‘It’s my French right to complain’

Rachel ArandillaRachel Arandilla
Postcard Travels

DURING a conversation in a bar with friends in Paris, we casually pointed out that French like to complain a lot. Rather than getting insulted, all the French in the group agreed.

“Of course. It feels good to complain,” one of them proclaimed.

From a third world perspective, we didn’t quite understand what it meant about “feeling good when complaining.” Growing up, we were told to “stop complaining and shut up or else…” — “or else” can mean either of the following: getting whipped, being refused dinner, getting pinched in the ear, or, being kicked out of the car and left stranded on the road. That’s how it was in the ‘hood. Swallow the bitter medicine and grin, bitch.

An old district in the southeastern town of Nice
An old district in the southeastern town of Nice

The whole “complaining is fun!” shenanigan sounded absurd to me, if not a little funny. The French were in fact the very first to complain. They make it a sport even. Every day, I came across at least four rallies happening around the city.

While walking in Place de la République, I received one such pamphlet stating what the rallyists demanded from the government: a 25-hour a week workload, higher salary, more vacation leaves, etc., etc., etc., demands that were all ridiculous and absurd to me. They are basically demanding more and more in order to do less and less.

Somewhere along the Côte d'Azur
Somewhere along the Côte d’Azur

“J’ai le droit,” a French expression that means “it is my right,” and they try to inject it in any conversation as possible.

We see an interesting contrast between Western and Asian cultures. Westerners see Asians as overly shy, passive and obedient, while Asians see westerners as overly confident, obnoxious and selfish. But when we try to understand each culture, we understand why.

Westerners value individual human rights more than anything else. The Judeo-Christian belief that every person has an “innate soul” confirms that all persons are equal, and each one is bestowed with equal rights to live.

A rally after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015.
A rally after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015.

Even at a young age, western children are already given the right of self-expression by being provided with the privacy of their own room, where they can decorate it according to their own will, and parents have to knock on their door before being allowed in.

Asians value family, community and hierarchy more than anything else. Hence we have sibling nomenclature in terms of the hierarchy in the family (such as in Filipino-Chinese communities: achi, diche, ahia, shobe, etc.)

Asians would rather give up a personal right to contribute to a more effective community. For example, Asians would willingly give up the right to eat and drink inside public transport systems because it will make it more convenient for everyone, while Westerners would lobby all they can to keep the same right in theirs.

Neither is more “right” nor “correct” than the other, by the way.

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