8 myths about the French that just aren’t true

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Muscular man with an acetylene burner

8 untruths about the French that must be made right

It’s true that the French have a singular culture and they are easy to caricature. They are easy to make fun of and put down. But as an expat living in France, I can tell you that there are plenty of myths that simply aren’t true. It’s time to make a few things clear and let you know the truth behind the rumours.

Myth 1: That they don’t wash

lies about the French
The French aren’t dirty

This one is absolutely untrue. The French take just as much care of themselves as any other nation – even more so. After all, it is where perfume and “eau de toilette” come from. There’s even a city in the South of France called Grasse that is famous for its soap. If you turn up to a party unwashed, you certainly won’t be welcomed with open arms.

Myth 2: That they are relaxed about infidelity

infidelity in France
Infidelity is frowned upon

Yes, the French get less worked up about nudity. Yes, they are more direct about being attracted to people and play fewer games. Yes, they are great at seduction. But no, they are not adulterers. Remember that France is a Catholic country and they take they vows of fidelity seriously. Infidelity is a sign of an unhappy marriage in France rather than a normal show of behaviour.

Myth 3: That they eat delicious food every day

french myths
A plate of mussels

Newsflash. Not all French people can cook. There are over 1000 branches of McDonalds in France.  Kebabs and pizzas are incredibly popular here too. Busy business people eat sandwiches at their desk. It’s undeniable that the French take food VERY seriously, but they don’t have time to cook 3-course gourmet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Myth 4: That they’re always on strike

untruths about France
Not the French on strike. Probably another in another country.

There are actually less unionised employees in France than in the UK. It’s just the unions are still really powerful and laws protect them. But the average Frenchman is a diligent worker who abhors taking a day off to go walking about protesting against the government. What is true about French culture is that he who shouts loudest gets heard, and strikes are a part of that. You have to complain, and complain hard, to get things done.

Myth 5: That the economy is in the tank

French lies
This is a French female engineer. Yes, really.

The French economy is the 6th largest in the world. Yes, it has a huge debt burden, a bloated civil service, ridiculously complicated work laws, huge “social” charges and high taxes, but despite all of these things, the economy still works. Growth is almost non-existent and unemployment is high at 10%, but the French still work, and believe it or not, they work hard.

Myth 6: That they all love garlic

French garlic.
This is French garlic. It is not everywhere.

Of course the French know what garlic is. They call it “ail”. They’re not afraid of it like vampires are, and they use it skilfully in their food. But a full-on love affair? Wearing it around their necks? Come on. Garlic can be found in any vegetable section of a supermarket, not as some fashion accessory in a shop.

Myth 7: That they don’t shave

lies about the French
This is a hairy Frenchman from before 1981. Seriously.

The French didn’t shave until 1981. They all had beards, even the women. And then the razor was introduced and suddenly they woke up and realised how important it was to look good. No, but seriously, the French got really upset when they saw Julia Roberts with hair under her arms (look up “Julia Roberts poil sous les bras” in Google France if you don’t believe me). The French shave just fine. I mean who wants to give 4 kisses to a scratchy beard?

Myth 8: That the men all kiss each other

French myths
This is allowed in France, but only if they’re gay.

Ok here are the rules about kissing. Men who don’t know each other do not kiss, they shake hands. If men do kiss, then they never kiss on the lips. Unless they’re gay. And together in a couple. What I mean is, gay French men don’t go around kissing unknown gay men on the lips. Male members of a family kiss cheeks, but only if they feel comfortable doing so. Friends who are men will only kiss cheeks with very close friends, or men they’ve known for a long time, like childhood friends. Got it? Good.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I would add that in some circles, men do kiss on the cheeks even if not family-related. In the entertainment world (radio, tv, cinema, music) they always do that. I find it ridiculous but it’s just like that, FYI.

  2. And contrary to northern or eastern European countries, we never kiss our children on the mouth. Girls kiss girls, men kiss girls, some men kiss men when they are very close friends to act like show business persons or mafiosi (the fashion came from that), it shows trust and true friendship. Men in the same family kiss each other on the cheeks. Hug like in the US doesn’t exist between friends. The rest shake their hands. When a girl feel uncomfortable with kissing, she shakes hands.

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