Ah, stereotypes. What would the world be like without them? Well, for one thing, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. But they do exist, and then so too does this blog post.
It would be irresponsible of me to emigrate to a foreign culture and NOT discuss whether the stereotypes are true, non? Consider this then my report back home on the strange and alien French culture.
Also, many thanks to Kama for her input on this post. If you haven’t already, check out her excellent blog, which I’ve linked to in my blogroll.
“You can’t go wrong with a beret and striped shirt in France”
FALSE. While the beret is making a very gradual comeback with the youth here, it is, for the most part, only popular amongst pensioners. It was all the rage 40 years ago, but now they’re as common as fedoras are in American cities. As for the striped shirt: any man caught wearing such a shirt is shot on sight, without appeal and without exception. Which is as it should be.
For the record: I do own a black beret, and my wife does own a black and white horizontally-striped shirt.
“Are they always making love?”
FALSE. Putting aside the fact that this is, in the literal sense, unfortunately a physical impossibility, the French (from what I hear) have about the same amount of sex as Americans. The key difference here would be that the French are much more open about it. The French see sex for what it is: romantic, good fun and also HUMAN NATURE. They don’t put it in the spotlight generally, but they’re not afraid of it either.
And if you think that Americans AREN’T afraid of sex, look again. Janet Jackson half-time show. Need I say more? Ok, I will. Miley Cyrus/Britney Spears/Christina Aguilera/Madonna/Lady Gaga – they’ve all been criticized at one time or another for being TOO sexy. The French know it’s just sex – get over it.
“Are they all ‘high-fashion’?”
SORT-OF TRUE. France (esp. Paris) is one of the fashion capitals of the world . Two names jump to mind. The first is Karl Lagerfeld. This guy is very active currently, and is the very image of a prissy fashion magnate. The other name is Jean-Paul Gaultier. You may not know Gaultier, but you know his work. Madonna’s cone bra? Gaultier. The weird-ass costumes in The Fifth Element? Gaultier.
So, with such a bustling fashion industry here, fashion trends are much easier to follow and are therefore more closely followed than in much of the USA. That being said, there are still people that appear to have had their wardrobe coordinated by a squirrel on a sugar-binge. But still, pajamas and sweat-pants are pretty much a no-no fashion wise.
“Are they rude?”
TRUE. But to be fair, they’re rude to each other too. The French language and culture is rife with superficial niceties. There are formal versions of verbs that you MUST use (with certain people), for the sake of politeness. There are many customs which you MUST observe, otherwise you may very likely be considered to have insulted someone.
But putting aside all the superficial niceties and formalities, the French are pretty rude to each other [except for Serge Zarabski, who I don’t believe has ever said an unkind word to anyone]. One example is that shopkeepers are curt and abrupt; e.g. I once had a shopkeep tell me he was not interested in the ten-euro bill I had offered as payment for a purchase of about half that amount, and instead DEMANDED I look through my pockets for change.
However, while they are rude, they are not mean or unfriendly – quite the opposite in fact. As contradictory as it may sound, the French are, in general, some of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve met – even random people encountered on the street. They’re not assholes or unfriendly, they’re just rude to each other, and they’re ok with that.
“I heard they have a two-hour lunch break, like a Mexican siesta.”
TRUE. Well, 75% true. They actually take an hour and a half. Bear in mind, this is not like in America, where only the ones with great jobs get long lunches. With the exception of certain service-industry positions (waiters, for instance), France essentially closes at noon and reopens at 13:30. They take their lunches seriously. Even the schoolchildren get a long lunch break; a lot of them have time to go home, eat lunch with their family, and then return to school.
When I first arrived in France, there were a lot of protests. The streets of most every major city overflowed with pissed-off protesters, loudly and vehemently voicing their displeasure with the President (sometimes I joined them 🙂 ). Except between 12:00 and 13:30. At lunchtime, the mobs would dissipate and the din subside, only to recommence later in the day after everyone had been well-fed. I’m not even joking.
I can’t verify it, but I’m reasonably sure that no important event in French history has ever occurred at lunchtime.
“Do they hate Americans?”
100% FALSE. The French do NOT hate Americans. Sure, there are one or two people here and there who are stupid enough to hate someone based on their nationality, but ask any American who has been to France (and NOT been a jerk). They’re quite friendly.
French is the national language here, but most will gladly speak with you in English if they can if you’ve made an effort to speak their language, even if you sucked at it. Contrast that with America, where there is no national language, yet people insist you speak English.
They want to hear about America, and some (actually quite a few) seem to get excited about meeting an American. My mother-in-law loves to introduce me to her friends as her American son-in-law. At one of the protests I went to with her and her boyfriend, she actually made an announcement over a bullhorn that an American had joined their protest. It went over very well with the assembled French and many handshakes shortly followed.
“Do French women shave?”
TRUE, OK? There’s not much to say about this one, except that it’s categorically untrue that French women let their hair down in all the wrong places. French women practice very good (and very modern) hygiene, including shaving everything that looks better and feels better clean-shaven.
In fact, if there has to be a nationality whose women don’t shave, it’s actually the Americans, including (at one time or another): Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, and Brittney Spears.
Part 2 will be coming soon, and if I have enough questions for it, maybe part 3. If you have questions about the culture or the people or the food or the whatnot that you want to see answered, feel free to email me and I’ll get them into the next one.