Different strokes for Different folks

It’s been a week of racism in unexpected places. First, Titan’s boss Maurice Taylor, writes an epic letter to the French government, which is ‘leaked’, accusing the French of working three-hour days and not being in the same league as China, competitively.

Then the French get all defensive about it.

As you would.

Nobody likes to be accused of laziness, and if laziness is anywhere, it’s not in the French private sector. Two-hour lunches, sure, but not laziness. French public sector? I could agree with them being lazy, to some degree. They’re bloated and unionised on the whole, and it’s because of that that French labour costs are among the highest in Europe. Industry is holding up a bloated civil service. Plus, it takes anyone in a sizeable workplace twenty minutes just to say hello to everyone in the morning what with all the kissing and being polite.

However, few places can compete with China in terms of competitiveness. That’s what happens in a non-unionised one-party country of vast human resource. If you want to be ‘competitive’, pay peanuts, abuse human rights and look to slavery as your economic model.

But… Titan’s letter could have been written to any begging industry minister in Western Europe, pretty much.

Though the French have taken it very personally and there are cries of racism from every corner. But is it? Well, it’s not. Not really.

It’s the kind of plain-talking, brutally honest, out-of-order speech of a egotistical man who got 1% of a Republican ticket in the USA and who gives a toss what he thinks?

Honestly, the best thing the French can do is shrug and admit that he’s a bit right and a lot of an imbecile. France can’t compete with China. Cheap is China’s USP. And France’s fat and sweaty union bosses have fought a long time for a two-hour lunch and high pay for their workers. In fact, they’ve fought long and hard for everything that makes France (and every other unionised country) “unproductive.”

Because, ultimately ‘productive’ often means flagrant abuse of everyone else’s human rights. If you don’t believe me, watch “An Inspector Calls” and read a little Marx.

But the first thing that happened was this uproar of racism against the French.


The French must be one of the last nations on the politically correct boat. I’m not passing judgement on that. They just are. They’re about the only nation who feel like it’s okay to pass comment about everyone else in the world and that’s how it is. The Dutch? Don’t like how they congregate in villages and bring their own groceries when they come on holiday.  Chinese? Meh. Northern Africans? Black feet. (Pieds-noirs is still a term I hear in the supermarket about anyone from south of the Mediterreanean, although it originally meant Algerians). I heard all of these things when I was in the supermarket café.

Just this week, for instance, I read a comment on Tripadvisor about a restaurant near me. It’d be very nice, the comment said, if it weren’t for the English voices.

And then I read another one. A French woman in an English party had overheard the waiter in the same restaurant issuing a polemic to the chef about the bloody English at her table, thinking she was English too. How dare the English ask for wine before apéros?! Hooligans!

Out of fifteen reviews, five mentioned something negative about the English. Seven of the remaining reviews were by English people.

I thought it might just be that restaurant, so I looked at another very popular restaurant. One with an English clientele and an English chef.

Three French reviews. Very nice, they conclude, even if the chef is English.

I can just imagine the outrage if an Indian or Chinese restaurant in England had reviews saying “unexpectedly nice, despite the fact the chef is Punjabi/Chinese/Vietnamese”.

Part of the problem is, I know, that the Charente has a frustratingly high percentage of English-speaking residents (including American, Australian, Kiwi, Scottish, Welsh, Norwegian, Irish and even Mexican residents) and that it IS irritating to feel like you’re living in a ghetto of immigrants if you’re French. There are lots of English-speakers who can’t or won’t speak French. BUT… I’d like to think the English-speakers contribute more than they take. AND we are often the ones who keep restaurants running. Many would have dried up if it were not for truckers or chèque dejeuners or English-speakers.

Sure, many French people holiday here, and in Charente-Maritime. 70% of French people holiday in France. But then lots of other nationalities do too. Having spent some time last week researching the area for an article, I realised that virtually none of the tourist sites had English options; that means that if you are non-French-speaking, you just aren’t going to use the sites. There’s no reason in this day and age not to open yourself up to the rest of the world. Sure, when I travelled in Brazil, there weren’t many sites in English either, but that was 2003 and I met precisely zero English-speaking people on my travels.

