Public urination and handshakes

Evergreen, France, Opinion / Friday, November 5th, 2010



About time for some more thoughts on the French, now I’ve been here five weeks. First up, pee.

Yes, pee. What is it about the French that makes them think it is okay to pee up walls, into shrubs and so on? I can forgive the occasional widdle at the side of the road if you’re really caught short, but here it seems to be just as normal as using the toilet. Every time I walk out of my flat and down the street, I still have the image in my mind of the bloke who stood at the corner just last week, merrily weeing away at the wall of some poor git’s house. The street stinks enough to testify that either it’s not the first time he’s done it, or that he’s not the only one. Or both, most likely.

Then, in the latest incident, I’m walking hurriedly down the road this morning to the train station, desperate to catch the 8am departure (one of the only ones in the whole day that stops in CouĂ«ron, where I teach, and so lets me trade an hour’s tram and bus ride through country-bumpkin-ville for a quick, comfy 15 minute train journey) when I hear a hosepipe watering the plants outside a hotel facing onto the street. Very early to be doing that sort of thing, and rather unnecessary, too, given the amount of rain we’ve had the last few days. But hell, it wasn’t a hosepipe at all – well, not of the usual variety, anyway. Instead, it was yet another Frenchie so nonchalantly whistling away into the bushes. And while you or I, if we were to find ourselves in the situation where we just had to go, would do it discreetly, he had no such intention – no, there he was doing it facing me and everyone else on the street, not a care in the world! Now, either he’d slept on the street outside that hotel last night, and had nowhere else to do his business, or this whole bloody country has some sort of deep-rooted fetish for public urination. Once again, I suspect both is probably the most likely answer here.

No doubt they don’t make much effort to clean up before they move on to that other very French pasttime, shaking hands. While anything involving a woman is going to get a two-to-four-cheeked kiss, men would never be seen dead doing that, and instead go for a very brief handshake. It’s almost somewhat of a ritual, shaking everyone’s hands when you get into work, get on the bus or what not, in a manner not unlike a prime minister shaking hands and kissing babies, or a singer reaching out for adoring fans’ hands at a concert. Just a few minutes ago, a colleague came into the staff room at work, from where I am currently blogging, and, despite already having had a conversation with me for a couple of minutes about his ‘fluent’ English, proceeded to apologise profusely for having shaken the hand of the only other man in the room, but not mine. Well, hell, I forgive you! The love of greetings generally is a very French thing in itself, though – whether it’s saying ‘bonjour’ (or one of its siblings – ‘bonsoir’, ‘bon appetit’ etc etc) fifty times a day, despite having seen the person just five minutes ago in the staff room and now passing them in the corridor; whether it’s a few cheeky ‘bisous’ on the cheek or a hanshake, they love to say hello. The kids, ever trying to be cool and hard, have turned their handshakes into something a little bit more ‘gangsta’, barely having touched each other before they release their hands again, half akin to the fist-slapping gesture you see at home. But they still look odd, as they sullenly walk down the bus shaking hands with anyone they know, yet not saying a word to any of them because they’re too much of a moody teenager.

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