I always forget how common it is to see French people engage in verbal and physical fights.
As I’m typing this, it’s 3:15 a.m. on a rainy Sunday night and I can hear three or four voices shouting outside—“J’vais t’tuer!” “Fils de pute!” “Lâche-le!”
I’m willing to bet that if the bouncers in front of the nightclub downstairs don’t break up the fight, I’m going to see the blue flashing lights of a SAMU—medical aid services—or a police vehicle in about ten minutes. I’m not sure what the story is here, I’m sleeping in my underwear and I’m too lazy to get up and check the scene from the balcony. The usual, probably. Bouncers bounced, rivals met, the wrong person was hit on—typical middle-of-the-night arguments made worse because all the characters are very, very drunk.
Just another summer night in Nantes.
The city isn’t known for serious urban violence and I didn’t grow up in a dodgy neighbourhood. French people are friendly “social animals”—they complain in private, protest in public places but they are loyal to their friends and not particularly paranoid or aggressive.
However, French people drink. Like, a lot.
The excuse is always the same—wine culture is part of the French art de vivre, we’re not like these dumb American who demonize alcohol. French teach kids moderation and to appreciate a perfect food-and-wine pairing. Drinking is socially acceptable and even expected because hey, it’s dinnertime/summer/Friday night, etc.
I don’t drink alcohol because I’ve never developed the taste for it but I don’t care if I’m the only one sober in the room—we all have our poison. That said, I do find many French drink way, way too much.
At one point, drinking is no longer a social pastime, a way to relax and have fun.
In Nantes, it’s common to see people getting completely trashed in the middle of the day. Broken glass bottles, drunks peeing behind garbage cans and a bitter lingering beer smell are part of the cityscape. Bars are full from Wednesday to Sunday and those with less disposable income—typically young teens and students—just buy booze at the supermarket and drink it in the street.
Drinking isn’t a pastime, it’s a full-time activity.
I go for a walk after dinner, usually around midnight—yes, we eat very late. That’s usually when it’s starting to turn sour. Feng and I witnessed two fights only a week apart. First, a guy beating up a woman (his girlfriend??) a block from our apartment building. I ran to get the bouncers from a nightclub nearby, I didn’t have my phone to call the police. Then, a few days later, we walked past a man who grabbed a traffic sign post—how???—and started to use it as a weapon to hit another guy. This time, I went to get the transit police patrolling nearby.
There’s a café and a nightclub downstairs. The music isn’t an issue, the walls are completely soundproof. However, people drink, loiter, party and fight in front of the venue every fucking night and it’s been going on for as long as I can remember—when I was a teen, I used to find puke, blood, stabbed people and other “party” leftovers behind the building front door on my way to school.
It’s not just my parents’ neighbourhood, which is right in the city centre. Bouffay, another downtown neighbourhood, is even worse—cafés and bars are so packed and so noisy you can’t hear yourself think.
And somehow, all of this is normal. If you call the police—over the years, my parents reluctantly did a few times—you’re told that “street noise is normal when you live downtown.”
Drunk people are loud, annoying and aggressive. I also noticed the difference as a woman alone. Feng came back to Canada a few days ago so I complete my night walk alone. Let’s just say I was offered to try interesting sexual positions and a few lines of cokes quite a few times despite the fact that I didn’t ask for anything, I was minding my own business, i.e. going from point A to point B.
French people are nice. Just not when they drink too much.
The paramedics just arrived. End of the story… for tonight.