To foreigners all over the world, the French can mean a whole lot of things. The mere mention of the word is enough for some people (for better or worse) to form a sharp image in their heads. Try these on for size:
These, my fellow audience, are nothing but ignorant stereotypes. Even for people who have visited France (usually just Paris) could conceivably come home with these stereotypes more strongly ingrained in their psyches. Sure, French people eat a lot of baguettes! Sure, there have been some highly influential French philosophers “a l’epoque”! Sure, there are some French snobs! As if there are not these types everywhere across the world! And yes, my friends, even Canadians!
International media (predominantly American, let’s face it), portray the French as in love with themselves and stuck in their own French culture, not even bothering to look elsewhere. Need some examples? Almost every animated Disney movie has one. The candle and Gaston in Beauty and the Beast for example. The Simpsons, South Park among others do a fine job as well of including a French stereotype every now and then. Sure, Canadians, Brits, and many others suffer from the same preconceptions but I submit that the French have it worst. As the French say, these are “les conneries”!
For someone who has been in France for 6 months, a little bit all over, and (most importantly) someone who has met many different French people from all over this great country, I can tell you all that the stereotypes are mostly entirely made up. Some examples and attempts at quelling them:
The French are “inward looking”
I suppose that many groups are guilty of this but again, the French are unfairly portrayed as the kings of self-adulation. Of the French people that I have met here, there have been a majority who either have travelled extensively, or plan to. All over the world and for long stretches of time. New Zealand, Scotland, Canada, Japan, and Congo to name a few. This is made perhaps more impressive given that the welcome for French people around the world (mostly speaking about the States) would not be characterized as “warm” or “with open arms”. Not only do they travel a lot, but I have found that, to a large degree, they sincerely care and stay informed about global events from all over the often troubled and conflicted world. They are not constantly looking inward to their accordions and baguettes but rather conversely, outward.
The French don’t respect the non-French
OK, this is slightly connected to the previous topic but worth a little discussion. Basically, all of the French people whom I have met (who come from all over France usually minus Paris) are supportive, helpful, warm, funny, and welcoming. They often understand what it is like to be a foreigner in a foreign land and often try to aid these people along their way. There were some who warned me upon deciding to come to France that the people would not be welcoming, that they would be so engrossed in their own French lives that they wouldn’t care a lick about me. I am here to say that this has turned out to be quite the opposite.
So the question begs. Why this negative, sometimes harsh portrayal of France from many (not all) people across this world? Are they jealous? After all, France does boast a varied climate, great food, a strong socialist like government, varied scenery from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea to the French Alps. Would you leave here? And yet they do, and it is something that is not often enough discussed and acknowledged.