Monday, February 7, 2011

French Stereotypes: Vrai ou Faux

      On the first day with a new group of students, it's always fun to discuss both American and French stereotypes, and whether they are vrai ou faux (true or false). The first stereotype that they think of for Americans, without fail, is always presented in the form of five or six students blurting out the word "FAT!" followed by "FAST FOOD!" Or, if it's a weak group of kids with poor English skills: "HOW DO YOU SAY 'FAT'?!" "HOW DO YOU SAY 'FAST FOOD'?!" Ouch. 

          Then, of course, we discuss the stereotypes we hold for French people. The picture I paint for them, mentally speaking, looks a little something like this:

So let's cover these bad boys one by one:

  • Berets: False. Mostly. I've seen a few berets here, perhaps five or six. More than one would see elsewhere, but not everyone wears them all the time, as we would assume. The award for Best Beret definitely goes to a baby in Vieux Lyon, wearing a baby beret. I almost died of cute. 
  • Striped shirts, red neck ties: False, and false. Where did this stereotype come from, anyway? 
  • Never Shaving: False. French women do all shave their armpits and legs. Thank God.
  • Mimes: False. Sorry to crush your conceptions of France, but I have yet to see a mime. Some statue-impersonators and some pretend-robots, but no face-painted, help-I'm-trapped-in-a-box mimes. Which is good, since those are sort of creepy.
  • Baguettes: True. They are wildly popular, much more so than in America. After someone gets off work, they typically stop by a boulangerie, or bakery, for a fresh baguette to bring home for dinner that day. It's extremely common, and extremely French, to see people of all ages walking around with baguettes tucked under theirs arms, on the sidewalk and on the metro. 
  • Smoking: True. Though a lot of laws have been passed within the last ten years to stop the worst offenders (you can't smoke within 20 feet of a hospital, etc), it is still popular. When I leave the high school after a day of work, I walk through a giant cloud of perpetual cigarette smoke from all of the blasé students hanging out outside. One of the biggest culture shock moments for me was at my middle school, when an 11-year-old boy asked a stranger for a cigarette outside of the school. I saw this man unhesitatingly whip out a cigarette, give it to the little boy, and light it. I was dumbfounded.
  • Wine: True. I have tasted some amazing wine while I have been here. The cheapest wine you can buy at the super market for under two euros is better than many more expensive wines in the U.S. Not only is the quality of wine excellent, the people are obsessed with it as a culture. In French supermarkets, the wine aisle extends for four full aisles. It's broken down between Burgundy wines, Loire Valley wines, and all the different subsections. They have devoted nearly a 5th of their store to this. There is not an exact equivalent of a 7-11 in France, but when you find something close to it, half of it is for food, and the other half is for wine, and possibly one bottle of hard liquor. It is kind of awesome.  
  • Good Fashion: True. As I mentioned in one of my last posts, my students wear fur coats. And designer bags. And stilettos, every day, just as most French women do. Belted vests, textured tights... no matter the gender or age, they are sleek and mature looking, and always, always well put-together. 
  • Escargot and Frog Legs: False. I mean, they do eat them, every once and a while. But the stereotype is that they're commonly consumed, and sold everywhere, which is rarely the case. Only high quality restaurants tend to serve either, with frog legs being the rarer of the two. 
Frog legs, which were gross not so much because they were frogs, but because they were fried, and tasted like gross fried fish. I've been told they're supposed to taste like chicken when cooked properly. We have labelled this dubious experience a do-over.


  1. "The cheapest wine you can buy at the super market for under two euros is better than many more expensive wines in the U.S."
    This is absolutely true! My husband and I bought as much wine from the corner stores as we could carry! I love the fact that you can drink wine out in the open. I love France. Paris is the only city I've been to thus far, and I can't wait to go back. I envy you for living there. Un jour, j'irai retour a paris!

  2. "I love France. Paris is the only city I've been to thus far"
    Hum... do you realize this is like saying "I love the US, I've only been to NYC so far" or "I love Australia, I've only been to Sydney" ?
    I mean, come on, Paris is just a very little tiny bit of France, geographically and culturally speaking. There's so much more outside of Paris, some incredible landscapes, food, wines, cities... everything. Hope you'll discover it.

  3. 11 YEAR OLD? Woah. That's scary.

    I would love to be so well put together! Our school had a group of French exchange students, and at the end of 3 weeks, we asked them what they thought the most American, foreign to them-basically just plain WEIRD in their opinion about us American high schoolers-and they pointed at...(I'm ashamed about this) me. Well, more specifically, my shoes. Nike flip-flops (which I wear...nearly every day!). The girls all said that "La mode-elle est tres important pour les filles, et vous?" (I may have blushed profusely...)

  4. The stripped shirt comes from Brittany (the region) and i would say it is true because a lot, and i mean a lot, of people wear them there. You won't see that in Paris though. The shirt is actually spread on the entire coast, and is a common marine shirt.