French stereotypes: true or false?

I heard a lot about French people before I moved to France, both from friends/media, but I didn’t really know what to expect or which ones would turn out to be true.  I’ve only been France a few weeks and have only really been to Paris and the Nice area, so I can’t speak for all of France, but this is my experience so far!

French people are rude/don’t want to help you

Stereotype: BUSTED.  I have had instances where a few people have been rude to me, like I mentioned here with the woman who wouldn’t give me directions when I was lost, and also at the grocery store.  I COULD NOT find baking powder for the life of me and I finally asked someone who worked there.  We were right by the aisle with flour, sugar, yeast, etc. and said said it was there.  I said at least twice that it wasn’t there, trying to imply that she should show me, but she had no intention of moving to help me and then told me to go look in the bakery section.  Needless to say, I walked out empty-handed.  Well… with just a jumbo jar of Nutella in my hands.  But for the most part, people have been just as nice here or even nicer than they are in the States.

French people smell bad

Stereotype: BUSTED.  There are times that the tram is packed and it doesn’t smell the best, but that happens everywhere.  I haven’t noticed French people being any more smelly than Americans.

French women don’t shave their armpits/legs

Stereotype: BUSTED.  I think this is a throwback to an earlier age.  I haven’t noticed any unshaven armpits or legs on women.  However, apparently it is a thing that men trim their armpit hair.  I haven’t seen it, but I guess it’s common.

Parisians are always in a hurry

Stereotype: CONFIRMED.  Paris was crazy, but based on my experience in Chicago and also what my parents have told me about New York, that’s how every big city is.  Parisians are especially rushed near the Metro; they definitely don’t follow the whole “stay to the right of the sidewalk” rule that people in less crowded areas of the States seem to adhere to.  If there’s a big group of people going in the same direction, they spread out and take over the whole hallway/sidewalk/stairs until someone coming the other way FORCES them to move.  And Parisians walk FAST.

French people don’t work

Stereotype: PLAUSIBLE.  (Okay, I know that doesn’t make perfect sense, but I’m sticking with the whole Mythbusters thing I’ve got going here.)  Obviously, French people do have to work, but it definitely seems to be less than in the States.  LOOOONG lunch breaks are common, there are ALWAYS people out and about doing things like eating at cafes at all hours of the day, and even French teachers don’t seem to work as many hours as American teachers.  I’ll have to get one of my teachers’ schedules so that I can see just how many hours they work a week.  Oh, and almost everything here is closed on Sundays.

French people strike all the time

Stereotype: PLAUSIBLE.  I haven’t seen any strikes in my time here, however, I do remember seeing a sign in the post office something about “In case of a strike…”  Also, I’ve only been here a few weeks, so it’s possible some sort of strike will occur while I’m here.

UPDATE:  Nationwide transportation strike Oct 24-26.  Many flights and train trips cancelled.  There ya go.  CONFIRMED.

French people eat a lot of baguettes/cheese/wine/coffee

Stereotype: CONFIRMED CONFIRMED CONFIRMED CONFIRMED!!  Nearly everyone in the grocery store leaves with a baguette, and it’s common to see people walking down the sidewalk with a baguette in hand, possibly munching on it.  There are two aisles at the grocery store devoted to cheese and wine, and when walking down the sidewalk along outdoor cafes nearly everyone has a tiny cup of espresso.  You can also get espresso nearly everywhere here, even in school cafeterias!!

French people are short

Stereotype: PLAUSIBLE.  I hadn’t heard this one, but when collecting stereotypes about French people from my American friends this one came up.  I wouldn’t include it if not for the chandeliers at my apartment- THEY’RE INCREDIBLY LOW.  Poor David hits his head on nearly all of them and even I can’t clear the one by the front door.  So maybe it’s just my apartment, but they seem to assume people are a lot shorter than 6’4″.

French people wear berets

Stereotype: BUSTED.  I haven’t seen a single beret here.  Sorry guys.

French people are open sexually

Stereotype: CONFIRMED!  Between the condom machines along the sidewalks, the signs promoting birth control in my high school (oh, there’s a condom machine right next to it, too), the copious amounts of PDA, and women showing their bras (even girls at my high school!!), I can say with certainty that French people are WAY more open about sex than Americans.  At dinner with some French friends, we even talked about this, and a French girl who studied abroad in Nebraska agreed that Americans are extremely uptight about sex and sexuality compared to French people.

French people eat at cafes often

Stereotype: CONFIRMED.  Nearly every street here is lined with cafes, and each has tables outside.  At any hour of the day, there may be people sitting there eating, drinking espresso, and talking, and at lunchtime they’re nearly all packed!

French people smoke a lot

Stereotype: CONFIRMED!  Soo many people smoke here, even young women, which surprises me the most.  I hardly know any girls my age in the States that smoke.

