It’s funny to think of the world we see through the eyes of the media. Films can be so evocative of a place, yet create a version of a country or city that does not really exist. Or, it exists, but alongside other views too. I’m reminded I was recently advised to watch A Good Year with Russell Crowe, which is a great movie with some very typical views of both France and England.
In England, Crowe works as a banker, walks with an umbrella (thank God the director managed to steer clear of le chapeau melon - the bowler hat) and in France, Crowe puts aside his capitalist, greedy, city ways and becomes a person who falls in love, relaxes and appreciates life.
It must be said that if you watch this having watched Amélie and Chocolat you’d have a very particular view of France being a quite charming and wonderful place. Watch Engrenages or Banlieue 13 on the other hand, and you’ll see a completely different France.
With that in mind, it’s been interesting to read a pair of articles on the TF1 website about how Americans view the French and how the French view the Americans. I wonder how much of it is true, if any.
Anyway… the top 10 prejudices that Americans have about France are:
- The French are always on strike; they’re lazy and they’re a bunch of communists. They’re always going on holiday, they have a shorter working week than the rest of the world, and they have terrible communist tendencies. Apparently. Anyone who’s been to Paris in August might agree that it seems the French are always on holiday. I have English friends who professed their utter disbelief that some supermarkets are shut at lunchtimes in holiday towns and they couldn’t get anything to eat outside the 12-2, 7-9 timeslots. Or on Monday.
- All the French smoke. I must confess that it makes me laugh that so many of the women after a zumba class go straight out for a fag in ways that don’t seem to make sense to my English mind. It also makes me laugh that I spent a couple of days translating a website about French diets, when one of my French friends confesses she loses weight by smoking more and skipping meals. A certain local bar doesn’t seem to be that bothered by the anti-smoking laws, since everyone in the bar smokes. Oh well. Apparently 30% of 15-85 year olds in France smoke. The figure is 20% in England. Perhaps you’d be surprised to know that the Austrians smoke the most.
- French women don’t shave their body hair, according to not just the Americans, but the English as well. The French, on the other hand, think that’s a German trait. I feel unable to comment. English women are remarkably UNhairy these days.
- The French love wine and cheese, eat snails and frogs’ legs, and always wander about with a baguette under their arm. There is a lot of baguette business going on, that’s for sure. The French are also proud of being meat-eaters. That’s for sure. I knew I had to give up being a vegetarian to dine out in France. Not unlike my Nana making her vegetarian apple pie crust with lard, the French might just slip in some meaty produce where you least expect it.
- The French are sophisticated and chic. I guess the Americans aren’t thinking of the large number of ladies I see every day wearing a nylon pinafore, or the men in work blues. The countryside is definitely not quite so chic. Farmer-chic, it would seem, is pretty much the same world over. A baseball cap, a dirty vest or jumper, some dirty work pants and wellies.
- The French are topless sex-mad Europeans who don’t mind a bit of nudity. French men are truly sex-mad as well. Maybe Samantha Brick was right to be a little protective of her husband?
- French men are effeminate. Obviously, this does not stop them getting hot under the collar, but I think that must be based on the fact that a French man will wear pink, will carry a bag and will wear a scarf in winter. In my neck of the woods, where men are men and women are women, I’m not sure I’d feel happy telling the monsieurs that the Americans think they’re effeminate. If guns are a Freudian symbol, then all the shotgun action around here seems to be making up for all the scarf-wearing city boys. Apparently, this myth is perpetuated by the English. I guess English men are a little jealous of all the nudity and sex-mad women.
- The French are arrogant – proud of the ‘Made in France’ idea. If you’ve ever had a discussion with a Frenchman about New World wines, you might see where this myth originated. But then, the French do make great wine. According to the Americans, the French are rude, condescending and too proud. Not sure I agree, when every single letter I ever get seems to be signed with the most flamboyant and extended salutations of their ultimate respect, and pleasantries extend for a good two or three minutes, even if you are standing in the middle of a main road, but I’m sure we can all think of incidents where we’ve thought the French could benefit from some American-style customer service attitude.
- The French smell bad and don’t wash. A myth emerging from the world of the French aristocracy, I imagine, especially since even the smallest town has a perfume shop. Once, a drunk Japanese man confided in me that the Japanese think the English smell of sour milk. It’s not just a smelly French problem, then.
- The French can’t finish a war. Ouch. That’s one prejudice I feel incapable of discussing.
If you’d like to read the original article, you’ll find it here
Next time… what the French think about the Americans. I’m not sure if you agree with the Americans, or if you think these stereotypes are counter-productive. I’m not sure there’s anything I’ve not heard before. Personally, having never come across a lazy, smoking, sex-mad, smelly, effeminate Frenchman, I feel unable to comment. Can one be both sex-mad and lazy? Can one be both effeminate and smelly? Still, knowing some of my French friends think I am a cake-eating, tea-drinking, tea-party-hosting, Daily-Telegraph-reading, full-English-breakfast-eating type who rides on red buses, in black cabs and whose cities are filled with smog, sometimes I find stereotypes rather endearing.