Life in Paris

Des faux stéréotypes sur les français

1. They all smell like garlic (or worse) 

This, believe it or not, is not true. It’s somewhat similar to the British stereotype that says we all drink tea. Yes, a lot of people DO drink tea but with a population of around 50 million you can’t expect everyone to enjoy a brew just because the Queen does. It’s the same with the French. You will sometimes encounter people, especially in the metro, who smell quel surprise but not all the time! I take the metro/train/bus everyday and rarely get a whiff of anything nasty. The most common problem is the metro stations themselves that smell because they haven’t been cleaned or because homeless people live and shelter inside them. On Tuesday night I passed a homeless man in the metro  who was not so discreetly peeing into a crisp packet. However,generally speaking the French do not smell and they only smell like garlic when they eat snails, as anyone does.

2. French women don’t shave their armpits

I’ve been in Paris for over 2 years now and I’ve yet to meet a woman who doesn’t shave her armpits. They are definitely more focused on natural beauty than we are; they wear less make up, they make being glamorous look easy and their beauty is very subtle…but as much as they uphold natural beauty they do shave their armpits. Part of me wishes they didn’t, it would make life so much easier for us. Yesterday when trying to slide the lid back on my razor I missed and slice all the skin off my little finger…it wouldn’t stop bleeding and it still hurts now 🙁 Whoever said no pain, no gain was absolutely right.

3. The French are rude

Okay so French people can be a bit impolite but who isn’t compared to us Brits?! We apologise just for breathing and always say please and thank you to anyone and everyone. As I explained in my previous blog this ‘misunderstanding’ about French behaviour is actually due to quite a large cultural divide. If the English or Americans made even a small effort to learn basic French words they would soon see that the French are not as rude as everyone thinks. They’re rude to lazy foreigners who think that being English means they don’t have to make any effort to speak any other languages when they travel the world. Imagine a French person coming to the UK and refusing to speak in English, what would you think? What a tosser. That’s what you’d think and that’s why sometimes people are rude to you in France. So…as much as I adore England and my English friends, get off your high horse and learn a second language, then see if their behaviour towards you is different.

4. The French hate the Americans

This is actually completely wrong. Since France refused to go to war with Iraq you could argue that it’s the Americans who dislike the French. I actually asked a few French people about this because I was quite shocked to discover this information during my research into French stereotypes. The French don’t hate the Americans but they also don’t think they are the most intelligent of our species and to be honest, it seems to be the tourists behaviour in Paris that give the Yankees a bad name. France has embraced all the big franchises such as MacDonalds nicknamed MacDo to sound more French, KFC, Subway, Starbucks, Hollister and Abercrombie into their society and understand that by doing so they can help to boost the economy. Young people also try to emulate the Americans and American films are extremely popular in France.

5.  French toilets are disgusting

I remember my first date with my French ex-boyfriend. He took me to a lovely little brasserie on Rue Mouffetard and we had a couple of drinks overlooking the square. I thought I’d better use the bathroom before we went to dinner so off I went to find the toilet. At first I thought I’d entered the mens, this couldn’t possibly be the ladies, could it?!? What I found was a hole-in-the-ground squatting toilet. Apparently they are quite popular in France but this was the first one I’d encountered. Needless to say I didn’t use the bathroom here and prayed that the restaurant would have a normal loo. To my relief I soon discovered that these kind of toilets are very traditional French cafes and brasseries. Most places have normal toilets! Thank goodness!

6. All French people smoke

A lot of people do still smoke in France and it’s definitely more present than in the UK. There’s a BNP just next to where I work and I don’t think I’ve ever walked past without seeing someone smoking outside, maybe they’re just very stressed?! However it’s definitely changed since the law prohibiting smoking in public places was introduced in 2007. I have a lot of friends who used to smoke and now don’t and at least people can’t smoke in bars anymore! It makes it much easier for people in France to quit smoking now.

7. French women are stick thin

In general I think French women are thinner than girls back home. The majority seem to be around a size 6-8 whereas in the UK I would guess the national average is around 10-12, it’s only a small size difference but it’s definitely noticeable. I’ve never been a skinny girl but somehow in France I haven’t gained weight. I drink wine and I eat cheese but I don’t really gain a lot…it’s bizarre. I honestly think it’s the way of life. I often don’t have dinner because of my weird work schedule (I don’t get home until 9 or 10pm) so I always make sure I have a nice big lunch and often just have a cup of tea and a bit of chocolate in the evening. I guess this is why I haven’t become a Camembert-resembling human being…yet.

8. French people wear berets while riding bicycles with baskets full of baguettes

I’m quite sure that anyone who comes to Paris expects to see the stereotypical image of a French person riding a bicycle. Thanks to the amazing Velib system there are literally bikes and people on bikes everywhere you look and generally speaking they are carrying baguettes in their panier. The one thing they are definitely NOT doing is wearing berets. Honestly in 2 years I’ve probably seen a maximum of 4 people wearing a beret and most of the time they’ve clearly been tourists. I’m embarrassed to say the first time I came to Paris in 2004 I bought a grey beret and I’m pretty sure it’s still at home somewhere…I think it’s a tradition that just faded out in Paris.

9. The French won’t speak English and will laugh at your French

This is 100% NOT true. French people always try to speak English even if you speak to them in French. It wasn’t until I could really speak French well that people finally stopped replying in English and even now if they hear just a hint of my British accent they often say ohhhh vous venez d’ou? Cover blown – damn it. I think a lot of foreigners think they aren’t very patient because of their mannerisms. When you speak to them in French they will often say Quoi?? Ehh?? or Pardon?? but it’s not to be rude it’s just their way of letting you know that they don’t really understand so you need to repeat, speak more loudly or speak in English.

10. Mimes are everywhere 

I have, kind of sadly, never seen a mime in Paris. Some random statue people who move when you put money in their pot/hat and a talented football player at Montmartre but no help-I’m-trapped-in-a-room mimes. Maybe they’re all hiding out in some secret Mime cave…you never know, this is Paris after all.

One Comment

  • Robert Dean Hubbard

    We’ve been to Paris for many weeks at a time during the past twenty years. Regarding “rude French”, that misconception is largely due to many Americans coming from smaller towns where the faster pace of a big city and its inhabitants give the tourists an impression of curt responses from the natives. The same thing is said of New Yorkers and for the same reason; people in a big city say things more quickly and may stare at you intently for a few seconds to see if what was said actually was processed by the deer-in-the-headlights tourist. Tourists are also very slow on the sidewalks so it’s no wonder they may be bumped along the way. Americans especially are usually loud and boisterous without regard to their surroundings. It’s easy to be unfriendly to such tourists. Not knowing some of the language is simply irresponsible and invites an uncaring attitude toward the lazy guests of the city. The rudest and crudest people in Paris these days are among the throngs of Chinese and Russians.

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