The French love to argue. Often, I come away from a conversation with my husband feeling like we’ve had a fight, while he comes away from the same conversation thinking it was a really good discussion.
Honestly, it drives me crazy.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy good banter, or analyzing things, or getting in depth on politics, history, world events, etc. It’s just that I don’t enjoy it All. The. Time. Sometimes I want to kick back, have a drink, and laugh until my abs hurt. Americans, especially females, look to connect and find common ground through conversation. With my husband, I often feel like he takes the opposing stance just because it’s fun for him. As Olivier Magny points out in Stuff Parisians Like, the French don’t have conversations, they win them.
Often, our conversations will end with this:
Me: “Wait, that’s exactly the point I was making.”
Stéphane: “Yes. We’re violently agreeing.” Big smile, laugh.
Me: “Then why were you arguing with me?”
Stéphane: “Oh, that wasn’t arguing, was it?”
I’ll never forget the first time we hung out with P (name withheld to protect the innocent … or to protect me from the wrath of a Frenchman) and his wife. The topic came around to – surprise – politics. P had been eyeing me but not really including me in the conversation. I felt like I was being sized up; like he was calculating whether or not I would become a friend, accepted into this circle of Frenchies. He turned to me. “J’ai une question pour toi.”
His question had to do with Arizona politics. Being from Arizona and socializing in French circles has been a challenge considering the political climate of my home state. I don’t live there and hate much of what has been done there, yet I still feel embarrassed and defensive when people ask me: what is Arizona’s problem?
After he posed his question, I asked, in French, “Are you asking for my opinion on the new law, or are you asking me what it is about Arizona and the politics there that has allowed these things to come to pass?”
He eyed me very seriously and nodded his head. “Bon retour.”
Excellent return. Like we were in some sort of sporting match. I realize now that to him, we were. I held my own, and we became friends.
Every once in a while, during a dinner with French friends where politics and philosophy are being volleyed around, people are talking over each other, voices are rising, I have the urge to blurt out: “ ‘I see Blue. He looks glorious!’ …. Will Ferrell? …. Old School? …. Anyone?” Or perhaps more to the point: “I’d like to have an argument, please,” à la John Cleese.
I always joke that the French make things way more complicated than they need to be. Even our simple saying for plucking petals from a flower: “He loves me, he loves me not,” becomes complicated in French: “Il m’aime un peu, Il m’aime beaucoup, Il m’aime passionément, Il m’aime à la folie, Il m’aime pas du tout.” He loves me a little, he loves me a lot, he loves me passionately, he’s crazy for me, he doesn’t love me at all.
The fact that my husband is an engineer from France makes it even harder. Let’s. Analyze. Everything.
“Hey, Stef, could you dry the high chair tray with a towel after you wash it? If you prop it over the sink it’s never dry when I need it at lunch time.”
“It doesn’t get dry? Hmmm. I could look into devising a ventilation system where we could have it propped away from the wall and direct more air flow onto it so the droplets evaporate properly. It would involve using the window and working to control ambient temperatures. I might need to do some internet research to see how others have addressed this problem.”
“Or, you could just dry it with a towel.”
Okay, maybe that conversation didn’t quite happen that way.
However, I’m proud to say that on that “great discussion” I came out the winner.