Please let it be known that I adore almost everything French. Nothings galls me more than to have someone who has never visited the country of France go on and on about how rude the French are. It’s just not true. Cultural differences do not constitute rudeness.
But all that being said, I do hate the “gallic shrug.”
I don’t know where the expression first came from, but anyone who has ever visited France has seen it many times. It involves the raising of the shoulders with palms facing the sky and the lower lip stuck out. It can be interpreted in many ways.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you expect me to do about it?”
“Tell it to someone who cares.”
My sister got a first hand dose of it when she asked the scary night clerk at our hotel why her phone wouldn’t work. According to him, it was my sister’s problem, not his. Nothing he could do about it. She suggested that perhaps he had turned it off somehow. He was skeptical. Until he realized that he had done just that.
I was on the receiving end of a world-class shrug when I asked the Air France stewardess if she could get me any information on our connecting flight on the return trip. You see, the French air traffic controllers had declared a two hour strike just as we were boarding. Just enough time to make us miss our connection at JFK. “No madame, I cannot find out any information for you…that is a Delta flight.
“Aren’t Air France and Delta partners?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she replied. “We are partners, but I cannot give you any of that infomation.”
Delta might want to rethink the concept of partner in this case.
So…if your only encounter with the French was these two, then you might indeed have a negative perception….especially if you’re from a Southern city that’s routinely named among the friendliest in the country. But we met many delightfully helpful people as well. Like the two women who stopped us on the sidewalk to tell us that the wait for the Rodin Museum was two hours. It took a few tries for me to get their pantomine, but we finally communicated. Or the woman at the restaurant who was so embarrassed and apologetic when we pointed out her error on our bill.
In my mind, you might as well stay home if the only places you travel to are exactly like the one you left.
Same people. Same food. Same language. Same scenery.
Putting up with the occasional Gallic Shrug is a small price to pay for visiting Paris. It’s like having a side dish you don’t really like on the plate with an otherwise fantastic meal. Just push it to one side and enjoy everything else.