Europe,  France


France is a land where the shops shut from noon till 2:00pm, families spend long hot summer afternoons together, food and its quality is appreciated. The French also appear to have the concept of “enough” and they rarely have the newest or biggest caravan on a campsite, this is very much the preserve of the English. The French instead may have an older caravan with an awning, a gazebo, a couple of pop up tents and a large garden table with chairs for entertaining on their pitch.

This all gives the impression of a relaxed easy going nation, but don’t be fooled by this.

Get on the autoroutes and you will regularly have a French driver 2 metres from your boot at 130kph with his overtaking indicator flashing. The fact that there is a stream of traffic in front of you makes no difference, they have to be in front. I did think that this was due to me driving an English number plated car, but no, the French seem just as likely to do this to a fellow countryman. By the way, French white van drivers are able to reduce their safety distance from your boot even further!

Then there is queuing in France. Being a Brit, queuing is something we are all very familiar with. We stand in line quietly waiting our turn knowing that if we all follow the unwritten rules of British queuing, the first person there will be served first. Even in a busy bar where the bartender is faced with a sea of faces, it is not unusual for everyone to know who is next to be served and guide the bartender if they inadvertently pick the wrong person. As I write this I feel proud of how we do this – it is calm, organised and fair. Sometimes we might queue a bit to closely for my liking, such as at airport check-in queues, but on the whole it works well.

In France, queuing can work slightly differently. I put the difference down to a little word called “Pardon”. Google translate says that “Pardon” in French means forgiveness, but there is more to this word than it seems. “Pardon” may be said if someone bumps in to you, it may be said to attract your attention, it suggests forgiveness for an action that has been done, not forgiveness for an action being or about to be done.

However, “pardon” when queuing can be said when pushing to the front of the queue, not to join friends further along, just to be closer to the front. It can be used as I push you and your children out of the way so I can get in front for you. Once again this isn’t something just held for visitors from overseas. “Pardon” is just as much if not more likely to be used to fellow French people. I do now wonder if the driver of the car behind you on the auto route is busy saying “pardon” as he endeavours to hassle you out of his way.

Although I doubt I’ll ever use “Pardon” to its fullest extent, I do like the way the French use it – there is no malice or deceit in it, in fact it draws attention to the fact that the individual is pushing in rather than hiding it.

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