I was at a party talking freely about some political subject when a French girlfriend pointed at my shirt and said, je n'aime pas trop cette style. I gaped, I didn't know how to respond. I sort of brushed it off and continued my conversation about some minister I saw on the Grand Journal. A few days later, I made dinner for my French parents and I proudly put the finishing touches on my sauce. After taking a bite of the meat, his mother stated, la sauce est super bon, par contre cette viande est un peu sèche. I nodded, in agreement.
You see, the French are honest people, if they have an opinion about something it's openly stated without any hesitation. This brutal honesty comes as a shock to those of us from the West Coast. Those of us used to the gentil words, the false smiles and the fake positive responses. You don't like someone's shirt you say, "I love that shirt!", someone gained some weight you smile and note, "Have you lost weight?".
It took me a long time to get used to this French quality, there aren't a lot of smiles passed between random people unless you know them. It's considered just strange to say one thing and then go behind someone's back to say another. This form of honesty has lead to personal issues between me and family, miscommunication between friends and sometimes just over-all miscomfort. While there is a list of reasons I find this honesty negative, there is an equally long list of why I love it.
This honesty can be considered positive simply because you always know what page someone is on, you know their opinion and there are no surprises. You shirt is ugly, well, better someone tell you. Your laugh is weird, better you know then to have everyone think it an never say it.
It's important not to be too sensitive as an American in France, I take the quips and straight-forwardness as a way of knowing someone cares. Lying is so common in our culture that I took for granted the fact that we can be simply honest and it's not a bad thing.
In September of 2010 I realized the quality of French friendships versus American friendships and a huge part of this; in my opinion, is attributed to the blunt honesty in the culture. I say I will call, I call. I say you're my friend, you're my friend.
Is it so bad to live in a culture where there are no secrets and hidden opinions? I don't think so.