Top Myths About France and French People

Medieval bridge in old french town
WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

We all know those stereotypes about the French: they tend to smell, women don't shave their underarms, they are rude, they hate Americans, they all go topless at the beach. Don't be fooled by these myths and urban legends. The truth is far more interesting. 

  • 01 of 12

    The French are Rude

    Saint Medard District in Paris, France
    Bruno De Hogues / Getty Images

    This is easily the commonest stereotype about the French, and the most inaccurate. The French are among the friendliest and most helpful people. But like every other nation, there are cultural differences that lead some to believe the French are rude. The French tend to be more direct than either the Brits or the Americans; they say what they think without dressing it up in fancy language and that can come across as rude.

    As with all things, the key is to understand the culture and to learn at least some basic French terms before you go. A very little effort towards understanding will go a long way to getting friendly treatment from the French who'll appreciate your efforts.

  • 02 of 12

    French People Hate Americans

    L'Hermione in Rochefort
    Melissa Shales

    This generality is completely untrue. The French, in fact, do a much better job than Americans in separating the idea of the American people from the American government. Of course there are some French people who dislike Americans, but most are friendly and polite to their U.S. visitors. In fact, French teens and young adults often try to emulate Americans.

    Americans have been part of France for a very long time, either visiting or living there. There are some intriguing stories; did you know that Charles Carroll, who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, was educated in St. Omer in northern France at the Jesuit College? And the story of General Lafeyette, the 18th-century French soldier and aristocrat from the Auvergne who went to fight with the Americans in the War of Independence against the British? The French were so enamoured of this piece of their history that they built a full-scale replica of Lafayette's frigate then sailed it to the U.S. and back in 2015. You can see the French/American connection by visiting the frigate L'Hermione in Rochefort on the French Atlantic Coast. But check first; the frigate tends to sail around the coast of France during the summer months.

    And finally how about those young Americans who rushed to join the Foreign Legion in France in 1914 before the U.S. officially joined World War I three years later? They all made a huge difference to the French attitude towards the Americans. as did the D-Day Normandy landings.

  • 03 of 12

    French People Stink

    Sunny autumn day at Jardin des Tuileries in Paris
    EschCollection / Getty Images

    While you may meet an occasional French person whose body odour would take your breath away, or whose breath stinks of garlic, this is actually quite rare. Yes, the French aren't as obsessed as Americans are about daily showers and the scent of soap. But most practice perfectly acceptable hygiene, and it is unusual to encounter a person who stinks here.

    The centre of the world’s perfume industry is in Grasse in southern France; and you associate France with perfume as a result. Check out more in Versailles at the Courtyard of the Senses (Cour des Senteurs) where it all began. 

  • 04 of 12

    French Women Don't Shave

    woman near eiffel tower
    Getty Images/Sam Edwards

    This may have been the case in the past but today you rarely see a French woman who needs to shave. French women not only have wonderful style, but are always impeccably groomed which is one of their great assets. 

    In Paris even women going to the boulangerie to buy the daily baguettes and flutes are often beautifully turned out. 

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    All Women Go Topless on French Beaches

    View of beach huts umbrellas.
    Grant Faint / Getty Images

    Sure, you will find some exposed chests on the French beaches. Many women, however, do remain covered. As a female sun-seeker, you won't feel out of place keeping a bikini top on at most beaches. Some beaches tend to be more topless than other beaches, but there is almost always a mix of women with tops on and tops off. 

    But you need to know where you are, so check out this guide to how to go topless

    And if you really want to bare all, check out the famous nudist and naturist beaches in France

  • 06 of 12

    Visiting France is Too Expensive

    Getty Images/Brand New Images

    It can be expensive to visit France if you aren't careful, just as it is for any foreign country, particularly if you are visiting for the first time and don't know the tricks. Like everywhere in the world, there are so many ways to save a few euros here and there, and they truly add up. Something as simple as your decision on a destination can save you hundreds. Choosing an inexpensive three-star hotel can do the same. Eating breakfast at a bakery instead of your hotel can even save you dozens of euros, especially over a week's time.

  • 07 of 12

    All French People Smoke Cigarettes

    France, Paris, hand of a woman holding a glass of wine and a cigaret
    Daniel Riffet / Getty Images

    Yes, the French do smoke. But there are plenty of people who don't. The country has come a long way towards being more friendly to non-smokers, and now has smoking bans in effect in public places. Sure, you'll see people lighting up outside offices, but that's the same the world over. When it comes to public places like restaurants, there's a pretty severe ban.

    Check out the smoking rules in France

  • 08 of 12

    A France Vacation Appeals more to Women than Men

    Medieval bridge in old french town
    WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

    Bullfighting. Medieval villages. Some of Europe's most rugged mountain climbing, skiing, ice climbing and other alternative winter sports, kayaking and hiking.  Hearty and heady beers. A heated fervor for soccer matches. And topless women at the beach (see myth #5 above). This is testosterone heaven. However, France is best known for some aspects that aren't the most masculine, like fashion, shoes, fabulous cuisine and wine. That doesn't mean a guy can't have a good time here; there really is something for everybody.

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    You Must Speak Fluent French to Visit

    Discussing olives in rue Mouffetard shop
    Atout France/Cedric Helsly

    If you're visiting a major city like Paris or Nice, you can probably muddle through without any knowledge of French. But elsewhere some French people will take you as rude if you address them in English (particularly if you do it slowly and loudly). You should at least learn some basics to avoid appearing inconsiderate. If you visit rural areas or even smaller cities, learning at least some French is crucial. Even ‘Bonjour’ (good day) and ‘Merci’ (thank you) will help. And you'll find that if you are struggling to make yourself understood, but are obviously trying, then the French will suddenly burst into English with a broad smile.

  • 10 of 12

    French Toilets are Disgusting

    public toilets
    Getty Images/P. Eoche

    OK. Sometimes this is true. However, most of the public toilets in France are perfectly acceptable. Shopping malls, top hotels and upscale restaurants feature the best toilets. Cafe toilets are usually OK. You will, on occasion, still encounter the notorious hole-in-the-ground squatting toilet, particularly at the small motorway stops called 'Aires', so avoid these where possible.

    Check French toilets out!

  • 11 of 12

    All French Women are Thin

    elegant thin french woman
    Getty Images/Elke Hesser

    This is not true; there are overweight French women. But on the whole there are less large ladies in France than in the U.K. or the U.S.A. It’s particularly noticeable in cities. This is partly down to vanity: French women like to look good and are often immaculately turned out. Fashion is important in a country where the fashion industry has always ruled. But it’s mainly down to the French diet, which is very good and generally healthy.

  • 12 of 12

    The French Eat the Most Disgusting Foods

    Escargots, Taramasalata and Smoked Salmon for Sale in Deli Window, France
    David Burton / Getty Images

    Now this is a matter of opinion; it's true that some French specialties are some of the most disgusting foods I have ever tried to eat; others turn out to be a nice surprise.

    We all know about snails. And frogs’ legs are also a typical French starter (or were before the frog industry was decimated and they had to be imported from China). In fact they taste like chicken. Introduce your children early to these foods. A friend of mine ordered frogs’ legs for his son, telling them they were exactly that - frogs’ legs. When they arrived, the boy picked one up and bounced it across the table saying ‘boing, boing’ each time before consuming it with gusto. Children are far less squeamish than we are. Nonetheless, chitterlings, gizzards, tripe and the like are acquired tastes. Good luck!

    Edited by Mary Anne Evans