Just like Eva Green, I’m French and I’m rude. And no, I don’t care what you think

<span>Photograph: James Veysey/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: James Veysey/Rex/Shutterstock

The relationship between France and Britain, the best of frenemies, seems to finally be thawing. The Brexit wars are behind us, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson no longer annoy each other on a near weekly basis, and the first Franco-British summit in years will take place in March.

That’s no fun. Allow me, then, to do my French patriotic duty and open up a new front of combat. Here goes: the British, despite what they might think, aren’t any good at complaining. This is an odd state of affairs, as they – well, you – see it as a proud national trait. But they are wrong.

The British like to grumble and moan and whine, but really, no one does it like us. There is nothing like a true, spirited, cathartic French whinge. That, you could say, is what Eva Green has been trying to argue in court this week.

Green is suing a production company over the collapse of a film she was meant to star in. As a result, some unflattering WhatsApp messages have been revealed in which she harshly insults the producers and others – but it was her response in court in London this week that really caught people’s attention.

When asked about messages that described others involved in the film as “weak and stupid”, Green replied: that’s “my Frenchness coming out sometimes”. (She added: “Sometimes you say things you don’t actually mean. Of course they are not weak and stupid.”)

You may laugh at her justification, but there is some truth to it. Aggressive, rude, constant complaining is what we do; it’s who we are. Take this satirical piece from Le Gorafi, France’s answer to the Onion, published last year.

“France will send 10,000 French people to Ukraine to complain”, the headline read. “Among the French citizens who will be deployed, we will have 5,000 individuals whose job will be to repeat ‘It sucks so much here’, ‘What a shitty situation’, or even ‘If I’d been in power here I would have settled all this in a jiffy’”, was the (false) quote of the home secretary.

Another popular parody from the site cited dire concerns from French citizens that putting an end to lockdown would mean that they would no longer have enough to complain about. In short, and whatever the cost may be, we’ll complain on the beaches, we’ll complain on the landing grounds, we’ll complain in the fields and … well, you get the gist.

Of course, mere relentlessness isn’t what makes French complaining unique. While the British enjoy seething passive aggression and cloaking their feelings in euphemism, a good Gallic whinge must be vicious, and ideally come at an inopportune time.

A classic from my own life involved a close friend exploding in my face about the various parts of my personality that she felt she could no longer stand. I was, at that point in time, sitting on a skip in the street, crying, having just been dumped.

She apologised the next day, and it soon became something we both laughed about. She agreed that she could have picked better timing and I agreed that her criticisms had a point, and so we moved on.

Related: Eva Green portrayed as ‘diva’ to shift blame for film collapse, high court hears

Still, I understand that this can all be a bit of a shock to outsiders. In the same way that Brits are taken aback when they go abroad and find queues being ignored, trenchant Frenchness can grate if you aren’t used to it.

This is something that another actor, Scarlett Johansson, found when she moved to Paris a decade ago. “When I first got there I thought people were not that whole kind of rude Parisian thing – you know, people aren’t rude, they’re wonderful,” she told David Letterman in 2014. “Well, that was before I was a mainstay there, and then people decided that once I wasn’t going away they could just be really terribly rude to me.” Johansson has since moved back to the US.

Ultimately, the beauty of French complaining is its almost democratic nature. If we all know that we will all eventually fly into a rage at some inconvenient point, we find it hard to hold it against one another. We can also recognise its uses: sometimes harsh truths do just need to come out. They may feel painful when they do, but it is still better than leaving issues to fester.

At risk of being sympathetic to the point of bias, perhaps this is what happened to Eva Green. She was concerned about the quality of the movie she was making, and felt she’d been misled. What else was she going to do? Sigh and tut? That’s just not the way we do things.

  • Marie Le Conte is a French journalist living in London

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