Origins Of French Stereotypes & Cliches Explained: Beyond Baguettes

Here are France’s most notorious stereotypes and cliche’s explained. Most of which French people are sick and tired of hearing about.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
French stereotypes and cliches explained.
French stereotypes and cliches explained.

French berets, escargot, unshaved armpits. Some French stereotypes are so deep-rooted, they seem to transcend time; however, have you ever wondered if any of these French cliches were true or not? Or wondered how a stereotype began? Here’s a look at some of France’s most pervasive stereotypes and clichés that most French people are fed up hearing about and why they exist.

Stereotype or French identity?

Most of us are familiar with all the French stereotypes and clichés. Many of which are simultaneously complementary and contradicting.

French women are hot and dress well, but don’t shave, have hairy armpits and possibly stink? 

Let’s not forget about the image of the stereotypical French man, with his blue and white striped shirt, black beret and baguette under his arm who’s rude, a good lover but might also stink?

French stereotype and cliches: Do French people wear French berets?

My Experience with French people and French stereotypes while living in France

I’ve lived in France since 2011, and here is what I can tell you…

Here’s the thing, to some French people, many French stereotypes and cliches are exaggerated, archaic and outdated, while others are puzzling. Some of my French friends were unaware of certain stereotypes, like French people smell bad.

  • Yes, people sometimes wear the stereotypical “striped French shirt”; however, they are few and far between as a ratio of the entire population. I can go months before ever seeing someone wearing one. 
  • I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a French man wearing a French beret (excluding the French military)!
  • All my French girlfriends have hairless armpits because they all shave.
  • Frog legs are mainly something you eat at upscale restaurants, especially in bigger cities such as Lyon and Paris. It’s not an everyday dish. Most of my French friends have never even eaten Frog legs. 

So why do these French stereotypes and clichés exist? 

I decided to get to the bottom of some of France’s most pervasive French stereotypes and clichés. Most of which French people are sick and tired of hearing about. Except for the wine stereotype. And the cheese stereotype. 

Share this infographic on Pinterest.

infographic French stereotypes and cliches explained.

1) FRENCH BERET: French stereotype outfit or a thing of the past?

No! Most French men don’t wear a beret anymore.

French stereotype and cliches: Do French people wear French berets?

You’re more likely to see a beret sitting pretty atop the head of stylish, fashion-conscious women with matching high heels. Or on the head of an elderly man playing Pétanque (a typical French game played with metallic balls on a dirt surface).

If you’re lucky enough to travel to Paris (or any other largish city in France), you’ll see military personnel patrolling hot-spots like the Eiffel tower in formations of 3 or 4, always wearing a beret, usually holding a standard assault rifle. The site of machinegun toting military can be alarming to tourists, but some French people claim it makes them feel safe and secure.

French stereotype and cliches: Do french people wear berets?

Laulhere Eridan Wool Beret Size M Black

How did the beret-wearing Frenchman stereotype start?

The beret was originally made of felted wool, which was cheap, easily accessible, weatherproof and easy to make; a practical combination that made the beret very popular amongst France’s poorest working classes back in the 1500 and 1600s.

It wasn’t until the 1800s, almost 300 years later, that the world started associating the beret with the French, and we owe it all to the Brits and the French onion farmers from the tiny area around the Breton port of Roscoff, France.

The Brits and French onion vendors may have started the French beret stereotype.

From the 1820s until the second world war, onion farmers and farm labourers from the French town of Roscoff travelled 200 or so kilometres across the English Channel in boats filled with their harvest of pink Roscoff onions, usually wearing black or dark blue felted wool berets. 

Sea route the French Onion Johnny took from Roscoff France to the UK to sell their onions

The onions were strung together, the traditional way, which made it easier to sling over their shoulders and carry door to door to sell.

Later, when the bike became more readily available, the onion vendors hung their onions on bikes. The bicycle was rarely ridden and acted primarily as a way to carry the onions.

The beret wearing onion Johnnies of France may be how the stereotype began

Many of the French onion sellers from Brittany had the name Jean, Yann and Yannick —the English equivalent of Jean and Yann is John, while Yannick is the equivalent to “petit jean” in French and Johnny in English. (source)

As a result, the British started calling these entrepreneurial Frenchmen “Johnny” and “Onion Johnny,” and the French Johnnies happily adopted their new English nickname.

These Onion Johnnies—with their berets and bikes covered with onions for sale were probably the only contact the ordinary British had with France at the time and so became some of the first French stereotypes as we know them today. From Britain, the stereotype spread across the Atlantic and, of course, throughout the world.

