How to Start a Conversation, America vs France – The Paths of Marriage Series

websiteheader_nowavailable2_smallThis is the final post of the series that examines topics from the perspective of the characters in the upcoming novel, The Paths of Marriage which will be for sale starting 1 October 2014.

“How to Start a Conversation – America versus France” is written from the point of view of the character, Audrey Girard.

I am French. Not rude, French. Yes, there is a difference. As a psychologist, I can say with confidence the difference is almost always perception. Most of my patients come to me with a dramatic story of social isolation, or betrayal, or deception. While some of these patients certainly have actual mental illnesses, far more simply perceive something much too severely compared to what was intended. That is what we French think of your reactions to our culture, my dear Americans.

When I first started dating my partner, Deepa Deva, I thought our potential cultural clashes would be because she is of Indian origin. In fact, the only real problem we had with that is she does not know how to cook a meal without adding a million spices. Really, even Americans are so obsessed with cinnamon and chilli powder!

What I did find surprising was our differences with me as French and her an American. She assured me that since she studied abroad in France (though not my hometown of Paris, but rather my father’s hometown of Lyon), she would understand what it meant to date a French woman. I must give her credit – she is far more understanding of French culture than most Americans I have met. However, one aspect that still drives us both crazy is how to start a conversation.

As you will read in our story, the first week we moved in together, we saw “The Phantom of the Opera”, my favourite production. After, we took a nice dinner at a lovely Malaysian restaurant, and finished our night with a glass of wine at a romantic bar. Everything was perfect, and we said nothing out of happiness the entire 45-minute train ride back to Brooklyn. When we got home, enough time had passed that it was time to start a new conversation.

“Thank you for a great evening,” Deepa said to me.

“I think the freezer is broken,” I replied.

She was so upset!

“Why did you ruin the mood like that?” Deepa complained.

And there we have the difference in starting a conversation:

Deepa’s thoughts (America): Say something positive.
My thoughts (France): I’m comfortable; say whatever the hell is on my mind.

In America, you are taught to always lead with something positive. In France, if you start a new job and spend your first day complimenting your colleagues on their clothes, hair, bags, iPhone covers, whatever – you’re perceived as fake. The French do not compliment strangers for no reason; in fact, I will admit that the French often do not compliment people we know for no reason. We don’t perceive this as rude or negative or pessimistic. In fact, what we perceive as the ultimate compliment is when someone feels comfortable to speak whatever is on their mind, no matter what the thought.

Deepa is a wonderful partner, and I am so confident we will be together forever. Sometimes compromises are necessary in relationships, and I know my partner will confirm I have become more Americanized in trying positive opening lines. Thankfully, Deepa has also learned how to be less sensitive to her very American reaction to my leading statements. I know now she needs that positive reinforcement. And she knows now that if the first thing I say to her when she comes home is,

“Chérie, you spilled coffee on your pants.”

I am saying it with love.

A la prochaine,

Audrey Girard

To keep updated on new character essay posts on Crasstalk and to find out more about The Paths of Marriage, visit the website and sign up for the newsletter!

Buy the book on 1 October 2014. This is one powerful story you will never forget.

The complete The Paths of Marriage character series:

Deepa Deva – Implicit Outings on Facebook
Pooja Deva – The Narrative of Marriage
Lakshmi Deva – Pacing Oneself was not an Immigrant Option
Audrey Girard – How to Start a Conversation, American vs France
Anand Suresh – We all Spoke English, just not the Same Language
Alpa Deva – A Straight Coming Out Story

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *