Are the French becoming nicer?

This Thursday is World Kindness Day, which here in France means it’s la Journée de la gentillesse. This is slightly ironic, as being nice is not usually seen as a positive trait by the French.

When I learned French adjectives at school, “gentil” and “sympa” were undisputedly positive traits. But after living in France for a while, you realise that the term “gentil” actually has a rather negative connotation. The implication being that a “nice” person is a) naïve, b) easy to manipulate and c) probably doesn’t realise either a) or b). “Sympa” is more positive.

Clearly, being too nice is dangerous. One risk is that friends, family and colleagues will all take advantage of you to ask endless favours. Being almost unanimously described as a nice person myself, I can say that there is definitely some truth to this – especially when you live in a big city like Paris, where everyone is so preoccupied with their own hectic lives.

Photo posted on Twitter by @ChristopheHUART, using the hashtag #journeedelagentillesse.

Nevertheless, on Twitter, #journeedelagentillesse was the most popular hashtag this afternoon, with many web users cynically poking fun at the idea but others embracing it. The French version of the day was launched in 2009 by Psychologies magazine, so it’s still a relatively recent phenomenon. There was plenty of media coverage too, since a new book on the subject, “Le Pouvoir des gentils” ("The power of nice people") is coming out on Friday. An interview with its author, communications consultant Franck Martin, was the most read article on the website of left-wing daily Le Monde this Thursday.

Martin is clearly trying to rehabilitate kindness as a trait. Being nice “is a strength”, he insists, somewhat surprisingly, since this goes against the conventional wisdom of nice people being vulnerable. He lists the countless advantages to being nice. However, the writer admits that there are limits to being “gentil” in a professional context and that it is necessary to “set a framework” - and have it respected. In other words: you still need to stand up for yourself.

One thing is for sure: we have not heard the end of this debate. As reflected by the media coverage, being “gentil” towards others appears to be becoming something of a trend here, perhaps in response to the difficult economic situation many French people are facing. Which brings us back to Franck Martin. He explains that being nice also makes good business sense and hopes that this will help France get back on its feet, “economically, but also socially”. Now that would be really... nice!
Tags for all blogs :
Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of FRANCE 24. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. FRANCE 24 is not liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.
Je viens de te suivre sur Twitter, et publish your: "Are the French becoming nicer?" Hang loose and stay cool!!!
funny. I learned that "gentil" was more positive than "sympa". I guess that all adjectives are not what they seem
The French have always been "nice". Their reputation for rudeness has always been false. They don't need to be nicer, they just need to change the image and be true to themselves. On the other hand who cares?

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • No HTML tags allowed

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.