These days, the bike riding, onion selling Frenchman has all but disappeared from the English landscape. Still, the image of the beret-wearing Frenchman lives on in the archetypal Frenchman even if the average Frenchman no longer wears the beret.

Not much is written about the onion Johnny, but you can read about them in this onion johnny book if you’re interested. Or you can visit the onion johnny museum in Roscoff, France.

Onion Johnnies (Flashbacks) by Ian MacDougall (2002-11-18)

Eight known surviving Johnnies who worked in Scotland at one time or another between the 1920s and the 1970s describe their memories of their working lives.

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Museum dedicated to the Onion Johnnies.

If you’re ever in Roscoff, France, there’s a museum dedicated to preserving this rich history of the Johnnies and the Roscoff onion called “MAISON DES JOHNNIES ET DE L’OIGNON DE ROSCOFF.”

French stereotype and cliches: Onion Johnny festival in Roscoff France

You’ll be able to learn about the fascinating history of the French Onion Johnny, the much prised pink onion, try onion-based products and ride a mini-train, which includes a visit to an onion grower.

In August, don’t miss the annual onion festival called “La Fête de l’Oignon de Roscoff”– music, dancing, games and onion-related celebrations. Here is a link to a video talking about the Roscoff onion festival ( in French).

2) FRENCH STRIPED SHIRT: Do French people wear striped shirts?

Yes, kind of but NOT as much as they used to!

French stereotype and cliches: The French striped shirt

The tradition of wearing the classic French striped shirt is alive and well in France; however, it’s not as popular as it once was.  It might even be more popular amongst tourists these days than it is with the French, but that’s just my opinion based on who I’ve come across wearing these iconic striped shirts.

Much like the Beret, the stereotypical French striped shirt— “une marinière” or “un tricot rayé (a striped knit), which so many of us associate with Paris and French haute culture had very humble beginnings.

Striped French shirt: Lesconil Womens Top by French Brand Armor-Lux

From French Brand Armor-Lux this classic Breton shirt, has a boat neck, long-sleeves and is 100% interlock cotton. It's a slim-fitting shape.

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02/18/2024 06:46 pm GMT

How the French Navy Inspired France’s Most Stereotypical Shirt

Originally the striped shirt was an undergarment that seamen in the French navy wore. It was relatively long, falling to the top of the thigh with 3/4 length sleeves. It also became known as a Breton shirt because many sailors were originally from the Breton region of France.

Do you see a theme here? Many French stereotypes were probably started by the British, thanks to its proximity to the north of France, which is right across the channel.

French stereotype and cliches: The French striped shirt

According to Delphine Allanic, curator of the 2009 sailors exhibition held at the Navy Museum in Paris, the striped shirt was made of a jersey material. At the time, she said sailors didn’t wear underwear, so the long shirt acted as protection and as their primary undergarment.

Other sources claim its length had other benefits: hiding a sailor’s butt crack when they bent down or kneeled as they worked. And still, others argue that the stripes help make a sailor more visible in the water.

1858 Decree-for the number of stripes on the striped sailor’s shirt

In Marche of 1858, a decree was created which dictated the size and number of blue and white stripes the sailors’ shirt should have—For the body, 21 white stripes had to be twice as wide as the 20 or 21 navy blue stripes. The sleeves had to have 15 white stripes and 14 or 15 navy blue stripes (source).

French stereotype and cliches: The French striped shirt: marinière-official-numbers

The rise of the striped shirt in French culture

1916- Coco Chanel

Nobody could predict that the modest blue and white striped sailor undergarment shirt would have such massive and chic appeal one day, but apparently, Coco Chanel did. She was one of the first French designers to turn the striped shirt into a French fashion statement back in 1916.

You might be interested in reading: Secret Facts, History and timeline of COCO CHANEL: her life and brand

Coco Chanel was the first to turn the sailors striped shirt undergarment into a fashion statement

1963-Movie Stars and more striped fashion

In 1963, Brigitte Bardot wore the striped shirt in the film “Le Mépris,” aka “Contempt.” Three years later, in 1966, Yves Saint Laurent launched his “sailor” line and included a dress with blue striped sequins, worn later by Catherine Deneuve at the 1966 Cannes Film festival, which of course, catapulted stripes into the fashion ether.

Brigitte-Bardot-Le-Mépris-Catherine-Deneuve; French striped shirt and dress

Soon other celebrities were seen wearing striped shirts like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe,  and suddenly it went from a humble masculine sailors shirt to a fashionable thing to wear.

