8 clichés about French people: Are they true?
Published on April 24, 2023
In a previous article, we disproved the unfortunate claim that French people are rude and explained what led to this reputation. But there are many more stereotypes about French people to tackle — some positive, some less so. These French clichés may be rooted in some kernel of truth, but most of them have varying degrees of accuracy at best, especially if you only focus on present times. We’ve gathered eight of the most enduring French clichés to explore how they came to be and test whether they actually stand up to reality.
If you look at the first name of the author of this blog, then you’ll know that hyphenated names are a common occurrence in France. The title of one of the most famous French magazines, Marie-Claire, is another example of a hyphenated French name.
While often true, this cliché requires some additional explanation. It’s important to know that the second part of a hyphenated name is different from a middle name. Instead, it’s an integral part of the first name, as indicated by the use of the hyphen.
On the list of supposed bad habits in France, this stereotype is definitely an exaggeration. At the very least, it’s no longer as true as it used to be. To give some historical perspective, a survey from 1953 by the Société nationale d’exploitation industrielle des tabacs et allumettes (National Society for the Industrial Exploitation of Tobacco and Matches) showed that 72% of all French men were smokers. Thanks in part to various laws and campaigns since the 1970s, this figure has greatly decreased. Another survey from 2021 showed that only 31.9% of the French population continues to smoke, and this number is sure to go down as the government continues to take action to reduce smoking.
Even in a country so famous for its gastronomie, frog legs and snails are two classic French dishes you might be reluctant to try. Yet, while frogs are much less common nowadays, snails remain a delicacy that French people enjoy on special occasions. They are usually served hot in a sauce that has flavors of garlic and butter reminiscent of garlic bread.
This is another stereotype about French people that has little actual truth. In fact, you’re unlikely to find any French people wearing a béret unless they belong to the national army, while the famous blue-and-white striped shirt is a classic naval uniform in Brittany. Style icons such as Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot and Jean-Paul Gauthier are probably the real reason why the béret and stripes have become synonymous with French fashion.
This stereotype tends to be less and less true. While it’s a fact that older generations may not have been exposed to much English — and therefore are generally less confident speaking the language — younger generations are usually able and ready to speak English, if only at a basic level. In fact, as a sign of this evolution, more and more English words infiltrate the French language. That being said, all French people, no matter what their age is, will appreciate you making the effort of speaking in French. Even if you know only a few words, it’s a sign of respect and reciprocity.
Maybe it’s all those famous French philosophers; maybe it’s the cafés philosophiques (philosophical cafés) where they would debate their groundbreaking ideas; or maybe it’s the illustrious Académie française they would eventually join. No matter the reason, French people do have the reputation of being intellectual. But, while you may often find them debating issues at the dining table, they also enjoy their fair share of mindless entertainment and games.
With so many world-famous maisons de haute couture, it’s easy to see why French people, and in particular French women, are said to be fashionable. This may also come from the understated, classic and simple look French people traditionally tend to favor.
Out of all the stereotypes about France, this is definitely the one that has remained a true constant to this day. Among the different kinds of French bread you may find in shops, la baguette remains by far the most common and preferred one. Be it with jam and butter for breakfast, as a sandwich for a quick lunch on the go or with cheese at the end of a proper meal, it’s an absolute must of French daily cuisine.
From gastronomy to fashion, from bad habits to intelligent discourse, our selection of eight of the most common clichés about French people varies in nature. Some of these clichés have been highly exaggerated or are no longer as true as they used to be. Others remain as relevant today as ever. But they all contribute to the myth surrounding French people.