“French people complain a lot” is part of the stereotype we have about our own culture. Today, let’s see where this stereotype comes from, and how you can complain like a French person too!
1) The stereotype: French people complain a lot
Les Français aiment se plaindre. = French people love to complain.
And we do it a lot! From personal grumbling about people, situations, or the weather, to social complaints like strikes or protests. Even our national myth of the Republic is largely based on people complaining so much that they made a Revolution about it in 1789.
So complaining is seen as a potential engine for change and progress (or fight against bad changes.) In everyday life, it’s also a way to bond over shared frustration. And probably other social functions too.
** Le truc en plus **
Some miscellaneous thoughts with at least a kernel of truth to them.
- a way of resisting fatalism and resignation: the French often mobilize to defend their rights or ideals.
- a sign of frankness and honesty: the French do not like to pretend to be happy or satisfied when they are not.
- an exercise of style and rhetoric: expressing discontent with style or with pointed critiques can be an artform – or at least a way to show off a bit.
- a historical and cultural heritage: the French have been influenced by literary movements such as romanticism or existentialism that valued suffering and malaise.
- a distinctive and identity trait: the French are proud of their singularity and their esprit critique (critical thinking) towards other cultures.
Of course, it’s hard to say how much of this stereotype is true, especially compared to other countries: everybody complains a bit.
But a related stereotype is a general unhappiness and negativity. And there’s a study suggesting that French people really are more unhappy than other comparable countries – whether it comes from culture or simply the innate temperament of the people.
- La météo / le temps qu’il fait = the weather
- La grève = a strike
- Une manifestation = a protest in the streets
- La grogne = the low-level grumbling of a group or the population, against the government
Conjugation: Se plaindre = To complain (in the present)
- Je me plains
- Tu te plains
- Il se plaint
- Nous nous plaignons
- Vous vous plaignez
- Ils se plaignent
– “plains / plaint” = “plin” with the nasal sound “in”
– “plaign- (+ ons / ez / ent)” = “plègn-” where “gn” sounds like [ ɲ ], the “ni” sound in the English “onion”
- Râler = To grumble, to complain
- Grogner = To grumble, to growl
- Ronchonner = To grumble
- Bougonner = To grouse
- Rouspéter = To complain loudly
- Faire la gueule = Sulking, being (silently) mad at someone or something (colloquial, mild swear word)
Further resources and studies:
2) “Le râleur” : French people endorse the stereotype
French people do see themselves (or each other) as le Schtroumpf grognon (= Grumpy Smurf), an example of le râleur (= the loud complainer.)
The most famous râleur in French media is probably late French actor Jean-Pierre Bacri (see below.)
Of course, grumbling comes with criticisms, which might lead to arguing. French people also embrace that stereotype, of a people that loves arguing – like the everyday playful fights in the fictional village of Astérix.
With all this grumbling and arguing, visitors often ask the questions: are French people rude?
Click here to get your free lesson on that question: Are French people rude? – Comme Une Française
You might feel some difference in customer service, for instance. French employees tend to be less pressured into being outwardly friendly than in the US for instance. But some of them really are rude – French people would say that it happens especially with Parisian waiters.
And you’re allowed to complain about it, and join in on the fun!
- Grincheux = Grumpy
- Râleur / râleuse = A complainer
- Critiquer = to criticize
- Un critique = a critic (person)
- Une critique = a criticism
- Se disputer / Une dispute = To argue / A verbal fight, an argument
- S’engueuler / Une engueulade = same as “dispute” but in mild swear words
- Le service client = customer service
- Le client est roi (rarely) = “the customer is king” (“always right”)
- Les Français, champions du monde des râleurs ?… – France 24 (YouTube)
- Jean-Pierre Bacri (1951-2021) (Wikipedia)
Clip from the movie Cuisines et Dépendances (1993) taken from that video: Jean-Pierre Bacri, l’éternel ronchon du cinéma français – HuffPost (YouTube) (0:34-0:43)
“Ah quel mépris… Deux heures de retard ! Et pour finir, un prétexte débile, pondu à la va-vite. Même pas foutu d’inventer quelque chose de… plausible. Il y a que du mépris là-dedans.”
“Oh, such contempt… Two hours late! And to top it off, a stupid excuse, made up on the fly. Not even able to invent something… plausible. There’s only contempt in that.”
And for advanced learners, I recommend this video by the excellent YouTube channel Calmos, in their series “Rigolo” : Jean-Pierre Bacri ou la bonne façon de râler
3) How to complain in French
Comment râler en français ? = How can you grumble in French?
Sad and defeated:
Pff… Oh non… Oh purée… = Oh no. (Literally “mashed potatoes” – euphemism for a swear word, see below.)
C’est nul. = It’s lame, it rubbish. = C’est naze. (more colloquial)
Le train est annulé, c’est naze. Je suis dégoûtée.
= The train got cancelled, that’s so lousy. I’m so bummed out.
Ça m’énerve ! = It’s getting on my nerves, it’s pissing me off!
Ça m’exaspère. = It’s driving me crazy! (much more formal)
Ça me casse les pieds ! = It breaks my feet! (“feet” can be replaced by various body parts for added anger)
Common swear words (still ugly and rude):
I’m not recommending you use them, but you will hear them a lot in French conversations and media.
And now, keep exploring French culture with me:
Click here to get your next lesson:
- French People Never Do Small Talk
- Are French People Rude? A Native Parisian’s Take On This Stereotype
- French People Never Say Bonjour Twice (to the same person on the same day)
- French People Never Eat Alone
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!
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Merci Géraldine c’est très utile