How wrong and annoying it is to me to see all these articles titled “3 Things French Women Always Do”, “How to Be French”, and hearing other assumptions in movies, blogposts, magazines about French people without them necessarily being necessarily accurate or representative.
As any citizen of any country, I get upset when I hear an assumption, stereotype or clichés about my country . Being a born and raised French girl, I thought I would tell you about 16 of the most heard-of assumptions about French people. After brainstorming with my mom and sister I’m going to let you know whether they are true or not. So, get your passport ready, we are going to France…
1. We eat snails and frogs
I’ve never eaten snails nor frogs. Ever. It repulses me and has never attracted me. My dad has probably not eaten snails for the past 10 years and my mom had it once just to taste I believe. Maybe some people actually eat snails and frogs like once a year for a special occasion in fancy restaurants but that’s it. It’s really not a normal food for us either.
2. French people love wine and cheese
That one is more often true than not. I myself don’t drink wine nor eat weird cheeses but most French people do. It’s kind of part of the culture and preferences. It’s also part of the richness of the food of the different regions. For example, we are 5 French people in my class and two of them are obsessed with cheese, the other two like them and I don’t , except for mozzarella, grated cheese and if not too strong another special cheese for raclettes and tartiflette.
3. We eat French Toast for breakfast
French toast is actually called “pain perdu” in France (and French braid is called African braid here by the way) and is not consumed in the morning first of all, but mostly for an afternoon snack, I would say mostly in winter. But again, we rarely eat it to be honest. I remember hen I was young my grandma or mother would make some because we had hard bread and instead of throwing it or give it to my dad’s friend for his bunnies, we would make “pain perdu” instead. We often eat bread however for breakfast, especially on the weekends I’d say.
4. French people eat pastries for breakfast
Definitely not. We would be so fat! Keep in mind that usually a croissant or pain au chocolat is around 350 calories for the plain ones and contain mostly butter and chocolate., we just couldn’t. For sure, it’s a celebratory breakfast or snack often, when you want to please or celebrate it’s what we get, but we do not eat it daily nor weekly, really. Talking about deserts, it’s the same. It’s what we get for birthdays and celebrations but that’s it. But that is true that our pastries and cakes are some of the best in the world.
5. Parisians = French people
Please… The assumption that the French people are represented by Parisians is so false. Nobody likes stereotypes based only on a certain area of a country, it really doesn’t represent the richness of a country nor the diversity. Plus, as in any capital or even big cities, people have higher position jobs, live differently because of higher access to services and certain products and so many different reasons and this definitely impacts how they live, their attitude, sense of fashion, relationships etc. Parisians (in the chic, effortless, cool, slim definition some people have) only represents a very very small portion of French people – and even of Parisians.
6. We sound elegant and use ‘putain’ et ‘merde’ often (‘fuck’ and ‘shit”)
Hum, We don’t really sound elegant I would say, I think it’s just what foreign people think our language sounds like that – though not to me. It’s properly due to reknown French people that people assume that but it’s like any language really, some people speak more elegantly than others. About the cursing, I don’t think we curse more than any other country.
7. French people complain and sulk a lot
Well, I am a bit ashamed to say that this one is mostly true… I don’t know why to be honest, it’s probably just in our genes. I don’t know if it’s just an attitude or a form of protection but it’s really annoying and it gives a bad image of French people always being in a bad mood and unsatisfied. We are not necessarily less happy, but we like to make it known when something annoys us. About the sulking, I guess it’s just a personal space/protection thing. Don’t let it give you the impression we are not friendly or don’t like you, though. (To be honest, I am a very smiley person myself, so don’t think 100% of people look mad 24/7, nor that we complain all the time).
8. French people are not polite
Well, not sure about that. Again, attitude? protection? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t say we are rude. Every time a French person comes into a shop they say hello to the salesperson and people around, we say thank you a lot, say please every time we ask something. Manners are pretty important in France.
I remember Natalie Portman saying that we don’t smile and need to say “bonjour” when entering a store in France before saying anything else otherwise you look rude and the salesperson will be rude back. I’m sorry but first of all, saying saying hello is just pure respect, anywhere, and no, the salesperson won’t be rude back but probably will be a little more cold to you because you were not respectful. Yes, we don’t smile enough but I sometimes prefer that to a fake smile honestly. Being polite and respectful is important to French people, that’s all. Don’t mistake politeness and respect for unfriendly.
