French people often get a bad rap.
Americans and even other Europeans like to joke that they’re a lazy group of people who spend their time going on strike or going on vacation.
My mum was born in France, I have many French relatives, and I have visited the country many times.
Here’s my attempt to counter some of the myths out there about French people.
All French women are chic and fashionable.
Yes, you’re likely to run into a number of well-dressed women on the streets of Paris and St. Tropez.
But there’s more to France than just the big name cities, and I can assure you that there are plenty of women who live in smaller cities and towns in the countryside who aren’t particularly concerned with whether they’re wearing Dior or H&M.
French women don’t shave.
According to a Quora thread, this rumour originated during WWII when American soldiers returned home and claimed that French women were hairy. Even if this is true, that was a while ago, and it’s safe to say that French women today do shave — trust me, I’ve seen enough of them on French beaches to know this.
Sure, there are probably some who choose to go au naturale, but that’s not an inherently French thing; there are some American women who make that same choice.
French men are effeminate.
Effeminate should not be confused with having some sense of style. The most obvious example I can think of to dispell this notion is the fact that some French men wear scarves. In the US, scarves are seen as an accessory more commonly worn by women than by men. In France, they’re more unisex. It’s as simple as that. Just because French men wouldn’t be caught dead in basketball shorts and a T-shirt doesn’t mean they’re any less masculine for it.
The French are lazy and don’t work more than 35 hours per week.
While there is in fact a 35-hour work week law in France — known as loi Aubry — it’s gone through a lot of changes in recent years and now it’s basically a threshold or a minimum for workers, that once exceeded, leads to paid overtime for employees.
And according to the Guardian, France is more productive than both Britain and Germany, and the number of hours the French have worked in recent years has increased. In 2012, full-time employees in France worked an average of 39.5 hours per week. Maybe the French don’t work as much as the Americans, but contrary to popular belief, they also don’t spend their life on vacation.
People only eat snails and frog legs.
France has some amazing dishes. Although escargot (snails) and cuisses de grenouilles (frog legs) are French delicacies, they’re far from a staple in the French diet. I’ve been to France multiple times and have only had snails once and have never even tried frog legs. In reality, some French staples would be very appealing to the average American: steak and fries, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, and chocolate croissants, just to name a few.
The French are rude or unfriendly.
Being both French and German, I’ve noticed that this misconception applies not only to the French but other Europeans as well. In the US, people are overly friendly; we smile a lot, start up conversations with strangers, and sometimes even make promises we know we’re not going to keep (ie when you see someone and say “we have to grab coffee,” but you don’t really mean it). When you’re used to this, the French can seem a little cold. They’re just more reserved and take more time to open up to others. And when they do open up, you know it’s genuine.
The French don’t like Americans.
It’s not that the French don’t like Americans in general. They just don’t like Americans who don’t make any effort to speak their language. Some — not all — Americans assume that everyone around the world speaks English, so when they visit a foreign country they don’t even attempt to learn any of that country’s language. The French resent this attitude and become frustrated when an American just starts speaking to them in English without so much as a “parlez vous anglais?” (do you speak English?), which leads me to my next point.
No one in France speaks English.
There are definitely other European countries that speak more English than France, but that doesn’t mean that the French don’t speak it all. Especially in big cities like Paris, many people speak English very well. But even in small towns, people speak the language. My sister spent close to a year teaching English to grade school children in a small town in France, so some French schools start teaching it even earlier than American schools start teaching foreign languages.
The idea that the French don’t speak English most likely comes from the fact that not all French particularly enjoy speaking English. Many French people are more likely to listen to an American stumble through a sentence in French, than to launch into broken English themselves.
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