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.