Debunking 9 Weird French Stereotypes (From a Local): It’s Time for Revelations

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So you’ve probably heard of a ton of French stereotypes. But which of them are true? And which of them are “poudre de perlimpinpin”? Having lived in France for years here’s what you should know.

Note: this is a post shedding light on the diverse and nuanced reality of French culture. This is just my interpretation. Of course you cannot resume an entire people to a single belief. There are nuances. Take it with a grain of salt. Aller go.

French Stereotypes

Myth #1- Do the French Wear Berets?

The image of every French person parading  a beret and striped shirt is a caricature rather than a reality. Probably made even more popular by Emily in Paris. I think there may have been a point where berets were fashionable, but nowadays they are sold at souvenir stores and mostly tourists will wear them.

Also I’m not sure where the striped shirt myth came from. Whenever I think of striped shirts I think of the men with the oars on the Venice gondola. While I’m not denying French people don’t wear striped shirts, it’s more of a cool effortless classic piece they style versus a caricatural striped shirt (if you know what I mean).

Myth #2- Are French People Nice and Polite?

One of the French stereotypes that the French are polite and formal in their interactions is generally true. French society places importance on etiquette and manners. For example if you enter a shop you should day Bonjour even if no one answers back.

One time I entered a hair shop. Said bonjour. A few moments later I hear the cashier complaining “people are not saying bonjour”. I told her I told her bonjour. She then said “not you”.  Then this other woman was like: “are you talking about me?” Then started an argument with another “Are you calling me uneducated and not well raised”.  To which she retorted: “I never said that”.

I was kind of incredulous of the situation like damn all this because of bonjour.

The funny thing is when the woman was paying she was asked her name to find her loyalty card. And then the cashier responded with “oh you’re from such an such village” based on her name to which she responded “yes how did you know”. And then they started bonding over this little village and I’m just like Girl WHAT just happened. Well that ended well now their bff’s.

The moral of the story: GUYS please say bonjour whenever you enter a store or any place, it’s seen as disrespectful if you don’t. Even if nobody answers you back at least you did your job. And I doubt your name will save you.

The Myth of Café Culture:

The people of France have a known passion for coffee and café culture. French cafés serve as social gathering places where individuals come together to savor espresso and engage in conversations. It’s a quintessential part of French daily life.

Myth #4- Are French People Fashionable?

The stereotype portraying the French as stylish is widely recognized. In reality French fashion has has always been knows for classy sophistication of “je ne sais quoi”. Paris often referred to as the fashion capital of the world is home to fashion houses such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior. The French prioritize quality over quantity and prefer investing in timeless crafted pieces that never go out of style.

Something that I noticed a lot is that whilst other countries will buy a piece for the visible brand and logo. The French on the other hand will go with quality pieces where the brand logo isn’t visible. They will then style it accordingly. You will never see a French person walking as a brand logo billboard.

Myth #5- Are French People Rude?

One widespread stereotype is that the French are rude or unfriendly. In reality, politeness and social etiquette are highly valued in French culture.

It’s a known thing to greet your neighbors with a “Bonjour” when you see them in the elevator or in the downstairs hall and leave it at that.  Back to the myth of rudeness, I can see how their brutally honest and raw words can be interpreted as rudeness by some though, but I don’t think their intention is to be rude.

Recently I was at a supermarket, and the man in front of me in the queue (perhaps a Spanish tourist)  was trying to ask the cashier if he could use a box from the fruit and vegetables he found to carry his purchases. He began to explain and English with “excuse me I don’t speak French can I”… Before he could finish the cashier interrupted and dismissed him with a “Je parle pas anglais”. That was that.

There was an uncomfortable silence as the tension shifted. I was looking in front of me and no one stepped in, so I explained in French. And the people said “of course he can use the boxes either way they will throw them”. I felt pretty bad for the man who clearly embarrassed. He did thank me and I apologized about the situation.

Looking back at things:

I don’t think the cashier was purposefully trying to be rude and hurt the man’s feeling he was just being brutally honest: he doesn’t know English.

I do think it could have been handled better. Would I have been upset if it happened to me and I was in a foreign country, and nobody stepped in. Yes probably. But then again, I don’t think there was malicious intent. He just didn’t know English and made that clear. This was also at a low-cost supermarket where customer service isn’t exactly the best for both locals and foreigners alike.

This was in Paris. It’s a known thing that if you go outside of the big cities the mood tends to be lighter and people are more friendly. This is known for any big city, London, New York etc.. When I lived in the UK it was a known thing that Northerners were much friendlier than Londoners, and I experienced this secondhand. Haha I mean random ladies would call me “love” “you alright love?” not in a creepy way, it took me a while to get used to haha. I wouldn’t dream of that happening in London.  It’s not personal, it’s just helped by being in a city which is fast paced versus more relaxed and laid-back smaller town.

So despite this incident I don’t think the French are rude, just brutally honest. I also think if you start at least with a French greeting or with their language they will be more receptive to help.

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Myth #6- Are French People Lazy?

The stereotype of the “lazy French” is far from accurate. French workers are known for their productivity, and the country maintains a strong work ethic. The 35-hour workweek, for example, is balanced by efficient work practices. Unlike American which is very corporate pushed with 40+ hour workweeks the French will do the work but also make sure they get in that quality.

Contrary to the perception of a hard-cord work culture like in the U.S, the French prioritize work-life balance. They value leisure time and relaxation.

French employees enjoy generous paid leave, with at least five weeks of paid vacation annually. They also engage in various leisure activities, from leisurely meals to strolls in beautiful parks. The “joie de vivre” (joy of living) is a cherished aspect of French culture.

They will also regularly spend hours socializing with their friends at the cafes after work.

Myth #7- Do the French Complain a lot?

Well ditto this is true. They do it a lot. The verb ‘raler’ means to complain. The French will typically complain about work, the weather, current events. You name it. Strikes and protest are not uncommon, and they are seen as opportunities for social change and progress. While it seems unfair that the country is paralyzed because of strikes, the general people will understand that it’s for a bigger cause and social change. I mean there was a Revolution in 1789 for crying out loud. If you ask which country likes to complain the most- France is definitely up there.

Myth #8- Do the French have Poor English Skills?

Contrary to the belief that the French speak English poorly, many are proficient in English, especially among younger generations. But you will also find people who don’t speak French. So, I say it depends.

Myth #9- Do French People Smoke a lot?

Smoking laws in France are comprehensive and have evolved over the years to discourage smoking and protect public health. Smoking is generally allowed only in designated smoking areas and you can only buy cigarettes in tabacs.

Despite this- do French people still smoke? Yes a lot.

Smoking is still a big thing in society. I’ll be walking on the skinniest sidewalk in the city and some homie will be walking in front of me smoking. And I’ll just get hit with all his second-hand passive smoke. Fabulous.

There’s also been a lot of vaping. This store that used to be a healthy smoothie store in my neighborhood turned into a vape store. The irony. Lol.

Myth #10- Do the French Hate Fast Food?

While French cuisine is celebrated globally, no French people do not hate fast food. It’s cheap and convenient. I live next to one of the biggest McDonald’s literally the only one open after midnight and it’s literally always busy. Lately, I’ve noticed the explosion of kebab chains popping everywhere, these sandwiches are stuffed with everything. Cheese, meat. You name it. It’s cheap and appreciated by students because it’s filling for them.

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Have you been to France? What has your experience been like? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

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About the author

Latifah is a vegan foodie who loves travelling and cooking plant-based recipes. She loves sharing her favorite travel spots and adding a sprinkle of confetti to your day.

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