Eight ways the French are different to Parisians

The popular image of the French in the eyes of foreigners is the Parisian: that elusive, slim, stylish, rather snobby creature that somehow never gets fat. Katie Warren asks are the Parisians really representative of French people?

Eight ways the French are different to Parisians
Photo: Blazej Stanisz/Flickr, coquijac/Flickr

If you’ve spent much time in France you’ll agree that they’re definitely not. 

In fact, Parisians are their own breed, utterly different from the provinciaux, the rather condescending term Parisians use to refer to non-Parisians.

Most provinciaux can agree that Parisians, even if there are major differences between those from the chic 16th arrondissement to those from the gritty 20th arrondissement, are not your typical French.

Parisians won’t argue with that, but they’re more likely to think (or even say out loud) it’s because they’re far superior to their compatriots.

And that leads us to the first major difference between the Parisians and the rest of the French. 


A survey in 2013 found that the Brits think the French were the most arrogant people in Europe and more to the point the French who were polled came to the same conclusion.

But when foreigners complain of the French acting superior to others, they are more than likely thinking of Parisians, because that's what those living outside Paris in the rest of France are thinking too.

Paris is home to the country's elite and it's in these circles where being arrogant is a necessity and a respected social value. Elsewhere in the country it's not so important, hence those outside the capital are usually a bit more down to earth and less likely to act superior. 

Most French people tend to be fiercely proud of where they come from. But Parisians take that pride to a whole new level with a rather simplistic point of view on those who live outside the capital. According to Parisians, they live in the best city in the world. Period. To be fair to Parisians, it is by far the most visited in the world.

Parisians look at the rest of the French in the way that New Yorkers regard Americans in the Midwest. They're baffled as to why on earth they’d want to live anywhere other than Paris. In the minds of some Parisians, the northerners are poor and depressed and the southerners are liars. As for the center of France, do people actually even live there?


As well as arrogance, another age-old derogatory cliché surrounding the French is that they are rude. But once again this is far more a trait you will witness in Paris than elsewhere in France.

The fact the Paris tourism board even had to come up with a manual on how locals should be nicer to tourists and the city's transport chiefs also published a campaign on how commuters need to be more polite to each other, suggests there is truth behind the cliché.

The fact is those from the Province are just as likely to complain about the rudeness of Parisians as foreigners are. While we complain about people who push on the Metro, jump queues, barge past you in the street, don't smile, beep their horns, don't smile when they take your order, these are all acts of low level rudeness that are far more likely to happen in Paris than elsewhere.

Dress sense

Photo: Ronel Reyes/Flickr

There's a dress code in Paris and if you don’t know about it, you’re not following it. Whereas outside of the capital you’ll see a wider variety of styles ranging from the well-dressed to the really terribly dated fashions, in Paris you’ll much more often see men in sleek suits and women effortlessly strutting the latest high fashions, perfectly tailored and in neutral colors. Yes, usually black. 


You’ve all heard tales of the miraculous “French paradox”: their diets are filled with bread, cheese, butter, and wine, but they never get fat. Well, that’s not quite true. In fact, obesity is on the rise in France, but Parisians are actually bucking that trend and staying slimmer than their compatriots outside the capital. 

Maybe it’s from sprinting up and down the Metro stairs or walking for what seems like hours through the endless underground maze of Châtelet – Les Halles. 

But take a train outside Paris and you'll soon notice the weight gain.


One reason Parisians don’t have time for casual chats is because they’re so fast. They all have somewhere to be right now, so they drive quickly, they walk quickly, they cycle quickly. The only thing they don’t do quickly is get to work in the morning. (Expect an empty office in Paris until the first arrivals start to trickle in at 9:30 am). Once you get outside of the city, life tends to be a bit more slower-paced and relaxed. 

Political views

Photo: AFP

Despite France’s traditional Catholic conservatism and the rise of the extreme right in some areas, Parisians have a tendency to be more liberal than the rest of the country.

Remember the massive anti-gay marriage protests in Paris that saw hundreds of thousands of marchers take to the streets, most of whom had been bused in from rural towns and villages.

However non-Parisians often accuse some of the city folk of being bobos (bourgeois-bohemians), a rather pejorative term for a someone who is affluent and rather removed from the working class, yet declares themselves to be politically left-leaning and free-spirited. In English you might know these kinds of people as “hipsters”. 

Working habits

Although France has a reputation for its leisurely lunches and light working week, the manic working lives of New Yorkers and Londoners are starting to spread to Paris. The rest of France is doing its best to preserve that work-life balance, but in Paris you’ll find more people working long hours, taking shorter lunch breaks, and even working on Sundays as many shops in the capital are starting to stay open on this day. 


Photo: Alex Proimos

One of the most pervasive stereotypes of the French is that they’re moody. Totally not true… unless you’re talking about the Parisians, many of whom seem to avoid smiling at all costs (unless it’s patronizingly at a lost tourist or a quaint provincial).

