Demystifying the French: Tip #4
Tip #4: Shhh!!!
This is one of the tips that is perhaps both hardest to understand and (probably consequently) hardest for Americans to remember. But it is a very important one, both in terms of improving your own experience in France, and in terms of improving our national reputation there. 🙂
There is a New Yorker cartoon I often share with my study abroad students in their on-site orientation in Paris. It shows an American couple with a little boy, probably about eight years old, standing on a city street clearly in France somewhere. The man is studying an open map. The woman is leaning toward the boy, who is holding a toy airplane and looking bewildered. The woman, with finger to lips, is saying, “Not so loud, sweetie. We’re in Europe.”
Generally speaking Europeans–well, at least French people–speak at a much lower decibel level, and in general make much less noise when in public, than we do. Because they do, it is first of all not necessary to speak as loudly in public places as Americans are used to doing. (Why? Because if everyone speaks more quietly, everyone else doesn’t have to bellow in order to be heard. It’s kind of amazingly wonderful!)
You will no doubt find, if you are ever so lucky as to ever spend a good deal of time in Paris that one day you will be sitting in a cafe somewhere, enjoying the soft murmur of nearby conversation, the quiet clinking of silverware and glasses, the ambient noise of the nearby street. Or you may be strolling along the Seine, enjoying the beauty of the view, the river barges passing by, the beautiful, luminous open sky. And gradually, for some reason you do not initially understand, you will feel your brow furrowing, and you will begin to feel irritated, you know not why.
And then suddenly you will know: it is a group of your countrymen (or women) that has burst your bubble of quiet contentment at being in this beautiful place: they are cackling, they are shouting, they are saying embarrassing things at the top of their lungs.
“Ay-yay-yay…” you will sigh.
So. Just know this. We all tend to talk more loudly than we need to. We don’t mean anything bad by it, we can’t help it, it’s just a bad habit. And it’s not a problem at home. But it is when we are traveling around Europe. It’s actually kind of obnoxious.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to do when we find ourselves in a place that has made us so happy, so excited! And we are among friends, whether new ones or old!
But. Try to remember to keep the volume down, okay?
The payoff? You may see–and hear–things you wouldn’t have seen or heard, if you hadn’t taken the trouble to follow this tip.
So try it! Pourquoi pas?
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach and teacher who divides her time between France and the United States. She writes about France for Bonjour Paris, France Revisited, and on this blog. She teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer in Paris for the City University of New York; classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C.; and writing workshops in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region.