My home country, France, is internationally known for its great wine, food, kisses, seductors and philosophers. What a creative nation: as good in bed as in the kitchen. But there is a but, of course. Paris is not that romantic after all (it’s actually quite dirty and noisy), and French people are also internationally known for their rudeness and arrogance. We have been elected as the most unfriendly nation in the world for travellers, as well as the most arrogant nation in the European Union. That includes our own fellow Frenchmen qualifying themselves as the most arrogant… You have to give it that at least we are realistic about it.
These “prizes” mean that either we try very hard at treating people badly, even the tourists who are obviously quite intelligent as they come to visit our beautiful country, or we are born and raised arrogant for a reason.
In Norway, where I now live, arrogant is the worst qualification Norwegians wants to be called and perceived as by other nations. Obviously the French don’t mind it too much.
So let me tell you the simple reasons why French are so arrogant and why, on the opposite, Norwegians aren’t (or manage to hide it very well). Before anything what is arrogance? It is when someone believes they are superior to others and show it in an insulting way.
1- History: Longing for the past
We were once the kings of this world (if I remember my history books well, which were probably biasedly written by French megalomaniacs) and we miss it. On ideas, philosophy, colonial empires, language and so have you. So we still pretend like this is how it is supposed to be. Not that long ago French was the diplomatic language spoken by the European elites. But hellloo neither the 20th century nor the 21st are seeing the revival of French intellectual influence in this world. We aren’t the kings of the world anymore but French have this great ability not to give a shit. WE should learn English for the Americans? HAHA this country is 300 years old and eats fake meat and they want to teach us stuff. So even when learning English we make sure we have the thickest French accent so that no one can ever think “oh wow that guy made a real effort”.
Norwegians on the other hand. Well, they were also the kings of this world one day a long time ago, in a way: everyone remembers the merciless Vikings who conquered the world from their history books. But the recent history of Norway is that the country was always part of someone else’s empire: the Swedes or the Danes. It is only 200 years ago that Norway became independent and extremely recently that it became a wealthy nation. I read that after World War II Norway was the poorest country of Europe with Portugal.
While the French have had an nicely sized ego on the international scene, the Norwegians seemed to have suffered from some kind of inferiority complex. A French meeting a foreigner will expect him/her to speak French, and perfectly. A Norwegian meeting a foreigner will just be happy he/she knows Norway is its own country and not a city in Sweden.
2- Society: Arrogance as social recognition
Norwegian and French societies are very different and the ways for one to be acknowledged and respected are also completely different. In France those who are socially valued are those who 1- know a lot (or pretend they know a lot) about anything from art to philosophy or geopolitics, 2- who have a high social status (by being from an elite school) and 3- those who are arrogant. It doesn’t matter what you know, who you are, how much you earn, as long as you are able to make everyone else feel like you and only you knows. The winning combination is being arrogant + having entered an elite school. And being a man. And being white. Let’s not even go there.
Being humble will lead to your social death in France. There is a saying “Trop bon, trop con” which basically means being too nice makes you an fool. You might have walked alone to the North Pole, if you are not able to talk about it in a superior way the social value of your exploits will be reduced.
In Norway however it is the total opposite: it seems like being modest here is the one thing to be if you want to be respected and be socially acknowledged. Here the winning combination is to be humble + nice. Who cares if you studied, if you are competent in your work. As long as you are “snill”. It is written all over the Law of Jante ruling many aspects of Norwegian social life: “You’re not to think you are smarter than we are”.
And it is in fact one of the things that surprised me when I moved here: people seem so modest. Even the super rich don’t show off too much, and the highest professors still wear old shirts and dirty shoes. They will talk to a cashier with as much respect as to the Prime Minister. In any social setting: a party, work, a supermarket, treating someone else like they are inferior to you will not gain you any respect. Quite on the opposite people will look at the ceiling thinking how rude you are. It is refreshing when coming from France because we don’t have to fight so much here for every of our ideas. Then again, debates sometimes seem very politically correct in Norway, it lacks a bit of spice and confrontation for my taste.
In Norway, why be arrogant? Your boss listens to you, during an annual meeting you have with him or her to discuss all issues linked to your job. You can talk in meetings and be listened to without being shouted at, and people will politely disagree if anything. Arrogance is not a matter of social survival in Norway.
3- How to detect Norwegian pride, sometimes tainted of arrogance
That said, arrogance does exist at its own level in Norway. The thing is that for a French it will be undetectable: we are used to showing or seeing people treating others like they are the scum of this world, so a Norwegian even trying very hard to be patronising will be hard to detect for us. It’s the same with seduction. Norwegian men can try very hard, French women are so used to be heavily flirted with that the subtleties of Norwegian seduction will appear like a simple conversation.
However, I have seen it, more under pride than arrogance. Many people here have the intimate conviction that their system and their country are the best in the world. That the whole world wants to come here (believe me it doesn’t, my parents don’t even want to come on a holiday). Norway is definitely the welfare system with the least deficit, yet saying all the time that it has the best quality is, well, a bit arrogant.
All in all, there are 65 million inhabitants in France and obviously all of them can’t be arrogant. Some live in Norway and had to drop that because it is so badly viewed here. Some never were but know how to avoid the arrogant ones in parties and family dinners. There is another French saying: Knowledge is like jam, the less one has the more one spreads it. At the age of 18 I met a professor in university who had 2 PhDs and was incredibly passionate and at the same time very humble. I realised that arrogance is just a way to hide one’s ignorance and insecurity. When you know that you are right you don’t need to scream it to the world and step on two persons on the way telling them how idiotic they are.
Yet in France arrogance has become a state religion, so I advise you to get tuned in if you move there, so that you can get what you want from administrations for example. But remember, arrogance takes you so far (look where it led Nicolas Sarkozy!).
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