Ne jamais ecraser le buste vers l’assiette

Translation: Never put your bust on your plate.

Found a marvelous blog called Shelley’s House from a new commenter (Hi Shelley!) that led me to this link on her blog post about Parisian politeness written by BBC UK.

(See everyone? Commenting works!! πŸ™‚

How else am I going to find you and your fab blogs?

I support de-lurking.)

The gist of French Politeness:

The title, “A history of politeness in France”, might strike the uncharitable as being a very short book indeed.


satc-carriefranceI had arrived punctually at the chic Parisian flat on the Left Bank, on the dot of eight o’clock in the evening, as per the invitation, bearing flowers for my hostess.

I wondered why she seemed slightly put out. I realised, when the other guests – politicians, a philosopher, a banker or two and their wives – finally arrived an hour later.


Constance patiently explained that a lady never, ever grabs the bottle of wine to pour her own drink.

She must wait for her host or another man to pour it for her. And more than one aperitif before dinner is considered the sure sign of an alcoholic, or an Englishwoman.

We are [England], after all, a nation renowned in France for ‘le binge-drinking’.


“Wishing someone bon appetit is seen as very vulgar in polite circles,” Constance explained, as I realised to my horror that I must have wished almost every French person I have ever met at a meal “bon appetit”.


A psychiatrist has coined a term for its effect on Japanese visitors to the city: “Paris Syndrome“.

Every year, several Japanese tourists have to be repatriated from Paris after falling prey to severe culture shock at the hands of the less than polite Parisians.

Waiters who fail to understand their order, taxi drivers who take them to the wrong place and then charge double.

All this is too much for some to take, as their dream of the city of light crumbles into a nightmare of darkness, creating a sense of rejection and paranoia.


FB Note: Ironically, this is sort of how I felt when I went to Japan as a kid for 3 weeks.

It was crazy there!

I had never felt so out of place, or like an alien in a totally foreign, diametrically opposing land.

They were also effusively polite to the point of embarrassment for me. I was thrown off!

But I didn’t feel any sense of rejection or paranoia.

Although if you’ve watched Lost in Translation with Bill Murray, I think some people experience the exact same thing in Japan.


Yet I know exactly how they feel after my encounter at a dress shop last week. I picked up a skirt to try on, and as I took it to the changing room, the shop assistant shouted out across the crowded room: “I wouldn’t bother if I were you – it’ll never fit!”

The phrase, “the customer is king”, has clearly lost something in translation.


“Never down your drink in one”, and “ne jamais ecraser le buste vers l’assiette” or “don’t put your bust in your plate” and “never make noises of satisfaction at the dinner table”.

And never, ever say bon appetit.

So now I know. And in spite of that, I’d like everyone across Britain to join me now in wishing all in France a very bon appetit indeed this Christmas.

FB’s Take

I was snorting throughout the entire article.

Some things the French do in France, are exactly the same as in Quebec (not all, mind you).

I went through a similar culture shock (although not quite as extreme), moving here to Montreal, what I truly consider to be the most bilingual city in all of Canada.

Everyone here really speaks enough French or English, and they speak one of the languages perfectly.


Montreal Culture Shocks:

Note: Quebeckers, please don’t get up in arms.

These were only my initial reactions to Montreal, and I know not all of you are like this.


Doing the cheek kissing thing.

Men, Women.

I even get confused whether it’s two kisses or four.

Sometimes I do the 2 cheek kiss, and then I pull back, only to see the person go back in for a third or fourth.

Awk-ward moment…!

So how many is it?

They say it depends on how well you know the person and where in France (or anywhere in Europe, because they do the cheek thing in Portugal too).

Translation: I have a sneaking suspicion that they don’t know either.

But if they’re of the opposite sex, and straight they go straight for the 4 kisses.


It’s the maximum they can get away with in front of your boyfriend without him punching their lights out.

Customer Service is shaky sometimes

Some stores are really amazing. I’d say a lot of stores, mostly chains like Jacob or Banana Republic, greet you when you walk in, follow you around to tell you about specials and then leave you alone.

But the truly Frr-ench stores like Boutique Onze on Ste-Catherine, will basically ignore you the entire time you are there.

You go to grab something off the shelf, and you feel their eyes, piercing into your back, mentally willing you to GTFO (Get the F*ck out).

The first time I EVER encountered this, I was in a state of culture shock.


They also sometimes do this charming catch-22 with the language.

If you speak English, some give off the impression they’re patronizing you by speaking it, because you should CLEARLY be speaking French here.

If you speak French, they’ll frown suspiciously at your non-Quebecois accent and then switch to English with a huff and a sigh, like they’re doing you a favour.

(Even BF has encountered this, and French is his mother tongue!!!)

Contrary to the article, they REALLY love beer and drinking here

It isn’t just for the English.

(Perhaps, the English influence is at play? *wink*)

They also enjoy their wine, and you can pick up alcohol anywhere, not like Ontario where you have to visit the LCBO.

People are EVERYWHERE on the patios in summer drinking beer, moreso than I’ve ever seen in Ontario or the States.

It is not considered socially wrong for a woman to drink more than one glass of wine.

Not here, at least.

They have summer hours of work

I was like: “hey.. WHAT?”, when I first heard about it.

This does NOT exist in Ontario, as far as I’ve ever known.

Legitimate, Company-Mandated Summer Hours.

When it’s summer, Fridays are half days, if you work later Monday-Thursday.

This is so you can go out and enjoy the weather (namely the beer, sun and scantily-clothed girls) on Fridays at 1 p.m. rather than being stuck at work, throwing evil stares at your boss, willing him to grow horns.

