French Urban Legends

French urban legends abound!

I can no longer count how many times friends or acquaintances from the States have made comments to me about how the French hate Americans. I've run out of fingers and toes trying to keep a tally.

Where do these statements of French urban legends come from? Granted we've all got a stereotyped image of certain nationalities, portrayed through movies or TV shows from our childhood, but should we put stock in those legends from yore? Hopefully we've grown up enough to realize that nobody fits in a little box with a label on it. Let's have a look at some of those “French Urban Legends” and see how much truth is behind them.


The French hate Americans.

This French Urban Legend is FALSE.

You’re an average kind of person, most likely you'll run into average kinds of French people when you're here. There are exceptions to every rule, but as a rule, the French think Americans are rather cool.

For example - they're impressed with the way the boss of a big company still uses his first name when greeting people. The French are still kind-of “Monsieur so and so” oriented where the workplace is concerned. They're admiring of his self-confidence, and ability to be an average fellow who has a first name and uses it.

The French also think that most Americans are more affluent than they are in general, and that everyone is an entrepreneur. I think that's the myth held over from the soap “Dallas”, and maybe some of the newer versions like “90210” which show off rich kids at play.

They also like our teeth. Dazzling, perfectly shaped whites are the norm in the USA, and not so here, where dentists are still the low men on the medical totem pole.


French women do not shave their legs nor under their arms.

This French Urban Legend is FALSE, well somewhat.

They mostly go get their leg and underarm hair ripped out by a team of women armed with hot wax, tweezers and adhesive tape. This is such a painful experience (talking from experience here...) that sometimes you let a little more time than normal elapse between appointments.

There are some women who choose to stay “au naturel” all year long, but these women aren't usually the ones running on the beach wearing bikinis and showing off their body hair. You have to really look hard and for a long time, to find a young woman who has underarm hair, and why would you do that anyway???


The men all wear tight, revealing, bikini bathing suits to the beach.

This French Urban Legend is TRUE and FALSE.

Not all men do, but some do and unfortunately they're not usually the ones who should.

Men from the States - bring your bathing trunks/board shorts, and wear them, you won't be alone. The young guys are all wearing them, it's the older ones who have kept to the Speedo thing, so if you wear your American style shorts you'll be cool. Enough said.



The French give wine to babies.

This French Urban Legend is FALSE!

Geezzz! Where did that come from? The drinking age is 18 in France but it does have some extenuating circumstances attached. If a teenager under 18 is with his parents, and they allow him/her to partake of alcohol the waiter will not immediately call the police and have the entire family arrested.

Usually in social settings, for example at a dinner party in someone's home, it's a normal part of the routine to gather in a living room for before dinner drinks. The host/hostess will offer a soft drink or juice to the youngsters and obvious under 18's. But quite often, young people around the ages of 16 or 17 will be allowed to have a glass of champagne or a “kir”, white wine with a dash of black currant or raspberry liqueur. At dinner they are allowed to sample the wine, which they mostly don't like.

Still, the French do have an attitude toward alcohol consumption which is VERY different from Americans. They've decided that when you specifically label a habit with the hypocritical tag of “do as I say, but not as I do” curiosity gets the better of the average teenager and they start sneaking around doing “the thing” with no supervision. They think that it's better for a youngster to have a taste and hopefully diffuse the attraction of doing something forbidden.

I do not know what the statistics on alcoholism are in France in comparison to those for the USA, so I won't take a stand on this issue, but it doesn't seem as if it's an out of control problem where young people are concerned.

However, never have I heard of anybody giving wine to a baby, either in France or anywhere else. Nor are there police raids on private parties with proof of ID required to appease the police.

So, it's a different country with different rules and different applications of those rules. And so this French urban legend is most definitely false!


The French eat dinner at 10pm.

This French Urban Legend can sometimes be TRUE but is mostly FALSE.

