It is that time of year again: Tourist Season. I have undoubtedly been guilty of acting as the overly, loud American enthusiast of Paris. After almost three years of living in the city of lights though, I have learned how to navigate and blend in as one of the “parisiennes” (but I still have a lot of work to do!). I was once asked by a French friend if I could spot any tourists in the crowd (she is new to the parisien way of life). I nodded, “oh, you definitely can“. Other than by the way they dress, following in groups and having a map out 24/7, what I mean is (and I have fallen for this), tourists tend to fall for traps that a normal French or Parisian knows is false. It tends to be overly played stereotypes, like the way the French dress, eat, etc.
As I was people watching the other day in both the 5th arrondissement near Notre Dame and later at the Louvre, I got this idea to respond to certain stereotypes that foreigners might think of when they think of Paris and the French. Here we go!
- Berets: I believe this is false. Never have I ever seen or met an actual French person who likes to wear these kinds of hats. This tends to be a tourist trap, and you can find berets in souvenir shops with the word “Paris” and a sketch of the Eiffel Tower scrawled across it. Sure, I would recommend to buy it as a souvenir (I think it’s cute for that), but if you do not want to come across as a tourist, do not wear it out and about!
- Stripes, Black and Fashion: Yes, the French do love their fashion. Their basic outfit tends to be all black (they tend to throw in some red, dark purple, brown and beige/white for color) and are fan of stripes by what I have noticed. Yes, some Parisian men wear scarves, but I can’t blame them because it gets cold in the city.
They are very proud of the fashion industry in Paris, but I also do believe that fashion can change between the arrondissements. In the more artsy scenes of Paris, I think you can see more of a hipster, new-age style. In my college classes, I have never seen anyone in sweatpants, a sweatshirt and Uggs. That style does not exist here. I will say, since I moved to France, I pay attention to how I am dressed and take my time in the morning to look decent. One time, I went to the boulangerie next to my house in a Purdue sweatshirt, sweatpants and no makeup and I felt like the they were all judging. Fashion is a statement here, and it presents who you are.
- Cigarettes: Ahhhh yes, the French and their cigarettes. This is definitely a thing in Paris. In fact, the Frenchman is one of the few French people who I have met who HATES smoking and has never had a smoking period in his life. There are even smoking rooms in certain bars/clubs for people who want to take a break from dancing to have a smoke.
- Baguettes: The best thing about boulangeries in Paris is going in and buying a baguette fresh from the oven. Don’t expect me to walk home without eating at least half of it
(sorry, not sorry). I have also seen others strolling the streets with a baguette under their arm and a piece torn off… Ahhh the French tradition.
- Pastries: This is also an important food source in France. When I was an au pair, I would see kids running around the park with croissants and pain au chocolat during gouté time (the snack that comes after school). One of the first times I spent the night at the Frenchman’s house I woke up to fresh bought pastries in the kitchen, and it is a tradition we have kept when we are on vacation (because at some moment, we have to start paying attention to our figure).
- Weird Foods: Yes, the French eat snails, frog legs, tartar (raw meat) and force-fed goose liver, but these are things they eat on special occasions (like birthdays, Christmas, Easter and other big events). I have tried it all, and I am definitely not a fan of the frog legs, but do love some tartar.
- Cheese: Yes, yes, yes. And give me more! My favorite so far is brie with truffles. It is also true that cheese tends to come after dinner, and if you are in a nice restaurant with a multiple course meal, it comes right before the dessert. In almost every normal French bistro I have been to, on the menu near the dessert section tends to be a cheese option.
- Cafés: I love cafés in Paris, and I love exploring new ones. It is true that the French love their coffee. The café culture here is very important, and the terrasse is a perfect spot to sit while eating/drinking and people watch.
Also, many terrasses are perfect for cute pictures on Instagram (guilty).
- Afterwork: I love how the French take words from English and make them their own. There is already a word for this popular event, or how we Americans know it as, “Happy Hour”. It is that time when everyone leaves work, heads to a bar with friends, and orders cocktails or beer for a cheaper price.
- Butter: The French are proud of their butter, and I remember my first host family criticizing the Mediterranean culture (Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal), because we use too much oil in our food. They couldn’t understand how Spaniards liked oil on bread in place of butter. In my Italian class, my French professor said she would rather eat croissants in France because they were butter based. An interesting fact that I recently learned is that in Bretagne (a region in the North), they are known for salted butter, which I am a huge fan of.
- Hating English and being pretentious: This one is a tough one. The French are very proud of their country, and have a right to be. They have everything: beautiful mountains, amazing beaches, the best wine and food, a beautiful language, and of course the “City of Lights”. Yet, I have heard multiple people tell me that the French hate America and hate speaking English. I often try to wonder where a lot of these ideas come from… I have never heard a French person tell me they hate America. They can be critical of our lifestyle, as much as they can be critical of their own (yes, it’s true!). Also, not being able to speak English tends to be true with the older generations, but it is beginning to change. A lot of the people I go to university with like to learn English, and the Frenchman and multiple of his friends are making an effort. The new president of France, Emmanuel Macron, has made statements in English.
I always say, this sort of thing varies with experience. I have met multiple people from different countries that I haven’t liked and thought were pretentious as well, and then I met others who were sweet and welcoming. Trying to understand culture as well is important, and understanding where you are. Paris is the equivalent of New York, a big city where everyone is in a rush. Head south, and the people tend to be more relaxed.
- Wine: True. The French know their way around wine and can be proud of it. And please, just give me all the wine (and champagne).
Any misconceptions about your own country?
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**These are based off of my own personal experiences living in France.**