"It is not possible." (How Rude?)

Besides the French language, I feel like I’m getting to understand the mysterious French much better having to live among them. I understand completely where the some of the typical stereotypes come from and what the faults are in those stereotypes.

First impression: Taking a taxi from the airport, I was taken with how picturesque the city was. Truly, the most beautiful city I’ve ever been too. On arrival and check in at the hotel, we were given our room without delay and settled in. I really felt gross from traveling and decided to take a shower.

The shower curtain was sooo disgusting, it was growing mold. I mean the entire bottom of it was GREEN! So, since I was paying over €100 (add 20% for the US conversion) I decided I was going to ask if we could get a new one. No need for a new room or excessive anger on my part. I just didn’t want to shower in the jungle.

Alas, after struggling to explain the problem to the desk clerk in a bad mixture of English and French on both our parts, he tells me that a new shower curtain “is not possible.” And when I typed that period at the end of that sentence just now, I want you to know he meant period.

The French are rude is an easy conclusion to jump to when this is one of your first experiences followed by others like walking into a restaurant and having the host say in clipped, impatient English, “What do you want?” If this happened to me in the US, I probably wouldn’t be too far off in my presumption of rudeness, but living here, I’m beginning to understand that in their culture this is not someone going out of their way to be rude or having a bad day. On the contrary, this is someone trying to get to the point and get you what you want as quickly as possible.

Also, it is true that if you just make an attempt to speak their language, which most of us can do surprisingly easily, “Excusez moi, parlez vous Anglais?” When the inevitable answer, “A lee-tle” comes you can conduct the conversation in relative ease. Throw a s’il vous plait (please) and a merci (thank you) in there and they will always take the time to help you find your way. What’s rude about that?

So, while I’m coming to terms with the fact that there are many things that are “not possible” in France, I generally feel like the people have been very helpful in guiding us along our quests to get to know their citè.

I understand now that “It is not possible.” and “What do you want?” coming out of the mouth of someone whose first language is not English cannot be taken at face value. With English as my first language, I can soften those phrases into:

“I’m sorry, but it is not possible for us to replace the curtain because our housekeeping service is outsourced and we don’t have any to provide. As well our hotel is fully booked and I cannot offer you another room at this time.”


“How may I help you this evening?”

But I’m sure I too sound rude when I demand from the waiter in my limited French, “I would like bread WITH BUTTER and I would like french fries WITH KETCHUP.” (Je voudrais panne avec beurre è je voudrais pomme frittes avec ketchup.)

So, I really feel great that my experiences in France and Germany are helping me understand the ELL (English Language Learner) students I have tutored and taught in the past so much better. Being a FLL of late, I recognize in myself their timidity (a word?) towards speaking for fear of saying the wrong thing. The last thing I want to do is sound stupid or give a Frenchman fodder for their own sterotypes of Americans. (We are all only human, I guess.)

I think, in the future, I’ll be able to pull stories from my current adventures here to help my ELL students as they struggle with English as a second (or third) language.

6 Responses to “"It is not possible." (How Rude?)”

  1. Dirk the Feeble Says:

    The problem is, if I took your advice I would pronounce it just like it’s spelled – sill-vooooz-platt.

  2. JoyLuck Says:

    That is a problem.

    Spelling French is as difficult for me as speaking it sometimes and at these internet cafes I don’t hqve time to adjust to the “a”, “w”, and “m” being in the wrong place or find the damn quote mark on these European keyboards let alone figure out how to correctly spell “si vouz plat.”

    Be sure to read Carrie’s Musings too, Jacob, as she is dying for some sign of life in her comment section.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Perhaps you should take up latin.

  4. JoyLuck Says:

    Perhaps, “Anonymous”, I should take it up – AGAIN. But studying it in high school was enough for me.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    It is COOL to admit dislike for the difficult.

  6. JoyLuck Says:

    And it is ESPECIALLY COOL to call yourself “Anonymous” and offer unsolicited advice about how people should spend their time.

    You seem to have a lot of time on your hands, Anonymous (as do I considering I’ve bothered to respond to your COOL comments).

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