France has one great thing going for it. Itself. It is the most-visited tourist destination in the world. That doesn’t include the 70% of the French population who visit here. That fact is France’s USP.

Yet it would seem that it goes out of its way to make it hard for English-speakers to visit and that, given the overt racism on Tripadvisor, it would prefer Dutch, Belgians, Germans, Spanish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, American, Canadian, Australian, Chinese and Korean people not to come here at all. From what I’ve seen, some French people feel it’s okay to go out of their way to use language as a way to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.

And that is not a good thing.

I know I feel the apologist coming on. I speak the popular English and I don’t agree with all the crazy political correctness in the UK. However, I know in the time before the doors open in England to Bulgarians and Romanians, someone somewhere will be ensuring that all our important social and legal documents have an appropriate version in Bulgarian or Romanian. I also know that should someone express surprise on a popular global review site that someone is a good chef despite their nationality, that would soon come to the attention of the masses who would decide that that is NOT okay to say that, not in public.

If it’s not okay for Maurice Taylor to be racist, making stereotyped, racist, generalised comments in private, how is it okay for many French to make racist, stereotyped, generalised comments in public and not receive the same level of challenge?

That is something I do not understand.

7 thoughts on “Different strokes for Different folks

  1. It amuses me that the French have exactly the same reputation in North Africa as tourists that the Dutch have here in France.

    The letter, on the other hand, made me cringe — for its crudeness and because of its assumption that I will buy tyres made by someone paid $1 an hour and that there is no value in anything except business, and because I was insulted on behalf of my French friends who work extremely hard, and because it feeds on a ridiculous and ignorant stereotype. I think you’ve put it extremely well.

    1. I agree about the French in general abroad – it was the whole reason for the nouvelle villes of many North African towns, of course. There are plenty of French in Kensington who refuse to speak English, but then there are quite a few Aussies in Earl’s Court who are the same 😉

    2. LOL! Didn’t know that about the French in N Africa.
      Though in fairness there is a lot of truth concerning the reputation of the Dutch tourist [and I’m allowed to say so ;-)]

  2. i love it. sounds like america. a lot of the ignorant rednecks don’t even call spanish spanish. how about mexican. or you will like this english is called ‘merican. most of this is from old fat white guys and some of their wives. i’m a 68 year old not fat white guy.

    the hateful, don’t try to understand them. at least i don’t. i laugh at them. mortality is the cure for the the “tea baggers/republicans. they are largely old. by by. adios see ya.

    gom.(or women)

    by the way how is the garden coming. billy

    1. Billy, I think there’s a lot in common between France and some of the US – I know most US citizens holiday in the US, for example. However, I don’t think there’s as much disgust for racism in France. The Republicans all worry me! The garden is cold. Cold Cold Cold

  3. Great post. I can speak French (as can most Canadians because we live in a bilingual country and are taught it in school, but I also come from a French background). While my mastery of the language is not perfect, I can certainly get by and understand pretty well every word. But even with this, I was made to feel like such an unwelcome bumpkin when I once took my hard earned money and visited Paris. The resounding memory of the people can be summed up in one word, ‘grumpy’. That being so, will I ever go back? In deed I’d love to because it is such a beautiful city. But I certainly won’t be making conversation with anyone, beyond what is necessary. Because really, who wants to associate with a grumpy person? I feel sorry for them because they seem to be missing out on the small joys that come with cheerful human interaction.

    1. To be fair, most people in Paris also hate other Parisians and are just as rude to each other, but yes, it certainly doesn’t try to be helpful. In general, I think most Parisians prefer Americans than English-speaking Canadians. It’s utterly bizarre. When I compare it to Morocco, where I was made to feel like a queen for visiting their country and everyone was so kind, it’s just weird. Ahh, the conundrum of the French!

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