Jean-Paul Gaultier eventually appropriated the striped shirt for his 1978 line, no longer simply called striped shirt, but now called “une marinière,” in his 1978 show. Jean-paul Gaultier even has a perfume bottle shaped like a human torso with blue stripes.

These days, the striped shirt comes in and out of fashion and has become the epitome of French style.

Very few even make the connection between French sailors anymore.

3) LA BAGUETTE: Are French people really a country of baguette eaters?

YES, French people really do eat a lot of baguettes, and once you eat a French baguette, you’ll understand why. 

French stereotype and cliches: Baguettes

A baguette, sometimes called French bread in Anglophone countries, is a French word that means wand, staff, stick or baton. It wasn’t used to refer to “French bread” until the 1920s.

The word “baguette” is also the French word for chopsticks.

While some French stereotypes are outdated or exaggerated, the baguette is not one of them. It has a fascinating history and has become as much a part of the French identity as cheese, wine and gastronomy, despite being a relatively new invention.

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How many baguettes does the average French person eat in France?

One hundred years ago, the average French person devoured three baguettes per day per person.  These days, French people eat fewer baguettes, roughly one-half a baguette per day.

Despite the drop in baguette consumption in France, that’s still a lot of baguettes—nearly six billion baguettes are sold each year in France or 320 baguettes every second, which might explain why there are so many boulangeries in France. In Paris alone, there are thousands of bakeries. You don’t have to walk far before you stumble upon a baker selling bread in smaller French towns.

Do French people carry a baguette under their arms?

Bread is a staple of the French diet, and so it’s quite common to see people rushing in and out of those French bakeries throughout the day carrying a baguette, especially at lunch and after work.

A time-honoured tradition is to grab and twists off the end of the baguette (le quignon) to munch on,  on the way home. In English, this might be called the elbow of the baguette.

How and when was the French baguette invented?

As we know it today, the baguette is made with white flour, has an elongated shape, and a fluffy interior. But this version of French bread is a fairly new invention and didn’t exist until the 19th century.  Before that, bread in France had more of an oval or round shape, was much darker in colour and could be extremely dense. Some might even say it wasn’t really liked very much. 

So how did this new, lighter, longer, and fluffier baguette get to be a thing in France?

  • One story claims Napoleon’s bakers created the baguette because he wanted bread that his soldiers could easily carry in their coats’ pockets.
  • Another story that sounds more plausible is that the baguette is a descendant of Viennese bread.

In 1839, August Zang, an Austrian man, opened up a boulangerie in Paris and introduced Parisians to long and oval-shaped Viennese bread, which was steam baked. Parisians enjoyed the bread, but it took the rest of France a little more time to fall in love with this strange new bread.

Gradually over time, the recipe evolved, and milk was eliminated from the bread recipe, which has made baguettes very affordable in France—around a Euro.


You might be interested in reading about 

44 Fascinating French Croissant Facts For Curious Foodies & Francophiles.

By the 1960s, the French baguette was internationally recognized as a symbol of France and Paris.

Pain tradition Française

If you’re ever in a French boulangerie in France, order “le pain tradition.” You’ll never be able to eat normal bread again. By a decree from 1993, it can only contain flour, water, salt and yeast. No preservatives.

4) RUDE OR BAD SERVICE: Are the French really rude, and is customer service really bad?

Some would argue yes, but I think it’s just a big cultural misunderstanding.

There are rude and snobby people in all corners of the world, but the French have a long-standing reputation as being cold, arrogant and rude, especially to tourists. Sky scanner even conducted a survey that found that most travellers found the French to be rude.

For a long time, I actually believed this, but I’ve come to understand that a lot of what tourists mistake for bad services comes down to what is considered good service in different countries. 

As a result, many tourists are rude without even knowing it. 

For example, did you know that by not saying bonjour ( hello) before starting a conversation in France at a store, in a shop, or at the grocery store checkout line, you are the one being rude?

It makes sense that many foreigners who visit France misinterpret French customs for rudeness or arrogance as well.

The French have different definitions of what is considered good service and polite.

In North America, people value making the other person feel warm and fuzzy—happy smiley faces, high energy feelings like excitement, enthusiasm and overly friendly tendencies are considered polite and good service.

In French culture, this just isn’t the case.  If a stranger smiles or is overly friendly, it can seem strange to a French person and can even come off as phoney and superficial.