That’s it for stereotypes I can think of for now… if you’ve been to France, do you agree or disagree with my findings?  Also, are there any other stereotypes about France/French people that you’ve heard and want to know about?  Let me know in the comments!

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Categories: Differences between France and the US, Life in France | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “French stereotypes: true or false?

  1. American teachers vs. French teachers: American high school teachers teach 5.5 hours a day in the classroom (27.5 hours a week in the classroom with student contact)… of course that doesn’t take into account planning and grading. It is roughly twice as much student contact hours as French teachers have with students. From personal experience, it is about a 50 hour work week. We Americans teach from late August to late May, and they teach from mid-September to early July. We have half-hour lunches and they have 1-2 hour lunches. We are done with students by 3:30 pm. and they teach until 5 or sometimes 6 pm. We have off 1 week at Easter and 2 weeks at Christmas and they have those breaks and a week in early November and early spring as well. We get can get school lunches or bring our own lunches, they have wine available in the teacher’s lunchroom. Maybe someone else can add more?

    • I think a lot of it is dependent on the school, both in France and the US… I student-taught at ISU’s lab school in Normal, so it was completely different, but full time there was 4 hours a day, so only 20 hours a week. My friend Kelsey teaches 6 hours a day in the US right now, so 30 hours a week. I think full-time for teachers here is ~15 hours a week but teachers are quick to point out that there is planning and grading… yeah, but we have that in the US too!! I think the breaks about even out though… US is 3 months summer + 2 weeks Christmas + 1 week Easter, so just shy of 4 months. France gets 2 months summer + 2 weeks Toussaint + 2 weeks Christmas + 2 weeks winter + 2 weeks spring, so just about 4 months. Honestly though, I think French teachers have it better…

  2. The men trimming their armpit hair is TOTALLY TRUE! I was just in Paris in May and while riding the metro I noticed several men with either shave or trimmed armpits! And my theory on the weight/carbs thing is that they burn all those carbs walking everywhere! 🙂

    • So glad to have personal confirmation on that stereotype!! I have yet to see it here in Nice. And I totally don’t get the weight thing… it must be all the walking!!

  3. Mom

    Very interesting and well done! Guess I need to add baking powder to the care pkg I plan to send! And popcorn salt?

    • Hopefully I’ll be able to find some baking powder here! But popcorn salt… yes 🙂 I have the popcorn salt you sent me in Schaumburg somewhere in my room at home, I meant to bring it but I guess I didn’t!

  4. Aunt My

    I feel like a giant in most crowds here in the states. So if the French truly are a bunch of shorties…I guess it would make for easier viewing in a crowd. 🙂 Okay if the French are eating all these carbs, cheese and wine (and apparently Nutella), I want to know how their weight compares to us American fatties. (I resemble that remark…not you Kels!) I do own a copy of the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” but I have to admit, I never read it. Maybe all the smoking helps with the weight loss.

    • I really haven’t noticed a lot that the people here are short… I’d say the women might be shorter in general than Americans, not so much the men. I talked to a French girl about American/French weight comparisons and she said that she feels like Americans are more one end of the spectrum or the other–really fat or really skinny–and French people are more in the middle. I’d have to say I agree with that. Of course there are still really skinny women here but there are a lot of average women here, and not many that are VERY overweight. I saw a very overweight woman when I was walking to the tram stop the other day and it took me by surprise!

  5. Dad

    What about all the French surrender jokes:
    How many French soldiers does it take to defend Paris? We don’t know, it’s never been tried.
    It only took the Germans 3 days to conquer France and that’s because it was raining.
    For sale; 1 French military rifle, never fired, dropped once.
    Raise 1 hand if you like the French, raise both hands if you are French.
    What’s the shortest book ever written? French war heroes.
    What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their arms up? Their army.
    Do they know the rest of the world makes fun of them?

    • Good ones Dad, haha. I honestly don’t know if they know that stereotype or that common joke. I’ll have to ask.

    • Nashenas

      I assume you are an American. Actually, I never heard of them surrounding all the time. At least where I live. So basically it’s not the rest of the world makes fun of them in this regard.

  6. Aunt Con

    Very insightful! First the height factor. The history of the European Caucasians is a shorter people. Some of the earlier homes had a low door way so as to humble the peasant people when entering their homes. Look at the height of the first generation American compared to the height of their children and grandchildren. Second Eating Habits, do you find they have much smaller freg.than we do. Therefore they eat fresher foods and shop more often than we do. Although when I live in the big city and hate cooking for myself so I eat out a lot. Eating at a cafe can be as cheap as a fast food place. Although last summer I seldom saw too many fast food places. In Greece and Italy they did have the bakeries and gelati shops. What I can’t get out of head was your story about the toilets……

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