I know I may be pessimistic but some things just seem to be true. And one of those things is the rumor that the French are sort of rude assholes. As I've said before they have a hypocritical sense of manners. They chide you for failing to say "bonjour," "bon nuit," or "oui, merci," and at the same time treat you like complete shit in most of your personal encounters. But maybe a lifetime of wine and cigarettes have hardened them. Who knows?
It probably doesn't help that thus far all of my experiences with French people have been either at work or when they are supposed to be helping me with their customer service skills. Of course these skills don't exist, and at work they treat me like an idiot but that is present in most kitchen atmospheres. Still, I have had numerous times when I have uttered the words, "I fucking hate the fucking French!" because, lets face it, they make some things a lot harder than they need to be.
Take, for example, my poor friend Elze. Elze has a French bank account and is trying to transfer some money over to her new landlord. Her bank agent has been on vacation for three weeks and ignoring her calls for over five. She emailed. She called. She went into the bank branch here in Paris (because she opened her account in Lyon when we were living in Yssingeaux studying pastry), but apparently they only can help her at her original bank. When she called other people to help her with her problem they either didn't speak French or hung up on her. I even witnessed this with my own eyes. Two bank phone representatives just hung up on her mid-sentence. Because going to the bank and dealing with money issues is so much fun in our own countries, apparently the French like to spice things up a bit with some classy 'tude.
Why they did this I don't really know. Maybe it was because they were tired of listening to english. Maybe they were tired of speaking english. Maybe they wanted to go out for a cigarette. Or perhaps they just liked the clicking sound the phone makes when you hang up on someone. Whatever the reasons may be I still don't exactly understand it. What is it in French DNA that makes it impossible to want to help someone? Especially when you're paid to do so?
Upon entering numerous French stores I have noticed that the clerks mentally roll their eyes at me. Is it because I'm American and they can spot it like I've spilled some red white and blue on my starred and spangled shirt, or is it because I'm a customer that may actually want them to help me or, heaven forbid, buy something and it will distract them from their day of doing nothing? Waiters often do the same thing. I understand you're busy but does that mean you have to be so upset about giving me a menu? Is it necessary to crash my glass down on the table just because I'm getting water and not wine? And I'm sorry I'm asking you what this word means but would you rather I don't and then send back the plate of kidneys you bring me? Oh, that's right, there's a no return policy in most French kitchens. How silly of me to forget.
When looking for an apartment in Paris you would think I was asking for something as rare and difficult to find as a liver on the black market. And you would think I was asking for this from a mother of fifteen who didn't have a phone or internet connection. I would call or email and if I was lucky I got a response a week later, by which time the apartment I wanted was rented to someone else. The only time I got anything done was when I wrote an extremely pissed off email and left an extremely pissed off message on the answering machine of a rental agency. Then I got the red carpet treatment. Well as red carpet as France can get. Let's call it orange carpet instead, just so we're clear.
So maybe that's the trick. Maybe showing any kindness our courtesy marks you as an oustider, a weirdo, a weakling, or something else that should be mistrusted and treated with the same disgust and disrespect you would treat a cockroach running through your kitchen. But stomp your feet and throw in a few rude words of self entitlement and they change their tune. I'm going to have to keep this in mind when I deal with people while I'm here. If you want to get anything done or to be treated with any sort of respect you have to demand it like a child demanding ice cream for dinner, with complete and utter entitlement based on no form of reality what-so-ever.
I also need to remind myself that not having much of an opportunity to get to know any actual French people has skewed my opinion of them. I haven't made any French friends and maybe after I do I will relinquish my judgments. I observe them at their worst times. It'd be like observing the docile eating habits of Americans on Thanksgiving. But then again, Thanksgiving is one day. The French fail at customer service three hundred and sixty five days a year.