Posted by: patenttranslator | July 31, 2015

Three Things That Baffle Me to No End in French Movies

I’ve been trying to learn French since I was fifteen, which is about two centuries ago.

At this point, I would still describe myself as an advanced beginner when it comes to understanding colloquial French. So I try to watch French movies as much as possible.

I have several movie packages with my cable subscription, but they keep showing the same dull American “action movies” and I’m sick and tired of the car chasing scenes, special effects and blood and gore in movies that are clearly designed for an audience with an IQ below seventy.

So I watch French movies instead based on the theory that even if it is a dumb movie, and it often is, it will be good for something because it should be good for my French.

I’ve lived in a number of countries on three continents, but I never lived in France. I started learning the language in high school, but I only visited France twice as a tourist. So there is a lot of things I don’t get about the French culture when I watch French movies or TV series (I try to watch Plus Belle La Vie sometime when I am not busy), such as:

1. How the French keep kissing each other on the cheek.

Men and women kiss each other on the cheek, while men still mostly shake hands, though not always.

I get that every culture has different customs.

Mongolians add butter to their tea because it’s cold in Mongolia and they need the calories in the harsh climate. Eskimos rub their noses when they greet each other, mostly to show that they come in peace, although the real reason may be to make sure that their noses have not fallen off yet in the cold winters beyond the Arctic circle. The Japanese bow deeply to each other and keep their head down for a precisely specified time period depending on social status.

And the French keep kissing each other on the cheek. OK, I don’t really have a problem with that. The Japanese have a bowing culture because they are very conscious of the social order, and the French have a kissing culture because it is a nation that puts more emphasis on tenderness than the proper social order, I get that.

No big mystery there, but why do they sometime kiss each other on the cheek only once, but sometime twice or three times, and sometime four times?

And both kissing parties always seem to know exactly how many times it should be done and precisely at what interval. Should one of the kissing parties linger on the other person’s cheek for a split second longer, it would spoil the natural effect of the whole kissing procedure and the result might be somewhat awkward. For example, instead of kissing each other four times according to the proper rhythm demanded by the vibrant French culture, they might end up doing it only twice or three times, which would probably qualify as anti-social behavior.

But that never happens, at least not in French movies that I have seen.

2. How they keep drinking red wine on every possible occasion.

Regardless of the time of day, the French just ask each other “Tu veux prendre un verre?” (literally, “You want to take a glass?”), and they either go straight to a cupboard in the kitchen where they have a bottle of red wine waiting for them already uncorked and started on, or if they are outside their home, they go to a restaurant and drink red wine. And they never drink white wine in movies. They may be asked by a waiter whether they want white or red, but they always go for red.

They drink it with or without a meal, and then they get up from the table and drive somewhere in their “bagnole” (car) usually a Peugot, sometime a German car, typically a Ford if the person driving the car is about to be ambushed or meet with a tragic end in some other fashion.

Based on what I see in French movies, it must be legal for French people to drive after they have been drinking their national libation of choice even if they have just finished off a whole bottle of red wine.

They even give red wine to children (which would be a major crime here in US) if the kids ask for it in French movies, although sometime they just pour a little bit of it into the glass and fill the rest with water for the French enfant terrrible.

3. How they keep drinking beer from tiny glasses that seem to be wine glasses, but a bit shorter.

I see it in movies all the time, and it actually happened to me too. Every time when I ordered a beer in a French restaurant, they brought it to me in one of those funny little glasses that look like wine glasses that should be recalled for safety reasons because they are too short. You could easily knock them over when you have a few beers in you. That’s why in Germany, they drink beer from a big solid “Stein”, which literally means “a stone” because the glass is as heavy as a stone. In France, they drink beer from diminutive wine glasses instead. What a perfect symbol for a terrible clash of incompatible cultures!

I once bought a set of glasses in Walmart that looked exactly like the French beer glasses, just for the heck of it. These glasses must have been made in China by Chinese people, who simply ignored proper specifications for glasses that white devils may use in America, to try drinking beer that I usually have with my dinner like the French on the theory that it just might make me more fluent in French.

But one day, when my son happened to stop by while we were having dinner, he looked at me with an astonished look on his face and said “You drink beer from a wine glass”? It was the same look he gave me when he me asked one day “You wear pink socks”? No, I don’t were pink socks!!! The socks were originally ochre, but because they too were made in China, after I threw them in the washing machine with some other items of clothing, they became pink and I didn’t really notice.

So I stopped wearing pink socks and drinking beer from those defective wine glasses because you never know who might stop by and catch you doing something silly like that.

After a hiatus of more than three decades, I’ll be in France for about a week at the beginning of September for The Fourth IAPTI Conference in Bordeaux.

I’ll probably have a list of a few other things that baffle me about the French people for you by September.

See you in Bordeaux! I’ll have a teaser booklet of my posts with me – ask and you shall receive!

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Responses

  1. The number of kisses depend on which part of the country you’re in and often also whether you’re in the town or country. I haven’t read this but it seems to offer a rough guide: http://www.arte.tv/magazine/karambolage/fr/lusage-la-bise-karambolage

    White wine is more common in “Anglo-Saxon” countries. In the summer, it would be a chilled red or rosé.

    I’ve never seen French kids drinking wine, it’s usually foreigners who tell me that they do.

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  2. “I’ve never seen French kids drinking wine, it’s usually foreigners who tell me that they do.”

    I’ve seen French parents abuse their children in this manner myself, but it was more than 30 years ago.

    Maybe they don’t do it anymore.

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  3. “The Japanese have a bowing culture because they are very conscious of the social order, and the French have a kissy-kissy culture because it is a nation that puts more emphasis on tenderness than the proper social order, I get that. ”

    Thank you very much for this beautiful peace of shit. Your next vacation/trip should be to France…so you’ll learn not to write one cliché after this other in your posts.

    P.-S.: stop watching French TV series and watch more French movies from Godard, Chabrol, Klapisch etc. even with subtitles…you’ll see, it’s enlightening.

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  4. You must have been so repulsed by my post that you did not read it to the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Das mit dem Küssen und dem Autofahren nach Weingenuss trifft auch auf Italien zu. Ich habe mich nie daran gewöhnen können.
    Ich bin gespannt auf die Impressionen aus Bordeaux (mir unbekannte Stadt).

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  6. “No big mystery there, but why do they sometime kiss each other on the cheek only once, but sometime twice or three times, and sometime four times?

    And both kissing parties always seem to know exactly how many times it should be done and precisely at what interval. […]

    But that never happens, at least not in French movies that I have seen.”

    I think by the end of my 7 months in France I probably had it sussed, but that was decades ago, and things most likely have changed since my day.

    But you’re right: I never remembered seeing anyone get it wrong – apart from myself, of course!

    “They even give red wine to children (which would be a major crime here in US) if the kids ask for it in French movies, although sometime they just pour a little bit of it into the glass and fill the rest with water for the French enfant terrrible.”

    Yes, I was a bit shocked as well at first to see the family giving the young children watered-down wine. It *was* only vin de table, though (which you could buy in the supermarkets, bringing your own bottles and filling them!): I think they would have drawn the line at doing that with decent red wine, though. It is indeed a common occurrence.

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  7. I and my sister, we used to steal my father’s wine from a special pantry he had order made before he accepted the flat. But only white wine, he never drank red.

    And he would send me to bring him a pig pitcher of beer on tap when I was around 10 (usually Budveiser, but real Bohemian Budveiser, not the cat-piss called Bud that passes for beer) from a restaurant across the square, and of course, I was sipping it as was walking back home.

    He was OK with the beer, because he would see if I drank too much, but eventually he found a better place place for the wine (under lock).

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  8. We are a mixed French-English couple; my English wife is always puzzled by how many kisses – it depends on which of my relatives we are visiting in which part of France (where we’ll be, in Aude, just before the conference in Bordeaux if you want to visit us!).

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  9. Thanks for the invitation, although I don’t think I will have the time.

    But since you are French and have French relatives in various parts of the country, could you provide some pointers as to how this kissing tradition in your opinion works? Is there a rule for how many kisses are required?