Instead, the French value being more direct and showing the other person respect, not big happy, friendly faces and attitudes. This direct attitude and non-smiley face often come off as rude or arrogant to some people who visit France.

What the French think is polite, tourists think is rude or bad customer service.

Tourists often complain about rude or poor customer service in France, but again, it’s more likely a cultural misunderstanding.

The French ideology for eating out is to relax and enjoy your food, not to be rushed or pestered—being asked multiple times if you want more bread or water, having your plate whisked away the second you finished eating, or your check dropped before you ask for it. These actions might be considered good service in many cultures, especially in North America but in France, it is not. A French person would feel rushed or pestered in a North American restaurant.

French people are used to eating at their own pace. Waiters are trained to leave you alone. When they want something, you call for the waiter and ask for it, including the check.

In many cultures, this type of service might be considered bad or lazy, which often happens when visitors to France mistakenly assume this as bad service instead of polite service. 

5) SMOKING IN FRANCE: Is France a chain-smoking nation?

It depends on what you consider chain-smoking! Someone from Japan might not think so, but someone from California would definitely agree that French people smoke a lot.

French stereotype and cliches: Smoking in France

The data on smoking in France

There’s the data, and then there’s perception.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 30% of the French population smokes compared to 18% of the American population (2012 figures).

30% may seem high, yet other countries smoke much more than France, like Japan, China, and Russia, to name a few. So why is smoking associated so strongly with the French?

Part of the reason might be due to Tobacco’s history in France, which goes back to the time of Napoleon; however, cigarette smoking hit an all-time high during the two world wars all the way through to the fifties when the cigarette was associated with values of freedom and courage, and then with glamour and coolness thanks to the movies. But this was true in France, the US and many other countries also.

The perception of smoking in France to a foreigner and tourist.

Here’s the difference. Times have changed and so have attitudes towards smoking in the US And Canada who see smokers as social pariahs and smoking as a filthy habit, to be shunned.

In France, smoking still has a certain alluring and glamorous “je ne sais quoi.” Especially amongst the younger generation.

You could say France’s views on smoking are 10 years behind North America, but France’s views on smoking are starting to change.

New statistics suggest the French are smoking less as more and more people in France are quitting thanks to anti-smoking measures, including the so-called “sin” tax on nicotine and standardized packaging and health warnings posted directly on the packaging.

smoking decline in France infographic

Regardless of the statistics, smokers still seem to be everywhere in France.

If you come from a heavy smoking country, it won’t bother you, but if you don’t, you’ll definitely notice smokers in France because they don’t hide.

  • I’ve seen off-duty bus drivers taking a smoke break inside the bus in plain view of people waiting outside.
  • I’ve sat next to people on restaurant terraces while their cigarette smoke is visibly floating in my daughter’s face, totally oblivious as I fan the smoke away.
  • I’ve passed bank employees standing outside of their building smoking a cigarette before going back to their desks. (This is normal in most countries, I suppose, but to me, it seems to happen much more than I am used to)
  • I’ve seen kids as young as middle school smoking outside of their school in plain view of their teachers.

All these open, unashamed smokers probably contribute to the stereotype that the French love to smoke. At least it must feel that way to the tourists who come to France.

6) FROG LEGS: Do French people eat frogs regularly?

Yes, and no, it’s complicated.

Ask anyone what they think French people eat, and they’ll usually include Frog legs as part of their answer. There’s even a derogatory term for the French coined by the Brits—frogs, frog eaters and sometimes froggies.

French stereotypes and cliches: Frog legs

No harm, no foul! The French have their own pejorative name they like to call the English—”Rosbif,” which means roast beef. Mainly because that’s what many French people associate with the English. By the way, Americans are called “les Yankees.”

Here are the facts on frog leg consumption in France

Even though eating frog legs or “Les cuisses de grenouille” is popular in other parts of the world—mainly Asia, the world associates eating frogs with the French.

But your average French person doesn’t see themselves as a nation of Frog feasters.

Frog legs are seen more as a specialty dish you might encounter in a French bistro or restaurant, but it’s not really a common everyday food item. Many French people have never even tried frog legs or can count the number of times they’ve eaten them on one hand. It’s not something you typically find in a French grocery store or butcher shops.

Here are the facts:

According to UN figures, the US and France are two of the largest importers of Frog legs, with France importing up to 4000 tonnes of frog meat each year since 1995.

That’s 8 million pounds or 3.6 million kg of frog flesh.

