French men are rude but good lovers while French women are hot but don’t use deodorant. Is there any truth to the most prevalent French stereotypes?
French women are hot and dress well but have hairy armpits and stink. French men wear berets, striped shirts are rude but are romantic and good lovers. Sound familiar?
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I don’t know about you but some of the French stereotypes that are floating around out there seem to contradict one another while others seem, well, weird.
I decided to get to the bottom of these French stereotypes and clichés by examining each one.
Top 10 French stereotypes: as viewed by the rest of the world.
I am sure you’ve heard at least one or two stereotypes about the French but how many of them do you believe are really true? Here’s another thing: For those of you who have never been to France or met a true French person in the flesh, where did you learn about these stereotypes?
We may never know but I think we can thank the media, fashion magazines and Hollywood movies for giving us ridiculously conflicting images about the French. So to help better inform the world, I have decided to clear the air.
1. French people wear berets: False
Thinking that French people wear berets is like thinking that all Americans wear cowboy boots or wear fanny packs (fanny is a bad word in British English).
Sure a small percentage of French people actually wear berets but in all my time spent living in France, I have seen less than a handful of French people sporting these iconic hats. Wearing a beret and a striped shirt is even rarer. A beret-wearing French person is so rare that when I do see someone wearing one, I feel inclined to photograph them like some rare breed of animal.
Other than that, I’ve only really seen few women in Paris wearing berets but who were usually dressed to kill – fitting the typical image many people have of French women, which is another rare occurrence in and of itself.
2. All French women dress well: False
The stereotype that all French women dress like super models out of a magazine is ludicrous. I live in a small town near the Mediterranean Sea and people here dress pretty much the same as they do in the US and Canada, with one small caveat: The French do wear lots of scarves.
They also tend to wear nicer shoes and their everyday attire tends to be slightly dressier and pulled together – but nothing close to the images we see in the media or in fashion magazine of French style.
Now, if you go to Paris, you’re definitely going to see dressed-up local but all of of France does not dress like a Parisian. Just like people from Boise Idaho don’t dress like they do in Greenwich Village New York.
3. French women never shave: False
This weird generalisation is far from true. There are no more women in France that don’t shave than there are in the US, Canada, Australia or any other country that believes in shaving.
I have actually known more women in Santa Cruz California who did not shave than I do in France, which is zero. I know it’s zero because I asked my French friends point blank if they did not shave.
I’m sure there are women who don’t shave in France but why people think all French women don’t shave is beyond me.
4. French people smell bad: False
Huh? French people are just like you and me. They practise hygiene and take baths or showers at least once a day. It’s true at one point eons ago during the middle ages they didn’t bath daily but neither did the English and a bunch of other countries too.
5. French people wear striped shirts: False
The idea that French people all wear striped shirts is another stereotype that people have latched onto and perpetuated over time. Sorry but it is not true.
The striped shirt is actually called the Breton shirt as we know it today. It was the official uniform for the French navy seamen in Brittany following the 1858 Act of France.
Originally, there were 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories. Some people say that the distinctive block pattern and stripes made the sailors easier to spot in the water if they ever fell overboard.
In 1917, Coco Channel changed the fashion industry and immortalised the striped shirt when she introduced the design in her nautical collection to the fashion world. Soon after the famous French striped sailor design became associated with haute fashion and beautiful women like Brigit Bardot and Audrey Hepburn were seen wearing striped shirts.
Ever since, the striped shirt comes in and out of fashion and has become the epitome of Parisian style. Very few people even make the connection between French sailors and striped shirts any more – but now you know.
6. French people walk around holding baguettes: True
Big towns, little towns, remote towns: They all have boulangeries and usually more than one. I cannot go more than a few blocks in our town without seeing a few boulangeries.
It’s not uncommon to see people before work and after work lining up to get fresh baguettes and holding them under their arms or in bags while walking around.
Baguettes are addictive and if you live in France it’s easy to adopt this way of eating and living.
7. The French smoke a lot: True
I have seen off-duty bus drivers in France smoking inside the bus. I have sat next to people in restaurants while their cigarette smoke was floating in my five-year-old daughter’s face. I have passed groups of people standing outside of the bank smoking cigarettes before they go back to their desks.
Well, you get the picture.
There are a few laws in place that restrict smoking in some places but basically France is where the US was 10 years ago in terms of smoking. For the moment a lot of French people do smoke but I think, or hope, in a few years less and less people will smoke in France.
8. French people drink a lot of wine: True
Wine is super cheap in France. When I say cheap, I don’t mean in quality I mean in price.
You can buy a good bottle of wine in France for EUR 2–10 which is roughly 2.60 to 13 US or Canadian dollars. Sure you can buy more expensive wine in France but you don’t have to. Some bottled waters cost more than bottles of wine, it’s unreal.
At lunch you will definitely see people sipping on a glass of wine, not beer. When you go to a French person’s house, they always offer wine especially with dinner.
Wine is a big part of French culture so, yes, thankfully this stereotype is true. Having said that, some people don’t drink wine in France but the scales are definitely tipped in the other direction.
9. The French eat escargot and frog legs: True, kind of
This is one of those fuzzy areas because not everyone eats escargot and frog legs in France.
You can find them in restaurants and it is certainly more common in France than in say the US or Canada but it’s not an everyday food. Sure, you can find frog legs and escargot at many open markets and supermarkets in France. At our supermarket, they even sell frozen bags of escargot. But these two French delicacies are usually reserved for special occasions like a big diner party or a holiday meal.
10. The French are snobby and rude: False.
Of all my French friends, some are kind, some are funny, some are serious but none of them are rude. So why and how this stereotype started, I can only guess.
My guess is that this stereotype started because many tourists only come in contact with French people in certain environments: in a restaurant with a busy French waiter who wants to only take your order; at the airport; in banks. But this is not how most French people act in everyday life.
It would be like saying all Americans are rude because the postal worker who is American was rude to you.
Bonus 11. The French eat a lot of cheese: True
Yes French people do eat a lot of cheese and the cheese section in supermarkets is usually huge. When we go to the home of our French friends they normally offer us cheese. Cheese is such a big part o French life and culture that even at preschool eating cheese – and lots of it – is reinforced.
Cheese is practically institutionalised in the schools. For example, on my daughter’s preschool menu cheese can be served three to four times per week; when cheese is not served, yoghurt is served in its place.
They don’t serve garden variety cheese either; they serve the type of cheese you would associate with adults at a cocktail party such as Brie, Camembert, Emmental, Compté, Mimolette, Gouda and a bunch more you may never have heard of. Cheddar is never served at schools and I have yet to see a hamburger served at my daughter’s school.
Conclusion on French stereotypes
Stereotypes can be funny for sure but they can also be damaging and hurtful, too. Whatever you’ve heard about the French or any other nationality, it should always be taken with a grain of salt because many are just not true or are extremely exaggerated.
Have you heard of other French stereotypes?