Top French StereotypesTrue Or False?

Top French Stereotypes and Cliches infographic

French women are hot and dress well but have hairy armpits and stink. French men wear berets, striped shirts are rude, romantic and good lovers. Sound confusing? Let’s get to the bottom of these absurd and contradictory French stereotypes and clichés. I decided to get to the bottom of the more well known French stereotypes and Clichés to confirm or dispel them one by one by examining each one and breaking them down. ..

Top 10 French Stereotypes: As Viewed From The Rest Of The World.

I am sure you’ve heard at least one or two stereotypes about the French but do you really believe they are true?  And here’s another thing. For those of you who have never been to France or met a TRUE FRENCH PERSON IN THE FLESH, where did you learn about these silly stereotypes?

We may never know but I think we can thank the media, fashion magazines and Hollywood movies in part for totally messing with our minds and giving us ridiculously conflicting images about the French.  So to help better inform the world, I decided to clear the air. 

1- French People Wear Berets:

False

Top French Stereotypes Do French-beret-striped-shirt

If you think that you will see gaggles of French men wearing the iconic French beret than you must also think that most Americans wear cowboy boots or fanny packs (fanny is a bad word in British English).

Sure a small percentage of French people really do wear berets but in all my time spent living in France, (over 5 years) I have seen less than a handful of beret wearing French folks. Wearing a beret with a striped shirt, well that is even more rare.

Berets are for the elderly and fashion conscience women in Paris.

A beret wearing French person is so rare that when I do see someone wearing a beret, I feel inclined to photograph them like some rare breed of animal.  (see photos above). At the Berlin Zoo in Germany, I saw a woman who looked to be about 60 + wearing a white beret AND of all things a striped shirt. (very rare to see these combos together). I followed her around like a deranged stalker until I was able to discreetly take the above picture while she was peacefully looking at the swans. YES, she was French because I eves dropped on her conversations and heard her speaking French.

I also once saw an elderly man well into his 70’s walking a Chihuahua wearing a black beret in Hyeres France. (pictured above).

Other than that, I’ve only really seen a few women in Paris wearing berets but they were usually dressed to kill looking like the typical French image many people have of French women which is another rare occurrence in and of itself.

2- French Woman all dress well:

False

The stereotype that all French women dress like super models straight out of vogue magazine is just ludicrous.

We live in a small town near the Mediterranean sea and  people here dress pretty much the same way they did back in the US and Canada with one small caveat.

The French do wear lot’s of scarves. They tend to wear nicer shoes and their everyday attire tends to be slightly dressier and pulled together  but nothing even close to the images we see in the media or in fashion magazine.

Now if you go to Paris, you’re definitely going to see dressier people but all of of France does NOT dress like a Parisian. Just like people from Boise Idaho don’t dress like they are from Greenwich Village New York. .

3- French Women Never Shave:

False

I’m sure there are women who don’t shave in France but why people think all French women don’t shave is beyond me.This weird generalization is just not true. There are no more women in France that don’t shave than there are in the U.S., Canada, Australia or any other country that believes in shaving.

I have known more women in Santa Cruz California who did not shave than I do in France. I know zero women in France who do not shave.. I know it’s zero because I asked my French friends point blank and they were almost insulted when I posed the question.

4- French People Smell Bad:

False

HUH? French people are just like you and me. They practice hygiene and take baths or showers at least once a day. True at one point in time eons ago during the middle ages they didn’t bath daily but neither did the English and a bunch of other countries too.

5- French People Wear Striped shirts:

False

The idea that hordes of French people wear striped shirts is another stereotype that people have latched onto and perpetuated over time. Sure you see people wearing this iconic French shirt once in a while however it’s not as popular as it once was.

The striped shirt is actually called the Breton shirt as we know it today. It was the official uniform for the French navy seamen in Brittany following the 1858 Act of France. Originally, there were 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories. Some people say that the distinctive block pattern and stripes made the sailors easier to spot in the water if they ever fell overboard.

coco channel wearing one of her famous striped shirts that made the style popular and haut couture

In 1917, Coco Channel changed the fashion industry and immortalized the striped shirt when she introduced the design in her nautical collection to the fashion world. Soon after the famous French striped sailor design became associated with haute fashion and beautiful women like Brigit Bardot and Audrey Hepburn were seen wearing striped shirts.

