French Stereotypes: La Vérité

17 Jun

Photo by Cameron Sperry

MAKING fun of the French is a common American past time.  Nightly, we sit in our Lay-Z-Boys, eating McDonalds and talking in Texas twangs about how much better we are than the Frenchies, right?  I went to Paris knowing very little about what it was like aside from the fact that Americans would prefer to eat Freedom fries over the French ones.  So, I decided to investigate the truth about the French and their ways through the only way I knew how: Stereotyping.

Stereotype 1: People in Paris are rude.

Climbing the Eiffel Tower's 300+ stairs!

Everyone was unbelievably nice in Paris.  Many people talked to us on the train wondering where we’re from, whether we were enjoying our trip, and where in the world Kelly bought her shoes (if you don’t know what Vibrams are, google it).   In fact, we never came across one rude person in Paris.  They went out of their way to help us and give us tips.  For example, a man told us to climb the Eiffel Tower, instead of using the elevator.  Taking the stairs only costs 7 Euro instead of 15 and, of course, it’s much more fun.  If we asked for directions, people would stop what they were doing and walk us to our destination or at least walk us to the correct street to get us started.  They really appreciated it when we attempted to say things in French, but were happy to speak English to help us understand.  I was just as surprised as you are now, but even more surprised about…

                                                                           Stereotype 2: Paris is dirty.

A very clean train station.

The French are the complete opposite of dirty- they are tidy, they are spotless, they are sparkling!  Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but Paris did make any city I’ve been to in the U.S. look like one nasty garbage dump.  Paris’ streets were incredibly clean.  There weren’t even cigarette butts on the street.  Kelly was disappointed, because she likes to find scrap metal and discarded trinkets for her artwork on the sidewalk, but there were none to be found.  The air smelled like the blooming flowers and trees and the subway system was pristine.   Seriously, not one rat, gum wrapper, or ticket stub.  Now that I know it is possible to keep such a big and busy city looking so nice, I am ashamed of America’s city maintenance.  For five dollars, you could get me to lick a Paris subway seat, but in New York?  Now way, not for a million.

Stereotype 3: Paris is Expensive.

Kelly and I stayed in Gare Du Nord—supposedly the bad part of the city, although with parents pushing baby strollers, new bike paths, and pretty flowered balconies, it didn’t seem so horrible to me.  Our hotel room was a 6th floor walk-up with two twin beds, a low ceiling, a closet that was converted into an awkward shower, and a bathroom down the hall.  It was 50 Euro a night, which must be really cheap for Paris considering what we paid for food.  I can’t imagine how much an average hotel must be. Our average meal cost around 20 Euro each (about 30 dollars)- and no, the meals weren’t fancy, which I will get to next.  One afternoon, Kelly and I were hot and tired from sight-seeing all day so we split a bottle of coke and a bottle of water at a cafe, costing us 14 Euros!  Having lived in New York City, I understand that some of the problem was that we had no idea where to go.  We were probably sucked into one tourist trap after another, but now I do know that I won’t be able to afford to go back to Paris unless I have a local and very knowledgeable tour guide… or if I win the lottery.

mmmm escargot...

Stereotype 4: Paris has good food.

For the price, the food was quite disappointing.  The French really do love their mayonnaise, sauce, and butter.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all those things too… but my chicken salad literally had 4 heaping scoops of mayonnaise on top of it (it must have been half a jar), and while the sauces were good, the food underneath the sauce was nothing special.  We made sure to have escargot, but my uncle makes escargot that is 100 times better.  The green sauce dripping off of those snails, however, did make good photos.  Kelly and I went to the fancy part of the city called Saint Germaine and had a good dinner.  We shared a bottle of wine and I had steak with sauce and she had lamb with sauce.  We ate a fluffy meringue thing floating in crème anglais and a crème brulee for dessert.  The food was quite good, but by no means the best I’ve ever had.  We paid about 80 Euro and that was off of the prix fixe menu: the cheap, set price menu.  Again, I admit we had no idea what to order or where to eat, but even when we took people’s recommendations, I wasn’t impressed.

Stereotype 5:  The French are always carrying a long baguette under their arm.

Kissing Oscar Wilde's grave in the Père Lachaise Cemetery

To my and Kelly’s delight, and hopefully yours too, yes, they do.  Maybe not all day, it’s not like an extra appendage or anything, but it is very common to see people on their way home from work with a freshly baked loaf of bread to accompany dinner (and then probably some left over for breakfast the next morning).  The smell of fresh baguettes is amazing and the taste is indeed the same.  Something America definitely needs more of is fresh and local food instead of packaged products made on an unknown date by an unknown machine, bought at a very widely known chain store.

Stereotype 6: The French make a “haughn! haughn! haughn!” sound when they laugh.

The Hall of Mirrors in Versaille

No, the French seemed to laugh quite normally.  Some loud, some soft, some more than others, but still like you and me.  They do, however, say yes a lot, and you can usually hear them on their cell phones saying “oui oui oui” all the way home.

SO before you go to bed to cuddle your American flag tonight, think about how people are actually just people no matter where they are from.  Our cultures and lifestyles make us different from one another, but they don’t make us worse or better.  Nevertheless, French fries do taste better than Freedom fries… there must be a secret to the dipping sauce.

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