From the wild to the wonderful, the trivial to the downright ridiculous, I have been told off for many things in this country. Some of these “tut-tuts” or “tellings off” could happen anywhere. Some only in France. Granted, some tellings off are justified - nobody enjoys noisy kids in restaurants. Others however, are straight out of the unwritten French social protocol to which I am still not entirely privy.
A “telling off” comes in many forms; it can be anything from a humiliatingly public dressing down to a directly pelted eye-roll, a huff and a puff or a tut or a scoff. All of them make you feel like a scolded child, incredulous and often genuinely confused. Please forgive me for indulging in yet another superficial cultural comparison.
I have been told off for the the following social no-nos:
not saying bonjour to the bank teller. “Excuse me (in French), where is the ATM?” The lady just kept saying “Bonjour,” “Bonjour,” “Bonjour,” until I finally cracked the game and said, “Bonjour, where is the ATM?” “Just to the left, Madame.” Geez Louise thanks for that painful exchange. I’ve since learned that the “Bonjour” is quite simply the one and only gateway to conversation with absolutely everyone and anyone. Smiles, pardons and excusez-mois do not serve this function. I guess I’m a slow learner.
being late to school - this happened a lot until I made friends with the gardienne. I still get a “look” but it’s more of a friendly exasperation.
having a screaming child on a bus.
having a tired child in a restaurant (he was slumping on the table after an entire day of car travel).
having young children in a restaurant in the first place.
not having a bonnet (beanie) on my child on a cool day.
eating on the metro.
talking on the metro.
my then 3 year-old child sleeping in the pram a little awkwardly (her head had fallen to the side).
for taking up the whole trottoir (footpath) with my pram, scooter and 2 kids on a very skinny street - sorry should I walk on the road? Should I jump out of your way Miss Righteous and Unencumbered?
my kids running full pelt down the longest corridor they’d ever seen (justified, but hard to make them stop from 50m away without screaming at them. Would you prefer running or screaming sir?).
having the wrong swimmers on my son at the pool (not short enough),
not wearing a swimming cap in the pool (not neat enough?),
sitting/standing on the grass at the park,
not paying my coffee bill right away (the second I’d finished it),
sitting on a ‘manger’ (eating) table instead of the ‘boire’ (drinking) table at the cafe, when all I wanted was a coffee. (Hot tip: only sit on a table with cutlery on it if you plan on using said cutlery).
ordering off the menu, or for your meat well-done,
for speaking English,
for leaving an empty mug on the table at Pret a Manger, “Would you leave a mess like that in your own house?” (why yes, yes I would thanks for asking),
for not buttoning all the buttons on a dress I tried on at Uniqlo,
for trying on too many things at Zara,
for trying to return something I changed my mind about,
for being late to my yoga class - this one was justified but I got a proper yelling at. Luckily two people who were later than me also got roasted. The teacher spent the rest of the class mocking my yoga style, saying “have you ever done yoga before because it doesn’t look like it”. Needless to say I switched to the body pump class next door and haven’t look back (she’s lucky to get 5 people on a Saturday morning and the body pump is rammed - go figure).
talking about trivial things - who, me??**
unnecessary small talk with strangers at the gym.**
** (Okay these last two, I haven’t exactly been told off for but I’ve definitely felt….a vibe).
Interestingly, there are a lot of things that I am surprisingly free to do in France . These things may or may not be frowned up elsewhere. The following may be done without fear of roast nor reprimand. If one desires, one is free to practice:
drinking in public parks.
smoking dope in public parks.
urinating in public (kids and men only, to be fair).
smoking in outdoor restaurants, terraces, around children, around food.
attempting to cross an intersection after the light has turned red even though you had NO CHANCE of crossing even when it was green.
observing a new cash register open at the supermarket - and running there faster than everyone without making eye contact with anyone.
using one’s car horn freely and aggressively.
not using indicators to switch lanes - ever.
only picking up your dog’s poo if someone happens to be watching.
bumping or denting someone else’s car while parking.
riding a bike or electric scooter without a helmet whilst weaving between a truck, van, a scooter and pram.
sticking up for yourself when getting yelled at in any of the aforementioned “no-no” situations.
correcting the grammar of complete strangers.
eating Nutella and calling it breakfast.
And finally, the irony of a recent incident at the local library is not lost on me. I got out of a lift to hear a young man (a teenager) say, “Salut!” I thought okay, I don’t know him he mustn’t be talking to me. So I said nothing and kept walking. He shouted at me (in French) “You are very impolite!” At first I was totally confused. Then I thought,
“How dare he say “Salut!” to me. I’m older than him, I deserve some respect! He should have said “Bonjour Madame” and possibly even held the door! Does he think I am his peer? A mate from school? Learn some manners punk!”
And off I scoffed.
Have you been told off for something you didn’t realise was wrong? Abroad? At home? Come on, spill the beans - make me feel better!
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