Melanie has been interested in cultures, languages, and travel since her youth. She also runs a YouTube channel: The Curious Coder.
When visiting any foreign country, it's easy to give in to stereotypes. It's a good idea to understand stereotypes and their sources.
There are several myths about French people that are heard throughout the United States and, unfortunately, many people believe some rather negative things are true of the French. The fact is that these stories are actually mass generalizations that could apply to a person from any cultural background.
While these stereotypes are untrue, many of these stories have some sort of reasoning behind them... the rest are just plain silly.
It is important to debunk the myths surrounding different cultures because they can be hurtful to others. This is because, like you, many French people are proud of their heritage. For this reason (and many others), it's important for everyone to respect cultural differences.
Myth #1: Everyone in France Smokes
While there are many people in France who do smoke, not everyone in France smokes. Many young people do not smoke.
There is also a public smoking ban in France that is currently in effect which makes smoking in public illegal. So anyone who does not like to be around cigarette smoke is free to visit France without coming back with lung cancer.
Myth #2: French People Smell Bad
What? Hygiene is practiced in France… just as it is in the US. This one's a total lie! The average French person bathes or showers at least once a day just as people do in the United States. This myth is extra silly because France manufactures a huge amount of perfume, so if anything, you'd think French people smell better!
Myth #3: You Have to Speak French to Visit France
This depends on where you're going. If you're visiting large cities like Marseille, Paris, Lyon, etc., then chances are you'll be able to get by just speaking English. If you're going off the beaten path to explore small towns and villages, then knowing some French is helpful. Of course, those fluent in French will have it easier, but it's not impossible to travel around France knowing no French.
It's considered polite to attempt to speak French (even if it's out of a phrase book) instead of assuming someone speaks English. I recommend starting out by asking the person if they speak English: Parlez-vous Anglais?
Myth #4: The French Hate Americans
The French are able to separate the American people from the administration that runs the US. Those who travel France and are respectful of any cultural differences will find that the French are warm, friendly people. It's important to think about where this myth comes from.
When visiting France, do as the French do. It's important to be respectful of cultural differences no matter where you're at. Problems start when we are disrespectful of others beliefs and lifestyles that problems.
By getting rid of the mentality that "America is the best country in the world" and accepting that there is no best, more people will have respect for Americans. It's just not healthy to have an "I'm from the best country in the world" mentality. It's not accurate and it's not a great way to get along with others.
Myth #5: French Women Don’t Shave Their Armpits
As one of the most popular French myths, this myth was probably spread by some guy seeing the one French woman who hadn’t shaved in a week. There probably are some women in France who don’t shave their armpits, but there is probably an equal percentage of women in the US who don’t shave their armpits.
Myth #6: The French are Snobby & Rude
This one depends on perspective. Before calling someone snobby or rude, it's important to understand cultural differences.
With a little education on a particular situation, a person can find they can understand and get along with just about anyone. That doesn't go to say that there are absolutely no rude people in France. There are rude people everywhere, it's a fact of life!
© 2009 Melanie Shebel
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on November 02, 2018:
This is really interesting and funny, too. I loved this article. It reminded me of my dear friend from France. She told me when she arrived in the U.S., she had heard: Americans smell bad; they smoke a lot; and they were rude. It's funny how negative stereotypes about people can be transferred from one culture to another.
Hating Americans? Never. My friend pointed out the French considers some of America's greatest heroes great friends of their democracy, such as General Patterson. We both laughed when we considered how stereotypes grow up out of a lack of information about others. It's a case of fear of the unknown so we fill in the gaps with made up stuff.
Although Ive never been to France, I would feel comfortable visiting there with my friend.
Great article. Filled with good information and you approached cultural ignorance in a sensible and intelligent manner.
Much respect and admiration,
Linda on August 23, 2013:
I have visited France several times and Yes I have meet rude and smelly people, but you can visit any country and find the same thing. When in France do as the French do.
