A Guide for Bridging the French-American Divide

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NBC Today Show
Matt Lauer
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Video News Report
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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French Cultural Advisor Polly Platt gives Americans advice on how to bridge the cultural divide when visiting France.



"A Guide for Bridging the French-American Divide." Matt Lauer, correspondent. NBC Today Show. NBCUniversal Media. 9 May 2001. NBC Learn. Web. 2 December 2017.


Lauer, M. (Reporter). (2001, May 9). A Guide for Bridging the French-American Divide. [Television series episode]. NBC Today Show. Retrieved from https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=6280


"A Guide for Bridging the French-American Divide" NBC Today Show, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 05/09/2001. Accessed Sat Dec 2 2017 from NBC Learn: https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=6280


A Guide for Bridging the French-American Divide

MATT LAUER, co-host (Paris, France):

The difference between the French way of doing things and our own can sometimes be obvious, sometimes a little more subtle.  But it is possible with a little insight and patience to get along.  Polly Platt is an American who's been living in Paris for a long time, and she says you can bridge the cultural divide.

Polly, good to see you.  Welcome back to the TODAY show.

Ms. POLLY PLATT (French Cultural Advisor):  Thank you, Matt.  It's lovely to be here, particularly in this incredible spot.

LAUER:  It really is a great spot.  What is the problem here with the Americans and the French?  You always hear Americans saying the French are rude, and sometimes you hear the French say Americans are rude.

Ms. PLATT:  Well, yes, you do, because the trouble is the cultures are so different and the Americans have not been brought up with the French politeness code.  So this is exactly--you said, bridge, that's exactly what I try to be, is a strong bridge to get them where they get this friendly French welcome when they're here.

LAUER:  So you have to know the rules is what you're saying.  It's kind of like a tennis or golf match?

Ms. PLATT:  I think it is.  And I think it's--it's an awfully big help to know that there are hotels in the suburbs that you might be put in and how to get a taxi to take you and not refuse.  And how to get the waiter to give you the meal of your life and not look as if he's snooty.  And all this is possible.

LAUER:  Let's start with the basics.  You walk into a store here in Paris, and Americans sometimes just walk in and start browsing.  That's not done here?

Ms. PLATT:  No.  That's a big no- no.  Please say, `Bonjour, monsieur,' or `Bonjour, madam.'  Please say `Hello' at least if you can't find the words.

LAUER:  Also `Bonjour, monsieur,' not just `Bonjour.'

Ms. PLATT:  Very important.  Very important.  But a `Bonjour' is better than nothing.  And `Hello' is better than really nothing.  And if you're in a bakery, to just point to what you want is--you know, just say, `S'il vous plait.'  `Hello.'

LAUER:  So they--they want you to try to use their language, Polly, but let's face it, a lot of times we butcher it.  Isn't it better to point than to make a fool of yourself?

Ms. PLATT:  No, no, no.


Ms. PLATT:  No. Even speaking in English politely is much better.  It's much more courteous and respectful, and that's what it's all about.  It's all about respect.

LAUER:  Also--also goodbye when you leave a store.  They--they...

Ms. PLATT:  Very important.

LAUER:  ...they think that's very important.  They'll scold you if you don't do that.

Ms. PLATT:  Right, even for the cashier in the supermarkets, they all want to--even if you're buying a book, and the cashier wants to have a `Hello...(unintelligible)' or just `Hello.'  But just to say, `This,' you know, no.

LAUER:  You mention supermarkets.  In the States, if I'm going to go buy vegetables, I might pick them up and touch them...

Ms. PLATT:  No.

LAUER:  No, not here?

Ms. PLATT:  Well, in the supermarket, yes, but not on the open markets where you're buying from--probably from the owner.  And if you touch everything, you might be spoiling it, so you might get your hand slapped, and that's really a no-no.

LAUER:  A lot of Americans notice something, Polly, when they come here and they go to a restaurant, nice restaurant, and they look down at the table next to them, and there's a dog sitting under the table.  That's very common here.

Ms. PLATT:  That is quite common.  Well, you know, if you're a dog owner, it's wonderful.  And one of my Americans in the seminar, she took a great big golden retriever in the store and thought they were going to kick him out. No, no.  They said, `Oh, what would he like to have for dinner?'

LAUER:  You mentioned taxis a second ago.  In New York City, I walk out in the middle of the street, I say `Taxi.'  Not here?

Ms. PLATT:  No.  In fact, it's against the law.  If you get a taxi, he's going to be fined if it's within 50 meters of a taxi stand.  You have to go to the place which--which says `Taxi,' and you have to wait.  And if it's raining you have to wait in line a long time.  So it's better to get your tax--your concierge in your hotel to get you one.

LAUER:  So if you had one rule for Americans visiting Paris, or any part of France so that they have a smoother trip and a more enjoyable trip, what would it be?

Ms. PLATT:  To say `Hello,' and `Merci,' and `Thank you,' and all the politeness words, and to try--well, of course, to read my book and find out how to do it, but "Savoir Flare" is going to tell you exactly how to have a good time and what the words are and how you can bluff your way in French, too, very easily.

LAUER:  Polly Platt.  Nice to have you back on TODAY.

Ms. PLATT:  Thank you, Matt.

LAUER:  It was a pleasure.

Ms. PLATT:  It's great fun.

LAUER:  Thanks for talking with us.

Ms. PLATT:  Thank you.