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Chut... C'est tabou!

By Berlioz Deborah

When you arrive in a new country, it's sometimes difficult to have a conversation with the locals. Knowing the language is, of course useful for casual chit-chat but, if a genuine conversation is what you're after it is not enough. As well as the things you should know how to say, there are also the things you should never say: what are the subjects to avoid? These no-nos and Taboos are as much part of the country's identity as anything else.

Taboo was a Polynesian word, popularised by Captain James Cook. It referred to a sacred prohibition. By extension, taboo refers now to a subject to avoid because it's considered socially unacceptable. But of course, taboos are not universal, it would be too easy. Each society, each country has his own taboos. And even France and England, two very close neighbours, have very different taboos...


On how the French just love to talk about politics...


An agitated conversation about politics
An agitated conversation about politics

If you are French, and you are invited to an English dinner, there are a few subjects you should know to avoid. First of all: politics. In fact, French people just love to speak about politics. They love to debate over their political views, the last government statement, or even the political problems of some far away country, such as Africa or Latin America. And if they have different views, they will argue. But it does not matter! An agitated conversation is a good thing in France. It's the proof people are not bored. Though Brits are just as interested in political discussion, a raised voice is not seen as an indication of said interest in the conversation, but is actually considered rather rude. As a general rule, English people do not like to argue, especially when they are eating, calm and controlled debates are more suitable. That's why they avoid every subject that could prompt a stormy conversation, and  perhaps where the stereotipical image of the English talking mostly about thethe weather or sports originates... 

France- "Where even the baker is a philosopher"...

But politics is not the only serious subject French people love to talk about. Another important one is philosophy. French people love to talk about the deep meaning of life, of actions, and so on. And they quote! Have you ever seen an English quoting a famous philosopher when he's talking to friends? I don't think so... Some may see this as yet another sign of French pretentiousness. They are perhaps not completely wrong. French people really like to show how they are able to speak about complicated subjects like politics or philosophy, and to prove that they have read a lot of very interesting books and articles. After all, they have a reputation to uphold. Is not France the country of the Enlightenment and some of the world's greatest philosophers? The English, though fond of philosphy, will undertake to read it in their spare time- not discuss it at length over supper. So,  though not a taboo as such, it is perhaps a subject best avoided at the risk of boring the rest of the party or of being thought of as a pompous cultural snob. 

Do not speak about money with French people!

Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy

But the French people also have some taboos and the biggest one is money. Money is hardly the main topic of conversation at an English dinner party so this should not be too difficult to avoid. The taboo doesn't, however, end at  talking about it, but also at displaying it. In England, what one earns is visible through one's house, clothes, expensive car and even more expensive schools one sends one's children to.But be warned: this is not the case in France! Showing how rich you are is disapproved in the French society... even if you're the President: French people actually reproached Nicolas Sarkozy his party in the very expensive restaurant "Le Fouquet" on the Champs Elysées, and his Ray-ban sunglasses and Rolex watches are always the subject of criticism. 

But why do the French have such an issue with talking about money? Perhaps because of the importance of social equality in French culture. Though the reality is that there is as much class division in France as in England, it is something that they constantly strive to hide. This perhaps explains the vast amount of champagne socialists arguing the merits of equality whilst sitting in their comfortable flats in st Germain. 


There are of course a lot of other taboos in France and in England. But, as always, they also depend on the company you are with . Of course you won't tackle the same subjects at a dinner with your boyfriend's parents or with you're friends. However, if you have a little bit of good sense and are careful, everything will be just fine! 


07/10/2011 - thatdudenick1993 a dit :

bleepity bleep?

07/10/2011 - thatdudenick1993 a dit :

Waka Flocka Flame, one hood ass nigga.

27/04/2011 - bleep3213213 a dit :


12/11/2008 - noel.qualter a dit :

The difference between France and UK is that wealthy Brits now treat France almost as a province. Despite the French love of philosophy, to us here, it gets in the way of creating wealth. Thus, for wealthy Brits (not just English), anything that gets in the way of maintaining social status, wealth creation etc be it politics, ideology or moral codes, is best not spoken about...

25/10/2008 - amanda.mackenzie a dit :

Money? Tread carefully when discussing with Brits.
We love talking bargains, but talking wealth still makes most of us very uncomfortable. Money is still taboo. Of course, that will change when we are all completely Americanised...

Anyone remember the movie "Notting Hill", the bit when Hugh Grant's bald brother-in-law asks Julia Roberts how much she earns? Unthinkable. It would be social suicide - in the UK as in France. But in the US, I guess, it would just be mildly bad-mannered.

24/10/2008 - Hermione.Gough a dit :

As an English person who has lived in Paris I disagree with you totally!

It is definitely not the done thing in England to discuss money or wealth. Anyone who invites people to look at their new Mercedes is being very un-British! On the other hand we love nothing more than a good discussion about politics and current affairs at a dinner party. What is true is that English people may be less forthcoming than French people in stating their allegiance to a particular political party.

The important thing to remember is that the essence of British manners is making ones guests feel at ease. So it is certainly true that trying not to offend others around a dinner table would be seen as good manners.

23/10/2008 - deanejennings a dit :

All very true comments. Money is very taboo in France, and the British are actually rather proud of their financial acquisitions, and like to parade them subtly - their lovely holiday/home in Italy, their new luxury bathroom, the new mercedees - oh darling, do come and admire!!

And many British don't like to talk about politics or philosphy at all. Indeed giving political viewpoints in front of people whose politics you don't know is actually quite socially risky in the UK. You may offend.


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