Pacific World DMC & PCO from Barcelona on May 17, 2013:
Hi ! I'm French and your Hub is really funny and interesting at the same time! There are a lot of Stereotypes about French people, and when I travelled to Cyprus, I was chocked to learn that French people smell bad ...! Of course, as you say in your Hub, that's not true! so, thanks fo having set the record straight !
teg16 on May 08, 2013:
I lived in the south of france in a town called Istres which is about 45 minutes NNW of Marseilles on 2 separate occasions. I was on an 120 temporary duty assignment with the USAF. That said, in my experience the french most closely resemble their stereotypes. Especially, concerning wether or not they are rude. Although there were a few exceptions I found the french I encountered to be dismissive and blatantly rude. Away from tourist areas it was more pronounced and Parisians were by far the worst. Superior, condescending , arrogant, from what I understand non-parisians don't care for them.
Mae Williams from USA on January 24, 2013:
Wow, what an interesting experience you had to share. Do they think americans are too uptight? What is the divorce rate there?
Riviera Rose from South of France on January 16, 2013:
I've lived in France for a number of years now and this hub made me smile. Sometimes the French do live up to their stereotype in that they can be arrogant and aloof, but I can't say I've noticed any French who smell bad or who don't shave under their armpits (the women, at least!) Voted up and funny.
Bronterae from Nor Cal on December 22, 2012:
French (men especially), think cheating is no big deal. This is true. I was the other woman. I fell head over heels with a french bartender. Everyone of his friends knew, even the women. Lots of drunk PDA. They even encouraged it! I don't think they liked his girlfriend very much. But no one seemed to care. I made a second similar trip to continue the affair. He lived in a tiny room with his girlfriend. 10' X 10' with a ceiling slant in half the room to four feet high. TINY. Sponge baths ONLY. He had a sink and a hot plate and tiny fridge. No toilet; only a hole in the floor two doors down. No TP provided! They adjusted to live in that great city. They are proud of being Parisians.
French don't smell at all unless you go to the ghetto. People were nicer in the country. My willingness to speak French poorly, made them the nicest people to me.
I also had a "date" with a married police commissioner who spoke zero English. He toured me around a Paris police station, officers etc.. without a smidge of concern for what it looked like. We were on a double date. Everyone I asked said that "Clinton's affair was such a non-issue. All their leaders had mistresses. It was a ridiculous thing to report on...." Now you know when this was. I still miss that French
BTW if you want to fit in:
Wear only black. It feels a lot like NYC only glamourous. No T shirt or sweatshirt especially with writing on it would ever be worn by a parisian woman.
Cynthia Lyerly from Georgia on December 22, 2012:
Unfortunately, a few smelly, hairy, smokers have allowed the world to sterotype a whole group of people. Great hub!
Megan Garcia from Florida on December 21, 2012:
I think your comment about attempting to speak the language is true for any country. Right now, I live in a border town in the US and I am very happy when a Mexican attempts to speak to me in English, even when it's clear he knows very little. On the other hand, nothing pisses me off more than someone coming up to me blabbering in another country's language like I'm supposed to understand.
What about some French Stereotypes that are true?
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on December 21, 2012:
I liked this hub. I knew all the myths though and knew the answers too. You have a great writing style and great sense of humor too.
Useful, funny and voted up.
tiggerof13 on September 08, 2012:
I'm french and people can judge an all country only because they visit Paris where french people live in this city are rude, and not welcoming. But visit different cities in France and you will see, everybody in France is not like you can see at Paris.
Paris is a big city with lot of stress for people who live and work there, like all big cities. Even if Paris is the most popular place for French culture try to visit different places.
Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on September 03, 2012:
Before taking a trip to Paris we were concerned because of having heard these stereotypes. Like a lot of prejudices, though, they simple aren't true. As the saying goes, when you point a finger there are 4 pointing right back at you! We found the French to be very hospitable and eager to enjoy life. We'd return to France in a heartbeat. Both the culture and people were unforgettable.
Joana e Bruno from Algarve, Portugal on September 03, 2012:
Hi, Melbel, quite an interesting hub, I have visited France a couple of times and expect to visit more and the truth is exactly as you say, myths are generalizations, but again all the people all the countries suffer from such generalizations, I know Portuguese people suffer those sorts of generalizations and the same with Americans, etc, etc, which is a pity, in my view, because the things is there will always be someone who doesn't bathe or isn't quite sharp or... and that has nothing to do with the country the person comes from... Voted up, interesting and sharing! Take care!
