‘It’s My French Right To Complain’

During a conversation in a bar with friends in Paris, we casually pointed out that French like to complain a lot. Rather than getting insulted, all the French in the group agreed.

“Of course. It feels good to complain,” one of them proclaimed.

In the third world perspective, we didn’t quite understand what it meant about ‘feeling good when complaining’. Growing up, we were told to ‘stop complaining and shut up or else…’—‘or else’ can mean either of the following: getting whipped, being refused dinner, getting pinched in the ear, or, being kicked out of the car and left stranded on the road. That’s how it was in the ‘hood. Swallow the bitter medicine and grin, bitch.

The whole ‘complaining is fun!’ shenanigan sounded absurd to me, if not a little funny. The French were in fact the very first to complain. They make it a sport even. Every day, I come across at least 4 rallies happening around the city.

While walking in Place de la République I received one such pamphlet stating what the rallyists demand from the government: 25-hour a week workload only, higher salary, more vacation leaves, etc., etc., etc., demands that were all ridiculous and absurd to me. They are basically demanding more and more in order to do less and less.

‘J’ai le droit’, a French expression that means ‘it is my right’, and they try to inject it in any conversation as possible.

We see an interesting contrast between Western and Asian culture. Westerners see Asians as overly shy, passive and obedient, while Asians see westerners as overly confident, obnoxious and selfish. But when we try to understand each culture, we understand why.

Westerners value individual human rights more than anything else. The Judeo-Christian belief that every person has an ‘innate soul’, confirms that every person are equal, and bestowed with equal rights to live.

Even at a young age, western children are already given the right of self-expression by being provided with the privacy of their own room, where they can decorate it according to their own will, and parents have to knock on their door before being allowed in.

Asians value family, community and hierarchy more than anything else. Hence we have sibling nomenclature in terms of the hierarchy in the family (such as in Filipino-Chinese communities: achi, diche, ahia, shobe, etc.)

Asians would rather give up a personal right to contribute to a more effective community. For example, Asians would willingly give up the right to eat and drink inside public transport systems because it will make it more convenient for everyone; while Westerners would lobby all they can to keep the same right in theirs.

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11 thoughts on “‘It’s My French Right To Complain’”

  1. Hi Rachel,
    In my family, ‘or else’ means a quick pinch in the ear. 🙂
    I totally agree, we Asians are more passive and obedient. In my workplace now, where I am the only Filipino, I just keep a low profile. I stay away from loud and obnoxious Westerners.
    – Dr. Alvin

  2. I think the world is getting smaller, and culture and traditions are changing. It is becoming apparent to me, and I am specifically referring to the Philippines and USA here, that Filipinos are being influenced to be more western.

    On complaining, there is a difference between complaining without drama, and then there’s the type that is bitter.

  3. Haha this is SO TRUE! We grew up being told that complaining is not right, but apparently it’s a sport to the French! I think it’s not such a bad thing to complain, it’s just that our parents find it easier to deal with us if we’re not complaining. The world becomes simpler and more peaceful in that sense.

  4. I don’t think I even heard the word “or else.” I just got a look that said stop now or you will be in big trouble! I have never experienced French people complaining but I do know that in the US we definitely bring it to other’s attention when things are not the way they should be. I think it is important for people to have a voice but I also think it should be done respectfully.

  5. Culture really varies and differs from one place to another. Sometimes, we end up surprised on how they act because what is not proper for us is just okay for them, like your French friends who feel happy about complaining. But it is good to always respect other’s culture and beliefs. And we are taught that as Filipinos.

  6. I cannot conclude whether our upbringing is better or worse, but I would say, it’s easier for a Filipino to be more assertive when needed. With the internet and cable tv, we get exposed to other culture, thus, openness and balance is encouraged

  7. It’s a tough world we live in now. We live in a world where everyone claims it’s their right because they want it or feel it. The distinction between a right and a privilege has diminished and people no longer know the difference.

    Every time I hear the rights issues, I always remind myself: “Your right ends where mine begin”

  8. It’s getting multinational though I love how you open these differences. It’s fun to learn and to adapt some of the interesting personalities from a Western by an Asian or vice versa.

  9. Oh, it’s so true for Asian families. For us, complaining means a spank later. 🙁 it was traumatic for me, and taught me not to speak up. So as a mom, I really vowed to not let my son through this. I want him to learn how to speak up for himself, but balanced with respect for others 🙂

  10. WHAT THE. COMPLAINING IS FUN? hahaha. it’s my first time to know about this culture or habit of French people. compared to us, filipinos, we tend to try dealing with issues first before complaining. you know. kapag maliit ang kumot, matutong bumaluktot.

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