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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Why I love the French habits of scolding and complaining

If you ask any foreigner living in France for their top bugbears about the country they will - once they've got past the bureaucracy and the smell of pee in Paris - probably mention complaining, and then complain about being scolded by a French person.

Why I love the French habits of scolding and complaining
If you break a rule in France, someone is bound to tell you. Photo: AFP

And it’s true, these are both very common occurrences.

French people themselves generally accept that they have a well-earned reputation for always complaining, and it’s very common – especially if you are a foreigner – to be scolded for getting something wrong, breaching a social code or making a language error.
 
But I actually love those things. And not because I’m some sort of sunny optimist Pollyanna type, I’m happy to have a good old moan (did I mention that men in Paris piss in the street? It’s gross).
 
 
Here’s why;
 
Scolding
 
I’ll admit that this one took a bit of getting used to, it’s less common outside France and made me feel like a sulky five-year-old the first time that it happened.
 
But as an incomer in France it’s actually quite reassuring – you will obviously get things wrong, there’s a lot to learn and a lot of differences, but at least you will know when you do.
 
 
In the UK you can transgress a social code and hear nothing more than an ‘excuse me’. You will therefore think it’s no big deal, but the person you have cut in front of in the queue will hate you forever and immediately dedicate themselves to destroying your life.
 
In France, on the other hand you will be scolded and informed of the correct way to do it, so you will know for the next time (or decide to ignore their stupid rule, it’s your choice but at least you are clear on what you are doing).

 
 
It’s the same with people who correct your French – OK it can make you feel like a stuttering idiot, but they’re probably just trying to help and at least you will know that you’ve made a mistake and won’t spend the next 10 years telling people that you went organic because you don’t like condoms in your food.  
 
 
Complaining  
 
I think there are two ways to look at this – one is that it’s a cultural quirk that isn’t actually as negative as it appears to non-French people.
 
Maybe I’m more comfortable with this because I’m from Yorkshire, where grumbling is also considered a valid hobby, but French people use complaining as a sort of small-talk.
 
If you’re in the office kitchen with a colleague that you don’t know well in the UK you will inevitably end up talking about the weather. In France some sort of complaining will develop. It doesn’t matter what it’s about – why the coffee machine is broken again, how long the latest Metro strike will last – it’s a topic that you can bond over without straying into personal territory that could be uncomfortable with someone you don’t know.
 
Surveys regularly show the French as being the most dissatisfied with a range of topics and French presidents often get terrible approval ratings, but French people are likely to live long, healthy and happy lives – maybe it’s because they enjoy all the complaining.
 
The other side to complaining is to do with expectations. The French have high expectations of their society and their government and why not?
 
 
When complaining moves up a gear. Photo: AFP
 
France is a wealthy country with lots of advantages so it’s reasonable to expect that its people will have a decent standard of living. French people expect this to happen and complain when it does not. Government moves that are seen as lowering the standard of living (such as the recent pension reforms) are greeted with complaints or the more formalised process of complaining – a strike.
 
While long-lasting strikes can certainly be annoying they a) give you something to complain about to your casual acquaintances and b) contribute to the generous social protections around employment, healthcare and pensions that many of us enjoy in France.
 
 
So that’s why these two French habits are in fact virtues. But the pissing in the street? There’s just no excuse for that and it needs to stop.
 

Member comments

  1. I agree. She got the scolding as much as the complaining – easy to forget the other half to the complaining coin.

  2. Here’s a question you may be able to help me with. Is it true that in France it is considered rude to ask what you do/did for a living when visiting a home for the first time? It’s virtually the first question asked when being visited by an English person.

  3. we were scolded like teenagers for leaving our small porch light on at night by our landlord. it was stunning. she said “americans hate the environment so i don’t expect you to understand.” as vegetarians who don’t own a car (things she knew) and people living across from a bank that left lights on all night we bit our tongues. now we enjoy complaining about her so it’s a win.

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PROPERTY

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

A new accessibility scheme recently announced by the French government gives grants for home improvements such as installing a stair lift or widening a doorframe to allow wheelchair access - here is how you could benefit.

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

According to a recent survey in France, the vast majority of retired people expressed a desire to stay in their homes long-term, rather than entering a care facility.

While there are several schemes by the French government to provide assistance for renovating homes in order to make them more accessible for elderly people, the newly announced “MaPrimeAdapt” seeks to streamline the process.

When was it announced?

MaPrimeAdapt was part of President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign, with plans for it first announced by the president last November.

Most recently, the government aid was earmarked to receive funding in the upcoming 2023 budget, which also hopes to increase the number of nursing home employees, as well as boost public funding for care centres.

The budget is set to allocate €35 million to the National Housing Agency (ANAH) in 2023. In response, the ministry of housing said to Capital France that one of their top priorities is “a single aid for the adaptation of housing to ageing” that would replace several existing government subsidies.

What is the goal of Ma Prime Adapt?

Similar to Ma Prime Renov, this programme hopes to provide additional funding for home refurbishment.

But while Ma Prime Renov focuses on environmentally friendly home adaptations, Ma Prime Adapt aims to make it simpler for older people or those with disabilities to refurbish their homes in order to maintain their autonomy and avoid falls.  

The French government also aims to reduce the number of fatal or disabling falls of people aged 65 by at least 20 percent by 2024, and by 2032, the goal is for at least 680,000 homes to be adapted, particularly those of low-income older people.

Who can benefit?

According to reporting by Le Monde, this aid is not solely reserved for people who already have decreased mobility. 

Instead, it is intended for older people generally. When applying, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that they are an independent retiree and need (this could be based on income, age, health, etc) to adapt their housing in order to make it more accessible.

The amount of assistance offered will be means-tested based on financial status.

What types of work would qualify?

Some examples of work that might qualify for assistance might be:

  • adapting the bathroom (for example, adding grab bars or enlarging the door)
  • replacing the bathtub with a shower
  • installing a bathtub with a door
  • installing a stair lift
  • adding access ramps to the home

The benefit is not limited to those options – any project that aims to increase home accessibility for a senior could qualify, as long as it is not simply aesthetic-focused.

Can it be combined with Ma Prime Renov?

They have different criteria, but Ma Prime Renov and Ma Prime Adapt can be combined in order to provide maximum support to elderly people wishing to adapt and stay in their homes.

How can I apply?

In order to apply, you will be required to meet the conditions stated above, in addition to being able to demonstrate that the housing in question is at least 15 years old and that the amount of work being done would cost at least €1,500.

Keep in mind that the renovation will need to be carried out by a recognised building company or contractor – specifically one with the label “RGE.”

You will be able  toapply for the Ma Prime Adapt aid via France’s National Housing Agency (ANAH). A dedicated website will be created to facilitate the process, with a launch date TBC. 

On the site, you will submit an application form that includes the estimates of the work planned. According to Le Monde, €5,600 will be the maximum amount of aid to be offered, and the cost of work will be capped at €8,000. However, this information has not yet been published by the National Housing Agency. 

What have the other available schemes been?

Currently, retirees in France can apply for the “Habiter facile” scheme from the ANAH (Agence Nationale de l’Habitat), which also helps to finance work that promotes the ability of elderly people to remain in their homes.

“Bien vieillir chez soi” is a similar aid scheme which is offered by the CNAV (social security).

The elderly and disabled can also benefit from tax credits on accessibility or home adaptation work. 

These will likely be replaced by Ma Prime Adapt, which will combine all benefits into one package.

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