It's true that it’s easier to make friends or have a friendly chat with a stranger outside of Paris, but like any big city, its people are often simply in a hurry with no time for pleasantries with people they don't know. Thanks to their overall less stressful lives and the fact Parisians tend to take themselves more seriously, those outside of Paris are much more likely to give off a cheerful demeanor. 

So, while Parisians seem to get a hard time in France, many of these clichés apply to certain parts of the city more than others.

And let's not forget, even if you're from abroad or from another part of France, we all become Parisian after a certain amount of time here.

By Katie Warren

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How the world views France and the French (through Google)

What does Google's autocomplete function tell us about what the world thinks of France?

How the world views France and the French (through Google)
Photo: Fdcomite/flickr

The French, perhaps more than most, are always eager to know what the world thinks of them and their country.

And all this can be revealed, at least somewhat, by Google's autocomplete function. For example, what do you think would come up if you type into the search engine: Why are the French so…… 

We've taken a look at some of the top results. Granted it may not be the most scientifically reliable but it does give us a good idea of foreigners' preconceptions of the French.

Why are the French ALWAYS ON STRIKE? 

As it happens, the French aren’t the most common strikers in the world, indeed far from it. Various statistical comparative websites regularly rank countries like South Africa, Canada, Spain and Denmark above France in terms of days lost due to strikes.

Although figures change each year. So their reputation appears unfair. Unless you have tried to get to the airport in Paris during a strike. You won't forget that.


Why do the French EAT SNAILS? 

They are considered a delicacy in France and have been since the Romans introduced them when Caesar invaded Gaul, 58 or so years before the birth of Christ.

But they don't have them for breakfast every morning. Most who come to France will never get sight of a snail at all. The French are known for having a few dishes that others might find hard to stomach. Rabbit, kidneys and tripe, cow brain are all common here.


Why are the French so MISERABLE? 

Of course they are not all miserable, but there may be something in this one. Lots of recent studies have confirmed the French, despite having a high standard of living and good healthcare, are “trapped in a general malaise”. 

BVA-Gallup International survey in 2011 found that despite their relatively high standard of living, the French were the most pessimistic people in the world. 

The suicide rate is much higher than the European average. Claudia Senik, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, told The Local it may be tied to the French education system, which is too rigid and sets them up to fail.




No one can doubt this. Paris and London might be in dispute over which is the most visited but as a country, France is the undisputed most popular tourist destination in the world.

The annual visitor numbers usually top 80 million. Why? Just take a look around from Paris to the Pyrenees; Brittany to the Alps. Then there's the culture, the history, the prime location in Europe and of course, the food.


Why are the French so WEAK? 

Presumably this stems from the country’s World War II surrender to Nazi Germany, which even the French don’t consider as their finest hour. Then there was there sensible decision not to help invade Iraq.

France has one of the leading military powers in Europe, hence its intervention in Mali and the Central African Republic. France also has exercised a softer power by establishing hundreds of cultural institutes around the globe.

Why do the French HATE THE US? 

A strange one thrown up Google, that suggests Americans are confused why the French don't toe the line like the Brits. Or perhaps they are perplexed by their harsh treatment by locals on a trip to Paris.

The truth is, the French don’t hate Americans. They weren’t crazy about George W. Bush and his wars, but they seem to like Barack Obama well enough. And Parisians aren’t all bad, you just have to get through their outer, protective shell.


Why is Paris so ROMANTIC? 

There’s not been enough research done on this, but it’s a place that is mysterious, attractive, charming and luxurious. How could you not be seduced by a walk along the Seine, through the Marais or by Canal St Martin. That's why thousands come for Valentine's Day.

If Paris were a person most people would be swooning. The place also has a river of hormones running beneath it.


Why are the French so THIN? 

Firstly it's important to point out that some French people do get fat, especially outside Paris. However France does indeed have a low obesity rate compared to the rest of Europe.

And though France has all kinds of rich desserts, cheeses and other fat-filled food, the French consume with moderation. They generally eat smaller portions and save the rich, heavy stuff for special occasions.


Why do Frenchmen SMELL? 

This reputation has persisted for a long time and is bolstered by surveys such as one in 2012 found that 20 percent of the population showers every other day.

The poll also said 3.5 percent of the population, who may be ruining the country’s cleanliness reputation, only bathe once a week. And horror stories of sweaty Paris Metro carriages in the summer also don't help. Pooh la la.

Why is France so EXPENSIVE? 

Perhaps this is based on experiences of Paris and perhaps the wealthy Riviera. While it’s not as bad as New York, London or Oslo, the French capital is not cheap.

With costs of €2,500 a month for an 85 square metre apartment in Paris and €7 for a pack of Marlboros and up to €10 for a pint of beer you’ll need some means to get by here. Outside the capital, things do get cheaper, much cheaper.


Pourquoi les Francais… 

And what about French people's own perception of themselves? What does Google have to tell us about that? Well two of the most common searches are: “Why are the French rubbish at speaking English” and “Why are French people such pessimists”, suggesting there is a fair amount of soul searching going on.

And as for the poor English skills, we've had a go at answering that exact question here