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French regional stereotypes: Grumpy Parisians and drunk northerners

The French might be annoyed at the myth that they all wear berets and eat snails, but they're not above applying their own regional clichés, as Caroline Pierron discovers.

French regional stereotypes: Grumpy Parisians and drunk northerners
Don't believe what you hear about people in the French regions. Photo: AFP

Just as Brits are convinced that everyone from Yorkshire is stingy (they prefer 'careful') and Americans think New Yorkers are rude, uptight snobs, the French have their own widespread stereotypes that you will hear peddled about the inhabitants of the various regions. Spoiler alert: some of them do contain a grain of truth.

Bretons are stubborn and proud

They are particularly stubborn

FALSE  They do have the reputation of being obstinate, mostly because they initiated many revolts against those in power over the centuries.

If the cliché is still going strong today, this is mainly because of the expression 'Têtu comme un Breton' – as stubborn as a Breton. Yet there is no proof they actually are more single-minded than other people in France.

They are proud

TRUE – This might indeed be true, and it's certainly the case that a fair proportion of people from Brittany can go on for days proudly explaining why their region is the best that ever was. A Breton could look at you dead in the eye and tell you that En Bretagne, il ne pleut que sur les cons – In Brittany, it is only raining on morons, while there clearly is a storm brewing.



The Breton flag is proudly waved. Photo: AFP

Toulouse people are always late and all they eat is cassoulet

They are always late

TRUE – Many Toulousians do indeed tend not to be on time quite frequently. An expression was even coined up to describe this lateness: le quart d'heure toulousain – the Toulousian quarter of hour, used to describe the fifteen minutes delay between the arranged time and the actual meeting time.

Rumor has it those who are always on time are not real Toulousians, so enjoy and slow down for a while!

READ ALSO The regional French slang you will need to get out and about in France

They only eat cassoulet

FALSE – While this is an iconic meal, a real Toulouse inhabitant probably eats cassoulet twice a year at the very most. If they will gladly share a cassoulet during family events every once in a while, this is kind of considered as a meal for tourists, especially during the summer months.

Picardians and people from the North are inbred alcoholics 

Natives of the Nord are inbred

FALSE A common joke in France is to say many people from Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie are inbred and therefore ugly, though there are no figures showing this is the case more than anywhere else in France.

The spreading of this cliche may be due to a largely media-covered incident during a Lens – Paris Saint-Germain football game, back in 2008. Parisians supporters held a banner which read 'Pédophiles, chômeurs et consanguins: bienvenue chez les Ch'tis' – Pedophiles, unemployed and inbreds: welcome to the Ch'tis'. Ch'ti is a common nickname for people from the North. Five of those supporters were arrested.

Since then, inhabitants from the North had a sweet revenge on this stereotype: three women from the region were elected Miss France in the span of four years.

The northern areas of France supplied three Miss France winners in four years, so clearly they're not all ugly. Photo: AFP 

People living there are all alcoholics.

FALSE – Compared to the rest of the country, it is true there are more regular drinkers in the Hauts-de-France – which comprises Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie – but also more teetotallers. The younger generation plays a role in knocking down this belief as well: teenagers under 17 drink less than anywhere else in the country. 

Why the cliché then? The region holds the sad record of people dying from cirrhosis, twice as much as the national average.

People from Marseille are always exaggerating and women there are trashy 

They are always exaggerating

TRUE – Marseille's inhabitants do tend to overemphasise things as a general rule, from the number of people in a crowd to the time they waited to see a doctor. Their Mediterranean heritage surely contributes, but there may be another reason for this local habit.

There is a well-known story in the city which recounts the time a sardine clogged the city's harbor. It was actually a ship named Sartine which sank just before entering the Vieux-Port, but the grapevine turned it into sardine. This contributed to the collective idea that people from Marseille having a tendency to amplify events.

Women from Marseille are trashy

FALSE  A very common stereotype is to believe women living there are trashy. While most people are tastefully dressed, it's true that some of them do wear what may be seen as tasteless pink and leopard-print clothes and flashy jewelry. French people even have a word for them: they are called cagoles

cagole is quite a pejorative term. It is often used in comedy shows parodying the Marseille accent though, so this is probably where the generalisation comes from.

Parisians are stylish and always sulking

They are all very stylish

FALSE Because of the mythical Parisienne look and all the high-end fashion houses based in the capital, many people from other regions have the tendency to believe Parisians have an innate sense of style.

Well, while some of them are indeed extremely stylish, you may be disappointed to find out all Parisians do not meet this 24/7 class and style ideal which has been conveyed for decades. Many locals would even dream of getting rid of this folklore, especially during the Fashion Week mayhem.

They are always sulking

HALF TRUE Unless you find them in a particularly good day, Parisians do seem to be pulling a long face every time you run into them. But the local will mostly be moody on public transport and when brisk walking the streets of Paris – basically, the Parisian is grumpy when rushing from point A to point B.

However, if you take some time to observe them on terraces and in parks on weeknights and over the weekend, they can be as smiling and relaxed as any other French people.

Using the Paris Metro does require a certain forcefulness of character, so maybe this is where the idea of the grumpy Parisian comes from? Photo: AFP

Auvergnats only eat cheese and are penny-pinching

They only eat cheese-based meals.

FALSE When you are branded as kings of the aligot – a specialty dish made of mashed potatoes mixed with butter and loads of cheese – and produce a trademark French cheese such as the Bleu d'Auvergne, it is quite understandable for people to reduce the regional gastronomy to these delicacies.

In fact, Auverge has produced many great dishes just as appetising as those previously mentioned: cold meats, an Auvergne-style pork stew and clafoutis to name a few.

READ ALSO The worst cliches about the French that really need to be dropped

They are cheapskate.

HALF TRUE – There is a common saying to describe inhabitants from Auvergne and their relationship with money: 'Their arms are too short and their pockets too deep'.

If this tended to be true, this is because the region used to be a poor and isolated, which made it hard for inhabitants to make ends meet. People therefore tended to save their money and now this kind of runs in families as tradition.






Member comments

  1. How is Ms.Caroline Pierron any more qualified to generalize the entire French population than the rest who came up with the myths? It may be convincing if evidenced with statistics and polls but otherwise, entirely dismissable.

  2. You know every country has its own stereotypes. GB absolutely. American Southerners absolutely. Now what about those poor Belgians! Can you ever leave them alone!! As a yearly tourist the ine stereotype that bothers me is the way people dress in Paris. Tourists are very casual, sloppy even. But when sitting in a Cafe I see many french people also dressed in shorts, athletic shoes and casual shirts. I can at times foergive the tourists. I explain to my tourist friends that some stores will treat you better if you dress well. If you want to go shopping in the Golden Triangle, dress the part. Looking at a $30,000 dress while you are in cut-off jean shorts just does not do it. I tell them to expect to be evaluated. And if you look nice and clean, you will get better service. Your jewelry will also be checked out to see if you can, I hate to say, pay $2000 for a pair of shoes or a Birkin bag. Other than very high end shopping people dress pretty much alike.

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.