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The French are stereotyped as being snooty about their language. But is that all of France? Or just a certain capital city that casts a long shadow?
I’ve made fun of the French a lot, both in my comic and in my articles on this site. Part of it is that they’re just fun to make fun of, and part of it is that the French are actually really good sports about it. It’s rare for me to meet a French person who isn’t completely self-aware about some of the absurdities of French culture, and the truth behind the stereotypes. That’s why I enjoy ribbing the French so much; the French can take it as good as they give it.
But recently I’ve done more traveling through the lesser-traveled paths in France, and I’ve noticed a distinct difference in personality between the urban Frenchfolk and the countryside kind. Now, this should really come to no surprise to anyone; in every single country in the world, there is a difference between those that live in the city and those that live in the country. But I think France is a special case, mostly because of its glittery capital city. Parisians are so forceful, so distinct and so proud that they tend to overshadow any other type of French person – at least, to anyone looking at France from the outside.
Think about the stereotypes from other countries: Germans have the lederhosen-wearing, beer-chugging Bavarians, but they also have the glasses-wearing, briefcase-toting bankers. Americans have the loud, obnoxious New Yorkers in overalls and caps, but also the loud, obnoxious Texans in cowboy boots and matching hat. Italians have a kind of indistinct mafioso-type that could be from Rome, or Sicily, or Naples. But the beret-wearing, baguette-toting, brow-furrowed, cork-popping, accordion-playing Frenchman is definitely from Paris.
That’s the stereotype, anyway. In the mind of the outside looker, Parisians have completely eclipsed their countrymen from anywhere else. They dominate the stereotype. And that’s why, when laughing at the French, you’re usually laughing at Paris.
But as I said, I’ve been poking around bits of backwater France, and I’ve been delighted to find that the stereotype rarely applies (if even it truly applies in Paris, let’s be honest). Yes, they also drink wine and eat baguettes and the greatest cheeses known to man, but they’re also extremely friendly, curious and above all, they appreciate it when you can speak French. Unlike Parisians, many Frenchfolk in other parts of France (particularly of older generations) don’t have the benefit of a strong skill in English, so even if they wanted to speak it, they often find themselves at a disadvantage. When you can speak enough French to communicate what you want, they’re over the moon. They don’t want to have to sully their mouths with English, anyway! They’d much rather hear you stumble through French than attempt themselves to stumble through English.
So if you’re ever disenchanted by Paris (and I’m not sure why you would be, it’s a genuinely enchanting city – but maybe you need a break), try heading out for the boonies. Explore Provence and Bordeaux and the Pyrenees. You’ll find the prices better, the wines finer, the cheeses smellier and the people friendlier. No need for an Eiffel Tower out in Europe’s vineyard.