We’ve been here long enough that we are going past first impressions to notice patterns of French-isms. Or maybe they are Brittany-isms. Time will tell. Some you’ll recognize, as they are Gallic classics.
Others are not. Unlike the experiences we’ve had in other parts of France, and by that I mostly mean Paris, people in Brittany are warm and friendly. Whenever I expect to have a nasty word or expression flung upon me, I receive instead a smile, a quip or a joke. I can’t think of a single exception. We need extra help in the post office, or forget to weigh the produce at the supermarket, or confuse the small change required to pay for an item, and it’s always a friendly and relaxed “pas de problème” or “c’est pas grave” (both essentially mean “no problem”).
The “time-out” people take habitually. You see them in park benches, in cafés, along various promenades, just hanging. No, I don’t think every French person does this every day. But they sure do it more often than Americans.
The French queue as politely as the British. They even have the proverbial stiff upper lip in certain FUBAR situations. Recently we arrived at a movie theater to learn our film “séance” was going to be more than 30 minutes late. Who has ever heard of such a thing? But there was the long line of patient movie-goers, and as the time stretched on there wasn’t a single peep of frustration except from the gauche American, yours truly.
People actually attend church services in Brittany. I started off going into churches to see if the stained glass happened to be throwing off colorful reflections, and was startled to see packed naves and aisles on Sunday mornings. It’s an officially secular country, remember. Churches are mostly empty in Italy, although it is stereotyped as Catholic.
I have to add my pet peeve French-ism. They have an approach to toilets that I struggle to understand. In a home, the toilet is always separate from the room with the shower or bathtub. Good idea! But, I find it odd that no matter how fancy the bath room is, the toilet is like an indoor outhouse. Drab, cramped, a kind of embarrassment or afterthought. Plus, it’s weird to almost never find a sink in the toilet room.
Children seem to be loved, but not indulged. As a result, they tend to be very well-behaved in restaurants or other public places. Contrast that with the English family of three boys who loudly tore around a café while Mom and Dad were absorbed in their phones, oblivious to the pained glances from other habitués. And not all French children are obsessed with devices. In the castle town of Vitré, we saw two boys playing on their doorstep with paper models of medieval forts and castles.
I love how, even in the case of the supermarket cashier who sees an assembly line of customers all day long, it’s a pleasant “bonjour” and “bonne journée” to begin and end our interaction. Civility counts for a lot in society, I find.