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Debunking French Stereotypes

by Alyson Huth
Man in French beret, striped shirt, and suspenders. | AIFS Study Abroad

When discussing the French culture, a lot of Americans believe every French stereotype that they hear, like the French are rude or that they dislike Americans. However, during my first few weeks abroad, I’ve realized that some French stereotypes are very far from the truth, while others aren’t that far off.

Here are five popular French stereotypes and whether or not they’re actually true:

1. The French wear berets.

If your mental image of a typical French person is someone sitting at a café and wearing a beret, then you might be disappointed by the fact that most French people don’t wear them! While that might have been the French style many years ago, modern French people typically don’t wear berets. I’ve honestly discovered that this is one of the many ways that the French pick Americans out of a crowd, because Americans believe that this form of fashion is still popular. The only time you’ll see a French person wearing a beret is if they’re trying to make some kind of statement. So next time you take a trip to Paris, it might be a good idea to leave the beret at home!

2. French people only listen to “accordion music.”

I was very surprised during my first couple of days here that the French actually play American music in shops and restaurants. I’ve heard one person playing the accordion outside of the local Farmer’s Market on a Sunday, but other than that it’s been Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, and other popular American music. So, while you might hear someone keeping the French tradition alive every now and then, you’ll feel somewhat at home hearing a lot of your favorite music.

3. French people are rude.

Of all French stereotypes, this is the one that tends to bother me each time I hear it. In Cannes, the people are very friendly and mostly understand that there are a lot of tourists in the area. Locals like to hear people try to speak their language, however most of them know English, as well. So, if you start talking to them in French and they switch to English, don’t be offended! This is just their way of telling you that they speak English and will speak it with you if you’re more comfortable with that. Yes, every town has its bad apples, but for the most part, people in the south of France really aren’t any more rude than the typical American.

4. French people dislike Americans.

Not true! While every town is going to have people that are rude and disrespectful — no matter the country — the majority of the population in France doesn’t mind Americans, especially those who try their hardest to use the French language.

Most of the people I’ve met in Cannes have been very friendly and have helped me to figure out what I needed to. One of the shop owners even seemed impressed by the fact that I was trying to speak French and so he continued speaking it with me rather than switching to English. Like the previous stereotype, it’s all about respect. If you respect the French, they’ll respect you. My recommendation is to not go up to them and immediately start speaking English; that’s when they might get a little grumpy.

5. French people drink a lot of wine.

This is the only stereotype on my list that is absolutely true! Everywhere I look someone is holding or sipping on a glass of wine because it’s a huge part of their culture. There are so many vineyards throughout France that it’s easy to see why. Plus, because of that, French wine is super inexpensive! There are even regular wine and cheese tastings that people like to go to.

Throughout my experience in France so far, I’ve come to realize that it’s so important to open your mind to different and new experiences while studying abroad. Otherwise, you’re stuck thinking something that might be completely untrue! When traveling or exploring new places, always keep an open mind, you never know what you might discover!

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