French producers can’t keep up with demand, so France imports frog meat from Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of frog meat, exporting more than 5000 tonnes of frog meat each year, mostly to France, Belgium and Luxemburg.

How did Frog legs get associated with the French?

The earliest source for frog legs being eaten in France was in the Catholic Church’s Annals (a record of events arranged in yearly sequence) from the 12th century when French monks ate frogs. Monks were not allowed to eat meat on certain days of the year, which meant no mammals or birds. Frogs were faire game since they were neither and therefore didn’t count as meat—sneaky monks.

Alexandre dumas grand dictionaire

Later on, Alexandre Dumas recorded in his cooking dictionary,  “Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine,” that Frog legs were seen on the tables of the upper class in the 1600s. It wasn’t until the 1700s that eating Frog legs took off, thanks to a man from the Auvergne region of France named Simon.

According to Dumas, Simon made a fortune fattening up frogs from his region and selling them to Parisian restaurants where frog legs were very much in Fashion.

By the end of the century, frog legs were considered a national delicacy; the English, no doubt, disgusted by its neighbour’s eating habits, have been poking fun at the French for eating frogs ever since.

Something else that may or may not have helped solidify the French stereotype as a frog eater nation may be due to an obscure chef named Donat Pucheu, who commercialized frogs from Rayne, Louisiana, in New Orlean restaurants in the 1800s.

As the story goes, news spread of this new frog delicacy and attracted brothers Jacques and Raymond Weill, who started a frog export business from Rayne and shipped frogs throughout the United States. This put Rayne on the map and earned the city’s moniker of  “Frog City” and sometimes “frog capital of the world.”

For you history buffs, remember, Louisiana was once an old French colony. One can only guess but Americans probably associated frog legs with French cuisine since Louisiana has French roots.

Who ate frogs first?

Although most English people see eating frogs as somewhat “dégueulasse!” (disgusting), a team of archaeologists recently discovered frog bone fragments at an ancient site in Wiltshire, England, not far from Stonehenge, which dates back nearly 10,000 years ago.

That’s 8,000 years before the first documentation of the French eating frogs. 

By the way, if you’re interested, frog legs cost about 30 euros the kilo, about the same price as a lobster. EEEK!

Frog legs - 5 lbs (frozen)
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03/07/2024 02:07 pm GMT

7) ESCARGOT, aka SNAILS: Do French people eat snails?

TRUE, French people do eat a lot of snails as a whole, but mainly at a certain time of the year.

No French stereotype would be complete without including escargot on the menu—which is simply an edible land Snail.

Like the frog, which is mainly associated with the French, snails as a food source has a long and interesting history.

French stereotypes and cliches: Escargot, land snails

How much Escargot does France consume each year?

Each year, over 16 million kg, 35 million pounds or 424 million escargot are eaten throughout France. (source)

Today, these sluggish, slimy gastropods are a feature in Spanish, Italian and sometimes Greek and Portuguese dishes, but it’s the French who are currently the biggest consumers of edible land snails simply called “les escargots” in France. Despite its popularity, escargot is not really an everyday food in France and not every French person enjoys eating slugs.

It’s mainly devoured in high-end restaurants or around special dinners like Christmas, which explains why more than 2/3 of all escargot sales in France are sold just before the end of the year.

France has over 200 snail farms, known as heliculture; however, to keep up with the high demand for this French delicacy, up to 90% of snails eaten in France are imported from other countries like Greece, Turkey, Romania and Belgium.

Escargot may have first been eaten in what is now known as Spain.

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have been eating snails for thousands of years. The first recorded group of homo sapiens to eat snails was in the Benidorm area of Spain some 30,000 years ago, according to a paper published in the Journal Plos one.

With their vast territory, the Romans, who considered snails an elite food popularized snail-eating across Europe, according to the writing of a famous Roman, Pliny the Elder.

Snails as a food makes sense since they’re not dangerous; they are easy to feed, breed, care for and cook. They’re also surprisingly nutritious for their small size.

How to eat escargot

There are many ways to prepare escargot, but a popular way to eat them in France is to remove them from their shells and cook them with garlic, butter, parsley and wine sauce, a recipe called “Escargots à la Bourguignonne.”  The cooked snails can then be placed back in their shells or on a special dimpled escargot plate along with its delicious sauce.

If eaten out of the shells, a special escargot tong is used to hold the shell in place, while a special two-pronged escargot fork is used to hook the meat, which has a slightly chewy texture. Otherwise, a small fork will work just fine. And finally, bread should always be on hand to soak up all the wonderfully rich and buttery garlic herb sauce, which in my opinion, makes everything taste wonderful.