Ever since, the striped shirt comes in and out of fashion and has become the epitome of Paris style. Very few people even make the connection between French sailors and striped shirts any more but now you know.

6- French People Walk Around Holding Baguettes:

True

Big towns, little towns, remote towns. They all have boulangeries and probably more than one. I literally cannot go more than a few blocks in our town without seeing a few boulangeries.

It’s not uncommon to see people before work and after work lining up to get fresh baguettes and holding them under their arms or in their bags walking around.

Baguettes are addicting and if you live in France you will also adopt this way of eating and living.

7- The French Smoke A lot:

True

I have seen off duty bus drivers in France smoking inside the bus. I have sat next to people in restaurants while their cigarette smoke was visibly floating in my five year old daughters face. I have passed gaggles of people standing outside of the bank smoking cigarettes before they go back to their desks. I have ……….

well you get the picture right?

There are a few laws in place that restrict smoking in some places but basically France is where the U.S. was 10 years ago in terms of smoking. For the moment a lot of French people do smoke but I think, hope in a few years less and less people will smoke in France.

8- French People Drink A lot Of Wine:

True

Wine is super cheap in France. When I say cheap, I don’t mean in quality I mean in price.

You can buy a good bottle of wine in France for 2 to 10 euros which is roughly 2.60 to 13 US or Canadian dollars. Sure you can buy more expensive wine when you need to but you don’t have to. Some bottled waters cost more than bottles of wine, it’s just unreal.

At lunch you will most definitely see people sipping on a glass of wine NOT BEER. When you go to a French persons house, they always offer wine especially with diner. Wine is a big part of French culture so yes, thankfully this stereotype is true.

Having said that, some people don’t drink wine in France but the scales are definitely tipped in the other direction.

9- The French Eat Escargot and Frog Legs:

True, kind of!

This is one of those fuzzy areas because not everyone eats escargot and frog legs in France.

Yes you can get it in restaurants and it is certainly more common in France than in say the U.S. or Canada but it’s not an everyday food. We usually find it in French restaurants but to be honest It’s just not an everyday food item. You can find frog legs and escargot at many open markets and supermarkets in France. At our supermarket, they even sell frozen bags of escargot. MMMMM. But these two French delicacies are usually reserved for special occasions like a big diner party or a holiday meal.

10- The French are Snobby & Rude:

False.

Of all my French friends, some are kind, some are funny, some are serious but none of them are rude. So why and how this stereotype started, I can only guess.

So here it goes. I think that this stereotype started because many tourists only come in contact with French people in certain environments. In a restaurant with a busy French waiter who wants to only take your order. At the airport, in banks. But this is not how most French people act in everyday life.

It would be like saying all Americans are rude because the postal worker who is American was rude to you.

Bonus: 11- The French Eat A Lot Of Cheese:

True

Top French Stereotypes French eat loads of cheese

Yes French people do eat a lot of cheese. Usually the cheese section in supermarkets is huge. When we go to the home of our French friends they usually offer us cheese.

Cheese is practically institutionalized in the schools.

Top Stereotypes About The French: My daughters menu at schools which clearly shows all the cheeses she eats.

Cheese is such a big part o French life and culture that even at the preschool level eating cheese and lots of it is reinforced.

For example, above is a photo of my daughters pre-school menu. Notice how many times cheese is served per week. (3 to4 times per week. When cheese is not served, yoghurt is served in it’s place.

They don’t serve garden variety cheese either, they serve the type of cheese you would associate with adults at a cocktail party like Brie, Camembert, Emmental, Compté, Mimolette, Gouda and a bunch more that you have probably never heard of. Cheddar is NEVER served at the schools and I have yet to see a hamburger served at my daughters school.

Conclusion

Stereotypes can be funny for sure but they can also be damaging and hurtful too.  Whatever you’ve heard about the French or for any other nationality, I hope you will take it with a grain of salt because many are just  not true or extremely exaggerated.

Please feel free to use the infographic I created at the top of this post and share it on Facebook too. It helps drive traffic to this site.

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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