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  10. About kissing on the cheek: there are other European countries where it is quite normal to do that: Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium… The number of kisses may depend: generally 2 in Spain (at least, in Andalusia where I live). If I remember well, usually 3 in the Netherlands and Belgium, but may be not everywhere.

    About drinking wine in France: I do not know about series or movies as I do not look at them, but I remember the old slogan of security prevention “Boire ou conduire, il faut choisir”. 😉

    About beer in Germany: while big glasses and “Bierkrüge” are very common in the South (mainly Bavaria) (and everywhere where tourists are expected to find them), you will look for them in vane in the North. In Westphalia, where I come from, for example, they also drink beer in small glasses. And a Becks bottle is even smaller than a Warsteiner bottle.

    It is quite risky to talk about “France”, “Germany”, “Spain”, etc. Most European countries have very different traditions depending on the region / cultural or social background . And movies have sometimes very little to do with real life. 😉

    But I will be very interested to read your real impressions of Bordeaux!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. P.S. I do not know any rule for “how many kisses ?…”. Locals just know how to begin and where to stop. Maybe there is a rule though.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi,dear colleague.
    I enjoy your blog very much.
    If you like Frenck films, I would recommend this one:
    http://www.filmaffinity.com/en/film217719.html
    Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
    Thank you for your blogs and your music.
    Best regards,
    Alejandra

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Regarding red wine (or any other sort of alcohol) to kids, this is a story that my parents born in the 30’s used to tell from their childhood in rural environments; I am not sure that any French able to read a TV program up to finding a better option could look at “Plus belle la vie”, but if they do show this, it is just as forbiddent by general culture as in other countries.
    French may allow alcohol for parties on the workplace that Americans should not tolerate, but for alcohol and kids, not under 18 is the rule in shops like in most homes.

    Regarding the number of kisses, a man should shake hand with a woman he does not know or to whom he is supposed to show some respect: customer, boss, business partner, etc.

    A few pointers:
    https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baiser#Baiser_sur_la_joue
    http://fr.sputniknews.com/societe/20150719/1017099875.html
    http://www.lemondedetiwit.fr/culture-2/douce-france/la-bise-une-tradition-bien-francaise/
    This one mentions 2 geographical surveys:
    http://www.combiendebises.com/
    http://combiendebises.free.fr/
    I found an other one:
    http://www.mon43.fr/article.php?id=53418
    that quotes this English language survey based on same data:
    http://www.radicalcartography.net/index.html?frenchkisses
    A forum did discuss that also:
    http://projetbabel.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=7136

    As a rule of thumb, 2 kisses starting on the left cheek (the one of the receiving person, on your right) is a good default start; if you’re in a region where everyone uses 4 kisses, you will obviously obey the rule; but beware a number of “Guide des bons usages” (mine is from Françoise Quercize, did belong to my mother in previous century) consider 3 as a rural habit not to be used among quality people.
    A good collection of these deliciously old-fashioned books here:
    http://leslivresdemarthe.over-blog.com/article-ma-collection-de-livres-sur-le-savoir-vivre-1860-1995-54233695.html

    So different social environements in the same region may have different standings on that: 3 kisses in a docker or sailor bar, 2 upstairs in the upper-class hotel or yacht reception.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Didier, for those useful clarifications! I really did not realize that kissing on the cheek was such a science with many different rules from region to region!

      Like

  14. Thanks, Didier.

    I assume foreign tourists are exempt from these rules – wouldn’t want to make the faux pas of kissing somebody on the cheek three times instead of twice or four times when I visit France next month.

    Like

  15. Foreign tourists typically do not know anybody enough to kiss them, unless they are invited to do so (“on se fait la bise?”)
    Then they will be welcome to learn and enter the world of tenderness that may be overstated in exported movies: one may kiss a female boss that they hate or shake hand with a colleague whom they should like to date but do not dare to ask.

    Rest assured anyway that it is never a serious faux pas: French are perfectly synchornized to kiss people they know well and kiss often, they do also hesitate of rub noses with more distant people in time of space, this may be a good start for a fou rire that will let you get introduced nicely also.

    Liked by 1 person


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