“Why the French Don’t Show Excitement” Emily Monaco


"  … with a fairly good grasp of the language, I was convinced that I would soon assimilate into French culture.

Of course, I was wrong. There’s nothing like cultural nuance to remind you who you are at your core: my Americanness became all the more perceptible the longer I remained in France, and perhaps no more so than the day a French teacher told me his theory on the key distinction between those from my native and adopted lands.

“You Americans,” he said, “live in the faire [to do]. The avoir [to have]. In France, we live in the être [to be].”

The moment he said it, it made perfect sense. I thought back to my life in New York, where every moment was devoted to checking tasks off a perpetual to-do list or planning for the days, weeks and years to come. In France, however, people were perfectly contented to just be."  Emily Monaco


I have frequently been accused of living too much in the "etre" rather than the "faire."  At times people have been more specific to the point of saying that I am an unnatural American, someone who ought to go hide myself somewhere among people more like me, like maybe in Mediterranean Europe.  They were probably right in saying that.

At the US Army War College, I was judged to be the most Type B officer on post at Carlisle Barracks.  I was assigned as home work to the semi-psycho extreme Type A guys.  They were told to watch me and to try to learn to calm down.  These were the kind of people who would spike little kids in the head in volleyball games, just to win, anything to win, all the god damned time.

Being Type A or B doesn't have anything to do with how aggressive you are or how much you accomplish.  No.  It has to do with your attitude toward life.

Perpignan to the Spanish border, we should have emigrated to somewhere along there.  pl


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16 Responses to “Why the French Don’t Show Excitement” Emily Monaco

  1. ked says:

    Apt generalizations.
    It’s wise to not be too American, whether by accident or effort. I’d add “to rush” to his list of characteristics. To what end? Perhaps also “to make”, at least if looking back.

  2. Degringolade says:

    Colonel: That made me laugh out loud.
    My time in had a different slant. An NCO has a different take on things than you officer types. CTFD (calm the fuck down) was a constantly used phrase. I think that the best description of this A/B dimorphism is this quote from Neal Stephenson’s book “Crytonomicon”.
    “This “sir, yes sir” business, which would probably sound like horseshit to any civilian in his right mind, makes sense to Shaftoe and to the officers in a deep and important way. Like a lot of others, Shaftoe had trouble with military etiquette at first. He soaked up quite a bit of it growing up in a military family, but living the life was a different matter. Having now experienced all the phases of military existence except for the terminal ones (violent death, court-martial, retirement), he has come to understand the culture for what it is: a system of etiquette within which it becomes possible for groups of men to live together for years, travel to the ends of the earth, and do all kinds of incredibly weird shit without killing each other or completely losing their minds in the process. The extreme formality with which he addresses these officers carries an important subtext: your problem, sir, is deciding what you want me to do, and my problem, sir, is doing it. My gung-ho posture says that once you give the order I’m not going to bother you with any of the details–and your half of the bargain is you had better stay on your side of the line, sir, and not bother me with any of the chickenshit politics that you have to deal with for a living. The implied responsibility placed upon the officer’s shoulders by the subordinate’s unhesitating willingness to follow orders is a withering burden to any officer with half a brain, and Shaftoe has more than once seen seasoned noncoms reduce green lieutenants to quivering blobs simply by standing before them and agreeing, cheerfully, to carry out their orders.”

  3. turcopolier says:

    I didn’t fit the mold very well, more of a gang leader than anything else. DOL

  4. Fred says:

    Nothing shocked my co-workers more when I told them of my first vacation to Paris than when I said I spent a large part of each day sitting in a cafe or park watching life go on. The urge of faire generally involved the window shopping. I was mightily tempted to buy a pair of green boots, women’s size tiny; they were a work of art, as were most of the window displays. I settled for chocolate and a nice knife from Laguiole.

  5. turcopolier says:

    I have some wonderful knives from Laguiole.

