Rude and Better Lovers? 8 Myths About French People

I’m promise I’m not being paid by the French government or the Paris Chamber of Commerce for this post. (But if anyone from those organizations is reading and would like to pay me, please do get in touch.)

1. French people are rude. The French people I’ve known and have met since living here are without a doubt some of the nicest, kindest, most generous, down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. Maybe that’s going too far the other way to debunk the myth of rude, but it’s 100 percent true. I’ve been invited into people’s homes, invited to family birthday parties, offered apartments to use while on holiday, invited to happy hours where entire groups of French people speak English to accommodate me, the sole American a-hole who’s too chicken to speak it with French people.

That said, these same amazing French friends will tell you that I love French people because I don’t know any Parisians, and the second part of that sentence is true—all my French friends hail from outside of Paris. But, I’ll even defend the Parisians and say that if you speak French beyond the singularly annoying “parlez-vous Anglais,” smile (they may not smile in return, but I find it to be a helpful touch while butchering their beautiful language), and if appropriate, ask for their opinion (“Que preferez-vous?”) you stand a good chance atcracking a few words and maybe even a smile from even the most crusty Parisian.  This is a big city; Parisians are in a hurry and are stressed out, just like people in New York, San Francisco, DC, LA, etc., where I should also point out that there are plenty of both good and rude people as well.

What’s more, I find French people (this includes Parisians) to be helpful, proactively so in many cases. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how work the lock on my Vélib bike the other day while with my visitng American friend, and a French guy just jumped right in and showed us how it was done. People have offered directions when I’m staring at signs, waiting for the translation to kick in, and they’ve given me welcome guidance when I’m fumbling through selecting a cheese at the fromagerie. People help. They’re nice.

So let me say this once and for all: French people are not rude – not any more so than anywhere else. Stop saying that, please. If you talk shit about France, you’re talking shit about some of my friends. And I’m not a fan of that.

2. French people hate Americans. Scene 1: American man or woman walks into a store/restaurant/boulangerie and asks the clerk/waiter/person behind the counter in English, yelling as though said person is deaf, HOW MUCH IS THIS? (points to item in question) DO YOU SHIP TO ALABAMA?????!! Then pulls out a 100-euro note to pay.

Scene 2 is a real one that just happened on Thursday when a visiting American friend and I tried out a wine bar by my house. The tiny little bar was adorable, and much to our disappointment, was filled only with fellow Americans, probably 10 of us. Two guys at the bar behind us had an obnoxiously loud conversation about agents, expensive cars, how much money they were making, and hot girls. It was a slice of LA, or closer to home for me, like sitting at a table at Balboa Lounge in SF. (For the record, the bile tasted bad when it came up.)

In my limited time here, I’d have to say that there are more obnoxious American tourists than there are French people who hate Americans. They don’t hate American people as a rule (because they’re not inherently evil as many Americans think; see myth #1), but given that the majority of French people only experience the pointy, shouting American tourists whose only attempt at French seems to be “Parlez-vous Anglais” right off the bat, I wonder why they don’t hate us.

3. Paris has great weather/Paris in April is … {fill in the blank with beautiful, glorious, romantic, etc.} A good chunk of people, like me before I moved here, experience Paris during the height of vacation season, which is in the summer, and means your odds of getting a warm day and some sunshine are higher than they are in, say, November. When you’re here for 7 days in June or July and you experience a few thunderstorms and overcast skies, it’s charming and cute, part of the “Parisian experience” a la Rachel McAdams’ stuffy parents from Midnight in Paris.  (Oh, we had the most deLIGHTful thunderstorms when we were summering in Paris!) When you live here, you know as I now do, that it rains 20 percent of the time in Paris. Twenty percent! How did I not know this before moving here? (This from the same woman who only ever experienced Portland, Oregon when it’s sunny and whose theme for 2012 was at one point “Chasing Summer” and thus decided to move to “sunny” Paris to live out said theme.) It wouldn’t have changed my mind about moving here, but it would’ve helped me mentally prepare for the onslaught of gray and rain.

Also, April in Paris over an average of 50 years might indeed be beautiful, warm, pleasant, flowery, and romantic, much like the out-of-focus lens that Cybil Shepherd demanded be placed over cameras when filming her in Moonlighting back in the 80s. But in 2012, it was heinous. It rained almost every day; I never took off my coat and sometimes I slept in my scarf and hoodie. So Paris has some making up to do in April of 2013.

4. French people smell bad because they don’t take showers. Yep, some of them do smell bad. Sometimes it is because of a lack of shower, sometimes it’s because of a hot Metro ride, or a sweaty Vélib commute, or maybe some tragic overactive sweat gland. But then, there are a lot of the people in the Mission in San Francisco who smell bad, too. As well as some fancy attorneys who used to ride the elevator with me at 575 Market. People smell bad (and good) everywhere, so stop isolating it to France, which by the way, is the perfume capital of the world.

5. French people are good kissers/good lovers.  The kissing, in my experience, is true (So. Very. True.), but obviously, there have to be some foul French kissers out there; no country is perfect. As for the lover part, I’m keeping my mouth shut on this topic, though I’ve said before that I think the French are a very amorous people, and I’ve often wondered if the French education system offers a required course on giving pleasure at some point in primary schooling, much like I said back in the day over at DivineCaroline about Brazilians offering a course on waxing in elementary school. Seems like some industrious young woman or man should start a protect-names-and-keep-it-confidential-type blog on the topic of good vs. bad French lovers. Just sayin’. Run with it. And take me to dinner when you get your book deal.

6. French people smoke a lot. This one seems to be true. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting on my bed with my window open to let in some cool air, but I’m getting more of a Marlboro breeze than anything. Some mornings I wake up in my bed and my hair smells like cigarette smoke – and that’s just from sleeping with my window open, not from taking Ambien and then sleepwalking out of my house to a night club and returning to eat cigarette ashes crushed into butter.

7. French women don’t shave. People. Have you been to Berkeley? Done a yoga class in the Mission? I do yoga almost every day surrounded by French people, and I can tell you that I’ve noticed the same amount of bodily hair that I see anywhere else.  Let’s move on; body hair as a topic of discussion is so 1979.

8. Parisians are always dressed up. Not true. Parisians are equal parts shoddily dressed and stunningly fashionable as much as people are in any other major city around the world. My warm and cherished hoodie that I almost left in my storage unit in SF based on this myth was, as it turns out, a lifesaver and not at all out of place or overtly American-looking in Paris this past April.

All that said, I’d never leave yoga with my hair wet, wearing flip flops and yoga pants as I did in SF. It’s just not done. So there’s a bar you have to stay above, but truthfully, I see an awful lot of people that look like they got dressed in the dark with no hands, further proof that Paris isn’t always perfect.