When experiencing a different culture, it is only natural to search out clichés. It puts us in a “familiar territory” of sorts, allowing us to feel as though we are in “the know” when we see a recognized (or stereotyped) behavior. However, clichés can be a slippery territory; they always lack originality. They can strip a person/culture of their unique identity. As the French poet Gérard de Nerval said: "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile."
The use of or the searching for a cliché is usually due to the inexperience of a subject. The very best way to avoid believing a cliché is to get out: explore, interact, ask questions, and try new things! Below find a list of 5 French clichés that simply aren’t true.
Cliché: It’s impossible to have a bad meal in Paris. Times are changing in Paris, it seems. It all started with a salad that a waiter convinced me to try. It was exquisite! It was because of my first great experience that I began to hunt for my new favorite on every menu I came across, and ordered it several times throughout our stay. However the evening when my chevre chaud salad arrived to the table lukewarm on semi-toasted, semi-soggy slices of bread with globs of honey sprinkled throughout torn up bits of iceberg lettuce I knew I had witnessed the death of a cliché. (To make things even more interesting, it seems that plenty of Parisian cafes and restaurants have recently adapted the use of the microwave to prepare their meals for customers.)
Cliché: The French are rude. Simply not true. People are rude. An entire country/culture is not. I have heard this from several people: and some have never been to France! For those who have been to France and still are of the same opinion my first question is “Do you know any French?” The answer I usually get is a “No, but…” And there it is. I cannot stress this is enough: Paris may be a world famous tourist destination, but Paris belongs to the French. They speak French! As expats, tourists, etc, please know that French is the language of where you are, and it is rude to expect someone in their country to speak your language! Do you have to speak French correctly? No. Will you be corrected if you don’t speak it correctly? Most likely.
Culturally, from a young age the French have been taught the importance of “correctness”. As Americans, we have received encouragement and positive reinforcement in all that we do from a young age. As Americans we might expect to be quietly pulled aside and gently corrected if we are wrong. In France expect to be corrected on the spot. It’s not rude, it’s a difference of cultures. I personally have been charmed by the kindness and hospitality of the French. I’ve had perfect strangers give me a detailed tour of their neighborhood and it’s attractions!
Cliché: The Parisians don’t wear sneakers/trainers. Like, ever. Oh yes they do! I’ve even seen white ones.
Cliché: The French do everything slowly, they are lazy. One slow, meandering stroll through the métro will set this cliché to rest. See also: the cafe waiter. When speaking with a French friend of mine (who has also spent 3 years here in California), she said something very interesting: “I don’t want more money.” Does that surprise you? It floored me. Who doesn’t want more money? Who doesn’t equate more money with a more fulfilling life? As an American, I had a hard time understanding that thought process - which isn’t to say that I disagree with it. Personally I think it would be liberating to share her outlook.
Cliché: It’s a mystery how the French (Parisian) women stay so thin. Cigarettes, espresso, and the metro. According to some resources the number of smokers in France is actually increasing. Nicotine and caffeine are both known appetite inhibitors, and when you throw in all those métro steps multiple times a day, you’ve got yourself a pretty solid answer to how those croissants don’t linger on the hips. (And if you're like my French friend, you will often skip a few métro stops by walking to save some change.)
Can you think of any clichés (French or otherwise) that you’ve encountered?