Frenchitude Lesson #17: Consider "Fighting French"

Sorry the posts have been a little thin on the ground this week. After the holidays there is a LOT of catching-up to do but things should be back to normal by next week.

However, I do have a Frenchitude topic that has been just itching to be written, so here it is;

Frenchitude Lesson #17: Consider Fighting Like the French

When I moved back to France five years ago one of the first things that hit me was how many French adults seemed emotionally suspended in childhood. Unlike the North American adults I knew (including myself) the French didn’t even make an effort to do what adults are supposed to do; suppress or hide their emotions.

When the French are sad, they weep openly, when they are happy, they laugh hysterically and grab each other around the necks, and when they are mad…they yell.

At first, this was deeply disconcerting. I was brought up in a society that taught me there was only one proper way for adult couples to “fight”. They, being adults, should have the self-control to discuss the “disagreement” rationally and fairly without raising their voices or throwing objects against the wall. A little bit of pouting was allowed, as long as it was done in such a passive – aggressive manner that when your partner asked you what was wrong you could stiffly respond “nothing’ as you make the bed with unwarranted viciousness.

But the French are utterly comfortable with conflict. French people have no problem yelling and screaming at each other, or hugging each other five minutes later. Such open conflict and quicksilver emotions made my head feel like it was going to explode.

But time passed, and without realizing it, I too began to fight in a more French way.

I know that many couples say they never fight. While living in Canada I often felt very bad that Franck and I were not one of these couples.

Franck and I get along beautifully for 95% of the time, but then there is that other 5%…that percentage is even higher during the first year after a baby is born, though I must say it really helped to know that going in this time around.

Before coming to France our fighting styles were very unmatched. Franck would raise his voice and let all his griefs come gushing out while I would sit there on the couch trying to be fair and rational and above all, adult. As a result, all of my rage was directed inwards instead of outwards, where I now believe it belongs.

Since adolescence I have had an irksome tendency towards panic attacks, at times very debilitating ones. After years of grappling with this issue I have come to accept that my panic attacks are largely the result of a glitch in my cerebral make-up which I am proud to share with many riveting characters, most notably (albeit fictionally) Tony Soprano.

While I don’t think panic attacks will ever be so kind as to leave me altogether, my new habit of letting out my emotions certainly seems to have reduced them dramatically. I now wonder if my anxiety issues were not exacerbated by trying to shoehorn what is essentially an emotional, tenacious (Franck would say stubborn), strong-willed nature into the accepted North American mould of a restrained, pliable, and, god forbid, “sweet” female.

Fighting “Canadian” may work for some people, but it sure as hell wasn’t working for me.

Now when Franck and I fight, I yell, I holler, I shake my finger, and I slam doors. I (mostly) restrain myself from throwing things. I meet Franck’s anger head on with my own, and let me tell you; I have discovered that my anger is a strangely beautiful and awesome thing to behold.

It feels so GOOD to get all of that OUT of me rather than having it roil away inside, eating away at me in the name of rationality and self-control.

The French view conflict as a natural and integral part of being human and, as a consequence, of any human relationship. A lack of conflict is seen as far more menacing than raised voices, because it symbolizes that death knell of marriages; indifference.

Franck and I are not completely juvenile about our fighting. We try to hustle the children out of earshot, we don’t hit each other, and we try not to say anything too damaging (though we don’t consider “YOU’RE ACTING LIKE A TOTAL GOBSHITE!” damaging in the least).

If our kids do question the noises of warfare emanating from the living room I try to be honest with them.

I tell them that most couples fight, that it is normal for most couples to fight, and that it just so happens that their parents both have very strong personalities which means that, while their love is very strong, their clashes can be equally as strong. I reassure them that we are not getting divorced, that we love each other, and reiterate that conflict is a normal part of life.

Many people may disagree, but I am convinced that seething and unspoken resentment can be far more frightening for children than open, honest conflict.

And I find one of the best things about fighting French (besides reducing panic attacks far more effectively than Prozac) is that the fights are remarkably short-lived. You get it all out, you make up, then you move on.

And once the storm clouds have cleared, I feel light inside, and notice that the sky has never looked so blue.

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in the Okanagan or Oregon.