Monday, March 17, 2008

This post will be full of sweeping generalities

I read a study last week about eating habits and obesity in different cultures. One of the things the researchers found was that the French tend to take cues from internal signals to stop eating - feeling satisfied, not feeling hungry. And Americans are more focused on external signals - the plate is empty, the television program is over.

But the thing is, I think it's actually true in general too. I've always had the impression that the rules the French follow are not the external ones. Walk down the street here and you'll see evidence of that all over the place. People park where they want, drive how they want, refuse to conform to something as repressive as 'standing in line' and much more - there is a general tendency to grappiller et gruger. But still, this society is ruled by an internal iron fist. It's very hierarchical, full of unspoken (mais ça ne se fait pas!) rules that govern behavior, social mobility and economics.

As Americans, we are very good at following the external rules - we stand in line, pay for parking, and generally feel guilty if we cheat or break the rules. But on the inside? There is certainly no transgenerational iron fist. There is little there guiding us - which leads to an overdependance on external rules. I believe it's also why we can be so ridiculously ostentatious. It's not enough to recycle, everyone has to know we recycle.

Europeans often ask me why Americans will go over the top, crazy militant for a relatively small issue (think cigar) and then completely let the huge issues slide (think GWB and the past 7 years). I think we focus on the small problems that are easily identifiable as breaking one of those external rules because when it comes to the big stuff, we wouldn't even know where to start.

19 comments:

beth said...

For me - there are small issues that are very important to me so therefore I am probably "over the top" regarding them. However, what is a small issue for one, may be a huge issue for another.

Nicole said...

Beth - you're right, of course. But I'd say war, poverty, and no health care for millions should probably be huge issues for everyone.

beth said...

I agree - for me, I believe that I can make a small difference by starting with smaller forms of these issues (poverty - donating to local food banks and contributing to local charities), thus ultimately contributing to the larger issue. I know it's small, but it is something.

Lorraine said...

Stupid Americans.


That was a generalization. But you got me going with the cigar...

Nicole said...

Lorraine - I KNOW - pisses me off when I think about it too.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm one of those stupid Americans, because I'm lost. . .what's with the cigar?

beth said...

oops - the comment above was me

Nicole said...

Beth - Clinton and Monica and the cigar. Which of course was made into the biggest deal EVER and then the next president does, well, where to begin with what GWB has done, and no big deals are made at all.

beth said...

Thanks for explaining -

beth said...

Actually, I had almost forgotten about the Clinton cigar thing - oh well. And, as far as all the other stuff, since we are on different party sides, we probably have different view points.

Madame K said...

Interesting post.

However I would argue that American society is just as equally "hierarchical, and full of unspoken rules that govern behavior, social mobility and economics".

As Americans we generally hate to admit it, but they are definitely there. Also "the rules" become more or less invisible because they are so ingrained in the societal structure.

But while we're making sweeping generalizations...I generally find Americans have a tendencay to want to tell other people what to do. It's not enough to live their lives according to their particular belief structure--they want other people to live their lives according to their belief structure.

Wacky!

beth said...

No country is pefect, nobody is perfect - but personally, I thrilled to call myself an American

Nicole said...

Madame K - I guess my point is that we adhere more strictly to the outer ones in the US than here. Oh yes, we do love to donner des leçons. I think though that social mobility and economics are a lot more flexible in the States. The past 20 years has changed a lot here in France, but all you have to do is fill out any form to see what remains (vous êtes agriculteur, ouvrier, employé, cadre, enseignant etc...).

Beth - this post wasn't a slam on Americans. As for being thrilled to be one, well, some days yes, some days no, as is probably the same for anyone of any nationality. The difference is that Americans have to say it and prove it.

beth said...

I didn't think it was slam - I was just saying that even though I do not believe in all that the general norms are in America - I am still very happy to be an American

kingba said...

Well observed and well presented. Give the woman a lollipop,she's earned it!

beth said...

I just tried calling you - either I dialed incorrectly, or you've changed your number - the man who answered did not speak English and as you know my French is nonexistent

Nicole said...

Beth- my number's the same as always - the one that starts out 33.2.43

Grish said...

Not sure but I think "The Cigar" is now prominently displayed in "The Museum of Famous Props and Unspeakable Deeds..." :P

Flat Stanley in France said...

Nicole... This is such a great point and very perceptive... I do agree with you and the points you have made about both cultures! I've only lived here for a year and a half so far but it somehow seems that in America total strangers on the street are more aware of other people around them... than the French here in the Paris area seem to be... For me, I look at it as cultural- the whole "personal space" issue... but it does still drive me nuts! --Leesa