Here’s how I was wrong about the French

From the nation's sexy and stylish women to the legions of lazy workers, France-based British blogger Jackie McGeown admits how she got it all wrong about the French before she moved here.

Here's how I was wrong about the French
Photo: Depositphotos

When I moved to France I didn't feel like I was walking into the unknown because I'd seen France plenty of times on the TV and felt I knew what I was in for.

So when I opened the shutters that my first morning and saw a man outside wearing a beret and carrying a baguette, I was confident that I had been well informed.

I hadn't. For a start….

1. Parisians are NOT the rudest people on earth

The arrogant Parisian is a staple character in television and film. This image is so pervasive that some visitors to France actually expect to be treated badly by the locals. I remember my brother's astonishment after a day's sightseeing in Paris with his young family; commuters had leapt to their aid as they struggled with pushchairs on the unforgiving Metro system. “Parisians are so friendly,” he said, baffled but pleased.

Are there rude people in Paris? Absolutely. But no more than in other large cities.

(Happy Parisians on the Metro)

2. All French women are NOT stylish/beautiful/thin/whatever

The impression abroad that the French as being superior in matters of appearance and sex still holds strong. It's one that British newspapers and glossy magazines gleefully participate in, trolling their readers with headlines along the lines of “French women are thinner, prettier and sexier than you. Also, they're better mums LOL.”

They then take some upper-middle class Parisian woman with glossy hair and colt-limbs and prod her until she says something like, “French women know how to please a man in bed and we don't eat biscuits at 10 am unlike you, you lumpy, polyester-knicker wearer.”

(The average French woman looks like this. Doesn't she?Photo: Depositphotos)

Now I don't deny that French women exist that are gorgeous, rich, thin, wear designer clothes, and who no doubt have sex magnificently. But to suggest that they are representative of all 33 million French women is ludicrous. As anyone who has ever walked down a street in France could attest, French women come in all different shapes and sizes. 

3. French people are NOT all white

Staying on the subject of representation, I made the ground-breaking discovery that not all French people are white when I arrived in my town in Seine-Saint-Denis, the department with the highest proportion of non-ethnically French residents in France. Until this point, my image of France had been based largely on the Renault Clio Papa and Nicole adverts: dappled sunlight and charming towns populated entirely by white people. Now I know places like this exist because I've been there on holiday.

Of course, I hadn't really thought there were no non-white people in France, I was just unaware that they were such a significant population. In my defence, there are very few black or non-white French public figures that have careers outside of France (apart from sports stars of course). I can't think of a single singer and only a couple of actors (Omar Sy, pictured below being the most famous) that could be offered up as proof to the outside world that black and other ethnicities exist in France.

4. French people ARE actually hard working

The British and American media love to make snide comments about the French work ethic, citing the 35-hour working week, generous holiday allocation, long lunches – even strikes – as proof of national laziness. Aside from the perverse idea that valuing time spent away from work is something to be ashamed of, this characterisation of the French working week overlooks the fact that the 35-hour limit only applies to non-managerial workers.

The Parisians I see daily look just as stressed and overworked as their London counterparts.

Holidays though? The French do get much better holidays than the Brits and Americans. Keep your moral outrage, I say, I'll have an extra two weeks by the sea, thank you very much.

5. Lunches DON'T last two hours

Those lunches I mentioned above: nope. French people – or Parisians anyway – eat takeaway food like sandwiches, salads and sushi at lunchtime. The luckier workers have access to canteens which provide three-course meals at incredibly good value. But two-hour wine-laden lunches are rare beasts.

Weekend family lunches don't last two hours either – more like three or four. Pray that you've got a cushioned seat because otherwise, your bum will be numb by the time you've finished.

(French office workers pop out for lunch on a Monday afternoon. AFP)

6. French people don’t only eat baguettes

I was mightily disappointed to discover that not only do French people eat bread other than baguettes, but you can even buy prepacked sliced bread in supermarkets – just like the British stuff, only worse. I felt dismayed that the French had chosen to sell this bread when they have a far superior native product.

(France should just stick to what it does best – the baguette. AFP)

7. Mime artists DON'T litter the streets

Where are the forsaken souls, cast dumb yet forever searching for keys to open invisible doors, climbing through windows and down interminable stairs that only they can see? You see more in Edinburgh during the Festival than you do in France. Disappointing!

