dogs are allowed anywhere. I also have to add that the dogs are quite often remarkably more well-behaved than some children are. They are mostly confined to a leash when in public and dog vs. human violent incidents instigated by the dog are rare indeed. And this is a very good thing.

Everybody loves a happy, tail wagging dog carrying his own Frisbee to and from the beach. It’s cute. In Dieppe, there’s one black lab who carries his own leash in his mouth when walking with his mistress while she does her shopping. He sits on the sidewalk in front of the butcher’s shop waiting patiently until she exits. He’s charming.

There is however a slight problem with poo awareness. The people who appear to be lacking in this specific type of awareness are some of the dog owners. Everyone else is a bit too much aware of it from time to time. No one likes to step in it, but until fines are put in place for lack of awareness, the same few will wreck your new suede shoes. It is understood without much explanation that poo and suede are a very bad combination. So that actually covers another French Urban Legend.

So, to revise, condense and advise: come to France, enjoy France, eat in France, visit France and love France as much as I do.

But per the above French Urban Legends, just don’t buy anything you have to ship home and don’t wear suede shoes.

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