Cooking escargot at home

In France, you can find frozen escargot seasoned with a sauce already stuffed in their shells ready to be baked and canned snails with a carton of empty shells ready for you to stuff.

Prices vary but usually cost around 16 Euros for about 70 snails.

If you’re not in France, you can order canned escargot and frozen escargot online or in specialty stores. And of course, you’ll need the special escargot plate and serving forks to eat these delicious jewels.

Escargot Festivals

There are escargot festivals throughout France at different times of the year; however, the biggest snail festival is in Spain, not France.

Aplec del Caragol (The Snail Meeting) in Lleida, Spain, is the most popular snail festival in Europe and maybe the world. Over 12 tonnes of snails are cooked and eaten over the course of three days.

Bon appétit!

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02/18/2024 05:46 pm GMT

8) WINE: Do French People Really Drink A lot Of Wine?

Yes, French people do drink a lot of wine!

The world considers France a nation of wine drinkers and producers, and most French people would probably agree with you.

Wine is one of the symbols of French culture, tradition and gastronomy—and it shows. According to the wine institute, French people consume about 42.50 litres of wine per person per year. Compared to the united states, where 10 litres are consumed per person per year. And in France, almost 60% of all alcohol consumed wine, 16%  is beer, and the rest (15%) are other types of liquor.

Wine is not just for fancy dinner parties; it’s an everyday thing and can be very casual.

Pop into any French bistro for lunch or your average everyday restaurant, and 8 out of 10 people will be sipping on a glass of wine, NOT BEER. Head over to the grocery store, and you’ll see hundreds of types of wine with a paltry selection of beers. That’s because wine IS NOT reserved just for special occasions. Wine is for any occasion, big or small, casual or fancy.

You’ll even see people sipping on wine at the beach in the south of France on a hot day.

 Check out the cool wine glass holder my friend brought to the beach. (pictured below) It’s called a wine glass stake. You stick it in the sand and put your wine glass on it.

French stereotypes and cliches: wine

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Wine production in France is big business.

France produces some of the world’s most famous and finest wines, and its many wine regions have lent their names to some of the world’s most famous grapes—Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhone, Médoc…

According to the Wine Institute, it should be no surprise that France produces 17% of the world’s wine. That’s quite a feat considering its small size.

Many international wine producers actually use grape varieties that originate from France.

With that said, some French people don’t like wine, though; they seem to be a rare breed in France.

9) CHEESE: Do the French love cheese—especially stinky cheese!

True: There is an old French saying “Il existe un fromage différent pour Chaque jour de l’année” which simply means

There exists a different cheese for each day of the year.”

French cliches and stereotypes: French cheese

Actually, there might exist 3 different kinds of cheese for each day of the year if we believe “le Centre National Interprofessionnel de l’Economie Laitière,” the National Interprofessional Centre for dairy economics who claim France produces over 1,200 cheese varieties. Some sources claim the number is even higher.

Either way, no other country can boast as many cheese varieties as France.

With all the different cheese varieties, the average French person can’t know them all; however, they know a lot more than your average tourist.

Your average French person can usually name more than a few dozen types of cheeses off the top of their head, many of which can easily be found in your average French grocery store in France.

Popular or Common Cheeses In France

The list goes on and on……

You can pick up a pre-made cheese plate in French grocery stores like the one pictured below, which I bought at Monoprix for around 11 Euros. Around the holidays, these are extremely popular. 

French cliches and stereotypes: French cheese

The stinkiest French cheese of them all.

If you go to a fromagerie (cheese store), you’ll get a much wider variety of cheeses than a French grocery store and encounter some of France’s notoriously stinky cheeses. One of them being Epoisses, which always makes the top 10 list of stinkiest French cheeses. Put it on your bucket list of things to try. It’s so so good. 

Epoisses-cheese is one of the stinkiest French cheeses in France


How children are exposed to cheese from an early age.

It’s not just adults who can rattle off dozens of cheese varieties. Kids can too, because they’re exposed to all sorts of cheeses at home and school as early as preschool.

For example, a typical French school cafeteria menu will always include a starter, a main dish, followed by a dairy product and dessert. The dairy product is usually cheese. 

Below is a screenshot of a primary school menu for an entire month.

I’ve circled all the cheeses. Notice that 16 out of 20 days offer cheese as that day’s dairy product option—Camembert etc. It sounds more like a cocktail party, doesn’t it? On the days where cheese is not served, yogurt is usually the dairy option. This is pretty typical of most schools in France.