(One in two French people look like this. Except they don't. Photo: Moyan Brenn)

8. French people DON'T talk about philosophy and poetry all the time

I was alerted to the existence of France's lowbrow culture by the display of trashy magazines in our local supermarket. Their covers featured people who appeared, to the uninitiated eye at least, to be an identical cast of buffed, coiffed, surgically inflated and tattooed characters as the models, reality TV contestants and footballers that appear in British gossip magazines.

The similarity doesn't stop there. Turn on the TV any night of the week (something I would urge you not to do) and you will find the same public and celebrity participation shows (The VoiceLa France a un incroyable talentDanse avec les stars) that exist in the UK and US, not to mention the myriad of cooking, dating, filming-drunk-twentysomethings-in-a-house shows.

I thought, somehow, that the French would be above all this sort of nonsense. It was incredibly naive of me, I'm now aware, to think that French TV would consist of late-night discussion shows where roll-necked professorial types discussed art and philosophy while smoking and gesticulating, before going home for a good old-fashioned orgy.

(Can't find Philosophy and Orgy weekly among the gossip magazines here. AFP)

9. French people DON'T only drink wine

Did you know that French people actually drink beer? You know, like us. It blew my tiny mind.

Fun fact: brewing beer is the one thing French people think Belgians can do better than them.

10. French people CAN actually speak English

Many French people are as comfortable speaking English as dogs are being dressed in dungarees.  The reason why, in my opinion based on some years of teaching English, is crippling insecurity brought about by negative feedback in the school system. (I taught people who were mainly in their 40-50s; hopefully teaching methods in schools have since improved.)

But the fact that France is the world's most visited country means it requires service industry professionals who can speak English, and so it is that most of the French people tourists encounters (in hotels, restaurants and tourist sites) are perfectly able to communicate with them. 

Reluctance to speak English is far too easily confused with incompetence. My French husband recently told me the story of how he had been sitting opposite two American women on the Métro and overheard their loud and detailed conversation about a recent sexual encounter. “I don't think they realise that we speak English,” he remarked. “We're not good at it but we do understand.”

READ ALSO: It's a myth the French can't speak English

What did you get wrong about France?

Jackie McGeown runs the site Best France Forever. Follow her on Facebook here for regular updates.




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The best and worst things about France in the summer

There are some things that make France the best place to be in summer, and then there are others that drive us mad, writes Katie Warren.

The best and worst things about France in the summer
Photo: AFP
Travelling France in the summertime probably evokes images of cruising along the coastal highway of the French Riviera, sipping rosé, frolicking through lavender fields, and having picnics in Parisian parks. 

Perhaps lining up for three hours in the hot sun to get into the Louvre. Or being packed in like sardines at the same Riviera beach half the country decided to go to. Or getting stuck in barely-moving traffic for two hours while trying to get out of Paris.

France in the summer can be wonderful, but before you plan your dream French summer holiday, you should perhaps be aware of some of the downsides.

Here are the some of the worst things about France in the summer. 

Queues and crowds 

More than 80 million people visit France every year, a good portion of them in the summer months. So it’s no surprise that the country becomes inundated with tourists in June, July, and August. 

Paris and the French Riviera are the hardest-hit by the crowds, so if you’re planning on being in either of those places, be prepared for an influx of people, and be ready to wait in queues if you want to do anything remotely touristy.

You might think you’re being clever by hitting up a lesser-known museum in Paris on a hot day instead of going to the beach, but thousands of other people will probably have the same idea.

Our advice for beating the crowds? Visit some of the delightful lesser-known parts of the country such as the Lorraine region in northeastern France, or relatively under-the-radar cities such as Clermont-Ferrand or Rennes.

Driving headaches

Photo: AFP

Tourists and French holiday-makers travelling into and all around France to their summer destinations means loads more vehicles on the roads. 

Keep an eye on France’s official traffic-monitoring site to see peak driving hours and routes and to figure out how to avoid them. 

And although chances are you won’t have any of this sort of trouble, keep a wary eye out for some common scams targeting drivers on French roads.

Melting in the Metro

The summer months are not always a fun time to take public transport. 

In the larger cities, Metro trains are not always air conditioned, so it can be unbearably hot. Being confined in tight quarters with sweaty strangers isn’t what anybody has in mind for an ideal French summer.

But when you are lucky enough to be in a blessedly cool air-conditioned Metro car, it can be a heavenly escape from the streets above. 

