I have a few gross generalizations of French people and Germans I’d like to share. I would definitely consider myself an expert from my approximately 1.5 days spent in each country.
- Love and appreciate beauty: I could have said “really care about appearances” here but I do think this is a positive thing and wanted to word it as such. Museums, architecture, building codes to prevent ugly things from being built, general indignation over perceived ugly things that get built anyway, tendency to dress well at all times–all of these things display the French people’s appreciation of the beauty of the world and their commitment to add to it, not take away. Interesting thought–how am I adding beauty to the world today? Art, music, the way I dress, the beautiful words I use to express myself?
- Feel a sense of privilege or entitlement: I think this is where the impression most of us have of the French as rude comes from. Related to this is the commitment to proper behavior. I laughed when translating the words that are printed on every public trash container in Paris, “Vigilance” and “Propriety.” Not even a statement like, “Don’t be a litter bug, be vigilant!” was necessary to get across the point. Just the words are reminder enough. Back to the sense of privilege–I have two examples.
- One is that there is an entrance to the Louvre between statues of lions that never has a line. The regular entrance’s line is hours long every single day during the busy season, but does anyone “in the know” let the tourists in on the secret? Nope. Parisians are happy to have their secret queue so they can visit their museum whenever they would like to visit.
- Example two came when we were in line to enter the Notre Dame Cathedral. The line was long, but it moved very quickly since you don’t have to pay to get in. We waited around 10 minutes to get in. Just as we got to the front, three people joined the line just behind us. Two people pointed to the back of the line hundreds of yards back and said, “This is not where you enter the line.” Didn’t matter. Totally ignored. I’m sure they understood us though we spoke in English because a determined look and refusal to make eye contact is not the same as a look of confusion over not understanding someone’s language. I’m not sure they were French, but I’d bet 5 EUR. My guess is that they felt entitled to visit their own cathedral when they wished, that tourists had time and money to spare, but they were the ones who truly owned the cathedral in an emotional and spiritual sense, so they had a right to enter at the front of the line. In America, we don’t seem to feel a sense of ownership of common property like this. It’s a more communal way of living and thinking. We tend to congratulate ourselves on being clever or out-smarting others, not on our collective accomplishment of building a beautiful public facility. I could expound upon this point further, but I’d be curious to hear others’ thoughts.
- Love and appreciate efficiency: As I could have restated my first French point, I could restate this point as “really care about rules.” I have two positive examples and one negative.
- In France, we repeatedly were frustrated by ticketing machines that only accept European credit cards with their advanced computer chips or coins. Coins do go up to 2 EUR, but we were needing to pay fees up to 18.50 EUR with coins. We had plenty of 20 EUR bills, but we would have to circle the facility with bags in tow to find a change machine. Once we had to resort to buying gum to get enough coins for only a 3.40 EUR metro fee. In Germany, I had to buy a 15.60 EUR train ticket from Aachen to Cologne. I was afraid that I’d have to find a change machine, but guess what! They took BILLS at the train station’s ticketing machines! What a technological marvel. This little convenience saved us a few minutes that day, and many more minutes in the grand view of our vacation. No, it’s not the biggest deal, but one would think that France would want to make it easier for people to visit it. Germany seems to have figured that bit out.
- Second, we used the “left luggage” room in the Gare du Nord train station in Paris to store our luggage during our day of bike touring. In Germany, I was surprised to see “left luggage” compartments smack dab in the middle of the train station’s main hall, easy to access. In contrast, we spent more than 20 minutes looking for a place to make change for lockers and then finding where they were located in an obscure corner of the Gare du Nord station behind a security screening. We were grateful for the service in Paris, but again, Germany wins the “make things easy and efficient” gold star.
- Third, I was surprised that when I checked in to the Hilton Cologne last night, I was turned down for the first time ever from getting a free breakfast as a Hilton Honors gold member. Apparently, I have a setting on my profile that says I’d rather get points than the breakfast. This came up before checking in elsewhere, but I just asked, “Oh, can I swap that and get the breakfast?” Never a problem. In Germany? No way. “You must change your profile at least 24 hours in advance of checking in. You may still take advantage of our wonderful breakfast for 24 EUR per person.” Instead, I went to the bakery down the street for a pastry and a coffee for 2.75 EUR.
- Oops I can’t remember what this observation was going to be. I’ve made it to Frankfurt, and I’m feeling pretty tired, so I may take a quick nap while finishing up work for the day.
P.S. Wow, when did I get so wordy? Do you think I’m using up my daily words quota since I can’t ‘talk very well to random passersby?