Top French Stereotypes And Cliches The French Are Tired Of Hearing About-Explained

infographic French stereotypes and cliches explained.
It's understandable for someone who grew up outside of France to believe some of the French stereotypes that seem to transcend time, however, have you ever wondered if they were true or not? Have you ever wondered how or when 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.

Stereotype or French identity?

Most of us are familiar with all the French stereotypes and cliché's which can be 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?

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My Experience with French people and stereotypes while living in France

Here's the thing, to the French, many of these stereotypes are exaggerated, archaic and outdated while others are puzzling to them. Some French people are even unaware of certain stereotypes like the one about French people being stinky.

I've lived in France since 2011 and here is what I can tell you..

  • I've rarely seen anyone wear a "striped French shirt".
  • 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.
  • I've only seen frog legs on a restaurant menu a few times— once in Lyon, once in Marseille and a few times in Paris.

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infographic French stereotypes and cliches explained.
This got me thinking about the origins of these cockamamie stereotypes. 

It's easy to forget, even the French forget, the origins, history and stories behind some of France's most notorious stereotypes. 

So I decided to get to the bottom of some of Frances most pervasive French stereotypes and clichés. Most of which the French are sick and tired of hearing about.

Except for the wine stereotype of course. And maybe the cheese one too. But of course!

1) FRENCH BERET:

Does The average French man wear the stereotypical French beret hat?
Sorry but no! Your average everyday Frenchman does not go around wearing a beret. Not anymore at least.
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 definitely see military personnel patrolling hot-spots like the Eiffel tower in formations of 3 or 4, always wearing a beret and always holding a standard assault rifle. Which 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?
How did the beret-wearing Frenchman stereotype start?

The beret as we know it today—  the round flat hat with a close-fitting headband (sometimes with a pointy tab on top), first became popular in France back in the 1500 and 1600’s and were made of felted wool which was cheap, easily accessible, weatherproof and easy to make—a combination that made the beret very popular amongst France’s poorest working classes— artists, peasants, farmers, Shepard's etc.

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

Despite the beret's popularity amoungst France's poor working class back in the 1500's and 1600's, the world didn’t associate the beret with the French just yet. That came 300 years later, in the 1800’s, and we owe it all to the Brits and the French onion farmers from the tiny area around the Breton port of Roscoff France.

From the 1820’s to the second world war, onion farmers and farm labourers from Roscoff —who usually wore black or dark blue felted wool berets —travelled the 200 or so kilometres across the English channel in boats filled with their harvest of pink Roscoff onions.

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.

French stereotype and cliches:: Roscoff onions and the onion Johnny

Many of the French onion sellers from Brittany carried the name of Jean, Yann and Yannick —the English equivalent of Jean and Yann being 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.

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

These Onion Johnnies—with their berets and bikes laden 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 but 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 if you're interested, you can read about them in this onion johnny book. Or you can visit the onion johnny museum in Roscoff France.

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 the classic white and black or blue and white striped shirts?

Yes kind of but No not as much as they used!

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 tourist 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.

French stereotype and cliches: The French striped shirt

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.

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 fairly 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.

Are you seeing a theme here? Many of the modern French stereotypes were probably started by the British, thanks to it's 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. She said at the time, sailors didn’t wear underwear so the long shirt acted as protection and as their main undergarment.

Other sources claim its length had other benefits such as hiding a sailors butt crack when they bent down or kneeled as they worked. And still, others claim 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 which had to be twice as wide as the 20 or 21 navy blue stripes. The sleeves were to have 15 white stripes and 14 or15 navy blue stripes (source).

French stereotype and cliches: The French striped shirt
1916- Coco Chanel

Nobody knew at the time that this modest sailors undergarment 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.

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" and 3 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.

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French stereotype and cliches: The French striped shirt

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 do you'll be ruined!

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

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 very interesting history and has become as much a part of the French identity as cheese, wine and gastronomy, despite being a relatively new invention.

French stereotype and cliches: Baguettes
Baguette consumption in France

100 years ago, the average French person devoured 3 baguettes per day per person.  These days, French people eat fewer baguettes, roughly one half of 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. In smaller French towns, you don't have to walk far before you stumble upon a baker selling bread.

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. Something I am quite guilty of doing. My daughter, on the other hand, tends to tears off the equivalent of a forearm.

The baguette is a fairly new invention

The baguette as we know it today, made with white flour, elongated shape and fluffy interior didn’t exist until the 19th century.  Prior to 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 was not very well liked.