Summer also seems to be the designated time for France’s rail operator SNCF and Paris transport group RATP to undertake major construction work on their lines.

Here's a look at the construction works set to affect the capital this summer


Photo: AFP

The French love their strikes. Indeed, there were a total of 966 across France in 2015 (that's 2.6 a day!), according to the site, which records the nation's industrial action in real time. 

And in which month are they most likely to strike? That would be June — the first month of summer, and prime travelling season. 

So while you might want to do your travelling in June to get a headstart on most summer holidaymakers, July and August are your best bets to avoid any travel problems related to strikes. The French tend to trade in striking for lounging on the beach during their holidays.

Elevated prices

The French tourism industry celebrates the mass arrival of tourists during the summer months by jacking up prices. 

Be prepared to shell out more for flights, hotels, and train tickets in France in June, July, and August than during the rest of the year. 

The August dead zone 

Paris 'closes' for August but how long will it last?This one might be closed but a law states a certain number of boulangeries in Paris, must remain open in August. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

Good luck trying to get anything accomplished in France during the month of August. Offices, shops, and restaurants close up by the dozens for the entire month so their workers can go on holiday.

Even the end of July can be hit and miss, as some workers take off for their holidays a bit early, so it’s best to get anything important done before then. Or else it will just have to wait until September. 

Although you should be aware of the negatives to help you most make the most of France in the summer months, it’s certainly not all bad. 

There are many more things things that make visiting France in the summer completely worth it.

Here are a few of the best things about France in the summer.

The August dead zone

This is one of the worst and best parts of France in the summer, because unless you actually have to get some work done or get into see the dentist, the month-long holiday period is a beautiful thing. 

Whether they want to or not, those living in France are forced to slow down in August and smell the rosé. 


Yes, believe it or not. The French capital is a great place to be at the height of summer because most Parisians have gone to the beach and the left the city half-empty.

That means, seats on the Metro, albeit a sweaty Metro, seats in bars, space to lie down in parks, less beeping of horns…the list goes on and on.

Rosé wine

Photo: Megan Cole/Flickr

Sure, you can enjoy a glass of rosé any month of the year if you really want to, but there’s nothing quite like sipping a glass of that crisp, refreshing pink wine on a lazy, hot summer afternoon. 

Why not see the French summer through rosé-tinted glasses like the rest of the French do?

Ignore the wine snobs who say rosé has no place up there with red or white wine. If it's good enough for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, it's good enough for us. 


When it comes to festivals, summer is the best time to be in France. Music, gastronomy, dance, theatre… you name it, there’s a festival for it. 

There’s the Cognac Festival in western France, the Avignon Theatre Festival in the south, the Bayonne Festival in the south-west… the list goes on.  

One of the biggest summer events for music in France is the annual three-day Rock en Seine festival that takes place at the end of August just outside of Paris. 

Here's our list of the best events on in France this summer

Outdoor markets

French markets really are at their best in the summertime. Strolling through the sunshine, perusing the vendors’ stalls overflowing with mouth-wateringly fresh produce — perfectly ripe peaches, tomatoes, fragrant basil, juicy strawberries… It doesn't get much better (until you get your food home and can actually eat it).

Terrace life

The French, staunch supporters of café culture, will sit at outdoor terraces even in the dead of winter (and it certainly helps that many of them have heaters and some even offer blankets).

But café terraces really come alive in June, July, and August, when those cafés and rosés and cold beers can be enjoyed in the warm sunshine. 

Apéro is just better in the summer. 


Sunbathers on the beach in Nice, the Riviera's largest city. Photo: AFP

France has more than 3,400 kilometres of coastline, so every kind of beach bum is bound find at least a kilometre or two that will tickle their fancy.

The French Riviera is of course the spot that comes to mind, but the Cote d'Azur isn’t the only place to find a good plage. The Atlantic coast also has its fair share of perfectly sunbathable stretches of sand, not to mention the island of Corsica to the south. 

For when the mercury creeps up way too high and it’s unthinkable to be anywhere but near the sea.

Lavender and sunflower fields

Photo: AFP

The famous lavender fields of Provence in southern France —  sweet-smelling fields of purple as far as the eye can see — are definitely a highlight of summer. 

And don't forget the sunflowers! Not as fragrant, but just as lovely. 

So despite its various drawbacks, I think we can all agree that France in the summer is more than worth a visit. What are you waiting for?