When one spends enough time in a foreign country – long enough, for instance, to establish oneself as a student and not a tourist – a great majority of stereotypes are usually proved false.
Men don’t prance down Aixois streets clad in “Where’s Waldo”-esque sweaters and berets; women aren’t constantly clad in head-to-toe black; and in general, if you avoid making yourself look like an idiot, the French are never all that rude.
There’s one stereotype, though, that I’ve yet to disprove.
The French laugh.
You know the one I’m talking about – the overly nasalized, guttural snort of an “oh-hoh-hoh-hoh” chuckle that any American who’s ever imitated a French accent busts out.
It seems silly, of course, to think for a second that anyone would actually laugh like that – and in that sense, it should’ve been the first French myth I debunked upon arrival.
But I declare, with shock and bewilderment, that nothing I have witnessed in my two months in Aix has provided evidence of its nonexistence, and for one very simple reason – I’ve never heard a French person laugh.
I’ve heard catty, pre-adolescent-girl giggles, sure, but I’m convinced that’s universal.
I also acknowledge that it might have happened in my presence while I wasn’t listening for it.
Never, though, since I began pointedly listening, have I heard so much as a light-hearted chuckle out of these citizens.
At first I thought it was simply that none of my jokes made it past the language barrier. After all, deadpan is difficult when you’re struggling to even understand what someone’s trying to communicate.
Then Thursday happened.
Thursdays hold the great distinction of having my only 8 a.m. class of the semester.
This Thursday in particular, though, I made it my 10 a.m., slinking into the room during the break halfway through and melodramatically saying to my French friend, “I’m the worst student in the world.”
“The worst?” he said. “That’s a little bit pretentious.”
And I laughed. I laughed hard, and I laughed long.
That laughter, though? It was regarded with nothing but a shocked, slightly offended facial expression. I’d caught a Frenchman in his natural habitat, and I’d apparently made him very mad indeed.
So I find myself needing to humbly propose a theory.
That nasal laugh? I think it’s real – and I think that in response to the global mockery of so instinctive a reaction, the French have taken it upon themselves to never show signs of a sense of humor in front of a foreigner.
Prove me wrong, naysayers. Prove me wrong.