Throughout my time in France, I’ve always had the persistent feeling that the French live in a more “adult” society than we Americans do.
For example, if you’ve ever walked the streets of a big city like Paris or Toulouse, you know that if you’re not really on the lookout, you just might be flattened by a driver in a tiny speeding car flying to God-knows-where as rapidly as humanly possible. And you won’t be checked on by said driver, either. They’ll have probably already gotten to their destination, after all.
But, no, there are no true pedestrian rights-of-way and people here (children and adults, alike) know that they’d best be on their guard about it. Our American neighbor in Toulouse will constantly complain about the drivers here and how they don’t look out for children, but everyone else just mostly accepts it.
Another example is with public places in France. You won’t see sign after sign warning you that something might harm you. Or that you aren’t allowed – no, really not allowed – to do something because you just are inherently not trusted.
Just this morning, while at a horse ranch with the family I live with, I was standing off to the side with a sweet little pony when something came over me, and I just decided to untie her from the fence. But I couldn’t bring myself to walk her around too far because I felt at any moment I might get “in trouble” or that someone might yell at me.
Or that, all of a sudden, helicopters and floodlights would surround me and some voice on a megaphone might shout down “Ma’am, return the pony to its original position and no one gets hurt!”
But none of that happened.
Because people here are expected to act like responsible adults, and they do. Which means that I had the right to untether the horse as long as I didn’t act like a fool. Despite this, however, I just ended up standing there like a dummy while holding the reins of this tiny pony as she moved her head a little bit or took a step to the side.
No, but really, the foolish part came only later as we were leaving the ranch and I stuck my arm through a fence to pet a timid baby calf and literally thought I had been shot when my arm skimmed the electric current of the damn fence.
The whole right side of my body contracted in the matter of an instant and it was the scariest thing. But not painful. Just frightening.
Alas, so that’s how they learn. The French aren’t babied with signs and warnings and never ever getting the chance to experience anything for themselves.
They might have a few thousand bolts of electricity shot through their bodies one time or another, but then they learn from that experience. And they grow up.