Ah, the French! Elegant but snobbish; always sitting at a cafe with a cigarette between the lips while the country is on strike; eternal lovers of baguettes, cheeses, wine, and lovers… in bed, bien sûr. French stereotypes are quite plentiful!
France has one of the populations that is the most afflicted by clichés. From Amélie Poulain to Rémy the rat chef in Ratatouille to Emily in Paris, pop culture seems to always take great liberties with stereotyped French characters. And so do the French themselves!
French people indeed like to cultivate a proud sense of what it means to be French, and as a result, some stereotypes about French people turn out to be surprisingly accurate.
Yet, not all French people stereotypes are true. Far from it! Some are pure myths, while others are no longer (or not completely) relevant. Let’s dig into some of the most famous (and sometimes bizarre) stereotypes of French people to tell fact from fiction.
French stereotypes that are false
These ones are a no-no: some of the most prevalent stereotypes about French people are simply not true.
The French wear berets and striped shirts
Gone are the days of the mime Marceau! So please, put away that striped shirt and beret from my sight! This French stereotype is just not true: streets in France are not crowded with people wearing a marinière and a béret (and carrying bread under their armpit).
Still, even if that emblematic striped shirt, created in 1917 by Coco Chanel, is something you can indeed find in France, it is not more common than other pieces of clothing. As for the beret, it’s mostly an accessory you’ll find worn by old men or by some military patrols.
The French are dirty
Apparently, only 3 French out of 4 take a daily shower. But this is actually considered fine as long as you have good hygiene. This stereotype saying that the French are dirty comes from post World War II, when the US Army liberated France. At that time, the plumbing system was a mess and so may have been the individual’s hygiene. Hopefully, “de l’eau a coulé sous les ponts” (“a lot of water has passed under the bridge”) since!
Likewise, the French were apparently also perceived as cowards in American culture, as another relic of World War II stereotypes of the French.
Paris has dangerous no-go zones
Contrary to the previous stereotypes about French people, this one finds its roots in recent events. In particular, this idea dates to the 2015 Paris attacks, thanks to reports on Fox News about no-go zones in Paris.
Many French and Parisians simply laughed at these allegations. Not the mayor of Paris, however, who instead took steps to sue the American channel. In the end, Fox apologized and acknowledged that the information was baseless.
French stereotypes that are true
If stereotypes exist, there’s often a reason. And when it comes to stereotypes of french people, it appears that many of them are indeed based in truth. Sometimes they’re even claimed proudly by French people, even if they may not apply 100% to every French person!
French are romantic lovers (and unfaithful)
From the too-famous sentence voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir, to the French Kiss, it seems the world associates France with love. It’s true that Paris offers quite a romantic background for lovers to walk hand in hand, but does it makes French people themselves romantic?
This one is a tough one to judge, yet romance and relationships have always been central to French culture. France has a long cultural history around romance, often associated with forbidden and secret love. This may also explain why there is another stereotype about French people being unfaithful (that, and their president’s love affairs)!
French are snobbish (and judgmental!)
Oh yes! French master the art of expressing their contempt. Whether you’ve done something wrong, or simply made a fashion faux pas, expect some “criminal, offensive side eye.” French can be pretty snobbish, even crossing the line into rude. This stereotype applies particularly to Parisians, who easily judge their rural counterparts and get quickly exasperated.
A typical act of French snobbiness is to dislike anything from the moment it becomes popular and trendy.
French are fashionable
What would fashion be without France? It is proudly the world’s number-one country in the fashion industry, with numerous world-famous designers like Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gauthier, Yves Saint-Laurent, Coco Chanel…
French have an inimitable sense of style that makes them stand out. Just like Charlotte Gainsbourg, the typical Parisian woman wears blue jeans and a white t-shirt, with no makeup, but looks incredibly stylish. It’s in their DNA!
French love baguettes, cheese, and wine
Imagine a French cartoon character: what comes to your mind? A person wearing a beret and striped shirt, holding a glass of wine, a baguette, and with a plate of cheese nearby. Well, except for the clothes, as we saw, the rest is definitely true.
French love their fresh bread, which they normally eat every day: at breakfast, while waiting for lunch, with salads, with any dishes that have a sauce, and of course, with cheese. France has more than 1200 different types of cheeses, which says a lot about how much French like cheese. As for wine, if not every French is a fine connoisseur, most of them appreciate a glass of fine wine from time to time.
French eat weird stuff
When it comes to French gastronomy, the country is famous for its star Michelin-starred chefs and fine cuisine. And with it, some pretty weird food, such as snails and frog legs.
If you look at the definition of “frogeater,” you will see that it’s an offensive slang term to designate what? A French person.
While it’s true that frog legs are indeed a French dish, it is also not so common. It’s more of a bistro or restaurant food. Snails may be more common, yet a once-a-year type of food (for the end of the year holidays mostly) that may not please all French.
The French love to complain
True to this French stereotype, the perfect French attitude is to be snobbish and to complain about everything. About the train being late, about politics, about the food at the restaurant, about the weather, about anything!
It’s second nature for the French to complain, so much so that it is not necessarily even perceived as complaining. It’s more or less a way to debate and express one’s opinion. Something that the French do love!
France is always on strike, with big protests
Alright, “always” may be a bit exaggerated, but “often” surely is not.
Being on strike is a sacred right in France, written in the Constitution, and the right to protest is recognized since the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.
Trends over recent years definitely back up this French stereotype: from the Yellow Vest movement (les Gilets Jaunes) to the protests against the French pension reform, the French excel at civil unrest. They even hold protests just for the sake of it, each year on May Day.
French don’t talk about money
Usually, during family dinners in France, people say they shouldn’t speak about politics and money. While they will for sure talk about politics, money is carefully avoided. It is one of the most taboo topics for the French.
While in some cultures it’s common to ask or tell how much someone paid for something, that would be both offensive and inelegant in France. Never ask for someone’s salary or expenses, especially if you don’t know that person well, as you’ll make him or her quite embarrassed.
French are fervent smokers
Unfortunately, French people being smokers is a long-lasting cliché that remains true. If it is not as common as before, and for sure, not perceived as romantic or chic, France is still among the 10 countries that smoke cigarettes the most in Europe. Despite high prices and prevention campaigns, the number of smokers even increased in 2022, with about 32% of French being smokers.
Because not everything is black or white, these stereotypes about French people cannot be generalized and you’ll always find an exception to prove them wrong.
Yet, behind all of them is some level of truth, and these French stereotypes are interesting to know for what they say about French people: both how they are perceived and how they view themselves.