French People All Wear Berets (and other lies) – Part 2

Je suis revenue pour partie deux! I’m back with part two of breaking down French stereotypes. I got so many submissions when I asked my friends and family last time that I knew I had to do a second round. Do you agree or disagree with these? And if you have any more stereotypes in mind, let me know and maybe we’ll see a part three!

French people are always rude.

I’m starting with a stereotype that is particularly pervasive. There is this idea that French people, and in particular Parisians, can be rude or snobby or are always complaining. I haven’t found this to be the case at all. In general the French aren’t overly expressive or effervescent as it can come across to them as being insincere. The North and the South are known to be a little more friendly and from my experience at least, I can say the same about people in Alsace. I’ll also add that basic manners are very important. If you approach a waiter or cashier with a hello or a good afternoon instead of diving straight in you’ll be treated with more kindness. I also really like that everyone says hello when you pass by on the street or when you come into a shop or a cafe, regardless of whether you know them or not.

The favoured eau de parfum is… smelly.

I can’t say that I’ve heard of this stereotype before but it came up in my preparation. In reality, about 60% of French people shower every day apparently. This might sound low to you, or maybe not, but it’s actually the English that are the dirtiest Europeans with only 20% showering on a daily basis! I honestly don’t know where this stereotype has come from (maybe it’s related to their love of smelly cheese?) but I’m here to deny it.

Tensions across the channel are high.

Next up is that the French are less than fond of the British. On an individual scale there are no hard feelings but on a macro scale, the French are almost as anti-Brexit as (at least) 48% of the UK. If I had a vote for each of the jibes I’ve heard about Brexit since I got here then we would still be in the EU. Saying that, the French seem to be very aware of the fact that Scotland did not vote for Brexit. I’ve been told a number of times that they’re just waiting for us to make a break for it and rejoin them. On verra…

Hey hey! Ho ho! Strikes are all the French people know!

France has a long history of strikes and protests and is seen by many as the world champion when it comes to industrial action. It’s part of the reason that France has such good workers protection and has been the seat of cultural upheaval over the years. There have been regular protests since I’ve been here. Every Saturday there is strike action that disrupts the transport network in Mulhouse and spreads through centre ville. As far as I know they are against the passe sanitaire, the vaccine passport that has been in effect since the summer. While I can’t say that I totally agree with their cause, I admire how respected the right to protest is and how ingrained it is in the French culture. I also happened across a climate justice march in Strasbourg in October and there have been large scale protests against violence against women and recent social policy reforms across France since I arrived.

The climate justice march in Strasbourg

Oh la la and sacre bleu are things that you will actually hear said.

One submission for stereotypical things that French people say was actually hon hon hon. I have nothing to say about that one but there are some actual phrases that they are well known for saying. Oh la la is one that I have actually heard fairly regularly but I can’t say that sacre bleu is as common as you might think. However, when it comes to noises of agreement, disagreement, pleasure, displeasure, disgust and more the French have it down to a science. A nonchalant shrug and a ‘bah oui’ tossed over your shoulder goes a long way.

Besides wine and cheese, which I have already covered in Part One, frogs legs and snails are the most stereotypical of all French cuisine. I haven’t seen frogs legs a single time since I moved here and still have never tried them and I’ve only seen snails once since I got here, at the Christmas markets. I will say that I have seen foie gras a lot around here. I had never tried it before until I was out for a meal with some colleagues after helping with a James Joyce conference and it was served as part of the starter. Foie gras is a very controversial dish as it is made from the liver of ducks and geese that have been force fed (in France they legally have to be force fed to count as foie gras). I did like it but it’s not something that I would reach for on my own.

The starter that featured foie gras along with two other types of duck

French people are lazy.

I wouldn’t say the French are lazy at all but their attitude towards work is definitely very different. A lot of it seems to come from the fact that they don’t live to work, preferring instead to prioritise their life outside of work as much as possible. Work is not their be all and end all. To give an example, I didn’t receive a single email over the Christmas holidays (I was guilty of sending one, but just one!). They take work life balance very seriously, whether that’s holidays or lunch breaks. However, saying all that, one of the first things I was warned about when it comes to French students is that they’re very good at doing just enough work to get them a passing grade. Work smarter not harder I guess?

You won’t catch them without a cigarette.

Picture this – a stick thin woman dressed all in black floating through the streets of Paris, cigarette in hand. It’s another go to image of the French I think, second only to the man in the striped t-shirt with a baguette under his arm. It is true – France has one of the highest rates of smoking in the EU at 25%. What surprises me the most is the number of young people that smoke. It’s very common to see groups of young people outside schools or walking through town with a cigarette in hand.

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