They all smoke

I feel like 99% of the people living here are hardcore smokers.

When you wander around downtown at around 10 a.m., you will see groups, nay, HORDES of people in little smoking packs, shivering, sipping their hot coffees and puffing as fast as they can.

Everywhere you turn, someone is lighting up.

Or blowing smoke in your face.

They all bike

Kind of an oxymoron with that smoking, no? πŸ˜›

Vancouver is comparable to Montreal in terms of hardcore bike lovers.

There are a lot of bike lanes here, and a lot of beautiful trails (BF and I are bikers too, but only on safe trails and off the road). So I can see why.

But I should mention that Vancouver has a fairly mild winter from what I understand, and Montreal has one of the nastiest I have ever encountered.

High winds, awful chunks of ice everywhere, snow up to your ears and the bitterness of having to live near water.

But you will inevitably, always see SOMEONE biking, even in the dead of winter.

I always peer out the car window and say: LOOK! LOOK! Another crazy sonofabitch is biking in 3 feet of snow!!!

They’re all divorced

At least, that’s what it seems.

Then again, I am in IT, so maybe there’s a higher rate of divorcees in such a lonely sausage-infested industry? πŸ˜›

But it was really surprising that out of 100 people in a department, only 10 were married, 10 were single and 80 were divorced.

No one likes to obey the pedestrian signals

Gives me a heart attack each time.

The worst is near La Baie on Ste-Catherine.

They will seriously walk whether the light is green or red, and flip the bird if they drive by, and try to honk to tell them “get out of the way you stupid idiot!

Having grown up in Toronto where people are more careful and pretty much respect pedestrian signals most of the time, this was something new for me.I think it’s due to the fact that in Toronto the cars aren’t really watchingΒ  for errant pedestrians like they are in Montreal, so they drive at 70 km/h.

And common belief is that if you are stupid enough toΒ  cross the street while they’re zooming along as is their right of way, you will end up getting hurt.

So I am always paralyzed on the side walk until the light changes.

No matter what.

I’m sure that it’s a surefire sign that I am NOT a native, but I don’t care.

It’s gotten so bad, I heard the police were started to hand out jaywalking tickets!!!

They are some crazy mofo’ing Formula 1 attitudes here

The first time I got into my car to drive to work, I realized that I would have to get up an hour earlier just to avoid having ANY cars on the road.


Because they don’t like to brake or stop here!!!

People say Toronto is awful for driving, and the Highway 401 is the worst place you can be…

But if you live in Canada and haven’t cut your teeth on Montreal traffic, you have NOT understood what it’s like to drive like a crazy person.

It’s not just me!

My sister came to visit me in Montreal, and she couldn’t believe how crazy it was on the roads.

No one respects the single lane.

Some cars try to squeeze by you in an extra big SINGLE lane because they think they can make it, which ends up causing fear and accidents.

The bridges are awful, with the ramps only lasting for a single car length or so (that is NOT enough time to merge safely).

Etc, etc.

Rapid-fire French all the time

They’re quite kind here.

They’ll stop and check to see if I understand once in a while, but most of the time, it’s blibbedy-blipblipblip in French.

The first time I ever had a French dinner, it was crazy.

I couldn’t understand a word that was being said, and one other fellow Anglophone took pity on me, and translated, which forced everyone to speak English for a short period of time.

I totally understood though.

If we were anywhere else with English-speakers, I’d be speaking baabbedy-bapabap in English instead of making an effort for one poor Frenchie.

Language majority rules in this case! So you’d best learn both languages or be left out. πŸ™‚

Anglophone Tourists (English-speaking Tourists) think people here can’t speak or understand English


I was walking behind a group of Ontarians, and I was practicing my French with BF on the streets.

I just innocently said something in French, and the guy whipped around, gave me a quick appraising stare, and said loudly, not knowing I was eavesdropping (tee hee!):

“Man I love it when people here only know how to speak French.

And when they speak English, it’s so accented.. and strange!

It’s like we live in the same country, but we have to feel like foreigners in it when we visit our own cities.

And it’s totally weird for me to hear it… blabbedy bla bla”

I couldn’t help laughing because I was just practicing badly spoken French, and the one time I do it in public, I get slammed by an Anglophone! πŸ™‚

I shot BF a look, but he of course, was clueless as to WTF just happened.

They have a deep-seated dislike for French people from France.

Not Belgium.

Not Switzerland.


I don’t get this at all from them, because I am clearly NOT French, but BF does.

He gets it at dinner parties, where they hear he’s from France, and they’ll launch into a tirade about how they should’ve come to save Quebec from the English during the war.

(Ouch, yo!)

And especially in interviews.

He’ll get questions like: “Oh but you speak French?

He replies affirmatively, and speaks a bit of French to demonstrate.

And then the next statement is…”But.. you speak French.. from FRANCE“, with a hint of disgust in their voice.



Those were pretty much my main impressions of Montreal when I first arrived.

Now that I’m “over” the culture shock, I don’t expect to find a salesperson, be served correctly/on time (and when I do, I am SO grateful, it’s sickening)…

I always call shops to check their hours, because nothing really “starts” until 11 a.m., and ends around 5 p.m. or earlier if they feel like it, even on Saturdays.

Very flexible hours in general.

And I always expect the government to eff up something on the tax returns, because they need to keep their jobs and make me travel downtown to sort it out.

I’ve also developed a smoking radar, and have learned how to whip my head from side to side to avoid the fumes of smoke drifting to assault my senses.

Looking BOTH WAYS before you cross any street, because bicyclists will run your ass down no matter where you are, if the cars haven’t gotten to you yet.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.