Aï am veri sorri if iou are French and can’t stand reading zis piece ov informésheun. Euh litteul bit ov auto-dérision néveur ‘eurt énioane.
Not too long ago, I was talking to an Asian friend of mine, while getting out of class, and we were talking about coffee and tea habits. I asked her if she could have milk products like cheese and yoghurt, if it was fine with her stomach, given the fact the Asian body supposedly cannot digest dairy products properly, as I’d heard. She answered that she’d only just learned about this and that she’d always eaten dairy products. We were out of class now, I was walking in front of her and another French friend of mine, and she added, very casually, that “sometimes [she] get[s] diarrhea”.
Uh-oh. What face do I put? She just shared something VERY personal and very UNSPOKEN in the French culture and Elise and I start to laugh in a very awkward way, not getting over the fact that she just shared this kind of info, yeah she did, she did share that, she said that sometimes eating dairy products gives her diarrhea. Fortunately, I did not have to look at her in the eyes while she said such a thing. I can’t believe she said this… And I’m sure Elise is thinking something along those lines…
See, when you are born and raised the French way, you don’t say these things to classmates unless you are VERY close. You might even never talk about these things. Nope. Only your doctor needs to know this. And no one else.
French title, litteral translation: “The Discreet Charm of the Intestine”.
Look at this translation: this book was written in German, “Darm mit Charme”, which can (apparently) translate into “Charming bowels” (according to Google translate, “Gut my charm”). In English, this title was translated in a very scientific way: “Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ”. And then you have ze French, who decide to say that the gut is charming, okay, whatever you say, but that we can’t have it this way, it has to be in a very discreet, reserved manner, meaning you have to keep your gut activities and thingies and whatever is going on in there very well hidden, however charming it might be. People need to know they can read this peacefully without being judged because this is too crazy to be talked about, you know?
To other people, i.e. the non-French, this is just normal. And this is something that you realise and get used to when you live abroad. Your ears have no choice but to adapt. Last weekend, I went to a yoga class, and right after, they usually offer a “ginger shot” (infused ginger in water with honey) – but this time, there was another kind of shot, a pre-made fermented Kombucha. I ask what it is, and I am told it’s a kind of mushroom that’s supposed to be good for the gut, your digestion and all that jazz. To this is added the following sentence: “If you drink this a lot, you will get a lot of farting”. WHAT!
This is what happened in my mind: This is just crazy to me. I’ve known you for over a year, I see you about every week and know nothing about you or your life apart from the fact that you own this yoga studio, because you are very busy and also very Danish, and now you tell me that I’ll get a lot of farting if I have 2L of this kombucha drink!
Just writing these words now requires a lot of preparing for me. A few years ago, I would probably not have been able to write this article. My French fingers and mind just find it weird to be talking about such matters if not for a health-related purpose. A little voice in my head keeps telling me that these subjects and body activities are unsuitable for casual conversation with someone I barely know, let alone for a blog article.
This illustrates how conservative the French mind can be. Many topics that would fit in a lot of conversations in other places are taboo to us so-called frogs and simply cannot be addressed in casual conversation: your gut health, sex and everything that has to do with it (although I think this one is rather international), foreign origins that might not be too good-looking (your parents come from Africa, wow, this is, this is… Beautiful sky today, right?), money, inter-cultural marriages, and anything that’s a bit different than the established norm. Things are this way and in no other could they be carried out.
Swearing should also be limited, but that’s for another day.
Is it similar in your culture? I’m curious to know!
NB: This is a broad picture of my culture when it comes to “”sensitive”” subjects, but then as always, it’s all relative and everything that is written here can be subject to change, depending on age, origins, open-mindedness and more.