Friday, 1 October 2010

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing... Maryline

It's the first of the month and what better than to begin October with a guest post. This week we have Maryline from Franco-American Dream.

We got in touch with Maryline after spotting her amusing post on culture shock- "11 French things that are only French in America". In this guest post, Maryline shares another dose of culture shock arising from language differences...

The French don't say I love you

Source: Arivan B

Outside of romantic comedies, the French don't say "I love you". Or so rarely. On the other hand, I am willing to bet nobody can beat the Americans!

When I first moved to the US, seven years ago, I didn't take me long to realize "I love you" was more of an idiom in closing of every day conversations than a declaration of love.
On the phone just before hanging up: "Talk to you later, got to go, love you!"

In person, saying good bye: "Have a good day, I love you. Muah."

At first, I was quite a bit embarrassed; I wasn't going to love them back just for the form!

Turns out "I love you" is merely the equivalent of "bisous" in French (kisses); though I can't help wondering if it might undermine the true meaning of the words.

What still amazes me and sets me apart from my Americans friends and my husband's family is their innate ability to tell each other, and often, that they love one another.

A brother to a sister, a dear girlfriend to another dear girlfriend. They say it out loud, they even put it down on paper.

And they mean it of course.

It hit me as I was hugging my young son the other day. I've been talking to him exclusively in French since birth -- a challenge of its own considering everyone else around us is anglophone (and, occasionally, hispanophone). And I very much wanted to tell him that I love him. But I found myself unable to tell him "Je t'aime" in a natural manner. It felt very awkward.

I don't even remember my mom telling me "I love you". Let alone my bear of a dad and my siblings. Undoubtedly, I know they love me. Just like they know I love them.

If you asked any French person of any generation, they will probably tell you the same thing. (And though I haven't experienced it first-hand, I have heard the same of other European population.)

Over the centuries"Je t'aime" has been charged with modesty and put on a pedestal. Almost becoming, in itself, a burden. A few words of choice to use with caution and parsimoniously. Except maybe between lovers.

That's too bad. I actually think for once the American might be doing it right by overdoing it.

Here is how my husband puts it: Would it be so bad if "I love you" happened to be the last words you got to share with someone you care about, if for any unforeseen reason you never got to see them again?

Maybe the French are just out of words? (How could this ever happen?)

Many cultures are able to avoid this dilemma thanks to the variety of their language, which may offer alternatives to characterize certain variations of love. In Chinese for instance, you may find the equivalent of 'love' under two concepts; one of profound attachment, and another of loyalty and responsibility.

Both the Chinese and the Japanese actually have a distinct phrase equivalent to the American idiom "I love you" to convey the affection on a more casual note.

My short life experience in Spain shows people tend to say "I love you" to their family and friends with "Te quiero", and use "Te amo" for a more romantic turn of events. And with much more restraint. Here is the shy "Je t'aime" the French are keeping inside of them!

Simply put: Both the French and the Americans are lacking their own "te quiero". While the French have chosen tacit love, the Americans in contrast have opted for the "I love you" abundance.

Have you encountered culture shock when it comes to "I love you"?

About the author

Maryline's life journey started in France, then took her to the UK and Denmark before she arrived in the US. This is where she met her husband and found a new place to call home. For now.

You can find Maryline on Twitter @FrAmericanDream and on her blog where she writes about her quest for happiness between France and the US.


  1. Great post, however in my time traveled in france I fould that the romantic je t'aime is much more used then the one in the US. French love to love and fall in love and they are not afraid to express it. In US however the love between romantic partners is not as easily expressed as "i love you", those words become almost a taboo and are often overthought before being stated. I think you are right to transalte the word "love you" in English to bisous (kisses), sometimes the language does not translate exactly.

  2. Fantastic post! As an Aussie who has dated a lovely French lady, it definitely rang true and is often something that we tend to take in our stride without giving due throught to the fundamental impact of cultural differences. Though it does often make me wonder whether the cultural emphasis varies between a greater importance placed on the words themselves vs a greater importance of the actions and deeds that demonstrate the emotion behind those words without ever having to speak them?

    Keep up the great work, looking forward to your next post!



  3. I must admit that the American way of saying I love you doesn't really fit me entirely. I say I love you ALL the time to my son. But in return, he often says "Mommy, I love you" for no apparent reason. It makes my heart melt every time he says it. I tell my husband I love him but probably not as often. When it comes to my extended family or my friends, I've never been a casual user of the term.

    It's important to tell the people you care about that you do - often and sincerely. But love? I save that for the people that matter most.

  4. Love this post. Makes me learn about something new. Here in Indonesia people doesn't say the words as openly as people back in the US (maybe the younger generations are more open now) but when I grew up it is something that is very rarely said.

    Cultural...maybe some cultures believe in showing it by actions instead of words.

    Great topic, Maryline! :D

  5. @polwig Thanks so much for your comment, I agree the French love the idea of love alone, and won't mind saying it often in a romantic relationship. It's very rare to hear family members say "I love you" to one another however, that part makes me a bit sad. But that's the way it is :)

  6. @Tatterscoops & @all.things.fadra
    Glad you enjoyed the post, guys!
    I guess we just need more English words to reflect the subtlety of our feelings...
    I'm still working on telling I love you to my son in French. I want him to hear it. For him? I want to save no I-love-you's :)

  7. Great post. I'm American, and when I was in France and heard bisous for the first time I was so confused! It took me a while to figure out that it was a common thing to say and didn't have some sort of weird connotation. I've never brought myself to say it though :)


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