How and when did the baguette get invented?

There are several stories about how the baguette was born.

One story claims Napoleon’s bakers created the baguette because he wanted a bread that his soldiers could easily carry in the pockets of their coats.

Another story which sounds more plausible is that the baguette is a descendant of Viennese bread. According to legend, In 1839, August Zang, an Austrian man opened up a boulangerie in Paris and introduced Parisians to elongated and oval shaped Viennese bread which were 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.

Boulangerie_Viennoise-Zang's-bakery-in-paris

Gradually over time, the recipe evolved and milk was eventually eliminated from the bread recipe, which to this day has made baguettes very affordable in France—less than one Euro.

By the 1960’s, the image of the French baguette and the term baguette became 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”. Be warned, you’ll be ruined because 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 rude or snobby?

Some would argue this 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 which found that most travellers found the French to be rude.

For a long time, I actually believed this but now I've come to understand that what most visitors take for rudeness or arrogance is just a cultural misunderstanding.

Don't believe me? Many Anglophones are rude without ever knowing it in France.

For example, did you know that by not saying bonjour ( hello) before starting a conversation in France at a store, in a shop, at the grocery store checkout line, you are 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 politeness is.

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.

Rude or bad customer service

Tourists often complain about rude or poor customer service in restaurants in France but again, it’ 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, being left like this might be considered lazy or bad service which often happens when visitors come to France.

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5) SMOKING IN FRANCE:

Is France a chain-smoking nation?

It depends on what you consider chain smoking!

French stereotype and cliches: Smoking in France

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

The data on smoking in France

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% is rather alarming however there are other countries that 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

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 then 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 restaurants terraces while their cigarette smoke is visibly floating in my daughters 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 to the visitor who comes to France.

6) FROG LEGS:

Do French people eat frogs?

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 in English to refer to the French—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 simply means roast beef. Mainly because that's what a lot of French people associate with the English. It's a wonder why Americans aren't called "le bacon" but I digress.

Frog legs in France

Frog legs or “Les cuisses de grenouille”

Even though eating frogs 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 speciality 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 Frog legs. And it's actually quite difficult to find in French grocery stores and butcher shops.

But here are the facts on frog consumption in France

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.

That's a lot of frogs. French producers cannot keep up with demand so France must import most its frog meat from Indonesia which is 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 is in the Annals of the Catholic Church 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 and no birds which meant frogs were faire game since they were neither and therefore didn't count as meat.

Alexandre dumas grand dictionaire

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 1600's but it really took off in France in the 1700's 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..(source)

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

something else that may or may not have helped solidify the French stereotype as a nation of frog eaters may be due to an obscure chef named Donat Pucheu who commercialised frogs from Rayne Louisiana in the restaurants of New Orleans in the 1800's. 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, which 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 that many Americans 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 say, if you're interested, frog legs cost about 30 euros the kils, about the same price as lobster. EEEK!

7) ESCARGOT aka SNAILS:

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.

“Escargots” are simply edible land snails.

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
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 were in the Benidorm area of Spain some 30,000 years ago according to a paper published in the Journal Plos one.

The Romans, with their vast territory, then popularized snail eating across Europe and according to the writing of a famous Roman, Pliny the Elder, considered snails an elite food. Snails as a food makes sense since they're not dangerous, are easy to feed, breed, care for and cook. They’re also surprisingly nutritious for their small size.

France Escargot consumption

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.

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

In spite of 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 of this French delicacy, up to 90% of snails eaten in France are imported from other countries like Greece, Turkey, Romania and Belgium.

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 a 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 at home

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

If you’re not in France, you can order canned escargot and frozen escargot online or at specialty stores. In France, they usually cost around 16 Euros for about 70 snails.

you can buy canned snails and frozen snails at French grocery stores and online
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There are escargot festivals throughout France at different times of the year, however, the biggest snail festival of all 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!

8) WINE:

Do French People 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, 10 litres is consumed per person per year. And almost 60% of all alcohol consumed in France is Wine, 16%  is beer and the rest (15%) is other types of liquor.

But you don’t need data to convince you of this fact.

It’s evident the French love to drink wine, everywhere you go in France. You don't need a fancy poll to tell you that.

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 can and is drunk for any and all occasions 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

You might not find very many French people with dedicated wine refrigerators, however, most of the people I know always have a few bottles of wine on hand.

Wine production in France is big business

France produces some of the worlds 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…

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

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

With that said, there are some French people who don’t like wine however they seem to be a rare breed in France.

