During my stays abroad, and especially since I have been living here in Hamburg, I have heard a lot of remarks about French people, and I finally got the opportunity to discover how we are perceived by foreigners. The results are not so good since clichés and prejudice about the French are numerous in foreign countries. Here is a small summary of what I remember…
Of course, the first image that comes to foreigners’ minds when they think about France is the famous little Frenchman who proudly wears his beret and carries baguettes and a string of onions around his neck in the streets of Paris. And if he’s on a bicycle and wearing a stripey t-shirt, well that is just the icing on the cake! It seems that we cannot manage to get rid of this imaginary mascot who gives us quite a ridiculous image.
In a general way, people think that French people are all about a few essential elements: baguettes (of course), croissants, cheese and wine. In their minds, a French person only drinks wine… even for breakfast with camembert. Well, our wines are delicious and our cheese famous, so why not enjoy them? It is true that French cuisine enjoys great prestige across our borders! Another interesting fact that has been underlined by my work colleagues: everybody smokes in France, and a lot. It is true that I never paid attention to this before I came to Germany where tobacco addiction is far less important! Apparently, smoking is ‘so French’…
Regarding the good clichés, we are known for our innate sense of fashion, thanks to the prestige of our beautiful capital… A lot of foreigners think that French women are sophisticated and always elegant. It may be so… but I honestly believe that in real life we are not so glamorous; but still, the best fashion designers are French. And just to reestablish the truth: no, the beret is not part of some official French uniform, and is not even worn by that many people. Regarding fashion, we have actually made a couple of other things since 1940; but don’t get me wrong, berets are awesome.
On a similar note, when people think of France they will often think about love and romanticism thanks to the famous French kiss, which I doubt honors us properly, and the notorious phrase ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?’, which evokes Montmartre in Paris but has nothing to do with France in general.
A prejudice that I have discovered for the first time was explained to me by a fellow student from Latin America and kind of shocked me. Apparently, many foreigners think that French people have very poor hygiene, though this does not prevent French men to be inveterate seducers… It seems that we have the reputation that we do not take showers very often and mask the smell with our luxury perfumes. I am still looking for the origin of this cliché as it really surprised me!
Another persistent cliché about the French is that we are arrogant, proud, chauvinistic and nationalist. Well, our national symbol is a rooster so perhaps there is some truth in this particular cliché….It is true that we French just love our country and language and as a result no one is willing to learn foreign languages, especially English. We all know about that – the French speak French, and that’s it.
Let me conclude with a cliché which, sadly, is true – French people are lazy, grumpy, and are always on strike because they never agree on anything. Indeed, it is better not to be involved with the French railway company SNCF, because that would really be a bad experience. A group has been created on Facebook that describes the situation in France just perfectly – ‘One day the French will rule the world… but not tomorrow, they’re on strike.’