Tuesday, April 27, 2010


It wasn't all that clear from my last post, I realize, but what I love about the French (and my husband) is their ability to argue about everything under the sun, taking sides at will, without any hard feelings (usually) in the end. Not that an argument ever ends, exactly, for no conclusion is reached and no one is declared winner or loser, the conversation simply changes course, is suspended to an amicable truce, or tapers off into the end of a meal.

This intimidated me at first, mostly because French arguments at their most animated get quite loud. When I was still learning to speak French, I could barely follow, much less voice my point of view. To help me out, when I opened my mouth at the family dinner table, my in-laws would all uncharacteristically fall silent to encourage me. I knew I'd truly become fluent when they would no longer stop talking and the decibel level would rise, not fall, when I'd add my two cents.

Back home in the US -- certainly back home in Seattle -- we're too nice to argue. Having a difference of opinion is considered rude. Better to smooth over things with a little disingenuous nodding in agreement. We waste less time talking as a result, we're better listeners (since we're actually absorbing what we're hearing and not formulating our counter argument) and we rarely offend one another, but I feel like something's missing.

Here in France, though, I'm in my element.

Today I gave a presentation at work, and at the end watched (I had little to add, alas) as my colleagues argued on and on about the specifications of a project. It was clear from the beginning that there was no resolution possible; no one in the room would or could change anything, and they didn't even truly disagree. They just had to express themselves.

I attempted to say something clever, and a colleague I barely know jumped up, ran over to my chair and ostentatiously agreed -- by kissing my cheeks! I'm still American enough to blush. But I thought it was pretty cool anyway. Not that it resolved anything. Not that I expected it to.


Cloud said...

I love this post.

I have the reverse problem when I visit my husband' home country. New Zealanders don't talk over each other. They speak quietly. I am constantly having to remind myself to bite my tongue and wait my turn. And keep my voice down.

Sadia said...

What a fascinating observation. I must really be an American now, since I tend to avoid ruffling feathers.

caramama said...

So interesting!

My husband must be part French, then, because he sure does love to argue with me. But he and I both want to be proven right in the end. For me, I chalk it up to my Italian side!