Another Parisian Cliché : My Experience with French Stereotypes

It seems there are few people steeped in as much mythos as Parisians. Whether you’ve been to France or not, you probably have your own mental image of what Paris is like. And you’ve probably heard a lot about its citizens. Fresh off my first visit to the city of lights, I thought I would share my humble perspective on some of the most common French stereotypes.

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Paris is 24/7 high fashion. Well. I can understand why this stereotype exists. Some of the finest fashion houses in the world originated in France. This stereotype is especially popular in America. People overall dress much less formally in America. Pajamas, sweat pants, and track suits are common sights in shops and cafes in the US. This would be considered inappropriate in many places, Paris is just one of them. Overall, the mode of dress is slightly more formal. This seems to be a point of anxiety for many people traveling to France or Europe in general. Yes, you can wear jeans. You don’t have to wear heels or dress shoes all the time. But if you wear gym shoes and track pants, people will raise an eyebrow. Graphic tees and sweats are what children and lazy college students wear, not professionals.

Most of my French friends seem to build their wardrobe around neutral colors and basic pieces. Scarves are popular accessories to add color and serve a practical purpose in winter. But many of my French friends were very interested in the cosmetics and accessories I brought from Korea. Everyone likes to look to others for inspiration. But even in Paris, you see people trying too hard to be trendy, dressing lazily, or dressing too young for their age. Living in Paris doesn’t immediately give you Chanel style. And luxury brands are still mainly for the rich.  Many magazine articles that promise to reveal the “secret of French beauty” reveal incredibly expensive beauty regimes afforded by very few Parisian women. Primark and H&M are quite popular in France. And my friends swore by some solid pharmacy brands for their skincare routines.

French people are rude. Even friends from other European countries gave me this warning. France in general, but Paris especially is supposedly the place where manners go to die. My experience was quite contrary to this.From the evening I arrived when an older man helped me get my suitcase on the train, until the worker at the information desk complimented by attempts to speak to him in French on the day I left, I didn’t have any truly negative experiences. All the French people I met were very warm and relaxed and even those I only dealt with at shops and restaurants were perfectly polite.

I know that some people have negative experiences in Paris, but there are rude people in every country in the world. And sometimes it becomes a matter of us as travelers not knowing the cultural expectations. In spite of the relaxed atmosphere, there is a code of conduct and sense of formality that exists in France. You are expected to exchange greetings with the staff when entering a shop and say “voila” as you hand them payment. Taking the time to properly thank and people as wish them a good day is also expected. Overall, it seems that the French aren’t as prone to making small talk with strangers as North Americans are. Even when speaking to friends in public places, they tend to keep their voices a bit lower that you may be used to. This isn’t disinterest or rudeness from them, but simply a stronger sense of personal reserve. By trying to follow some basic rules of conduct and trying to speak French as much as possible (even though I made plenty of mistakes!), I had no trouble navigating Paris.

Paris is the city of romance. In my opinion, any city can be quite romantic if you are with the right companion but, Paris has this reputation mainly because of its many beautiful monuments which are conducive to viewing by night. Indeed, Paris has its share of impressive architecture and iconic art collections. Perhaps the abundant wine also helps to get the mood going. People visit for honeymoons and anniversaries hoping to soak up a little of the “Parisian romance.”

The French may seem more flirtatious by different cultural standards and greeting with a kiss may shock some people, but to my French friends, greeting with a hug seems more inappropriate– you are pressing your body up against someone else’s! Like any city, living there means working, buying groceries, paying electricity bills, and taking out the rubbish. One of my friend commented that the tourists are the romantic ones. Everyone else is just living their life. But perhaps in a hometown a bit prettier than yours.

I am way behind on posting about my trip to Germany and France, but I hope to catch up soon! If you’ve visited France before, was there anything that surprised you? If you’ve never been, what is your mental image of the country and its people?

 

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