This is something that I found hard to believe at first but it is in fact true. I remember in the early days of my life in France I would watch my host family and friends devour piles and piles of food almost always accompanied by some kind of wine or champagne. It was such a surprise to see people follow the ‘set menu’ so closely and on top of that, to do it and to not get fat. It wasn’t until I did some extra reading that I discovered the tricks of the French trade. If you eat with the French be prepared for a big meal because you will most certainly have 3 courses and you will probably have the whole shebang. A French dinner traditionally consists of: The l’aperitif – a small alcoholic drink to stimulate the taste palette, l’entree – the starter, le plat/le plat principal – the main dish (plus at least one if not 2 bottles of wine), le plateau de fromages – the cheese board or tray, le dessert – the dessert, le cafe – the coffee (often served with dessert) and last but not least le digestif – an after dinner spirit such as cognac. Before you ask, yes I have done and managed to do this, several times. When curiosity got the better of me I started thinking about how they (and I) weren’t obese yet and this is what I found out. Apparently the French way of eating is how we should ALL be eating. The French don’t inhale their food like we or the Americans do, they take their time to eat all the courses and eat different dishes to ensure that their body is digesting their food correctly. It’s very important in France to have an aperitif and a digestif, as if you are telling the body that the meal is beginning and ending. So what if dinner takes 3 hours??? In France ‘take out’ food is very uncommon. Giving food your time and patience is top of their list.
2. They drink a lot of wine (maybe gallons)
This is certainly true, adding on to what I said about their eating habits the French like a little tipple. They definitely drink more wine than us, probably because the wine is so much better and a lot cheaper here (you can get a good Bordeaux for 4 euros). But again, I quickly discovered how they do it. The French don’t binge drink, viola, simple. Yes they drink an obscene amount of wine but it’s all in moderation and it’s all whilst they are eating food. I’ve rarely seen French people just drinking wine without eating or at least intending to eat. In England we often drink wine to be drunk, knowing that one bottle (in my case anyway, in my sister’s and mother’s it’s two) can be a cheap and fun way of getting drunk quickly and the effects lasting all night and most of the next day. Wine headache. I’ve been at a lot of dinners with 3 or 4 people where we’ve consumed a huge amount of wine but thanks to the coffee and the digestif and all the food I’ve never been drunk OR hungover. There is so much pleasure to be found in eating well and drinking a good French wine. Ahh c’est la vie.
3. The French love love
According to a survey by Durex, French people have more sexual encounters annually than Americans. This might not seem too surprising but when you think that the United States total area is 9,629,048 square kilometres and France’s area (mainland) is about 551,000 square kilometres…it’s a bit more of a shock. Oh and that you could fit all of France into Texas (just ONE state in America), well…that’s a lot of sex the French are having. Unfortunately their addiction to love means that they are generally unfaithful. I say generally because I don’t like to tar everyone with the same brush but after speaking to a number of people the general consensus seems to be that they are great lovers but not so wonderful partners, especially if the word commitment is involved.
4. They eat snails and foie gras
Yes, they do indeed eat snails and other specialities like foie gras. However there seems to be a general impression in England and America that it’s all they eat and it definitely isn’t. These kind of things are reserved for special occasions and are not served in every restaurant. Foie gras is expensive and snails are a ‘typical’ dish but they are both mostly found in traditional French restaurants. I think tourists eat more snails than the French actually do.
5. They eat oysters and drink champagne on Christmas day
This year I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go home for Christmas so for a while I was thinking about how I would celebrate Christmas here. A friend very kindly offered for me to stay with his family for Xmas but when he explained about the oysters I was a little unsettled. Don’t knock it until you try it I guess but I think I’ll stick with smoked salmon and Dad’s mackerel pate.
6. They love paperwork
Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork party. The French absolutely LOVE paperwork, to the point that I think, if it was possible, the President of the Republique might make a bank holiday especially for the people who spend their lives cajoling you for your documents. For example, I would like to have a ‘carte vitale’ (a health card) here, sounds simple enough right? Wrong. I’ve been here for over two years and I STILL don’t have my card. They want an original birth certificate (and not just the healthcare system) the retirement people too so I have to pay for new documents (which just to add I will never get back even if I leave France). They want your first and last three payslips, a copy of your contract, an attestation from your employer (because the contract isn’t enough of course), a copy of your passport (must be recto-verso) and much much more. Oh and the best thing is, when I finally get my card I have to send off ALL my medical bills from the last two years so I can be reimbursed. Honestly the French healthcare system is good when you are finally accepted but my god, their attitude towards paperwork is just anal. The people on the phone are also not the friendliest or most helpful so a lot of time is lost just from being misinformed.
