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Monday, March 29, 2010

10 French Stereotypes: True or Faux?

I think we've all heard the whispers, or, in some cases the outright accusations, aimed at France and the French people, and although I'm a big fan of going along with the status quo (leaves us all a bit more time for relaxing at the end of the day, neh?), I thought it was important to write a few of my impressions thus far of all these terrible Jacques & Josephines.  Of course, these are just the musing of a small American women living in the south, so caveat lector, let your inner Frenchie beware...

In no particular order:

1.  the French smell
Faux. I always found this one quite funny & perhaps the easiest of the stereotypes to debunk. I haven't encountered anyone who has strolled out of the Middle Ages lately, so suffice it to say that with modern facilities aplenty, the French are quite a clean and well-perfumed lot.

2.  French women are impossibly thin
True & Faux.  There are a lot of regional differences in French attitudes & behavior (as most countries) so you can find all shapes here, large & small, but I have to agree that women on average are quite thin.  There are volumes written on the secrets French women possess to achieve their sleek shapes, and my scant field research has revealed two factors:  small portions + exercise.  I haven't distributed any surveys, but when I see a group of runners whizzing past me on a Saturday morning while I'm contemplating how to work in a pain au chocolat andcroissant for breakfast, I know there is a decidedly different approach to eating here.

3.  the French are rude
Faux.  Again, this is quite a regional question, and I've had my share of run-ins with Parisians who seem to have mastered the if I'm-not-looking-at-you, you're-not-really-there attitude that made me shake in my ballet flats, but outside stiff bureaucrats & impossibly high-class ladies who déjeuner, the French are some of the nicest people I've ever met.

4.  the French believe that they are superior to everyone else
True & Faux.  This is tricky territory here.  Only basing my opinion on everyday observations, and what I've seen on télénovelas, I think the French have a rather exceptional lifestyle which extends to healthcare, work, & individual rights.  Maybe it's a question of being in their own (social welfare) bubble, but when you tell a French person that the average American gets 2 weeks vacation a year, you will invariably hear,"Ehhh?!  Ce n'est pas possible! C'est fou!" It's not possible and it's crazy.  The jury's still out on this one, but I feel the French can't really believe that other people live differently than they do (or that anyone would subject themselves to a 2-week-year lifestyle) and this makes them come off as thinking themselves superior. 

5.  the French are bad drivers
Faux.  Well, that depends how your define "bad". I find these well-mannered, and well-manicured, French men (& women) are surprisingly aggressive behind the wheel. I don't know if it's any more or less aggressive than say your average LA freeway warrior or after-work commuter in Rome, so as soon as my defensive driving skills improve, I'll report back.

6.  the French are very romantic
True.  Yes, it's difficult to make sweeping generalizations about an entire people, but the French are quite passionate.  Blame in on the language (who can really keep it together with all those rolling vowel sounds), the food, or the impossibly pretty landscape, but the French have a lot to love in life & they seem to do it quite well.

7.  French people wear berets while riding bicycles with baskets full of baguettes 
Faux, well almost.  I've only seen one bicycle + baguette so far, sans beret, but it was enough to make me stop and take note.  The daily baguette is alive & well, but it's being transported on foot or by car in these parts.

8.  the French are food snobs
True.  If you define "food snob" as someone quite concerned with the quality of products, presentation of plates, and art of food pairings, then yes, the French are decidedly on the elitist side. Sure, there are people who routinely pop meals in the microwave, and I was initially surprised at the large number of processed items at the supermarket, but on average, I've noticed that people are acutely aware of what they put in their grocery baskets and where they shop.

9.  the French won't speak English & will laugh at your French
Faux.  Here come the regional differences again, but where I live people won't laugh at your attempts to speak French.  You may get the raised eyebrow, head-cocked, "Ehhhh??" if they don't understand you which, I admit, can be decidedly unnerving. Until you realize that this is common French expression for incomprehension of any sort; albeit a bit exaggerated:

"Did you hear that there's going to be a transport strike next Friday?" - - "Ehhhh?? Didn't they just strike last month? That's crazy, who do they think they are?"

And more people want to speak English with me than French. Call it a free English lesson, a chance to show off, or a genuine attempt to communicate, but you'll find all sorts of people willing to talk to you if you can get past a bit of the initial intimidation.

10.  the French eat a lot of cheese
True, thankfully!

 [photo: MS design gallery live]


  1. Although I couldn't be utterly objective after reading this skillful article indeed you made about your own observations of french's behaviours, I have no other choice but to admit you've proven a tremendous ability for portraying French people, honestly, truely ! Long life to your blog ;)

  2. I popped over to read your Italian market post, which I enjoyed, and saw this one. I've always wanted to debunk some of these and I think you did a great job of it. You're right on, although I've seen quite a few baguettes on bikes down here.
    welcome home,

  3. Thanks Julien & Aidan!

    It's really funny about the French stereotypes - some seem to have a little basis in fact while others seem quite unfounded (and sometimes unfair!).

    I'd like to go back and update this piece in a few months - be interesting to see how my opinions have changed since I moved here.

    All & all, can't say enough good things about the French - really great people :)

  4. I realize I am getting to this late, but it is now several months later. Have your opinions indeed changed?
    I have a draft in my pile to write about German stereotypes too.

  5. Glad you had a chance to read the post Andrew! Indeed some of my ideas have changed, but surprisingly most have stayed the same - guess it's true what they say about first impressions :) Looking to revisit this topic in an updated post - good idea to see what others would have to add to the list as well.