A cliché is a common, banal, ready-made idea. Like all nationalities, the French also have their stereotypes. Let’s go through 6 of the most common clichés and stereotypes about French people and check if they are true or not.
1. All French people are grumpy
Why the French are never happy and they complain all the time. Everything is always too expensive, too hot, too cold, too big, too small… In French, we can even use “trop” to define a positive thing: “Merci, c’est trop gentil” (it’s too nice), “c’était trop facile” (it was too easy)…
In everyday life, we see that French employees go on strike in September for public transportation, for the start of the school year, for the post office… Moreover, it is well known that demonstrations, for instance the yellow vests, are a national sport!
But talking about happiness, size matters… and depends on the standard of living. The French are surprisingly gloomy compared to their standard of living and the legendary sweetness of life that the world envies us. Thus, in 2019, France was in 24th place in the World Happiness Report, a measure of happiness published each year by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Another indication of this malaise is the consumption of psychotropic drugs and medicines, which remains spectacular: in 2017 they represented the second largest item of expenditure for the Health Insurance, i.e. 20.3 billion euros!
But hey, just have a look at these series, and you will see that French people have plenty of emotions to share !
2. An all-time cliché, French people are posh
The French people are proud and arrogant, yes, but snobs? Yes, we have the best food, the best cinema, the most beautiful cities in the world and the most romantic language in the universe. So beware of Swiss, Belgian and Quebec accents! Besides, they use different words from ours, it’s not proper French…
Another thing is our tendency to speak in “yes but”. French society loves debates. Whether it’s philosophical, political or simply to discuss the chocolatine versus the pain au chocolat, we like to debate. So, in France, if your boss asks you “how did your presentation go?” and you answer “wonderfully well”, he will think you are naive and didn’t understand anything. If you answer “It went well, but I still need to improve this angle, this detail”, he will think you are a visionary with a future. In short, you can never be happy enough… In France, nothing is good enough… and maybe that’s why we are considered snobs.
And what about inventions?
Pasteur, Pierre and Marie Curie, the Lumière brothers and the cinema, the minitel which revolutionised France, the chip for bank cards among others, photography, Braille… These great French inventions left their mark on the world. So yes, we can be proud of our country.
It’s true that we are cold, we grumble and debate too much, and that can make us look conceited! But if you think about it, you realise that these attitudes hide motivations that have nothing to do with a pretention to think ourselves superior to others. Fear of not measuring up, or simply of upsetting our neighbours, makes us seem more snobbish than we really are.
3. A real stereotype, French men are seducers
French men are serial seducers, serial lovers… Hasn’t he already tried his luck with the whole bar before coming after you? What’s more, they tend to insist heavily and don’t understand the signs to push them away without making them lose face… Remember all those Frenchmen in Emily in Paris, all flirts, not serious, who multiply love conquests.
Cliché, yes, but for many, French is the language of love, Paris is the world capital of lovers…
And at work? Men are more likely to use their charms than women to get a job. Only 34% of women say they use their charms during a job interview, according to the results of a national survey conducted by QAPA (a recruitment website) among more than 17,000 people representative of the French population, aged 18 and over and spread throughout the country. But in the end, the same survey shows that few colleagues would have a long-lasting love relationship, since in the end, only 22% of women and 25% of men declare having met their partner at work.
4. Cliché, French people never have a wash
Last but not least, it is said that the French are dirty. In an IFOP study revealed in February 2020 and which you can read here, the hygiene of the French has serious shortcomings, especially for men. Among them: the daily toilet, underwear, hand washing…
As for the frequency of complete washing (face and body), 71% of men do it every day, compared to 81% of women.
Finally, the figures are more relevant than ever to current events. After going to the toilet, only 71% of French people say they go to the sink to wash their hands.
All this goes back a long way. Indeed, it must be said that our ancestors had a lot to do with this inglorious reputation. Until late in the Middle Ages, waste was thrown into the street. Later, at the court of Versailles, the nobles preferred to spray themselves with heady perfumes rather than wash up. Myth or reality?
The phenomenon has been reinforced by the CoVid epidemic. It seems to stem from the general reduction in social interaction imposed by successive lockdowns and curfews, which have eased the pressure that the gaze of others usually puts on one’s self-image and the management of one’s appearance.
Another key point since the pandemic is that more and more women are indeed adopting the “low poo” trend, which goes hand in hand with a liberation from the current aesthetic standards. Other reasons cited include animal welfare, fewer plastic bottles and fewer chemicals, which explain the decreasing frequency of shampoo.
But what about our cities ?
5. French people suck at foreign languages
Let’s dispel the myth that the French suck at foreign languages. It’s true that there is a French problem with foreign languages. As we have seen, Frenchies are very perfectionist. So if it’s not perfect, you might as well not do it. For languages, it’s the same thing. To learn a language, you have to accept making mistakes… and this is not part of the French mentality or culture.
French people have a very scholastic and academic vision of languages because, as children, we are taught grammar… As a result, we get stuck in this type of learning and, in the end, we have very little opportunity to practice what we learn.
Because yes, it’s true, the French are very inhibited when it comes to speaking. We see French as a primarily written language: to write well is to speak well. Which, as we know, is false. Everything comes through speaking, orally… and this is true of all languages. This is all the more astonishing given that French has an immense oral culture, whether through patois, slang, etc.
Finally, as we said above, the French are also arrogant and willingly… elitist. “Why learn a new language when English is enough?” “Why are you speaking with that accent?” Because yes, if you try to speak a foreign language with an accent, you’ll get blamed for it…
6. Not a real cliché, French women are chic and elegant
If someone mentions French chic, you’ll think haute couture, perfume, little black dresses, high heels, style and elegance. More than a style, “French chic” is also an attitude. It is an innate sense of natural elegance and simplicity that French women master… almost effortlessly.
It’s well known that the French woman pays attention to her subtle make-up, to her falsely neglected hairstyle and to her perfume. Vanessa Paradis, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marion Cotillard… are the muses of French designers. The sartorial style? A Jean Paul Gaultier sailor suit, the icon of French style, the dinner jacket that we owe to Yves Saint-Laurent or the little black dress for a very Coco Chanel style.
Because France is also the country of fashion and haute couture. And customers come from all over the world to shop in Paris and look French.
But what are the secrets of this chic? Simplicity above all, in the colours and accessories, a mix of basics and moderns, prints that are stronger than logos… and you have the recipe for French chic!
If you enjoyed this article, I suggest you discover the 10 facts about France you need to know.