9. French people are lazy
Some say we take too long lunch breaks, have a lot of paid vacation (5 weeks a year + 2 paid days off a month), don’t work a lot, go on strike a lot… We do take long lunch breaks but again, we just like to enjoy the small moments and enjoy our food. We do have 5 weeks of paid vacation and work 35hour-weeks but I guess we are quite productive during that time. We don’t go on strike that often though. I think because of its history, French people know they can manifest their unapproval and protest against something. It’s our way of getting heard, that’s all.
Everyday French Life
10. We wear bérêts
Nope. Pretty much nobody wears them in real life. It’s kind of a cliché, actually. I don’t even think I have ever seen a random person wearing one in the street.
11. French people are rubbish at foreign languages
Well… Kind of. It’s pretty rare to see a French person being good at languages especially in medium/small cities and towns. In big cities as people can have jobs in bigger companies or even multinationals, they might have a higher degree or need to speak a bit of English (Spanish as well sometimes but not often). And usually the French accent is very strong. Foreign people are always chocked that I can speak English (and Spanish but not as well) because as they told me, if you cannot speak French, especially in Paris, people will scowl at you and answer in French. Of course, more and more people, especially of my generation speak better and more English.
12. We take a long time for lunches and do family dinners
This one is one the biggest inside jokes of my classmates this year. Some are used to having 15-30minutes of lunch break whilst in France it’s at least 45 minutes for companies (it’s more usual to be an hour at least though) up to 1h30 I would say and at least an hour for students up to 2 hours.
I guess it’s due to the food culture in France, we don’t eat sandwiches for lunch, we prefer hot meals and to take time to enjoy eating, discussing at the table and having a real break. It’s also true that in 99% of families we eat dinner as together. We prepare food and eat it all together at the family table at the same time. I think it’s for the same reason I mentioned just before. It gives time to enjoy a proper meal, most often that not homemade and talk about our day. It’s a family, sharing time.
13. Very disrespectful drivers
Especially in big cities like Paris, Lyon and Marseille for sure. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because there are more people and they are busy (who isn’t) so they drive like mad people but isn’t it like this in any big city?
French People & Fashion
14. French people have a great sense of style
First of all, please let’s differentiate the French people from “Parisians” once again. As in any country, people living in a capital (or big city) are more fashionable, especially people living in chic neighborhoods. I’ve lived in different cities of different sizes in France, I actually was born and lived for the first few years of my life in Paris (in the suburb though), my dad’s side of the family still lives there and I’ve travelled in France and abroad.So I feel qualified to say after seeing different style and people coming from different places in the world that, that first of all, not French person is insanely stylish like people seem to think.
People living in big cities are usually more fashion-focused for sure but not everybody is. That being said, I do think we have share a certain sense of style. I don’t know how to explain that to be honest. If I try to explain that I would say that we are more classic/chic some would say in what we wear simple pieces, don’t mix colors too much and it looks more “effortless”, more casual. But, again, it depends on the cities and of people. You can find someone living in Paris with no style and someone living in a small French town with great sense of style. As in any other country.
15. Women wear minimum makeup looks
That’s true. Makeup looks in France are more natural looking and more casual. Most women don’t wear foundation, don’t really do their brows and don’t do the whole contour/blush/highlighter. It’s more of a “no makeup makeup look” on a daily basis for any age to reveal your true beauty. Most women/young women wear either a super natural-looking foundation or just concealer for some. If they put eyeshadow on it will be very neutral colors. Some wear eyeliner but most only wear mascara. For the face, some put on some blush but that’s mostly it, and if they wear lipstick, it’s usually pretty natural-looking.
16. French people are gorgeous, romantic, read poetry and are cultured
Nope. As in everywhere not everybody is gorgeous, we don’t read all poetry and are not all cultured. We are just seen as that because of our history and fashion. About the romantic aspect, I guess it’s mostly related to how we flirt, more softly and less expressive than let’s say American guys who are most straight forward. But romanticism is very personal I think.
All I wanted to say is that every country has its culture, its past and good and bad aspects therefore, not everything that you here about a certain people reflects every single person. It might reflect a group of people or a certain way of being, but do not define every single person. I think you actually need to travel the country and meet new people there to have a general idea of who a country’s people actually is.
Do you have any assumptions/clichés about your country that really annoy you?