Frenchie and the Neglected Pleasure of the Art of Conversation

2 Oct

“Americans often expressed surprise in my presence at the fact that French people, “who claim to be very big on manners”, are themselves so “rude”: “they interrupt you all the time in conversation,” “they finish your sentences for you,” “they ask you questions and never listen to the answer,” and so on.

French people, on the other hand, often complain that American conversations are “boring”, that Americans respond to the slightest question with a “lecture”, that they “go all the way back to Adam and Eve,” and that they “know nothing about the art of conversation.”

The mutual accusations come up often enough to claim our attention. What they indicate must be a cultural phenomenon, opaque to the foreigner. They suggest a profound difference in the interpretation of conversation – a daily activity which appears clear-cut, familiar, and immediately accessible. But although the word “conversation” is the same in French and in English, it is far more signifying the same thing in the two cultures.”

Raymonde Carroll in Cultural Misunderstandings (The University of Chicago Press, 1988)


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