Friday, February 5, 2010

Keep It Down


No, I'm not going to talk about French politics. I snapped this picture of the latest issue of Le Nouvel Observateur because it captures M. le Président doing something that seems to me typically French: having a very private conversation on the phone by cupping his hand over the receiver. You see people doing this all the time in public places, especially on the subway.

The French value their privacy, almost as much as their liberté, égalité, and fraternité. What they have to say to others, whether it's on the phone or in person, is really none of your business. (Curiously to me, aggressive public displays of affection do not seem to fall within this privacy zone. Or maybe they just assume that everyone else will just look the other way.) At any rate, they are champions at speaking (and making themselves understood) when they speak quietly. Go into a restaurant where the noise would be deafening were it filled with Americans and all you hear is a quiet little buzz of dozens of conversations.

The French verb to whisper is chuchoter. With the soft ch sound, it sounds just like its meaning. Shhhhhhhhhhh!

11 comments:

MJ said...

Love the naked actress over his shoulder. Pretty French as well. Can you imagine Obama sharing the cover of a magazine with some boobies? Scandal!

You are right on -- the French are so quiet and we are so. incredibly. loud.

PigletinFrance said...

I'm British and I find the French quite discreet as well.

Wasn't there a scandal recently about a top French politician moaning about his job whilst on the train? Apparently he/she wasn't very discreet in that instance as a jounalist was sat behind them! I can't remember who it was though...

Harriet said...

Too bad Americans don't take up this habit: speaking quietly while on their cell phones.

Belle de Ville said...

The conspiratorial phone whisper, my ex-fiance who was French used to do this all the time.
I believe that he found it empowering. I found it annoying.

Duchesse said...

Funny. This whispering thing crossed a continent. It's exactly the same in Canada. In general, French-Canadians speak quietly in restaurants and in public places while English-Canadians can be heard clearly from a distance.

We also noticed that contrast when we were by the pool in Cuba. My husband and I were privy to all the juicy details of the conversation four Anglo Canadians were having 10 feet from us. And they were not shouting. They were speaking normally.

Virginia said...

WEll I have to watch my voice level while in Paris. I'm a former teacher and we're just LOUD! I try very hard to do keep it down. Now don't get me started on cell phones. I'm so sick of hearing everyone's phone conversations. I didn't notice Parisians talking on them like here in the US>
V

Virginia said...

HA, I missed the naked actress too. That's hilarious!

Cameron (Defining Your Home) said...

When we returned from Paris last year, I had a lot of trouble adjusting to our American restaurant noise levels. It was culture shock upon returning home.

Cameron (going back to the South of France instead of Paris this May)

Starman said...

Noisy restaurants are the first thing tht bothers after every trip to Paris. We once went to a resto where there was a birthday party with about twenty guests, never heard hardly a sound all night. Could you imagine that in an American resto?

Laurie said...

I am forever amazed at how quietly French people are able to speak on cell phone in the metro.

Cécile Qd9 said...

I leave in Paris for 20 years (long before mobile phones wer in every hands) and I've NEVER seen anybody talking on the phone with the end in fron of the mouth. And I think it has nothing to do with privacy but more to do with noise...
In the case of Sarkozy it is quite different I just think he doesn't wan anybody to read his leaps...

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