Some people are eager to make friends when they visit a new place. Some are not. If you aim to please, don’t do anything on this list while holidaying in Corsica. If you’d like the chance to fight a good brawl, go ahead and use one of these methods. Mildly irritating or maddeningly infuriating, here are 12 ways to piss off the Corsicans.
1. Ask the waiter for separate checks
This is guaranteed to annoy him. If you are dining with Corsican friends, start arguing over who ordered a second beer and who didn’t, and you won’t be friends for a very long time. Being generous is part of the social etiquette and counting pennies, especially with friends, is considered rude. In the good old times, when people were traveling on a donkey’s back across the rugged mountains, they sometimes had to rely on people’s hospitality and generosity for food and shelter. It was considered a great honor to receive guests and people gave them everything they had without accepting any payment for it. Nowadays, things are bit less dramatic since you’re only having a pizza at the beach restaurant, so just pay and sort it out later.
2. Wear your beach clothes at the supermarket
If you want to make the locals cringe, don’t change your clothes after taking a swim and go to supermarket wearing your bathing suit, preferably still dripping wet. This will earn you disgusted looks of pity at best. In the worst case, you might be escorted out of the supermarket. In some towns, mayors have issued rules stipulating that one should be dressed decently when entering any shopping center. No self-respecting Corsican would be seen dead in a swimsuit anywhere else than at the beach (or at the river). We think that beachwear is for the beach only, and nobody wants to see your sunburned ass while shopping groceries.
3. Go hiking in flip-flops
If you want to be a pain in the ass, and also a danger to yourself, you could go hiking on the top of a Corsican mountain at 2000 meters high in just your flip flops and your favorite T-shirt. Wait for a thunderstorm and make an emergency call because you can’t go down anymore. The helicopter will have to rescue you, and your story might end up in the newspaper. Every year, people go hiking in Corsica and do not realize that even in the Mediterranean, high mountains are not to be trifled with. Try not to end up in the newspaper.
4. Be a pain on the road
If you want to seriously piss off the local drivers, you should drive at half the authorized speed limit and repeatedly stop in the middle of the road to take pictures. It may sound counter intuitive, but driving too slowly could actually be dangerous. Our winding roads make it difficult to overtake someone, so you can be stuck behind a slow driver for ages. When you are on holiday enjoying the scenery, that doesn’t seem like a such a problem, but if you are going to work or to visit your aunt, it is very testing for the nerves. Local drivers will not be deterred by the lack of visibility ahead and will stop at nothing to overtake you. So for everyone’s sake, if you are being tailgated by someone, just let him go at the first opportunity, as there are many. If he has manners, he will thank you by flashing his rear lights or honking lightly.
5. Harass women
Try harassing Corsican girls, especially in front of their guys. Make sure to be very loud and vulgar about it, or worse, put your hands on them, and see what happens. Do you have a good health care policy? If not, forget about it. (Seriously, though: just don’t do this.)
6. Sleep in your car on a parking space
If you want to be a real nuisance, be as cheap as possible, and brag about how long you could stay in Corsica without spending any money, by sleeping in your car on a supermarket parking lot (true story, read in the newspaper) and eating home-made sandwiches on the beach. People will think of you as a leech who takes space on their beaches and on their roads without ever giving anything back to the local economy. There is a special word for such visitors, they are called “tomato-eaters”, and it’s not a compliment on how clever they are with money.
7. Say that you are in France
No matter what you do, never, ever say that you are in France. Alright, technically, you are on French owned territory. But never call the people French, never call a town French, a meal French, or even a dog French. You. Are. Not. In. France. You are in Corsica. To make you understand why people can be touchy on the subject, here is how Corsica became French: after Corsica declared its independence from the Republic of Genoa, France simply purchased the island from Genoa and annexed the newly independent country. It was a bloody massacre. Then the island was treated like a colony for a long time, with unfair tax laws strangling the local economy. France worked hard on turning the Corsicans into French citizens, imposing the use of French and crushing the local language and culture. The rest of the history of Corsica under French rule is made of constant misunderstandings, unfair treatments and various overreactions that built up political unrest and resentment from a part of the population which formed separatist movements. Nowadays the Corsican identity is complex and most people consider themselves Corsican first in their heart. So for everyone’s sake, remember this golden rule: you are in Corsica. You. Are. Not. In. France.
8. Say that you are in Italy
You are not in France, but you are not in Italy either. Of course, the comparison makes sense. Corsica was part of the Roman world, and then belonged to the Republic of Genoa for many centuries; Italian used to be the official language until the 19th century. Architecture, names, language… there are many cultural ties with Italy. But Corsicans have always rebelled against external power. The last famous person to claim that Corsica is Italian was dictator Mussolini who wanted to annex the island, so you don’t want to follow in his footsteps. Obviously, we have nothing against them, and Italian friends, if you read me, you are my cousins (truly, because I have an Italian grandpa) and you are most welcome! But bear in mind that Corsicans do not like to be labeled anything else than… Corsican.
