Friday, September 25, 2009


Most Americans know better than to ask their friends how much money they earn or to ask how much was spent on a large ticket item like a house. It is considered uncouth for us to be so nosy. The French, on the other hand, take the subject of money to a whole new level. Simply bringing up
the word "money" is considered taboo and brings chills down a French person's spine.

It didn't take me long to discover that my using that dreaded word was an overwhelming faux pas here. So, I quickly decided to nix it all together from my vocabulary while in the presence of a native. However, I was soon to learn that that was actually easier said than done. Even though I am aware of it, I am struck by how much we Americans actually think about our currency.

For example, someone offered me a temporary job that would have paid a lot of money. For one reason or another, it wasn't going to work with my schedule, so I declined the offer. I told the person that I appreciated her proposal and I certainly could have used the money (OOPS, I used it again!) but it just wasn't going to work out. Another French person who overheard the conversation told me that most people would never speak to me again after saying that one sentence. Can you imagine!?

I decided to do a little investigating into the matter to find out if the majority of people here agreed that this subject was not to be discussed. While I did not conduct a scientific survey, I did manage to ask a number of locals for their thoughts. In fact, one person mentioned that when he was asked to pay for the rent in full the next day by an American landlord he cringed at the audacity of this woman and nearly lost his lunch. He was so distraught that someone would bring up the forbidden word! When I asked how one collected the rent that was owed here in France, he didn't know the English translation so he told me in his native tongue. Essentially, the landlord should have asked to "discuss the arrangement" the next morning. The French don't talk about money—they talk around it.

Furthermore, from my American perspective, things like doctor's bills, massage appointments, classes, and so on are all paid for in advance. When you show up for your session, you pay before you ever get to see a doctor or a practitioner. That being said, in the States, it was a no-brainer when I would ask for the money for a class I was teaching up front when the student arrived, just to get it out of the way. I quickly learned that I could no longer do that in this country. I simply had to trust that a client was going to pay me at the end. That's not such an easy thing for our capitalistic minds to grasp.

Plus, we Americans think that if you schedule an appointment and don't give a 24 hour notice when you need to cancel, you will still have to pay for it since it is unlikely the time slot will be filled. That is not the case for a French person. If someone schedules an appointment with you and either cancels at the last minute, or doesn't bother to make the phone call to cancel and just doesn't show up, they will not have to pay you for the appointment at all, because they did not come in for the appointment to pay for it in the first place. C'est normal.

Alas, this is their culture and I am trying to soak up as much of the idiosyncrasies as I can. I am just a guest in their house after all. So, check the subject of money at the door. It's simply not allowed here.

Thank you for reading and bonne journee!