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Why the French like to say no


Why the French like to say no

(Picture credit score: Chuck Pefley/Alamy)

The French ‘no’ is often an invitation to debate, engage and better understand one another (Credit: Chuck Pefley/Alamy)

Though the default reply to nearly each query, request or suggestion is a disheartening ‘non’, a ‘oui’ is commonly hiding within the context of what’s being stated.

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Non, ce n’est pas doable. I preserve telling you, it might probably’t be finished,” the airline reserving agent insisted. We’d been on the cellphone for 20 minutes as I attempted to alternate a full-fare, exchangeable airplane ticket. Sitting calmly at dwelling, my eyes took within the cliché of our Parisian residence, full with Nineteenth-Century gilded mirrors and mouldings of flowers cascading from the ceiling. During the last 18 years, I’d realized to see the wonder that surrounded me as compensation for dwelling in a society the place the default reply to nearly each query, request or suggestion is a disheartening ‘non’ (no).

A dialog with French family and friends about their use of ‘non’ and why it appears to be the nationwide default reads just like the script for a Gérard Depardieu comedy. “No, it’s not true, we don’t at all times say ‘no’ first,” retorted the 60-something CEO. “No, you’re proper, even once we agree, we begin with no,” reacted the lawyer. “Hunh, no… I don’t know why…” contemplated the younger artist.

Olivier Giraud, a French comic who has been sharing insights into French tradition for over a decade together with his one man present, The right way to develop into Parisian in One Hour, explains this reflex by saying, “Answering ‘non’ offers you the choice to say ‘oui’ [yes] later; [it’s] the alternative once you say ‘oui’, you’ll be able to now not say ‘non’! We should not overlook that the French are a folks of protest, and a protest at all times begins with a ‘non’.”

In France, the default answer to almost every question, request or suggestion is ‘no’ (Credit: Rrrainbow/Alamy)

In France, the default reply to nearly each query, request or suggestion is ‘no’ (Credit score: Rrrainbow/Alamy)

Certainly, the French have been protesting more-or-less nonstop because the residents of Paris stormed the Bastille jail in 1789. These first protests launched the French Revolution, bringing an finish to greater than 900 years of monarchical rule. In additional fashionable instances, at present’s ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow vests) protestors took to the streets in November 2018 to march in opposition to a gas tax hike and have continued protesting – typically violently – since then, marching for brand new causes each Saturday and demonstrating that protesting is one thing of a nationwide interest for a lot of. 

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Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau, co-authors of The Bonjour Impact, the Secret Codes of French Dialog Revealed, agree with Giraud about non and its roots within the French obsession for protests. “The French Revolution was in regards to the irrevocable proper of all residents to refuse, and ‘non’ has a top quality of ‘revanche des petits contre les grands’ [revenge of the underclasses] that appears to fulfill the inside peasant or proletarian in each French particular person, of any class,” they write of their ebook.

Past taking to the streets, the French have crafted quite a lot of methods to say no. ‘Ça risque d’être compliqué’ (‘that could be difficult’) is probably going the least confrontational approach of claiming {that a} request is unlikely to be granted. ‘Ç’est hors de query’ (‘it’s out of the query’) is probably probably the most definitive model, chopping off any hopes of arguing one’s case.

As a result of usually,
there is hope. “Opposite to fashionable opinion, the French do pay attention, and properly, however this normally occurs after they are saying no a few instances. It takes a specific amount of religion, and typically numerous speaking, however you’ll be able to nearly at all times discover the sure hiding behind a French no, if it’s there,” write Barlow and Nadeau.

The French have been protesting more-or-less nonstop since the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille prison in 1789 (Credit: FRANCK CHAPOLARD/Alamy)

The French have been protesting more-or-less nonstop because the residents of Paris stormed the Bastille jail in 1789 (Credit score: FRANCK CHAPOLARD/Alamy)

Again in my residence, the now exasperated reserving agent huffed, “What number of instances are you going to ask should you can alternate this ticket for a departure tomorrow?”. I smiled to myself, figuring out I might ask the query as many instances as it will take to discover a resolution. As I’ve came upon through the years, the ‘oui’ is commonly hiding within the context of what’s being stated.

Context contains tone, physique language, setting and state of affairs; principally, the whole lot that’s not expressly put into phrases. In her ebook The Tradition Map: Breaking By the Invisible Boundaries of International Enterprise, INSEAD Enterprise College professor Erin Meyer identifies eight scales to display how completely different cultures relate. The primary scale addresses context’s position in communication. International locations just like the US and Australia are low-context cultures the place folks typically say what they imply and imply what they are saying. Nevertheless, France, like Russia and Japan, tends to be a high-context tradition, the place “good communication is subtle, nuanced and layered. Messages are each spoken and skim between the strains,” she writes.

Meyer suspects one of many elements resulting in this divide will be discovered within the numbers: in keeping with her ebook, there are 500,000 phrases within the English language, however solely 70,000 in French. Which means that Anglophones usually tend to have the precise phrase to say what they need, whereas Francophones should usually string collectively a sequence of phrases to speak their message. This not solely forces the French to be extra artistic with language, it additionally permits them to be extra ambiguous with what they need to say. Consequently, ‘non’ in France doesn’t at all times imply ‘no’.

