“French” things that aren’t really French

July 28, 2010 in France

I’m always amused by American stereotypes of the French, and the things they expect to find on a first visit to France. Visions of berets and baguettes, expectations of pastries and poodles. While you can count on straightforward (read: rude) French waiters and a strike to ruin your travel plans, there are plenty of things that the English language prefixes with being “French.” But is that always accurate?

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French toast: Don’t expect to find a pile of French toast waiting for you for breakfast. French toast is called pain perdu, or lost bread, and it’s what the French sometimes do with bread that has gotten too stale to eat. You can’t order it in restaurants, and French families aren’t accustomed to that sort of sugarly, caloric overload at breakfast. Try a pain au chocolat and café crème instead.

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French manicures: First of all, nail salons are hard to come by. A French book I read referred to nail salons being the brasseries (typical French café/bar/restaurant) of America: in other words, there’s one on every corner. Most do offer French manucures, but the fact that they refer to it as being French (not Français) is an instant sign that it’s not authentic. To my amusement, I recently found a salon offering ongles Americains, or American nails (acrylic tips). Nails are often painted, but the classic pink-and-white-tip isn’t seen very often.

French fries: I think that French fries are a bigger part of an American fast-food diet than the typical French one. However, you can still find frites in most French restaurants. Steak frites (a simple steak with fries) and moules frites (a bucket of mussels with a side of fries) are particularly popular.

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French bread: Luckily for my carb-obsessed self, this is one thing that is still completely and totally French. Boulangeries are everywhere, and you can pick up a baguette for no more than 1 Euro. The French are shocked when I explain that you can’t have a fresh baguette for every meal in the States, as it usually costs $3-4.

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French kissing Unfortunately, I have yet to find a French man to test if French kissing is really French. However, the French tradition of “faire les bisous” (or air-kissing on either side of the face) is alive and well. The French are not huggers or hand-shakers, they are air-kissers. I’m still always a bit shocked when I see two young macho French guys greet each other with les bisous. Even though most of my friends here aren’t French, we still faire les bisous whenever we greet each other. Not going to lie, it’s way more fun than a handshake and less awkward than a hug–particularly since I have a large personal space bubble.

French poodles: They’re everywhere, particularly in Paris. My favorite is when they’re with a manly French man–out of all the breeds, you chose a poodle?! Really?! It’s just so…stereotypical.

What other “French” things aren’t really French? What things are very French to you?

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  • I’m a dual France-US citizen, so I hear alllll sorts of prejudices from both sides– LOVE your article. I gotta say though, Americans make the most hilarious characterizations of the French. I can’t help but laugh when an American returning from their first trip to France tells me that they were stunned to discover that no one uses the term “sacre bleu”, that barely anyone wears a beret (or eats Grey Poupon!), and that the French have great hygiene. ::facepalm:: So ridiculous hahaha! =)

  • camorose

    Oh my gosh I can only imagine!

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  • wanderowa

    In Hungary we used to have “French pills” as a sort of cream filled candy. We have “parizer” – Parisian: a cheap, popular sliced meat. The king-sized bed is called “French bed”. There is a clamp tool named “French key”. Here, “French kiss or French style” generally refers to mutual oral sex.

  • wanderowa

    I used to make “American salad” made from corn, bell paprika, tomato and onion for our American guests. They thought it was some local dish.

  • camorose

    !!!! So interesting!

  • camorose

    Haha! I love that–I would be so confused too!

  • wanderowa

    In matter of fact this salad is not bad. It has a dressing made from oil, viniger and optionally some mayonnaise. The name perhaps comes from that its main ingredients originated from America.

  • wanderowa

    In Hungary the most common salad named “French-salad” made of cooked cubes of carrot, parsley root, potato and green peas, with a thick tartar sauce dressing. It’s so common that for most people the “salad” is equivalent with this. I don’t know why its name is “French”?

  • wanderowa

    In Hungary the bell pepper in the grocery is called “Californian paprika” however it generally comes from Spain.

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