Wherever the French go, the clichés follow. Even though most of them are harmless and funny, it can be extremely annoying when, in a foreign country, your (false) reputation precedes you in all your social interactions. Here are 5 stereotypes foreigners have of the French that we hate:
“French people are rude and arrogant”
Ah, la France… The world seems to revolve around us. Everybody wants to visit us; our gastronomy is famous all around the world, our history and culture are well-known like no other country’s.
No wonder why our pride can sometimes turn into arrogance, in the eyes of jealous foreigners.
Now, to be serious: the Parisian’s sufficiency is a running gag in the whole country, and Paris is the vitrine of France. Ceci explique cela. Besides, not all regions of France have the same general culture or attitude towards other people. In France, people from the north and people from the south are known for their warm and friendly attitudes.
“French people are lazy”
And the rest of the world is jealous. “La vie est belle“: 35-hour weeks, long paid vacations, constant strikes… From an external point of view, we don’t have anything to complain about. Well, we still do, but only to keep up our reputation of being emanding people.
But, these “advantages” were not granted easily, they were won after long battles. In fact, working less isn’t a privilege for lazy people, but the result of previous hard work (on the social battlefield). And yes, we consider SNCF strikes as a battle, to raise our standards, in terms of working conditions.
“French men are unfaithful skirt chasers, and French women are even worse”
Alright, we all know the story of king Henri 4, le Vert-Galant (which in old French means “adventurous old man”) and his numerous wives and mistresses. This stereotype gives us a very attractive Don-Juanesque aura (even if Don-Juan was Spanish), excellent for Tinder dates.
But saying that is forgetting the French’s romanticism. In love, we are pretty extreme: it goes from the serial womanizer to the languishing lover, ready to sacrifice everything for his only love. In-between, there is an infinity of nuances, as in all other countries.
“The French have poor hygiene”
This one probably comes from the funny anecdotes US WW2 soldiers carried back when they went home, after the Normandy landings. They said French people never bathe, and smells.
Everyone has their priorities: during WW2, some people would use the bathtub to store potatoes, rather than bathe – true story. But, what the soldiers forget to say when they returned to America, is why these potatoes were there, and how French people actually washed. We don’t blame them, telling the truth would have spoiled their joke.
When I asked my grandma about this cliché, she laughed and replied that, in the ’40s-’50s, being seen as dirty was the equivalent of social suicide. Her mother would never let her children go out to see people without proper washing and (over)dressing. What about the potatoes? It was a way to hide them from the Nazi invaders, who requisitioned most of the food.
So, how did they manage to keep good hygiene without a bath? They actually did bathe, but not in the tub! They used a large wash basin instead, every day.
In any case, even today, while you may meet the occasional whiff of body odor in France, especially on the Paris metro, don’t forget that this country is far better known for its delightful fragrances than its bad smells. After all, the southern town of Grasse is a world reference when it comes to perfumes.
Speaking about WW2, here is the last – but most irritating, stereotype:
“The French are cowards and surrender too easily”
“You surrendered to the Nazi army, instead of fighting”. Sure, every single country in the world (except us, because of our legendary laziness maybe) would have fought in a 2nd round, right after losing half of its male youth in a previous war against the same enemy.
People were tired of the slaughter. Most families had already lost a son, a brother, a father. Despite all of this, some of the remaining valid young people, and survivors of WW1 still wanted to fight. But the Marechal Petain (president at this time) wouldn’t let them. So they formed a rebellion, both against their enemy, and their own government. They risked not only their lives in the Résistance, but also their whole family’s lives.
A number of French armed forces made their way to England, fighting for their country under leader Charles de Gaulle. Civilian citizens fought too, in subtle ways we may never know about, as well as by becoming Righteous Among the Nations (people who hid and/or helped Jews escape to safety).
For centuries, France was one of the most significant military powers in the world. William the Conqueror, the American Revolutionary War (we were allies), Napoleon Bonaparte…Today, France is still a great military power, taking part in major world conflicts.
So surrender and cowardice aren’t really a French thing.