Most Americans have a collection of stereotypes that come to mind when France or her people are mentioned. Some are good, some are bad, and some are bizarre. Many of these stereotypes are either outdated or simply untrue. Here are several of the more negative stereotypes and the truth about them.
French people have poor hygiene and wear berets
The idea that French women don’t shave, or French people don’t shower came from social movements in the past promoting a more natural way of being. Today, it is uncommon to find an unshaven Frenchwoman or an especially smelly French person. French people care a lot about their appearance, practice good hygiene, and will dress well for even simple outings like grocery shopping or checking the mail. You would never catch a French person wearing sweatpants or similar attire out in public unless they are actually exercising. But usually, even their exercise clothing tends to be trendy and well fitted.
As for berets, very few French people wear them today. In the past they were popular, but just like all fashion trends, popular clothing has changed over the years. You might still find some French people who sport berets, but they are usually on the older side or are wearing it as part of a uniform. Most often today, berets are found as a part of a military uniform or something similar.
French people won’t speak English and hate Americans
Most French people can speak some English, but many are not comfortable doing so. Learning another language is difficult and attempting to speak a foreign language is often intimidating. In addition, many French people who live in popular tourist locations have grown tired of constantly being expected to speak English in their own country. And let’s face it, going to a foreign country and expecting them to accommodate your language needs is pretty rude. The good news is, French people are usually very happy to help foreigners who make an attempt to speak French. You don’t need to learn to say much, just the basics like: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, and excuse me or I’m sorry.
The idea that French people hate Americans is generally inaccurate. You will find a few people in any country who hold prejudices against other groups of people, but they are usually the vast minority. Most French people are actually very interested in American pop culture. In general, the French tend to disagree with many elements of American culture and politics, but usually don’t attach that dislike to Americans themselves without cause. Furthermore, when you consider that French used to be the language of the world in trade and travel, only being replaced with English sometime over the last 150 years, it’s easy to see why there might be some tension at times.
French people are rude
This is one of the most persistent stereotypes about French people. For the most part, it is simply not true. There are several factors that lead people to believe this stereotype. A lot of the misunderstanding comes from a difference in perspective. French people are generally far less expressive of their feelings and tend to state things in a blunt or straightforward manner. This can feel harsh to native English speakers, as we tend to soften our statements and include more nuance. We also tend to overexaggerate things for effect, which is something French people wouldn’t do.
The other factor is where you are in France. In the smaller towns and cities throughout France, most people are welcoming and friendly. But even most French people will say that Parisians tend to be rude. This is very similar to the United States. Most of the country is very friendly and warm to strangers, but major cities are often different. Cities have their own culture that is sometimes fairly different from the rest of the country. New York City, for example, has a reputation of being an unfriendly place. The people of New York City are going to come across as ruder to most people because of the natural culture differences.
French people are cowards
This is a stereotype that has persisted since the era of WWII. The reality is far different from the perception. The French have always been a proud and brave people. In fact, for a very long time, they were one of the world’s major powers. They had many highly successful military campaigns and fought on equal footing with England for multiple centuries. It is true that the government was forced to temporarily surrender to Hitler’s armies in WWII, but that doesn’t mean the people stopped fighting. There were many Frenchmen who journeyed to England to help continue the fight. Many more French people, men and women alike, worked internally in resistance efforts at great personal risk to themselves and their loved ones. This is one stereotype the French people certainly do not deserve.
French people all smoke
While the use of the word “all” is inaccurate, it is true that far more French people smoke than Americans by percentage. While smoking is becoming less popular in the U.S., it is still commonplace in France. Despite this, in recent years the French government has started passing laws about smoking in public places. This means that many restaurants and other similar venues are relatively smoke-free. Although walking down the street you are still likely to see more adults smoking than not.