Of all the countries in the world, the population most afflicted with stereotypes may very well be the French. While some are caricatural – French men generally do not dress like mimes – many others are stereotypes for a reason. Let’s take a dive into the most outlandish claims about the French. But also… confess which ones are just plain true.
- 1. French people wear berets and striped shirts: FALSE
- 2. French people are dirty: FALSE
- 3. French people are rude: PRETTY TRUE
- 4. French people eat a lot of baguette: TRUE
- 5. The French smoke like chimneys: FALSE
- 6. French people drink a lot of wine: TRUE
- 7. The French eat a lot of cheese: TRUE
- 8. The French are cowards: FALSE
- 9. The French are lazy: FALSE
- 10. French people are amazing lovers: TRUE
1. French people wear berets and striped shirts: FALSE
No, the French don’t dress like glorified mimes; like Americans don’t dress like cowboys. Of course, you’ll see some sporting a beret: mostly women whose chestnut curls will flow out of their expertly-placed (usually askew) couvre-chef. Berets are also the favored topper of the post-war generation. You will still see old-timers protecting their balding heads with the famed French hat while downing their pastis at the local bistrot.
As for the striped shirt, maritime fashion is considered very chic in France, a country with a rich navy history. In 1917, Coco Channel made the marinière an icon of French couture when she introduced the design in her nautical collection. Today, worn with skinny jeans or tailored black pants, and accessorized with an eye-catching scarf, the striped shirt is still simple, sober, yet sophisticated.
2. French people are dirty: FALSE
We have the Americans to thank for the stereotype that French people are dirty and smelly. When the US army liberated France at the end of WWII, French plumbing still wasn’t up to par, and daily showers were not an option. In fact, most French people had to use public baths to clean up.
Since then, though, French bathrooms have caught up to modern standards, and so have the national hygiene habits. In fact, the French are a lot cleaner than their British counterparts. From a 2015 survey, we found out that 57% of them shower daily, while only 20% of the Brits do.
The other false hygiene-related French stereotype that’s hard to shake is that French women do not shave. In fact, the “au naturel” movement hasn’t really caught on in France. According to a 2006 study, 83% of women shave their legs, 73% shave their armpits, and 54% shave their bikini line.
3. French people are rude: PRETTY TRUE
Sometimes you have a reputation for a reason. You just need to sit at the terrace of a Parisian bistro and try to order from a French waiter to ascertain that the stereotype is rather on point.
But honestly, the French aren’t rude so much as they are direct, and have no time to waste on bullshit, especially in Paris. French humor probably also plays a part in the stereotype: if a French person likes you, they will nicely tease you – and expect the same friendly jabs in return. Don’t let any of this scare you off, though. French people are charming, funny, and extremely loyal friends.
4. French people eat a lot of baguette: TRUE
One thing you won’t have trouble finding in France is a boulangerie where you can indulge in this staple of French cuisine. The country boasts 35,000 bakeries where, true to the stereotype, more than 17 million French people buy their crunchy-crusted bread daily. That’s also where they stock up on their unequaled flaky buttery croissants, and hosts of other pastries.
You’ll find baguettes on most breakfast, lunch, and dining tables, as well as in baskets at restaurants, and as the delicious cradle to most French sandwiches. Parents give the crunchy end to their teething babies, and a favorite after-school snack remains a baguette slathered in butter or Nutella.
5. The French smoke like chimneys: FALSE
The French government’s efforts to curb its citizens’ bad habits by raising taxes and prohibiting smoking in public areas continue to bear fruit. According to Eurostat, the percentage of non-smokers in France rose from 71.8% in 2014 to 75.7% in 2019, continuing a long trend of decline. Smoking seems to be going out of fashion as the younger generations indulge less than their parents.
6. French people drink a lot of wine: TRUE
The French, unsurprisingly, drink a lot of wine; at lunch, at dinner, after the kids have been shipped to bed. Wine accounts for more than half of their alcohol consumption. However, the French drinking culture is more about pleasure and moderation – and their gourmet vision of life. The laissez-faire attitude with the youth seems to have a normalizing effect on the perception of alcohol, which results in fewer issues with binge drinking than in Anglo-Saxon countries.
However, the French are one of the biggest consumers of alcohol in the world, at number six. In fact, alcoholism is quite prevalent, with the slew of accompanying medical issues such as cirrhosis and liver failure. It is estimated that more than 10 million French people drink too much. Drunk drivers are also responsible for about half of road accidents – it’s a real plight that no amount of public service campaigns seems to curb.
7. The French eat a lot of cheese: TRUE
Well, wouldn’t you? With such a grandiose selection of delicious local cheeses, available even in the smallest corner stores, we’d all be fools not to indulge. Cheese is regularly served at meals – even at the school cafeteria – from the staple brie and camembert to the fruity Compté or Emmental. But the marvels lie in the more regional fares such as pungent Epoisses, dry Picodon, or creamy St. Marcellin.
The French are the main consumers of cheese in the world, with every French person eating an average of 30 kilos of cheese per year. We wager that half of these go to the winter staples: raclettes, tartiflettes, and fondues.
8. The French are cowards: FALSE
This French stereotype is quite painful as it’s due to the fact that it only took 46 days for the French army to surrender to the Nazis during World War II. The fact is, France didn’t wave the white flag because they weren’t keen to fight, but simply unprepared and vastly outnumbered.
The country’s refusal to join allied forces during the 2002 invasion of Iraq cemented that reputation, even gaining the French some colorful nicknames such as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”. History has rewritten that page since then, but attitudes are slow to adjust, and bad reputations hard to recover from.
In fact, with a 50 billion euro budget, the French army is considered the sixth most powerful army in the world, and the first in Europe. To be frank, though, its most glorious feats belong to history, from the Hundred Year War to the Napoleonic Wars. The country is also well-known for the courage of its citizens, with the French Revolution which paved the way for much of the world’s emancipation from the shackles of monarchy.
9. The French are lazy: FALSE
There are quite a few arguments in favor of the stereotype that French people are lazy. To count but a few:
- they’re seemingly constantly on strike
- the standard work week in France is 35 hours
- they benefit from inordinate amounts of paid vacation days per year
- they look like they spend their days at café terraces, smoking cigarettes, and eating cheese and baguette with a glass of wine
But let’s not mistake the French cultural imperative of joie de vivre with sloth. If the law mandates a 35-hour week, the reality is that most French people work 40, just below the European average of 41. In addition, it has been established that shortening their hours has had the perverse effect of increasing work pressure on the French workforce, instead of fostering increased employment rates. French workers are now expected to provide the same amount and quality of work in less hours. France is in fact rated as the sixth most productive nation in the world.
However, they do strike literally all the time, and you are allowed to find it horribly frustrating because they do too.
10. French people are amazing lovers: TRUE