7. People can be racist
Again, just to emphasise, this is not all French people. However, when walking through the ticket barrier at Opera every night I see people getting stopped by the ticket controllers. This wouldn’t be a problem if the people had been passing through without a ticket or jumping the barrier but the controllers aren’t asking for that, they are asking for their identity papers. I understand that France wants to control the amount of immigrants in the country but does that justify stopping people and demanding their papers because of the colour of their skin?! I have never been stopped because I’m white but the funny thing is, I don’t have a French identity card and I haven’t carried ID since I lost my driving license so I could easily be an immigrant. Obviously I’m not and I have the right to be here because I’m from another part of the EU but how can they know that from the colour of my skin? Thejudging a book by its cover mentality is what I dislike.
8. Paris is the most romantic city in the world
If you are lucky enough to be in love in Paris, Paris really IS the most romantic city you’ll ever visit. There are people snogging EVERYWHERE. If you’re single you find yourself very agitated by these people,.I don’t sit there thinking ‘oh how cute’ I sit there thinking ‘Gosh…couldn’t you just do that at home and not on the metro?!’ French people have no shame, I had a couple sit next to me on the RER once and I ended up having to move because they were so intense that I actually started to feel uncomfortable. I guess I’m still a British prude at heart. I’ll kiss someone on the metro or on the bus or even in the street but if it’s very intimate I don’t feel like it should be entirely public, so please people sucking face, do it at home.
9. They are very impatient and they do not know how to queue
Oh yes, this one must be one of the most correct stereotypes about the French, including of course the famous French ‘sigh.’ Note to all; never, ever, go to a post office with a French person. I have first hand experience of this and although funny it was a lesson learnt. Now, just like in England, the French post offices are very slow. The people, just like the post, move at snail pace and if you are not a patient person it is very difficult to stay calm. My ex is not the most patient person ever and to be fair to him the people in front of us seemed to be particularly special that day but his reaction was ust comedy gold. I could feel him getting agitated as the woman in front of us was taking forever and claimed she ‘had never sent a package before’ so needed full, child-like guidance on how to do it. I think we were in a hurry because he had to go to work, I don’t really remember but for some reason we needed to send our letter quickly and this lady was the only obstacle in the way. I reassured him that she would be finished soon enough and we would be first in the queue after her. Then, we got the queue-pushers. In France they don’t understand what it means to queue, they think a queue is just people standing around in formation for no reason. I watched a woman push in front of around 30 people once and when she was yelled at she explained simply that ‘she had no time to queue.’ WOMAN ON A MISSION! I had to laugh at the sheer audacity of this woman, as if the other people couldn’t possibly be busy too. Anyway, so these people tried to push in front of us, I could feel his palm sweating in my hand but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. All the French people, including my ex, started yelling at the queue pushers “Eh, il y a un queue la-bas!!” “Vous faites quoi??” “Incroyable.” It was like a customer war and I just didn’t know where to look or rather, hide. French ‘sighs’ were being issued all over the place (the French sigh is great it’s about 5 times as strong as a normal sigh and so loud you could probably here it at the other side of the room). Finally we got served and I tried to usher my ex out of the PO before anything else happened.
10. Last but not least, they aren’t as rude as people think but they can be a tad impolite
Everyone says the French are really rude and it’s sort of what you expect to receive before you arrive in France. In fact they are not as rude as everyone makes out. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a language barrier between English and French and I finally understood why this misconception exists when I started speaking the language. French is MUCH more direct than English, we cushion everything with nice words to make our sentences and phrases very polite, the French do not. For example, even to a friend I would say ‘can you hold this for me please?’ whereas, if it’s familiar, the French say ‘tiens’ meaning take this. The first time someone said that to me I thought they were being very rude because I would never say ‘hold this’ to someone but in fact it’s just the language! The only thing that grates on me is men’s attitude to women sometimes. In England if a man goes through a door before you they will hold the door and if you have a huge, heavy suitcase or a pushchair they will carry it up the stairs. In France they let the door smack you in the face (this happened to me in my first year as I didn’t even think about the possibility that the guy might not hold the door) and I’ve encountered women who have waited for 20 or so minutes before I offered to help them. I’m always helping girls my own age, women with pushchairs and elderly people carry things. I dread to think how long they would wait if I didn’t offer and it’s quite shocking how surprised they are when I help them!
Anyway as I said this is not ALL French people and I’m only generalising what I have observed, I have wonderful French friends who are polite, kind, funny, faithful and they even binge drink sometimes!