French school menu cheeses

Cheddar cheese is NEVER served at schools in France. In fact, as of this writing, France doesn’t even produce Cheddar cheese.

Milk is never served in schools, only water. Once you get into middle school or high school, the kids will have more beverage options, like coffee or tea, but not always. 

Pick up a cheese book to learn all about the different varieties of cheese.

French Cheeses: The Visual Guide to More Than 350 Cheeses from Every Region of France

I've had this book for years. It's become my favourite French cheese reference book and is like owning a cheese bible.

It lists 350 different kinds of French cheeses, each accompanied by a colour photo, a short description of where and how the cheese is made and a short "essential facts" section that describes its weight, dimensions, milk fat%, the best time to eat, length of ageing, and kind of milk used (cow, ewe, or goat - and raw or pasteurized).

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02/21/2024 06:53 pm GMT

10) STINKY BODY ODOUR: Do French people Smell Bad?

France has a bad reputation when it comes to body odour.  But is it true?

According to historians, there is a grain of truth to this long-lasting cliche.

According to historians, the poor working-class didn’t have access to a decent water supply until the late 19th century, much later than some other countries such as Britain and the US.

French stereotypes and cliches: French people stink, have bad body odour

The contradictory polls on French hygiene: 

A series of studies conducted by BVA Pollsters revealed that 43% of French people admit to not bathing every day. 25% choosing to bath every 2 days. 11% every 3 days and 8% every 4 days.

The French newspaper Le Figaro also found that French people don’t buy very much soap—600 grams of soap per year, while the Germans and the British buy 1.3 and 1.4 kg of soap per year.

The paradox in all of this is that, although les Français don’t wash as much as their European neighbours, they are Europe’s biggest consumers of perfume and deodorants. 80% of women and 67% of women claim to wear deodorant. And let’s not forget that the world’s perfume capital is in a small village in the South of France called Grasse. And the world leader in beauty products.

Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Eau De Toilette Spray

Just as he made the woman in a corset the symbol and bottle of his feminine fragrance, Jean Paul Gaultier transforms the man in a striped sailor's T-shirt into both the symbol and bottle of Le Male Eau de Toilette. Scent Type: Aromatic oriental fern. Key Notes:mint, lavender, vanilla. 4.2 fl oz, 125 ml

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What this interesting video about bad French hygiene, which the French can’t seem to wash off.

The French and hygiene: Why is the negative stereotype so hard to wash off?

11) FRENCH WOMAN: Are all French women slim and fashionable?

Not as much as you think they are.

The French, especially French women, are seen by the rest of the world as enviably slim and effortlessly stylish.

As a woman, I know firsthand how hard it is to live up to your cultural and social norms but having to live up to and maintain the myth of the “perfect French woman” is stressful and actually does more harm than help.

Just ask Sophie, a French woman living in the US, who discusses some of these myths in her article “Living up to the stereotypical French woman in the US.”

Pictured: My daughter on the left going to school. My husband and I on the right in Carmague, surrounded by Pink Flamingos.

The effortlessly elegant and fashionable French woman.

On the one hand, I think French women tend to be more put together, especially in Paris; however, they’re not anywhere as thin or fashionable as the fashion magazines would have us believe.

Using Paris as a benchmark for the rest of France isn’t really fair or realistic either. It would be akin to a tourist visiting San Francisco or New York and making assumptions about the rest of the country based on that one experience.

You might be interested in reading:

99 Useful Things Nobody Tells You About Moving To France But should know

Then there are the people In the South of France, where the culture is entirely different from the rest of France. It’s also where I’ve lived for about a decade. People in the south tend to be more casual. It might be due to the warm weather or proximity to beach culture, or the Mediterranean culture. Either way, people down south dress very differently than up north.

The one thing I can say is that scarves are de rigeur, and nicer shoes tend to be as well. That’s not to say that the French don’t wear flip-flops once in a while, especially in the hotter parts of France.

The matchstick thin French woman.

When it comes to French women being thin—they’re definitely not as obese as their Anglo-Saxon counterparts; however, they’re not matchstick-model thin by any means.

In 2007, Forbes magazine published an article ranking the world’s fattest countries; 198 countries in total were ranked. The article published these numbers based on (WHO) the World Health Organization.  The report reflected the percentage of that country’s population over the age of 15 that was overweight.

What they found was that 40% of France’s population had a BMI > 25 —overweight.

