Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let me be frank

Author's Note: I'd published this Thursday night but Blogger had problems and removed posts published after a certain time of day Wednesday. Along with some comments, too! Sorry, Jennet and Deirdre. I did publish your comments on Abba-Mania but they disappeared. Also Crystal who had already commented on this post before it got wiped. Here's what I could piece back together from my post, as some of it was saved in draft form.

The French are known for being frank. Well, actually, no offense, but they're known for being rude. I'm starting to wonder if it's really just that they are brutally honest. And they think it's probably for your own good. Constructive criticism gone a bit too far. I'm sure I've told you already that Google in the Silicon Valley likes hiring Frenchies because they're not afraid to give their opinion and shake up things a bit. While this may be great in a creative environment like Google, it's not always welcome in my living room.

Picture it: last week after I'd prepared turkey burritos and plain cous cous that got way too sticky (I've got starchy food issues, sometimes. Maybe I should see a specialist.). While I was munching down on my tex-mex, saying, in Crystal style, love me some mild spicy food, I casually asked Remi what he thought of the meal. Not exceptional, he answered. I'm sure he could tell by the frown/raised eyebrow/evil stare down that his answer wasn't going down well. So he explained that he's not too fond of Mexican food.

Fair enough. But where I come from (smiley, friendly US of A), we would have said things differently. Like, well, it's not bad, but a bit spicy for me. Call it sugar-coating, if you like. But I, for one, like sugar. It helps the medicine go down (sing it with me, Mary Poppins fans: medicine go dooooown).

And it got me to thinking that perhaps his response was perfectly fine for a French marriage where each is used to this kind of honest exchange. Where talking about and criticizing food is a national passion (French food recently got UNESCO World Heritage Status). But in a mixed marriage like mine, it opens up worlds of misunderstandings and hurt feelings (on my side at least). I tried to tell him that, in a non-confrontational way, but it really bummed me out last week. I'm not trying to make this a husband-bashing post, (if I'd written it last week you could have felt the anger spittle on your side of the screen). But I'm wondering how many other cultural differences like this we'll keep discovering. And maybe others in mixed relationships like myself have some advice on how to deal with these things. We might discover world peace along the way. Who knows how many international conflicts could have been avoided if we'd just known that the smirk from the opponent was NOT an invitation to warfare.

Like Rodney King said back in the day, can't we all just get along?


Crystal said...

Love me the shout out ;)

This was an interesting post because I've noticed Max is very blunt with everyone - except me. He'll often criticize his mom's cooking ("the fries are not crispy enough! Why do you buy this brand??") and I usually step in to defend her! But he has never criticized my cooking (at least not to my face). But I've always said that one of things I like most about Max is that he's very 'non French' and makes me think of a nice Canadian guy. Maybe that's why we are still together lol.

I wonder what French men say to the eternal question asked by wives/girlfriends/sisters: Do I look fat in this?

Anonymous said...

I like sugar coating!

I luckily don't have too many cultural misunderstandings with my British boyf. But between my French friends and I, there have been times when I've wanted to punch them!

One example is commenting very frankly on weight gain. My french friends have no problem mentioning if I'd put on a few kgs, or how the chocolate bar I'm about to eat is not good for my figure. Even a random man in the street commented on how the pain au chocolat I was eating wouldn't be good for my figure. I didn't think a French size 38/40 was huge! I like to make New Zealand cakes/sweets for special occasions. French comments have been "oh its very sugarery, lots of butter, so fat etc." I explain to deaf ears that they are for special occasions. I'm pretty sure all the sweets at the boulangerie have way more fat than my special occasion sweets.

Deidre said...

Hm, how interesting.

I have no solutions for you. Maybe in the future when he says something that's missing the sugar coating, just say "it'd make me feel better if you said it this way "...."" and then say it the sugar coated way? I got nothing.

And mexican food is delicious - so clearly he's silly.

Jessamyn said...

Well, I think you know what I'd like to say here - but I don't think you want me to actually say it.

So I'll say this... You will continue to find cultural differences in your marriage, but remember how much you've already changed. There are French things that you have adopted in your life that you actually enjoy! The fact that you live there indicates there are parts of French culture you do appreciate. But you need to be honest about the parts that you don't like. And if the extreme honesty hurts your feelings, then don't let that be something you just have to deal with. There is being honest with your loved ones and then there is being hurtful. And if a little sugar-coating can save a loved one from feeling hurt or disrespected, then sugar-coat! Or tell a little white lie. It actually shows empathy for your loved ones and an understanding for their weaknesses or struggles.

Tell hubby you're all for honesty and open communication - but not the kind of honesty that belittles one partner in the marriage, etc.etc.etc. you don't need me to go on.