Michael S from Danville, VA on September 03, 2012:
I've been to France and was shown extravagant hospitality everywhere I turned. I'm American and wish Americans would let these silly myths go. But, trust me, when we hear other peoples picking us apart, we'll understand how it feels, whether it's fact or fiction. In fact, while there I could always point out the Americans because of behavior!
Iggy on August 17, 2012:
What I find rather pitiful is that, while Americans think that the French are rude and unbathed, so are many of their own people. While I don't really wish to admit it... France actually has more manners than America.
Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on July 04, 2012:
The myth that French women are beautiful isn't a myth! I saw a movie recently called "Crazy Horse." about the strip bar in Paris which was one of the first in the world to feature elegant nude dancers. Spectacular!
Dr Pooja on July 03, 2012:
Interesting to know that somebody actually wrote a hub on French people.I have stayed in Lyon for a year and think it is the language which becomes a barrier.I used to work there and at work people communicated in English and used to include me in their coffee time and lunch .Yes outside work, life was tough due to lack of spoken French.French food is amazing!!!
Lilylol on June 26, 2012:
Well im 12 years old and my parents speak french from a french speaking country but my dad told me that in france ppl dont shower often like americans
TATY04 on April 21, 2012:
This is MY cliché of french people:
- They like complaining
- They used to speak with a cig in a hand, and glass of wine in the other.
- Lot of them are superficial
- They are sooo romantic, especially when they serve a dish and say "Fais avec amour = Made with love"
- They are very polite when you're friend with them
- I love see them eatin their croissants, their baguette bread
- Contrary to Italian or Spanish people, they don't speak loud, they're more reserved
- They love share their point of view, even if everybody doesn't care
- And to conclude, I find they are pretty open minded on the world, they're not concentrated on themselves
TATY, Venezuela :)
Me on April 07, 2012:
Another few stereotypes; all French are beautiful (not my opinion), everyone in France dresses well. Paris is also considered the capital of romance though that is not necessarily true.
lil mama on March 19, 2012:
hahahahaha..... a french person must of wrote this article....hahahahhahahaha
beachbaby101 on February 22, 2012:
French peeps smoke, are rude, and shve their pits as much as everyone else. They aren't like like some kind of crazy psychos of something!
Armelle Trogisch on February 12, 2012:
I agree with many of the comments. It is true the French smoke too much and can be rude, but Americans should not take it personally. I'm French and they are rude to me especially in Paris. French people in the customer service industry are equal opportunity rude to everyone. The French are very stylish and really get good food and are very particular about what they ingest. As for the unshaven armpits, that is a mystery to me that that myth is widely believed by Americans. It is reinforced by comics and SNL skits. I really have NEVER seen a French woman with unshaven armpits. The only woman I ever saw with unshaven armpits was an American woman I was working with who was a semi hippie.
Wendy Iturrizaga from France on January 24, 2012:
ok, here we go:
1) Myth: I have lots of friends who do not smoke and have never smoked.
3) Myth, however I have notice that most people who can speak another language are very shy to say so and if you ask them directly "do you speak xxx" they will say NO, even if they can. But if you try to speak French and they see you struggling with it, they will be less shy to struggle with their English.
4) Myth, I think that most people I know just don't care!
5) Myth, although they are not as hairy as other Europeans like the Spaniards, so probably need to shave less often.
6) Myth: you got it spot on, I think most perceived rudeness is mainly due to cultural differences.
WD Curry 111 from Space Coast on January 24, 2012:
I lived in France when I was very young. I remember the friendly people and the good food fresh from the garden.
Dawn Conklin from New Jersey, USA on January 24, 2012:
Stereotypes are really not a pretty way for people to base an opinion on other people. I look at it this way: there may be some French people who are rude, don't take showers and anything else but I live in the US and know of people here from the US that are rude and don't take showers often. I am sure there are people that are like this everywhere and wouldn't say that the whole country is this way. I am wondering if people thinking the French are rude started from the difference in language. If you are from another country and learning English, you will have times of having a hard time pronouncing things and finding the right words to say. This may make it sound as tho you are rude but in reality you are having a hard time getting out what you want to say. It would be like me trying to communicate in French-I don't know much so I would probably not be as easy to understand. Just a thought.