9. Say that the Corsican language is just a dialect
If you want to be remembered as a know-it-all pain in the ass, you could always say that Corsican is not truly a language, but a mere dialect of Italian. I know someone who once said that. I have no idea what happened to him! 🙂 Corsican is a Latin language related to Tuscan, the language that gave birth to standard Italian. However, the Corsican spoken in the south of the island differs somewhat from the northern version, and has more similarities to southern Italian dialects. In any case, unless you trying to write a PhD about it, all you need to remember is: Corsican is a language, not a dialect.
You can’t blame the locals for making this a touchy subject. They feel a strong emotional attachment to their language, all the more so because it has been robbed away from them. Since France decided to „civilize the savages“ and impose the use of French, the use of Corsican has plummeted dramatically, and there are less and less native speakers. My grandpa’s generation of native speakers had to put up with brainwashing at school and degrading punishments if they were heard speaking it. Many of them failed to transmit the language to their own children, thinking they were doing them a favor. As a result, the language almost died. In the wake of the anti-globalization movements, more recent generations have taken upon themselves the task to salvage the language and preserve Corsican identity, but it’s not easy when you are facing a very centralized, very stubborn state. You know how the French feel about their language and have difficulties accepting that English is the international language! Just imagine how they deal with a small group of bizarre locals who want to speak their own incomprehensible dialect: you get the picture! Nowadays, younger generations of Corsicans are sometimes ashamed of not speaking the language fluently, even though it is not their fault, and as a result they tend to put it on a pedestal. So remember: Corsican is a (sacred) language 🙂
10. Say that Corsica is dangerous
A Swiss tourist once asked a friend of mine where the front line was. Misinformed about the local separatist movements from the French state, he was convinced that there was a war going on. The mother of a university friend forbade her from visiting me in Corsica because she was “afraid of violence”. Because of past political troubles and the presence of some organized crime, the French media often portrays Corsica as a dangerous place, and Corsican people as being easy on the trigger. The Corsicans are deeply resentful of this false image. There is a certain love for weapons, not too dissimilar to the American one, but that’s because there are many hunters. The truth is that you have no reason to be afraid for yourself or for your property. The level of petty crime is extremely low in Corsica and you can practically leave the keys in your car. So do not be afraid for your wallet, nobody is interested. If you are a woman, you will be treated with respect and you can expect to walk around safely. If you are a guy, don’t even think about harassing women. Corsican people take a lot of comfort and pride in the fact that they are safe from the kind of crime that plagues big cities, and they will take very seriously any attempt at changing this.
11. Mention your admiration for Napoleon. But Pasquale who?
If you want to tease a Corsican, talk extensively about your undying love and respect for the achievements of Napoleon, famous Corsican and Emperor of the French. This passion is mostly common amongst French people; everywhere outside of France, people think that Napoleon was an egomaniac with mommy issues. But French people often make the mistake of thinking that the Corsicans share their fondness for the overambitious Ajaccio-born Emperor, who forged a powerful French Empire with his military prowess and strategic skills, conquered land all across Europe and, true to his blood, generously split acquired land and nobility titles amongst his siblings and friends. In fact, most Corsicans do not care much for Napoleon, whose ambitions focused solely on raising his own and his family’s fortune and status, forgetting about his native island. For the Corsicans, Napoleon is a pure product of French education. Born in 1769, just a few months after France conquered Corsica, he was one of the first Corsicans to become French, and in a twist of fate, became a symbol of France. That is probably what we can never forgive him for.
If you mention Napoleon, people will tell you about someone else instead. Napoleon’s worldwide fame is a blatant injustice for Corsicans, as our true hero is somebody far more important and much wiser: Pasquale Paoli. He is the “father of the nation”, the hero of independence from the Republic of Genoa in the 18th century. When France annexed the island, murdering the outnumbered Corsican army, General Paoli was sent into exile in Great-Britain, where he died. This tragic hero is still worshiped by his people, and with good reason. What we are most proud of is the Constitution he wrote, inspired by the principles of the Enlightenment, and which in turn inspired the drafting of the American constitution. “We shall be free or we shall be nothing”, he said, summing up the basics of Corsican psychology. Now, doesn’t he sound nicer than Napoleon?
12. Criticize Corsica
Sure, you can, but you shouldn’t 😉 Well, I guess this rule is valid in any country, particularly so in Corsica. It is a running joke that we are exceedingly proud of our identity. You can’t blame us for being overly patriotic. Corsica has one of the most violent histories in the Mediterranean, so there is a bit of protectiveness and defensiveness. I think they all know how attractive it is, that’s why everybody has decided to invade us at some point: Romans, Goths and Vandals, Saracen pirates, the Genoese and now the French…
If there is just one thing that is common to every person more or less related to this island, it is definitely the love we have for this country. We may not agree on how to love it, but we love it all the same. When exiled, a Corsican misses Corsica like Adam and Eve missed the lost paradise. And how could we not? I just have to close my eyes and I feel it: the honey scent of the bushes, the golden sunset on the mountains, the old houses of my village, the colors of the sea in a sandy bay, the taste of our cheese, all the things who make Corsica a fragile paradise and who make it impossible to forget for whoever is fortunate enough to come from there.