Fino’s Guide to the French – Issue #8 – Exceptions and opposites

Hopefully Humorous Observations and Occasional Tips in Dealing with the Gauls and Parisians

Li exception verefie la riule (1322). [Varin, Archiv. administ. de la ville de Reims, t. II, 1re part. p. 324]. Rough translation: “The exception confirms (or validates) the rule.”

The French are big on opposites and exceptions. The 14c quote above goes far to explain this because it is taken as a given here that exceptions to rules just make the rules stronger. There is always an alternative route and a workaround. Another expression of this is the “exception française” or French exception. This is the belief that the French are a class apart and so some rules do not apply to them and some rules apply ONLY to them. This makes life really interesting for ex-pats here because there is no written playbook of these rules, they are mostly unspoken and undocumented. In dealings with the French over the last 15 years and continuing today, I am constantly getting tangled into some crazy implicit reference or gesture that goes right over my Anglo-Saxon head and yet meant something very real, very important to the speaker and thus puts me in a spot. You never know quite where you stand, but that is apparently normal.

Some other kind of funny opposites between the French and the Anglo-Saxons:

  • Drivers licenses: here you start with 12 points and they deduct points for tickets, in the US you accumulate points instead
  • Book bindings: a book title standing on a shelf is read from bottom to top. In most of the rest of Europe and the US,  it is read top to bottom. I can understand the logic of the latter system because when the book is lying cover-up on a table, the title on the binding is not upside-down as is the case for the French style.
  • Counting on fingers: the French start with their thumb for “1” whereas anglo-saxons end with the thumb. That’s why #1 for anglo-saxons is an index finger raised high but this means nothing to the average French person. I am fairly sure that there was a movie where an imposter was demasked because he counted the wrong way with his fingers but can’t remember if it was “Catch Me if You Can” or something else…

More tomorrow – Rants!


About mfinocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
This entry was posted in blogging, life-in-france, Paris, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fino’s Guide to the French – Issue #8 – Exceptions and opposites

  1. Erik Spierenburg says:

    Inglorious Basterds. Working in Germany myself – as a Dutchman – I know exacvtly what you mean.

  2. Pingback: Fino’s Guide to the French – Issue #7 – Power | Fino's Weblog

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