“French” things that aren’t really French

“French” things that aren’t really French

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?


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.


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.


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.


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?

  • FrenchTwistDC

    French bulldogs. The breed originated in England 😉

  • Repeat after me (100 times!)…

    No bikini = No award!

    Nice blog post though!

    All the best


  • pariskarin

    *gasssssp* I just learned at this site: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2010/07/fr

    that *baguettes* are supposedly not French! Say it isn't so!

  • pariskarin

    Oh — but hang on — I meant to say, too (I was just so floored when I Googled about French things that aren't French to see if there were more…), that I loved this list. A very original post! And I know I was surprised to learn once I'd moved to France that French Toast was not really French, or at least *not* eaten for breakfast.

  • Ha, love it! Just to confuse things, the Belgians have a thing called “steak américain” (raw ground meat) that the French call “steak tartare”. Try that with some French fries for a totally cosmopolitan meal!

  • I actually found French fries to be very French. I noticed that they added them to everything – steak/poulet frites sandwiches. There was not one place that I went to that didn't have frites on the menu, whereas it's limited more to the kids' menus in the states. Maybe things have changed though.

  • Well, I don't know too much about French, but I do like this list. The bread, yes, very French. I lived/will live in Spain, and the baguette there is a bit shorter and thicker. They sell the French type for a bit more, .80 compared to .40.

    People always think Spanish food is spicy, but I have to explain that, no, that's Mexican food…Spanish food is delicious, but not spicy! In fact, my Spanish boyfriend hates spicy food (for the most part).

  • kate

    so basically your saying my halloween costume 2 years ago was completely amiss?

  • Your food photography is getting really good, nice work.

  • Didn't French fries originate in Belgium anyway?

    Oh, and when it comes to French kissing, they've got it down. Not that I've experience it first hand, but everywhere we went in France, couples were full on making out like they were trying to dig something out of their lover's teeth. It was like watching a dental examination.

  • How about French maid..never saw anyone in France wearing one of those outfits!

  • Joya

    Love this post! I'll pick a pain au chocolat over french toast anyday of the week!

  • What a great read! And I love the photos. So… French. Seriously, great list, and your writing is so fun and easy to read. Loved this!

  • camorose

    Didn't the French invent the bikini?!

  • camorose

    Type your reply…

  • camorose

    What's particularly funny about that to me is that Americans are so anti raw meat–they never order steak tartare! It annoys the heck out of French chefs when Americans or English people show up and order their meat well-done.

  • camorose

    French fries are definitely typical French brasserie fare–you won't find them in haute cuisine, but they're very easy to find on the streets!

  • camorose

    I made friends with Spanish girls while studying in Paris, and they made me my first proper Spanish meal. I was shocked when the tortilla turned out to be an omelette, and not something to wrap around my tacos! It's definitely much less spicy than Mexican food–but I'm looking forward to comparing the differences when I travel to Spain for the first time next month!

  • camorose

    Hey, just living up the stereotypes! I was a Parisian for a “P” party and totally rocked the beret 🙂

  • camorose

    Thanks! If I had the guts to bring my SLR out to dinner, it'd be a lot better 🙂

  • camorose

    French fries actually are WAY better in Belgium, so I'd believe that. And I agree with the French making out all over the place–especially in Paris!

  • camorose

    So true! Wonder where that expression came about…might have to do some research!

  • camorose

    I would agree, but it's been months since I've had a proper stack of pancakes or French toast and it sounds pretty darn good!

  • camorose

    Thanks Abby! You're way too sweet 🙂

  • SoloFriendly

    How about the French braid? According to wikipedia, the French call the same hairstyle an African or Indian braid.

  • Okay, your tidbit about french toast just made me laugh. I am slightly saddened to find out that my FAVORITE breakfast is what the French make with stale bread. Another one bites the dust.

  • camorose

    Another great one! However, French braiding the front of the hair is pretty stylish over here right now 🙂

  • camorose

    Hey, it's not a bad way to use your leftover bread! And I believe that anything drenched in maple syrup and powdered sugar isn't a bad way to start a Sunday. I say enjoy it–just don't order it in France!

  • pariskarin

    LOL — I didn't remove my comment, did you? *giggle* I can't even remember what I wrote except that there was something about French toast and how I enjoyed this post. 😉

  • camorose

    Oops! I think I accidently clicked reply without saying anything and so I deleted my (empty) comment. Maybe it deleted yours by accident. Desolee 🙂

  • pariskarin

    No sweat. 🙂 I also did not want anyone to think I was making mystery comments and then disposing of them! Verrrrrry suspicious, lol.

  • backpackingmatt

    Excellent post Christine. Really enjoyed it – especially the last bit about the poodles. I like these which give us an idea of an American's perceptions of France and French life. Even though I know that probably wasn't the point of the post.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • camorose

    Glad you enjoyed it! I think a Part 2 might be necessary, now that people have given me so many other ideas!

  • great post! reminds me of what I learned about Chanel's fashion and I was so shocked at all that was her's – like little sleeveless jersey dresses and horizontal stripes in navy for women's clothing. even if it wasn't France's at the time – she set the stage for contemporary fashion that France does so well and other countries still tag along to keep up.

  • amy

    They call the baguette filled with steak and frites – l'american !

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  • camorose

    Ohhh, how I love the “american” things in France!

  • ShannonOD

    This was a fun post – and I'm glad to see that the French poodles and fries are actually over there and not just a silly American phrase! 🙂

  • I really enjoyed your post! This reminds me of how I've had out-of-towners visit me in NYC and tell me that they want to try New York Cheesecake. This baffled me at first, as cheesecake isn't too popular in NYC. But now I've noticed that on menus outside NYC, New York Cheesecake is often listed as a dessert. I think it all started because of Junior's Cheesecake in Brooklyn, but I'm not even sure.

  • camorose

    I still always think of 101 Dalmations when I see French poodles–but they are certainly over here! I love seeing the perfectly groomed ones with ribbons, with a perfectly groomed French woman 🙂

  • camorose

    How funny! I love New York cheesecake–but now I'll know not to look like an out-of-towner and order one when I finally make it to NYC!

  • Hey great list Christine! I was obsessed with eating French baguettes when I was in France, but certainly not the French kissing. Tried it once, it was overrated. I'll stick to my Aussie ones!

  • You need to find yourself a Frenchie ma chérie! I want to find out the truth behind “french kissing”!!!

  • camorose

    Haha, I think I'll take a baguette any day!

  • camorose

    Believe me, I'm working on it 🙂

  • This sort of cultural misappropriation seems to happen a lot (and not just with France!) My aunt came to visit from Italy, and spotted a bottle of “Italian” salad dressing at the store.

    “What the hell is this?” she asked. Italians only use oil and vinegar on their salads. 🙂

  • I expect a detailed write-up, young lady. 😉

  • Anonymous

    That’s a good one! I love finding “American” things in Europe–like this weird American pastry I saw in Germany that I’ve never seen before! There are also a lot of “Californian” things that, as a born-and-raised Californian, I find a bit suspicious…

  • guest

    ‘steak frites’ isn’t a simple steak and fries. It’s just thick-cut french fries 😛

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