Are the French Rude? Let’s find out!
If you’ve heard any stereotypes about France or French people, and I’m sure you have, you’ve probably heard things like “French people are rude”, “French people don’t shower” and “French people smoke a ton” among a myriad of other statements. The caricature of the French has become very prominent and reinforced in books, movies, and in everyday life. We all think of a certain type of person when we imagine the French; rude, snobby, fancy, and artistic, their berets falling off their heads as they sniff snobbishly. But, is that image truly representative of the French? Are the French really rude? Are they nice?
Where Did The Stereotype Even Come From?
The stereotype that French people are rude, or impolie or impoli in French, has become so self-perpetuated and integrated in society that it is slightly difficult to discern the exact origins. However, by taking into account the temperament of Americans, their social experiences, and possible interactions that sparked this stereotype, we can make more sense of it.
As we all know, Americans are very different from the French. In America, there is a huge culture of small talk that is lacking in France; the French just don’t really engage in small talk. In America, it is commonplace to make small talk with the cashier, the waiter, or the person next to you in line. Americans are always ready to have a conversation and small talk is considered polite; good etiquette and standard practice, even.
However, in France, the French are not used to small talk and don’t usually respond well to it. What is the point, they wonder? So, it is not unreasonable for this stereotype to have originated from American tourists not happy with the response they got from the French when trying to talk small talk. Or perhaps it originated from someone or a group of people who feel very strongly that the absence of small talk in French culture is indicative of the rudeness of French people.
However, it is more likely that the stereotype came directly from the perception of the French. Let’s discuss.
Bluntness: Rude Or Not?
Whether or not the French are actually rude; there is something that perhaps has contributed to the “French people are rude” stereotype; their bluntness.
In Western cultures, there is absolutely a culture of dancing around taboo subjects, a practice of telling white lies, and a culture of exchanging fake, or genuine, niceties. Gushing compliments and false reassurances are both persistent and hidden underneath a big smile that may or not be real. If you were to ask an American whether or not they like your skirt, the answer would most probably be an enthusiastic affirmation. In other words; bluntness is not in the skillset of the average American and honesty is usually reserved only for some situations; not in a situation where someone asks your opinion on their skirt.
The French, on the other hand, are not in the business of dancing around feelings or taking offense to honesty. There is a much bigger concept of being honest and blunt in French culture. They’ll tell you honestly whether or not they like your skirt and will deliver their opinion without any of the sugar or word padding Americans like to tack on.
The French are blunt beyond just opinions, however. While Americans are much more likely to be lenient with rules and guidelines, the French are not. For example, let’s say you are only allowed to park on the street for 1 hour and you go a few minutes over the limit. In America, you are much more likely to be let off the hook while in France, the rule will much more likely be strictly enforced and little empathy will be shown. You can cry or protest, but the response will still be a cold, “non, désolé” (no, sorry). This bluntness, lack of consolation and word-sugaring, can be interpreted or perceived as rudeness by people of other cultures. However, the French are certainly not rude in this regard; they simply are not in the business of going over and beyond so as not to offend other people.
A big difference between Americans and the French is the amount of offense to take, or, their sensitivity. In America, because people are used to sugaring their words and dancing around sensitive topics to make sure everyone is comfortable and no offense is taken, people are usually a bit more sensitive than the French.
In France, people are much less likely to take offense and are more likely to be “offensive” as people from other cultures may not be used to their bluntness and lack of sugar-coating.
This, of course, can perhaps contribute to the negative connotation associated with the French. However, it in no way is indicative of a “rudeness problem” with the French.
A Possible Superiority Complex?
Along with the stereotype that the French are rude, there is also the stereotype that the French are snobby and have a superiority complex, thus perpetuating the rudeness stereotype.
There have been many accounts of excited tourists, or touristes visiting France and finding that the locals seemed to look down on them and even seemed to be frustrated with them and their lack of knowledge of French culture. After all, there are quite a few things American tourists do “wrong” when they go to France.
However, the bluntness of the French may give Americans the wrong idea. Because there are very different norms and etiquettes in France than in America, the French may not appreciate tourists coming to France and completely disregarding the norms and etiquettes of the country. However, this does not mean that the French look down upon tourists. As long as you are respectful and open-minded, local residents are more than willing to help out tourists and be friendly with them.
Simply put, the French don’t have a superiority complex at all. Their guarded attitude and lack of stranger culture may make them seem more approachable to tourists.
Cold and Distant or Just A Different Culture With Strangers?
In America, if you smile at a stranger, you are almost guaranteed a smile, or sourire, and/or a greeting back. There is a huge concept of small talk and friendliness with strangers in America. However, in France, there isn’t a culture of interacting with strangers beyond the necessity. If you smile at a stranger in France, they’ll most likely be confused. While smiling at strangers in America is considered nice and polite, it may make a person look fake or odd in France.
Unfortunately, this difference in “stranger culture” creates a false image that the French are inhospitable or unapproachable.
The French and Their Privacy
With a lack of small talk culture and a lack of “stranger-friendliness culture”, you may begin to see a trend; the French sure do like their privacy. The French are very private people and like to mind their own business. In America, neighbors are friendly with one another, people have intimate conversations, and people are very open and approachable in public. However, in France, people don’t like to mingle in public as much, use quieter tones to talk in public, and don’t frequently mix business and pleasure. For example, in America, many parents get to know one another through their children’s school activities and form groups. In France, parents pick up their kids swiftly and don’t really bother mingling with the other parents or becoming too involved. Furthermore, while Americans are more forthcoming with personal information about their lives, the French keep their personal information more safeguarded and take more time to open up to people.
While analyzing French culture, it is clear that there are many domains and aspects that may make the French seem rude or snobbish. However, understanding that what may seem rude in one country certainly does not apply in another, will help you come to the conclusion of whether or not the French are rude or not. So, to answer the question, are the French rude, no, the French are not rude at all.
Americans have unfortunately created this stereotype because they fail to recognize that the French have a very different standard of living and different etiquettes. The French are certainly not malicious in their intent and therefore can not be considered rude. Get to know a French person and you’ll see that the stereotype is blatantly false!
French Words used in this article:
Impolie or impoli: Rude or impolite
Non, désolé: No, sorry