Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some Franchouillard Truths

Throughout my years of studying and living among the French, my American friends always ask me about certain French stereotypes. These aspects, happily portrayed in films, have unfortunately created certain images about the French that are rather ridiculous. So, with some frustration, I hope to dispel some of these myths.

1) The French do not dress like this on a 24/7 basis:

I admit that you might often see them with a long baguette cradled in the crook of their arm, but scratch the whole striped shirt and Basque beret ensemble. Their taste in clothing tends to be very, very classy. I love the way Frenchwomen wrap their scarves in a casual yet elegant fashion.

2) They are not arrogant, rude people.

This is worth repeating: THEY ARE NOT ARROGANT, RUDE PEOPLE. They are, in fact, some of the nicest and most polite beings I have ever met.

I believe that the any perception of impoliteness comes from the fact that foreigners are not familiar with their social codes. When they walk into a store, the French stick rigidly to the custom of actually looking a stranger in the eye and saying "bonjour Monsieur" or "bonsoir Madame." They acknowledge the presence of the storekeeper. They don't just walk into the shop and ignore the person behind the counter. Failure of greeting the storekeeper is considered RUDE.

If they come across a foreigner who has little or no understanding of French, they will try to speak English. Yet once they are on American soil, the French are expected to know English or get out.

That's right. The French aren't the ones who are rude and belligerent; YOU are.

3) They do not dislike Americans (please keep in mind truth #2).

The French are quite fond of our music and films. They dream of visiting New York City and, for some inexplicable reason, taking a motorcycle and traversing the country from the East Coast to the West. They even have tours offering this sort of excursion. There are, of course, certain historical significances between both countries. IF there is some true disparity about why the French dislike Americans, it is because this discorrdance arises from political events (i.e. Chirac's refusal to participate in war and President Bush calling him out on it). Electing President Obama decidedly made things O.K. again.

4) Their laugh does not go "hon-hon-hon."

They have a normal laugh like any normal person. When my class of seconde were yukking up after I made a mistake, they didn't go:

Frenchwomen tend to avoid bursting out in loud, raucous whoops (but that is certainly not the case 100% of the time, either).

5) Not all of their music revolves around the accordion.

They have their own rock artists (Johnny Hallyday, Damien Saez), pop artists (Mylène Farmer), even rappers (MC Solaar).

I admit, however, that I have a preference for the old-style French music. Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf and Enzo Enzo! My favorite Edith Piaf song happens to be, ironically enough, "L'Accordéoniste."

6) They don't consider the poodle a proper representative of their culture.

Yes. Really.

They reserve those cultural identities to their wines, cheeses, the flag, la Tour Eiffel, Vercingétorix, Jeanne d'Arc, Napoléon, De Gaulle and La Marseillaise. But certainly NOT the poodle. Pas de question.

I certainly won't forget the shock my room mates and my ex-boyfriend had when I told them that Americans link poodles with France. Their incredulous verbal reaction was a wary "quoi? Le caniche?" Yes, le caniche. The French poodle. That is why when we once checked out a Miami bakery's website, they displayed a pink cake decorated with a purple Eiffel tower with a fluffy snobbish dog drawn next to it.

Room mate: o_O"

"But those are mean, ugly dogs! Beurk!"

There are plenty of other untruths, but those are some that I can think off the top of my head. And for those Americans who say "if it weren't for us, they'd be German" : if it weren't for the French, we might still be British.

Barb the French Bean

Disclaimer: I do not own the video of Edith Piaf (though it would be awesome if I did)


  1. I never would have thought anyone actually thought they went "Hon, Hon Hon" some didnt really ask you that did they? (asks this in tone about to lose faith in humanity)

  2. Unfortunately, it has happened; someone has indeed asked me how the French laugh. :-P And it certainly is NOT "hon, hon, hon."

    But don't lose faith in humanity just yet! This post was designed to teach people what the French don't do.

    -French Bean

  3. Girl, you are an amazing writer.

    I love this entry - I face smaller, yet similar experiences being an American living in Canada - from both sides. My brother likes to joke about how I/Canadians live in Igloos and have to battle polar bears. Once I made a statement that I had a busy day and his comment was: "re-icing the igloo?".

  4. Magnifique post! Et superbe choix pour Edith Piaf... sa voix est magnifique! I'll listen to anything of hers :o)

    Stereotypes can be so much fun to play with though. They're great for jokes and teasing people. But you do have to take it all with a grain of salt.


Apparently, leaving comments on this blog is a hit-or-miss game of Russian roulette: you are either lucky and can comment away, or you are required to log in when the settings are CLEARLY set to allow trouble-free commenting (sorry 'bout that, folks). If anything, the Facebook page is always a viable option. :) -Barb