There are certain images that come to mind when you think of France and the French. I’m sure one of the first is someone carrying a baguette and a string of onions, wearing a beret and a stripey top, riding a bicycle in front of the Eiffel Tower. I always try to approach a new place without expectations or preconceived ideas but with France it is a bit more difficult because there are already so many cultural references in the British psyche. In my time in France, I have encountered some well known stereotypes but have also noticed others that are completely untrue, as stereotypes often are. I put a call out to family and friends to hear their ideas about France and the French and either confirm or debunk them. I’ve got plenty more up my sleeve than those included here so expect a part two at some point!
The uniform is a beret and a stripey top.
I’ve already mentioned this iconic image that I’m sure you can easily picture. While the only beret I have seen here was worn by my flatmate from Montreal on his way to a Matrix-themed party, the common stereotype that the French are very stylish is one I would agree with. Even when the occasional student comes to my classes in loungewear, the outfit is still put together very well. In general though, the style a little more elevated. I don’t really have a dress code as a teacher so I dress pretty casually. I often feel like I blend in with the students while walking around campus, and not even the well dressed ones!
Your National 5 level French will be met with disdain.
I feel like a lot of the stereotypes that us Brits have about France and it’s people actually come from Parisians. It is quite common in Paris that when you attempt to speak a little French, as a gesture of good will more than anything, you will be met with an eye roll and a reply in English. I have found the opposite to be true, at least in Mulhouse. Everyone has been very pleased and impressed (myself included) with my level of French. Every time I’ve had to use French to navigate a part of the moving process, I’ve actually been met with patience and understanding.
Baguettes are love, baguettes are life.
A classic, iconic staple of French cuisine, matched only by croissants, is the simple baguette. It is every bit as loved and appreciated as it seems. My most French moments so far have been stopping by the boulangerie on the corner of my street for a deliciously light €1 baguette that is still warm no matter what time of day I buy it.
French women don’t shave.
I think this is an oversimplification but body hair does seem to be more embraced here. Particularly after overhearing a conversation between some colleagues in my office, it seems that removing body hair, especially for women, is not as much of a cultural given as it might be in the UK. My personal opinion on body hair is do what you want with it but especially if you choose to remove it, reflect on whether that is a conscious decision. Often the decision is one driven by patriarchal standards of beauty that are so ingrained into our culture that it takes a lot of work to unlearn these expectations. Regardless of whether this stereotype is really true or not, I like that it is a more open conversation.
They’re all alcoholics but in a classy way.
I would like to preface this one by saying these were not my choice of words, blame my family and friends who I asked for these stereotypes. And I’m going to refute this idea anyway. I’m not saying the French don’t like a drink, they do. But the way that alcohol is consumed is a world away from the binge drinking culture of the UK. Alcohol is something to be enjoyed, savoured, appreciated, not poured down your throat with the aim of getting as drunk as possible. It’s not uncommon to enjoy a glass of wine with lunch and half pints are actually the favoured size for beer which slows down the enjoyment to a more leisurely pace. The attitude here seems to be more along the lines of little and often rather than at home where it’s a lot… and also often.
Cheese and wine are their own food groups.
100% can confirm and there are no complaints from me. I am a cheese lover, of all kinds, so this was one of the things I was most looking forward to about moving here and I have not been disappointed. My heart belongs to a sharp Scottish cheddar but I have been enjoying picking up fairly cheap blocks of French cheeses like Comte (my favourite) while doing my weekly shop. The most popular cheese around Mulhouse is called Munster, named after the nearby town that it comes from. It is notoriously stinky, both cooked and uncooked, but I’m a fan! Due to Mulhouse’s proximity to Germany, I think it’s a bit more of a toss up in popularity between wine and beer here but wine is definitely still very popular.
France’s middle name is bureaucracy.
You’ll have to fill in this form, send off photocopies of every official document you’ve ever received and then wait 4 weeks for a response to this. I think that says all you need to know.