France tends to be a high-context culture where communication is sophisticated, nuanced and layered (Credit: roger tillberg/Alamy)

France tends to be a high-context tradition the place communication is subtle, nuanced and layered (Credit score: roger tillberg/Alamy)

This reliance on the phrase no doesn’t imply the French are a essentially unfavorable folks, both. Partially, their strategy begins in school. French kids be taught to argue a thesis, antithesis and synthesis when making ready essays, which teaches them to argue their level, argue in opposition to their very own argument, then develop a abstract. Meyer writes, “Consequently, French enterprise folks intuitively conduct conferences on this style, viewing battle and dissonance as bringing hidden contradictions to gentle and stimulating recent pondering.” In truth, the French ‘no’ is commonly an invite to debate, interact and higher perceive each other, which has inspired the event of a bouquet of various nos, utilized in numerous conditions.

The primary and most vital no is the one that basically means ‘je ne sais pas’ the ‘I do not know’ no. Barlow and Nadeau estimate that almost 75% of the nos they encountered had been to hide a lack of awareness. This probably comes from the fear of ridicule for being fallacious. It’s a worry French college students first encounter in elementary college the place particular person grades are shared at school, setting the stage for an surroundings of humiliation and vulnerability.

The worry is compounded when youngsters sit the Baccalauréat, a sequence of exams on the finish of secondary college. Grading is fierce, with a rating of 12 out of a doable 20 incomes an honourable point out and a full 20 being nearly exceptional. The outcomes are posted on-line for the world to see, leaving college students open to feedback about why they didn’t get an honourable point out, and in the e
vent that they did, why they didn’t get larger honours. After 13 years of tension, survivors of the French tutorial system are relieved to supply a debatable ‘no’, fairly than an faulty ‘sure’.

The reliance on the word no begins in school, where French children are taught to view dissonance as stimulating fresh thinking (Credit: Have Camera Will Travel | Europe/Alamy)

The reliance on the phrase no begins at school, the place French kids are taught to view dissonance as stimulating recent pondering (Credit score: Have Digital camera Will Journey | Europe/Alamy)

Maybe the best no to deal with is the flirtatious no. Accompanied by a wink and a smile, it’s an invite to dialogue utilized by anybody from a butcher playfully making her purchasers beg for a desired reduce of meat, to a younger little one hoping for a deal with. At its most innocuous, the flirtatious no can seduce clients again to the identical café each afternoon for a chat with their pleasant waiter. Different instances, like all video games, it will get tiresome.

The authoritarian no is tougher to handle. Barlow and Nadeau counsel that the no utilized by many French folks comes from an obsession with not getting blamed for being fallacious. And whereas that is true in all walks of life, the fonctionnaires (bureaucrats) of France have turned it into a fancy system that appears archaic and inefficient.

When going to the Tribunal d’Occasion to use for citizenship, for instance, I used to be handed a pen and a clean piece of paper because the clerk dictated an inventory of required paperwork. Whereas an internet doc to be reviewed prematurely would appear simpler, this lack of an official listing empowers the clerk to say no at numerous levels all through the appliance course of. In truth, organised French residents don’t want an inventory to know that for any administrative problem, they’d finest arrive at their appointment with copies of their start certificates and proof of everlasting handle issued within the final three months, in addition to proof of their id and banking data, all photocopied in triplicate. Whereas this sheath of paperwork doesn’t assure success, it’s thought-about a dependable protect in opposition to numerous nos.

The French ‘no’ is often an invitation to debate, engage and better understand one another (Credit: Chuck Pefley/Alamy)

The French ‘no’ is commonly an invite to debate, interact and higher perceive each other (Credit score: Chuck Pefley/Alamy)

The reflex no is probably probably the most intimate of all of the no, frequent amongst mates and life companions. Within the early 2000s, I met cultural guide Polly Platt, writer of French or Foe, to debate elevating a household in France. From her residence in Paris’ upscale seventh arrondissement, Platt shared her technique for getting a sure from her French husband. For summer time vacation plans, for instance, she would counsel a vacation spot she was not all in favour of and knew her husband would by no means settle for – maybe someplace too scorching or close to the in-laws, like Marrakesh or Philadelphia. The second suggestion would pose one other set of issues. Suggesting a spot just like the Hôtel Negresco in Good would begin him on a rant in opposition to crowds and high-season costs. By the point she instructed her first alternative of going to their second dwelling within the Dordogne, his ‘oui’ would come simply. She knew if she’d began with the thought of staying near dwelling, he would have stated no earlier than giving it any consideration

Hoping the reserving agent had used the reflex no on me, I re-explained my want for a flight the next day. She replied that the airline required in the future’s discover to alternate tickets. I requested if that was 24 hours or one calendar day. Since that was not a ‘sure’ or ‘no’ query, she was in a position to inform me it was a calendar day. “When is the very first flight the following day?” I enquired. It was 5 minutes after midnight – precisely 35 minutes after the flight I had been attempting to ebook for my journey.

Finally, I had my sure.

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