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 www.francoamericandream.com where she writes about her quest for happiness between France and the US.