Sandi from Greenfield, Wisconsin on January 24, 2012:
This is interesting and I enjoyed reading all the comments as well. I have never been to France but my son was there and enjoyed it very much:)
Christina Lornemark from Sweden on January 24, 2012:
It is amazing that the myths and stereotypes are so persistent. Things we once have learned clings on to us even if we don't believe in them and even if we know they aren't true! I like this hub and the way you address the myths and stereotypes:) Great job,
Manly Man on January 24, 2012:
What's so great about shaved armpits? What about shaved hoohas?
crockpotcooking on January 24, 2012:
The common and all other stereotypes about French people I saw in a funny tv show "Allo, allo" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086659/
I remember it a lot since I watched it as a kid. However, I knew even then that it is just for fun, not for real.
Recently, I heard about a joke called "French shower". That is when one should take a shower but instead, only put deodorant :-D
I think that this term originates from medieval times, when
almost no people in Europe had a regular bath. Therefore they used perfumes, and all perfumes were made in France or countries to become France in today's border lines.
I have no intention to insult anyone. If I did so, I sincerely apologize.
Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on January 24, 2012:
J'aime France:). Parle a vous la Francaise? Moi? Parle la Francais tres Mal:(. J'ai etudier pour 4 ans! J'ai oblier :).
I hope to go to France this year! I'm still figuring out how to trick my husband into going:) lol.
In my classes - they taught how to speak to travel there - so I'm very confident that even though my French is very bad - I could get around easily! So glad they don't smell and the ladies are clean:) hahaha!
Will Apse on January 24, 2012:
You should check out Paris syndrome. Around 20 Japanese tourists a year are so shocked by Parisian rudeness they suffer serious psychiatric symptoms from hallucinations to feelings persecution etc, etc. The Japanese Embassy has a routine for flying them home.
Of course, this probably says more about the Japanese than the French. The French are generally more correct and formal in their behavior than English people, for example.
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on January 24, 2012:
Another one - "the French are sexually promiscuous immoral people."
I doubt that, I think Europeans have a much more sane approach to "sexual issues" than do the hypocritical Americans.
nursecarol on January 13, 2012:
i had dated a french guy before, he looks clean, his hands clean, but his breath is not. smells like a fart.
i know it could be depending on what he eats, but whether he just brush his teeth doesn't make the difference or gargle.
and even though perfumes originated from france doesn't mean they smell better, taking a shower twice a day and washing up ur hygiene is way different in putting a perfume everyday.. cos ur natural odor stinks when u dont take a bath as u needed in a day despite of covering ur body with a high quality perfume, and for me this reason only proves that french sticks with using perfume instead of taking a bath! hahaha.
Julie Vayssiè on January 01, 2012:
Hi I'm a mix of French and Spanish and my parents really want me to go to Marseille for this summer so I can meet my whole family for the first time and I would like to know if when I visit Paris will a lot of people stare at me and my sister like they do here in the U.S because were identical twins and a lot of people stop and give us attention asking if it's fun being a twin and the usual questions I just want to know if twins are common in France since on my dads side there are no twins and if it's not that common to have twins in European countries thanx:)
Sara says Bonjour on December 30, 2011:
Hey hey, I have to agree with Emilie.T here! The French have improved their smoking habits 100%, and we do shave! However, there might be some rude Parisians but most kind and helpful! I'm going to bring up a stereotype that I didn't see here: French women do in fact wear tops at beaches! Not every women will be topless at the beach!
If you don't believe me, VISIT FRANCE! I promise, you won't regret!
