Semester in Lyon: the French stereotype

The French aren't all mimes who wear berets and carry around baguettes, while grunting 'Oui, Oui!'

Based on my experiences, some popular misconceptions about the French are that they bathe less, walk around carrying baguettes, that mimes are common street performers and that French waiters are incredibly rude.

All of these are stereotypes. Americans have them too. We aren’t all obese citizens who eat McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we don’t all carry guns around on our hips.

My friends and I found an American cereal place in Lyon on Jan. 30, 2018. The place also sells Poptarts, EasyMac, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff and American candies.

However, like anything, there is some truth and some exaggeration when it comes to some of these French stereotypes, and buying into them completely could give someone a wrong impression about the way French people actually are. 

Stereotype: The French walk around carrying baguettes underneath their arms.

I’ve actually seen quite a few baguettes peeking out of backpacks and grocery bags. Lyon has a lot of open air markets, and baguettes are made with less chemicals and less water here, which means they get stale faster. This means the French have to buy a baguette every day or every other day. 

Fun fact: When their baguettes go stale, they soak them in egg and fry them, which is how French toast came to be.

Stereotype: Mimes are on every corner performing.

So, I saw a mime on my first day in Lyon but never saw one again. This was also in a very tourist-heavy area of Lyon, so that may be why. 

I also went to Grenoble: no mimes. There might be more in Paris, but I don’t think they’re as popular as television portrayals of the French lead us to believe.

Stereotype: French waiters are rude.

My French professors in the United States warned me that table service in France is different. They don’t pester you as much throughout the meal. Usually, you order your drink and your meal, and you don’t see them again. 

They consider it rude to continually interrupt your meal. However, one thing that really confused me is paying. I didn’t realize that I would have to go up to the cash register to pay. 

Usually, if you’re in a group, they don’t split the check; you have to tell them how much you want on each card. 

Also, they don’t do tips. Waiters and waitresses in France are actually paid decent wages, and you’ll just look like an American tourist if you tip.

I took a picture of my city, Lyon, France from across one of the major rivers, the Rhône, that runs through France on Jan. 12, 2018.

Stereotype: The French don’t speak English.

Actually, most French schools make it a requirement to learn a second language. Spanish and English are popular choices. Usually, when I speak French to someone, they’ll hear my American accent and respond to me in English. 

I’ve only met a couple of French people who don’t speak English at all. Or, they’ll tell me they don’t speak English very well, but I know it’s way better than my French. 

Stereotype: The French smoke a lot.

This is a very true stereotype. ASU is a non-smoking campus, so I don’t know what it’s like at other American campuses. But, every time I walk out of a classroom here in France I inhale smoke from students smoking outside. 

I’ve also been asked on the street whether I have a lighter. While Americans might eat worse than the French, we definitely are more conscious about the effects of smoking.

Stereotype: The French don’t bathe.

I don't think I would say that exactly. Most of my professors are fairly clean and professional. 

However, one dressing room in a department store did particularly reek. I also may not have noticed it because they wear stronger perfume than most Americans, but, all in all, I believe their bathing standards are similar to ours. 

Reach the blogger at or follow  @alexa_buechler on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this blog are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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