Two things my American friends taught me

Yes, I was born French, for better and worse …

As a typical French person, I was often confused – and even annoyed – by the behavior of Americans:, smiles stuck on their faces, they interspersed their speeches with far too many “Amazing!” to actually mean it, in any French person’s opinion. Then I studied some of them and noticed two main differences that make a huge difference in the way we perceive each other.

The first thing I learned is that a smile and a certain amount of enthusiasm are filters, such as reserve and distance are for us. Americans don’t think everybody is nice but at least they try to get along, regardless of their preconception of others. Here are 2 examples.

In a meeting or a party, Americans would tend to be curious about the people they don’t know whereas most French people would not venture outside their French circle of friends. This makes us look arrogant, by the way.

Moreover, the words used make all the difference. Where a French person might utter a timid “Pas mal!”, an American would more likely say “Great!”. If a French person uses “Great!”, you can be sure the experience or person they’re talking about has been on their good list for a very long time. Yes, the French are reluctant to give a fully positive appreciation about something or somebody.

The second thing I learned is that Americans are very efficient because they are practical. For example, the French like to talk for hours, just for the sake of talking, whereas Americans like to get to the point.

You can notice this in both form and content in anything written. For instance, a French paper would be grossly 1/3rd longer than the English translation. About content, it is interesting to consider the bestselling non-fiction books of 2015. In France, the #1 best-seller was Thanks for this moment, by Valérie Trierweiler, about the former first lady’s experience at the Elysée whereas the #1 New York Times best seller, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, is about how to age better. The French love controversies and Americans love practical advice.

But the example I like the most about our striking differences in thinking is about the job interview. An American employer would be concerned about problem-solving in context while her French counterpart would meticulously verify the applicant’s educational background.

My point is not to judge the French or the Americans or to decide who is better at what. The Americans in my life helped me to notice my own cultural features and they taught me to be more open-minded. The next time you meet a smiling American or a grumpy French person, try to move past the façade. A smile is not necessarily fake or hypocritical and distance is not necessarily disdain or indifference!

Article written by Magali Defleur, Author and Publisher, November 2017

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