7 Myths About French People Debunked
Credit: The Local France
There are several clichés that can come to the mind of non-French people when it comes to imagining France and its inhabitants. Some of these stereotypes are flattering for us, others…not so much.
As someone who was born and raised in the South of France, I think that now is the time to sort through these common ideas about our people. From our hygiene habits to our supposed romantic nature, some clichés will be debunked and others confirmed, I will tell you all in good faith I promise.
Bonne lecture à tous.
French people don’t shower often
It’s difficult to know when or why this idea first came up, but this statement doesn’t reflect reality at all. Most French people have an access to a shower or a bathtub in their house or apartment, and I have yet to meet a single one who doesn’t use it daily. As is the case in the vast majority of cultures worldwide, a lack of personal hygiene is indeed very much frowned upon here too.
French women don’t shave
If a woman happened to show up on a beach or at a local swimming pool with unshaved armpits and legs, what do you think would happen if the scene took place in France ?
The truth is that people would be surprised, she may even be leered at. It’s not common at all for a French women not to shave. We might have be a little more lax about shaving our legs during the winter I concede, but the rest of the time we DO shave or wax just like the majority of women who live in Western countries. It’s also interesting to note that this habit also applies to a growing number of men here. A survey found that 84% of the French women interviewed preferred men who shaved their chest hair.
French people smoke
Okay, this one definitely holds some truth. The percentage of adults who also happen to be regular smokers is higher in France than in the US, (30% for France and 20% for the United States according to a survey in 2015). All the adults in my family (myself included) are smokers, and around half of my friends and acquaintances smoke too. Asking someone to give you a "clope", or to lend you a lighter for your cigarette are very common ways to break the ice with someone that you barely know during a party.
The social stigma associated with smoking that exists in America isn’t as prevalent here. We do know of course that smoking is unhealthy and many smokers actively take measures to quit, but that being said we don’t tend to think of smoking as something disgusting or trashy. Smoking isn’t perceived as any more wrong than other habits such as a lack of sleep or a lack of exercise.
French people are slim
It is indeed quite rare to meet a French person who is really overweight, but the same can also be said about meeting a French person who is really skinny. France is just like his other European neighbours: a land of many people of average weight.
The average BMI in France is 23.2 for women and 23.9 for men, which basically means that most French people are within the healthy BMI range, but are by no means skinny.
We are average "Jean" and "Jeanne", but most of us aren’t happy about it. The cultural pressure to get slimmer and remain that way is substantial here. The comments that a chubby French person receives are often quite blunt and unforgiving, often coming from family or even coworkers. For example, I weigh 62 kilos and I am 1m72 tall (136 lbs for 5 ft 6). It means that my BMI is a healthy 21, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t get frequent remarks because of my size (from my slimmer family members in particular).
In several other countries, people wouldn’t think much of it, but here in France I am, "à la limite", which means that I would be socially considered overweight if I were to put on more weight.
To sum up, we aren’t as slim as non-French people may think, but we wish we were.
French people are romantic
If a foreign person came to France with the hope of finding a partner with the soul of a poet, they wouldn’t be any more likely to find him/her here than in their homeland. If you happen to find the French accent to be appealing, then you will find what you are looking for, but that’s basically it. Romantic dinners with one’s lover are more the exception than the rule, and here like everywhere else they are reserved to special occasions. In reality, the roses are sold to the tourists in restaurants, and most people find the sound of the accordion to be annoying.
French people are fashion addicts
Not any more or less than the others I’m afraid. While it may be true that people seem to dress a little less casually in some parts of Paris than in the rest of the country, trousers and a simple t-shirt or shirt are still the most common outfit for informal events. Some parents still wear their pajamas when they come to pick up their kids after school. I have witnessed it more than once. So much for the "French fashion addicts."
French people eat frog legs and snails
These dishes do exist in our culinary heritage, but they aren’t eaten on a regular basis. Believe me, we do understand why these are perceived as revolting by our non-French counterparts. I would eat escargots only if I lost a bet and had to try them. I have only tasted frog legs once when I was younger, and it had a flavour that I found to be similar to that of chicken. It was quite tasty with garlic and parsley but nothing exceptional.
Are there any other French myths I should debunk? Let me know in the comments.