Codes of Politesse
Instead of saying "Bonjour Madame" to the lady selling patisserie, we pitch right in and tell her which patisserie we want, without any preliminary courtesies. Which, in France, is very rude. That is why madame is always, to us, so grumpy.I lived for some time in France and internalized many French customs. When tourists who needed directions came up to me and without a "Bonjour," an "excuse me," or the merest recognition that they were demanding a favor, asked me to stop and help them, I got a little ticked off. The millions of visitors to Paris need to remember how small that city is and how disruptive tourist season to the lives of citizens can be. Yes, in the abstract, one knows that tourists' money keeps the city's economy going, but in the personal, that tourbus is polluting the biking lane and that tourist needing directions is another guy on the street who wants something.
Brian's post confirms my opinions, but one of his commentors suggests a more complex understanding of the unstated class snobbery that does indeed obtain beneath the egalitarian surface of French social interactions. Alice writes:
Getting identified (labelled) is also difficult in France, even among French "equals", so one never knows if one's reached the best possible terms with a French citizen as long as one hasn't made sure to be clearly labelled by the target-tribe (individual aesthetic and commonly readable aesthetics are also essential in France). Even French people need to tell what could be guessed from their vocabulary and clothes in most occidental countries. What is more, the best possible terms with French people might not be of any interest to you, most of them never socialise, don't speak any foreign language and would never believe in the benefits of networking if they ever heard that word. Any foreigner who fells discriminated in France has certainly been less discriminated against than a French native, because the French are far more indulgent to foreigners. Social relationships are so intricate in France, that the French often prefer to hire or rent their property to a non-occidental in order to be relieved from these numerous rules and judgments and feel superior for a while... until they face more material nuisances. I realise my explanations are too abstract, but I'm French. The consequences are practicle, dramatic and taboo. (The fact that French successful comical movies are “unexportable” doesn’t matter.)I'm not entirely sure that Alice's categories of not-French and not-Occidental hold up under scrutiny. Obtaining a lease in France, as a white foreigner, was extremely onerous, and I've heard stories that convince me that obtaining a lease as a non-white foreigner would be even harder. I also don't entirely understand the idea that networking would not mean much to French people; the concept of "piston" (or influence) seems very alive to those French people I've known. "Piston" gets you everything from the nice cut of meat to the available vacancy in the local child-care center.
Silence and violence are two alternatives to French socially acceptable discussions, and having one's blog sheltered in the States is safer.
On the other hand, certain ideas she expresses make a lot of sense to me. As a not-French person, I was forgiven many ignorances and was held to a different standard of fashion, conduct, and cooking. As I internalized French ideas about class, I learned to discriminate the quality of fabrics and the cut of a jacket from thirty paces, under bad lighting. I learned that it was a given that the "unacceptable" (usually Maghrebin) young men should be called the "racaille," a word my academic training associated with the contempt of kings, basically translated as "rabble" or "riff-raff." Hipsters called the "racaille" the "caille-ra," using the inverse slang of the ghetto. The elite are marked: anyone with a Grande Ecole degree will use it as a lever for the rest of their lives. I've seen monographs where the author had no academic affiliation but their Grand Ecole diploma, but it was displayed prominently as a qualification. (Can you imagine a BA or even a Masters from an Ivy treated so?) I dated someone with a Grande Ecole background briefly. The career having proved onerous, this person had moved into tutoring. Work poured in, as the qualifications and status of a Grande Ecole degree were so alluring.
Okay, this much said, I feel I have a basis for saying that as much as I admire Pierre Bourdieu's Distinctions, I question the book's easy transferability to other cultures.