Emilie.T on October 14, 2011:
I'm French, and I'm totally in love with my country, so I really have to comment that article! So, that's true that a lot of people in France smoke but it's really bette since the ban, cause before it, you couldn't sit in a café without suffocating, but now that's quite different, and if you are lucky, you even can smell cofee went you enter a café! Then about women that don't shave their armpits, that's totally wrong, and even that made me laugh because I though saying things like that was so stupid ! About smells, that's wrong too, and about the fact that we are rude, I would say that unfortunately, it's not totally wrong, because when you're walking down the streets in Paris, people are hitting you without apologize, and if you smile, parisians will look at you with a strange look in the eyes ! but anyway, France is the capital a fashion, Paris is so posh and that's a really beautiful country ! We are so kind, I swear !!!! 8)
Bev on June 13, 2011:
I have been to France, and especially Paris, many times since I was very young and I'm not young now! I have friends there who I have known since I was 13 and I have to say, as much as I love these people and my time spent in their country, certain things are or were true, but some have changed. My friend, a very attractive woman, did not shave her arms until fairly recently. Some of the people in Paris were truly awfully rude but in the last 10 years or so have improved hugely. The rest of the country I have found to be pretty much like everywhere else; some are nice, some aren't, so I think as an English woman, go with an open mind and enjoy their lovely country, food, wine and people. I really do know of an awful lot of smelly and rude English people too!
lisaporter on May 27, 2011:
I don't know about stereotypes but I do have an opinion about smoking here. I am in Paris right now and have been here a few times a year since 1988. Ban smoking in public is true. Before the ban I cannot go to any restaurants without gagging. But having said that, I still have to dodge smoke after the ban. A lot of less formal eateries have walls of folding doors that open up the place completely to the outside and have tables set up outside. Unless the eatery is really deep, even if you sit inside you will be wreathed in second hand smoke throughout your entire visit from the people seated on the outside of the restaurant as well as the restaurant workers and patrons seated inside standing right over the demarcation line to smoke. When you are walking down the street, I find that I have smoke blown at me from passersby with cigarettes in hand in addition to groups of people from the shops, offices, restaurants etc all smoking outside. As lots of pavements are very narrow there is no room to give them a wide berth so I mostly cover my nose and mouth and try to get by them as quickly as possible. Not always easy as they take up most of the sidewalk and you have to watch out that the cigarettes being waved about do not burn your clothes as you squeeze by. One of the more unpleasant aspects of visiting here. I have no idea whether these are all French people who are smoking but I would guess that at least a good portion of them would be.
AnnLiz on May 14, 2011:
#4 That's funny because that's exactly what I think about Americans :) I don't hate them at all but it's true that the few ones I've met were like "I'm from the best country in the world" and didn't respect the French culture and kept on behaving like idiots. But they're not ALL like that of course :)
thehemu from New Delhi, India on April 11, 2011:
#5 is really hillarious. What if women haven't shaved her armpit. Do somebody ask whx he is not brushing today.
Miss Lil' Atlanta from Atlanta, GA on April 09, 2011:
Well, I don't know if the French are snooty and rude based on expierience, but personally I think that they just probably come off to be rude to some Americans because of cultural differences. I think that if people spent more time trying to understand one another instead of judge and create stereotypes, we'de actually get to see the true positive characteristics of people in foreign countries.
Melanie Shebel (author) from Midwest, USA on January 24, 2011:
pyro, I agree with you. When a person judges people based on a stereotype, it's a really sad thing. Thank you for your thought provoking comment.
g on September 26, 2010:
very trueee !!!! "guest" totally agree with u 100%
guest on September 26, 2010:
woa !!!! french people are the BEST ..and im not only sayin that bcuz im mixed with french and im redz but its true french is the MOST STYLISH country evaaa !!!! like loreal paris .......and many other huge companies have started of in france and spread throughout the world . americans are rude a bit but sometimes the frecn are A BIT RUDE TO !! heck every country u gonna find rude ppl so just suck it up and live with it !!!!
pyro780 on August 30, 2010:
I am French, and i am sad when i think about american peoples who still believe myths about us...
They think France is still in 1950.
French peoples do not hate Americans peoples, they just dislike when they say we stink, we are rude...
Really, this is sad.
heh on April 15, 2010:
Oona Seckar on March 30, 2010:
Those aren't the myths I was thinking of when I read your title. What about whether French husbands are routinely unfaithful and it's no big deal, French women are the most stylish in the world and the French just don't 'get' pop and rock music?
YvesLeroy from San Francisco on September 24, 2009:
Thanks for that! ;)
meech741 on September 23, 2009:
I've had the opportunity to go to Paris, a long time ago, and you are right. Good Hub! Cheers!