  6. I have always thought that the military is one of the few — probably the only — human institution that has evolved continuously over the ages as civilisations come and go. In other words, war is a a brutal punisher and rewarder. You can’t fudge defeat and so you learn to do it right or you disappear. So all militaries are very similar. (Often felt this way in Canadian-Russian meetings where I was the only civilian — the uniforms got on just fine because they were in the same business and had very similar training and experiences.)

  7. JohnH says:

    As I age, I have become more and more amazed at how little socialization there is among people in many American social groups. It’s hard to find a group whose primary focus is anything but results, getting things done, accomplishIng the mission. Period. The value of Making friends and being together is an afterthought, usually overlooked
    I happened to have the opportunity to spend a week with a French cycling club a couple years ago. Like ours, they cycle hard. And their terrain was the Pyrenees. But when not cycling, they often got together, and spent long hours in the evening drinking and talking, enjoying just being together. The club was like a family.
    By contrast gatherings of the American club were awkward. Group events were rare, nobody knew the others very well and didn’t know what to say beyond the usual shop talk. This, despite hundreds of hours on the road together. They could just not “be.”
    In my experience the American cycling club is the norm for American social groups, which I fondly remember an exception, a poker group at a church where sometimes we’d just put down the cards and talk. But if the church had some maintenance that needed to be done, they knew they could call on us. Poker served simply as the pretext—the obligatory mission—for just being together.

  8. Bobo says:

    Peripigan is a perfect point to stroll the the Chemin de Jacques. Enjoy whether done or imagined is a joy.

  9. Fred says:

    I’m going to make a collection, it gives me a reason to go back, though I should just bite the baguette and stay for a year next time.

  10. Willard Snyder says:

    I enjoyed your commentary and unfortunately all too many officers will not let their NCO’s get on with their task. I tried to give clear instructions, ask if there were any questions and then said if you have any problems you can’t deal with, come to me – otherwise I figure you are making progress. Keep me updated and, again, let me know if you need me. It always seemed to work. My NCO’s never took advantage of me and things got done, correctly and on time. Maybe I was just lucky. I did have a couple of excellent mentors though – John Jessup and George Pacerelli. Yes, I graduated from “Bennings School for Boys” (Inf OCS in 1967)

  11. walrus says:

    Ah yes! Laguiole, we have something in common.
    My favourite time in most cities, is about 5.30 – 6.00 am. Rain or shine makes no difference. You watch the market being set up in Paris and drink your coffee in the corner cafe where the shop owners and the cafe owner have known each other for so long that their coffee and croissant are just handed to them wordlessly. You are noticed but ignored as long as you sit at the side.
    I walked to Piazza St. Marco in the rain early Sunday morning two years ago. I had the place to myself. I left my umbrella by the little side door on the left of the Cathedral and respectfully sat at the rear while about Six priests said mass for about twenty damp supplicants in that divine space. I lit some candles after the service. I am Anglican but you can’t be too careful.
    We retrieved our umbrellas and went our different ways in a still wet and empty piazza about seven am. The water was streaming from the gargoyles.

  12. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Colonel, SST;
    In my experience, for most armies-and for most societies- Hammerstein’s quadrant applies:
    “I distinguish four types. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking; their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is both stupid and hardworking; he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always only cause damage.”
    (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_von_Hammerstein-Equord )
    IMO the current elites “leading” most of the world belong in the 4th quadrant. I wonder if they will be crushed under the temple…
    Ishmael Zechariah

  13. John Merryman says:

    As for A and B types, I like to point out, the bull is power, the matador is art. It goes to something pretty deep in our current culture, that with the last couple hundred years of technological and economic growth, we don’t really appreciate the larger cycle of expansion and consolidation.

  14. sbin says:

    Ishmael Z
    Most enjoyable comment.
    My experience stupid and hard working described field artillery, infantry and Marines.
    Doing damage is their MOS.
    Officers should not be in this quadrant but often are.
    Some time playing cards bridge or spades would help understand who you were serving with.

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