Vacations and weekend dinner gatherings are notorious for late food consumption. Sometimes it's the before dinner drinks and nibbles which drag on longer than expected, and sometimes it just takes people longer to unwind than other times.

Sometimes this camouflages a catastrophe in the kitchen (speaking from personal experience here! I've been known to send Jp out with another round of before dinner drinks if things weren't exactly sailing along as smoothly as hoped in the kitchen).

Most often the evening meal is taken in between 7 and 9pm.

In our house, we eat a little later than most people. Usually the news is on (8pm) when we sit down. This is because for 25 years I worked in a shop which closed at 7pm, and by the time I got home it was close to 8, then I had to throw something together and by the time we actually could sit and eat it, the news was almost over. This was also a problem because no one would help clear the table if the evening movie was already underway. The end result to this was me missing the beginning of every film I've ever seen on television. There being only one commercial break during the movie, (imagine that!!) so if we let it all sit on the table the cat would have the dishes done for me by then, but the leftovers would also be gone. What would I have for my lunch the following day? Cat kibble? So, no I missed the start of the movie. The rest of the family was just fine with this; so a terrible habit got started: Me clearing off the table 'sans' help from anybody. How did I get going on this rant? Oh yeah, late dinners!

So now, we've made an effort to eat a little earlier whenever possible so that I can watch the entire movie with everybody else.

Dinner parties are much later though, guests arrive at 8pm or 8:30, and actually sitting down to eat isn't often until 10pm, thus the sometimes true for this French urban legend...


There is no deodorant in France/Europe.

This French Urban Legend is FALSE!

Ok, so twenty some years ago this was kind of the case, but they've caught up with us now! Woo-hoo!

The problem is that they're stuck in the spray on or wet roll on stages. Spraying so much is bad for the ozone layer. But, I hate wet roll on, it leaves marks on your clothes and you feel goopy as soon as you put your arm back down after you've applied it. But it works, so....

And by the way, they do bathe every single day, just like the rest of us western culture people. So scrap that bad hand-me down French urban legend from your parents' visit in the 70's.


The waiters are rude.

This French Urban Legend is TRUE and FALSE.

Weeeellll, some of the waiters are rude, and some of them are not.

Put yourself in their shoes for just an instant. You want to go to work every day and repeat the mantra 'the customer is always right' over and over and over again, mostly because you want a nice tip. And you want to keep your boss off your back. You've got a minimum wage job, and you work nights, weekends and every holiday. You work in a tourist area. I mention this because that's where you run into rude waiters: in tourist areas. The people who are your customers are therefore tourists. They're on vacation. They're supposed to be having fun, but it's the end of the day, the kids are crabby, they've had to wait for a long time to get a table and they expect you to make everything right. Except they don't speak the same language you do. They come and sit at your table and expect you to be fluent in 4 different languages, while working for minimum wage. You have to admit that there's something a bit off in this picture.

As tourists, WE should be the ones who make an effort to use what little language skills we possess and hope to be understood, but never demand it. “The Rude Waiter” stereotype is born from this problem. Miscommunication and us as customers getting huffy about it. Rude begets Rude. A very simple principle actually.

So, if you're ever in that situation, try to smile when you admit that you don't speak the language of the country you've chosen to visit, and remember that the rude waiter has most likely not spent a gazillion dollars on refining his foreign language education in order to work for the tourist restaurant serving 7€ crepes. Those guys with the foreign language diplomas are all working at the United Nations in New York City or at the European Commission in Brussels, bringing home a very nice paycheck indeed.


So about these French urban legends, looking back over the tally, we're about 50/50.

The thing is there's a grain of truth in a lot of these things, but only that: a grain.

France is like lots of other countries. It has its quirks, and believe me some of them are pretty strange. But then again, it's the differences which provide such wonderful experiences traveling anywhere.

If you expect everything you see, to be just like at home, then what's the point of traveling? Enjoy those differences, revel in them even, and take pictures of them, just bring your own deodorant.

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