9) CHEESE:

The French love cheese—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, it’s impossible for the average French person to 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 & Common Cheeses In France

 

The list goes on and on……

Sometimes, usually around the holidays, you can pick up a pre-made cheese plate like the one pictured below which I bought at Monoprix for around 11 Euros.

French cliches and stereotypes: French cheese

If you go to a fromagerie (cheese store), you’ll get a much wider variety of cheeses 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.

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

Children are taught about cheese too.

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 at school as early as preschool. 

For example, a typical French school cafeteria menu which always includes a starter, a main dish, followed by a milk product and dessert.

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

I’ve circled all the cheeses. Notice that 16 out of 20 days have cheese for the milk product of the day but not your garden variety cheese. Brie, Goudha, Blue cheese Camembert etc. Sounds more like a cocktail party, doesn’t it? On the days where cheese is not served, yoghurt is served as the milk product. This is pretty typical at 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 probably because the kids are served cheese instead. Instead, water is served to French students.

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

10) STINKY BODY ODOUR:

Do French people have body odour and Smell Bad?

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

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.

Although les Français do not 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.

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

And let’s not forget that the perfume capital of the world is in a small village in the South of France called Grasse.

So do the French stink or smell bad?

Only if you stand next to someone who hasn’t showered or has no deodorant on a hot day. But isn’t that true of everyone?

11) SLIM FASHIONABLE 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 own cultures 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”.

fashionable-french-stereotype

So are the French effortlessly elegant and always thin?

On the one hand, I do 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. 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.

Then there are the people In the South of France, where I live who tend to be a bit more casual. It might be due to the weather or it’s 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 nice shoes tend to be as well.

Are French women all thin?

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

In 2007, Forbes magazine published an article ranking the worlds 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 and the United Kingdom had 64% of the population was considered overweight. By the way, the country of Nauru topped the list with 94% of its population being overweight while Ethiopia had the least amount of overweight people 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 largish 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 that 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 fact is certain. There are a lot of dogs in France and a lot of people don’t pick up their dog’s poop.

13) OOOH LA LA:

Do French people really use the French expression “ooh la la”?

Yes and no, read on to learn what I mean

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 actually half right and half wrong. 

You’ve been saying it all wrong.

First of all, French people don’t say OOOH Là La.  

Instead, the French say something very similar to OOOH Là Là, (which probably got lost in translation). Actually, there are two very similar sounding expressions which are…

  1. “Oh là là: It’s not said with a long “OOOOOO” sound. Instead, it’s pronounced “OO” like in the word boob and sometimes “O” like in the word bone. 
  2. Ah là la: Is very similar and can be considered the fraternal sister to Oh Là La  

Meaning of Oh là là and Ah là la

Oh Là La and Ah Là La are two very useful EXCLAMATIONS which can be used for practically any situation depending on how you say it.

Here are a few examples of how they could be translated depending on the phrase.

Oh dear! oh wow! oh my! wow! oh boy! yikes! yay! damn it! ooh! woohoo! oh man! oh lord! WTF! Ah man! Ah shucks!

Here are a few ways Oh là là can be written.

  • Oh là là !
  • Oh là!
  • Ouh là
  • Ouh là là
  • Houla! (this is my favourite way to say it)
It doesn’t mean the same thing in French as it does in English

Anglophone countries tend to associate “Oh la la” as a response to something super sexy like “Ooh Là Là” you look goooooooood”.

In French, it’s not used like that and has many more practical uses but mainly it’s used as surprise or disappointment, not for something sexy.

Here are some examples of how to use Oh Là Là properly.:

  • 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! I lost my car keys? = Oh no

Ah là là

Ah Là Là is used similarly to Oh Là Là but is used if you want to put 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 add extra intensity or to emphasise your  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 just for fun, here’s a popular song from David Tavare that uses the very popular French terms. Oh la la

Conclusion: Stereotypes, are they bad?

With regards to travelling, stereotypes, whether positive or negative can cause you to predefine your view of a culture and its people before fully immersing yourself in that culture.

The problem with predefined views is it can create a bias and you end up applying personality trait 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 in France are rude, can cause prejudice and possibly leave you unprepared for certain situations.

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

Bon courage mes amis!

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

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and author of THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE: an expat travel and lifestyle blog featuring destination guides, inspiration, travel tips, personal advice and anecdotes on working, living and playing in France. ( Equal parts weird, wacky and wonderful).

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