There are two types of rude French people. I know which one I’d rather deal with
A few years ago, I found myself at a corner table in a dimly-lit bar at Claridge’s, location of choice for a certain type of celebrity whose contract dictates that they be interviewed by a journalist. Eva Green had arrived before me. It soon became apparent that, if there was a choice between “being interviewed” and “licking the floor”, she’d lick the floor. Nonetheless, she tried hard to engage. She seemed more anxious than aloof, and I’d never have described her as a “diva”. Although I would definitely have described her as “French”. Actually, non. I’d have described her as “Parisian”.
Lawyers for Green, 42, claim the actress and former Bond girl is being portrayed unfairly as a diva by White Lantern, the film company she is suing for an £810,000 fee. In defending herself, Green has inadvertently not just put herself on trial, but the whole of France. Apologising in court for the “inappropriate language” she used in a string of WhatsApp messages (in one, she called the film’s crew “sh---y peasants from Hampshire”), Green explained it was “my Frenchness coming out… this was my emotions speaking.” Methinks she has done French people a disservice. For, when it comes to that fabled Gallic rudeness, there are two distinct types: French, and Parisian. I know which type I’d rather deal with – and it’s not the one within spitting distance of the Eiffel Tower.
Having spent more than 20 years travelling to Paris for work, I feel fairly well-placed to comment on the rudeness of its citizens, whose “Frenchness comes out” more vehemently than most visitors would wish. So rude did I find Parisians that I refused to go on holiday in France until I was 45. Strong-armed into a family holiday near La Rochelle, I was amazed to find that everyone was, in fact, unfailingly polite. Nobody swore, shrugged, shuddered, snickered or even wrinkled their nose.
No matter where I was in Paris, I felt like a perpetual inconvenience, and the butt of everyone’s ire. Some incidents I blame myself for, such as the time a waiter in a chi-chi French restaurant refused to take my order because I’d had the temerity to give it in my native tongue (“en Français”, he’d hissed).
Other incidents I lay blame squarely at the feet of the Parisians. Where to begin with the litany of aggrievements that have occurred over the years? Let’s start with the time I got locked in a Parisian taxi. I don’t know why the driver locked his doors on me. From memory, it was because I questioned his route – a very Parisian thing to do, but it’s my experience that while the Parisians are very good at dishing it out, they’re less good at taking it. Sure, Parisian architecture is great, but being driven round the city as a captive takes the shine off all those neo-gothic facades. Worrying about being murdered will do that to a girl.
There were other taxi incidents over the years, but none as extreme. I was chucked out of one cab for eating a sandwich (fair enough) and another for sipping a bottle of Volvic (lord knows what would have happened had it been Highland Spring). There was also an incident with a private car hire company, whose driver failed to pick me up and take me to the Eurostar terminal because he was off his face on heroin. That was a pity, mainly because I was heavily pregnant, and ended up missing my train home. “Je suis désolé, Laura,” he’d slurred, as I stood on the pavement waiting with my suitcase. “J’ai un problème grave. Très, très grave. C’est comme un poison en moi.”
For the Parisian, melodrama is just part of life. To be moderate is to be dead inside: every emotion is expressed from the heart, in a way that can be endearing, provided the situation warrants it. It is quite intoxicating, for example, to discuss the merits of a film or book with a Parisian: their passion is infectious. It is less intoxicating to discuss the merits of raw chicken. Once – pregnant again – I politely asked the waiter in a famous Parisian brasserie whose name rhymes with “hip” whether mine could be cooked a little longer, only to be met with a volley of abuse. This was the way chicken was cooked here, apparently, and he would not offend the chef by sending it back. In Paris, there is no such thing as a badly cooked dish: just an ignorant diner.
As a Scottish person, I often feel more affinity with the shouty, sweary, wildly gesticulating Parisian than I do with my polite and equable English brethren. I, too, have been known to become more dramatic than a situation warrants. “I have a very direct way of saying things,” Green said in defence of WhatsApp messages in which she called one producer a “devious sociopath” and “pure vomit”. Which reminded me of a question I asked her all those years ago, about why she didn’t use social media. “Because I don’t want to get drunk and then go blablablabla,” she sighed, adding: “Sometimes I do drunk texting.”
Whether Green was on the Châteauneuf-du-Pape when she committed her feelings to WhatsApp is irrelevant. Wherever we hail from, few of us have a chat archive that would prove edifying, were it ever to be read out in public. “I was not expecting to have my WhatsApp messages exposed in court. It’s already very humiliating,” Green acknowledged. However rude she’s been, Green’s devoted fans are still on her side. “I’d let Eva Green call me whatever she wants tbh,” one opined on Twitter. As for anyone currently wondering whether they can excuse a bout of rudeness by saying it was “their Britishness coming out” – forget it.