Compared to the US, where 75% of the American population is considered overweight. 64% of the population in the United Kingdom was considered overweight. Nauru topped the list with 94% of its population being overweight, while Ethiopia had the least overweight population at 5%.

You might be interested in reading; 10 Reasons Why French Women Don’t Get Fat: Or Is It A Big Fat Lie!

12) DOG POOP: Is dog poop really everywhere in France?

Dog poop everywhere might sound like an exaggeration, but that’s certainly how it feels. 

If you live in a large city like Paris, Marseille, Montpellier or Lyon, you’ll definitely notice dog poop.

Smaller towns do a better job of keeping their sidewalks clear of dog poop. Maybe because there is a sense of community?

Everyone seems to have their own opinion about why this is such a problem in France. Maybe it has to do with the fact that dogs are extremely popular- people bring their dogs everywhere.

You’ll see dogs in places you wouldn’t think they would be allowed, such as the bus, the tram, the train, the grocery store. I’ve even seen a dog in a shopping cart at Ikea.

One thing is certain- There are a lot of dogs in France, many pick up after their dogs, but many more DO NOT. 

13) OOOH LA LA: Is this really a common French expression in France?

Yes and no, you’ve actually been saying and using it all wrong. 

oh-la-la-French stereotypes

Even if you don’t speak French, you’ve probably heard the expression “OOOH LA LA.” If you thought this was a French expression, you’re half right!

You’ve been saying it all wrong.

There are two ways to say this expression in French 1) “Oh-là-là” and 2) “Ah-là-là” with a few variants. Never ” OOOOH” with the long OOOO sound like you see in the movies. 

1 ) “Oh là là” isn’t said with a long “OOOOOO” sound. Instead, it’s pronounced “Oh” like in the word boat or bone.

Here are a few variations of Oh là là:

  • Oh là là là là là! (the idea is the more “la’s” you add, the more emphasis on the expression or feeling there is)
  • Oh là!
  • Ouh là (pronounced like the OO in the word Boob, but only use one là)
  • Houla! (Same as Ouh-là above): this is just a variant of the spelling I’ve seen in books)

2 ) “Ah là là” Is like the fraternal sister to Oh Là La, and it’s pronounced like the “O” sound in the word Mop or Bop.

Examples of how to properly use the French terms Oh Là Là and Ah-là-la:

OH là là and Ah-la-la doesn’t mean the same thing in French as it does in English.

Non-native French speakers often associate “Oh la la” as a response to something super sexy like “Ooooh Là Là” you look goooooooood.”

In French, the expression oh-là-là or ah-là-là isn’t used in this one dimensional sexy way. It actually has many practical uses. It can express surprise or disappointment, not how sexy or good something is…

OH-Là-La can mean: oh non, oh wow, oh boy, oh damn, oh shoot, wow, amazing, ah maaaan!

  • To show excitement or enthusiasm: I have an extra ticket to see Phantom of the opera.“Oh là la! I’m on my way.
  • To show surprise: I lost 25 kg: “Oh là la! That’s amazing = oh, wow.
  • To show amazement or astonishment: My neighbour was arrested yesterday.“Oh là la! That’s horrible = oh no.
  • To show disappointment: I lost my car keys.Oh là là! Did I lose my car keys again? = Oh no

Ah là là is used similarly to Oh Là Là, but it puts more emphasis on the seriousness of the situation.

  • Ah là là! I hurt myself!
  • Ah là là: He’s getting on my last nerve.
  • Ah là là! That’s amazing.

To emphasize or add intensity to  Oh Là Là or Ah Là La exclamations, simply add a few more “là là” to the end.

  • Ah là là là là là là! I can’t believe I lost my wallet and all my credit cards!
  • Oh là là là là là là! I can’t believe how rude my professor was! 

And just for fun, here’s a popular song from David Tavare that uses the very popular French terms. Oh la la

David tavare Oh la la

The verdict: Are Stereotypes bad?

Whether positive or negative, stereotypes can cause you to pre-define your view of a culture and its people before fully immersing yourself in that culture.

The problem with predefined views is it creates bias, and you end up applying personality traits across an entire culture based on one stereotype.

A positive bias, like French men, are good lovers, can cause you to overestimate the possibility of some aspect of that other culture.

A negative bias, like waiters and servers in France are rude, can cause prejudice and possibly leave you unprepared in certain situations.

Travel and education can go a long way toward lessening biases, understanding people who are different than you and coping with those differences.

Bon courage!

You might be interested in reading about these culture shock examples.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.


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