From Marseille, France

Agrandir le plan

I promised this post – exposing some of the French stereotypes that pervade our (read: American) thinking about Europe. There’s a motto about traveling, especially when you go to a place with expectation, that you end up seeing what it is that you want to see. We go to places like France with certain expectations – perhaps, it’s bakeries on every corner, perhaps it’s something as simple as wine with every meal. Sometimes, it more, leading to disappointment. But more often, we just see what we want to see

I’ve seen that France before, but this trip, I’ve done and seen things differently. Strangely, compared to my previous trips, this France I’ve seen while spending all my time with French people.

So, French Stereotypes exposed. Disagree? Post in the comments!

#1 – French people drink wine with every meal.

STEREOTYPE – If that is so, how come I haven’t had wine once yet, even though I’ve had at least one meal with French people every single day that I’ve been in France?

#2 – French (and Europeans) don’t get drunk like Americans – because they began drinking at a younger age, they know how to better handle alcohol than Americans who can’t legally drink till they are 21.

STEREOTYPE Certainly not the case at the big university party I went to in Cergy, France. Lots of obnoxious binge drinkers, lots of people way too drunk, causing fights, etc. I even heard my friend, who had previously lived in America, tell her friends that AMERICANS can hold their alcohol much better than French people. Myth busted (don’t sue me Discovery Channel)

#3 – The suburbs of Paris are dangerous – never go there.

STEREOTYPE I had expectations here too – images of disenchanted youth, riots. So, hence my surprise – the suburbs are quite nice, and very clean. Like American suburbs, not much to do, but, I never once felt unsafe during almost four days out there.

#4 – All French people smoke

Ask my sore throat this. Sadly, true – smoking is very common among French people, even youth. By smoking I mean cigarettes, but Europeans also mix tobacco when they smoke weed.

#5 – European Integration = United States of Europe

If you spend a lot of time in the European capitals, you often feel like Europe is really becoming a single country. Europeans of all nationalities everywhere, everyone speaking English, the European flag flying proudly.

And it’s true, Europe is getting closer. But I’ve been surprised to find, in my travels, how little most French people have traveled around their neighboring countries. To give some context, France as a country is smaller than Texas. Germany is the same size as California. Yet many French people have made few treks outside of their Texas to California, or Florida (Italy). So this is a MYTH – albeit one with a caveat.

Regionalism remains strong even in this age of integration, and it’ll be many generations before integration’s true promise is realized. We forget that Europe is sedentary – America the country where you can be born in California, go to elementary school in Seattle, high school in Kansas, and then work in Washington DC, and not be considered weird. In Europe, this sort of fluid movement is rare, in communities that have stayed fairly stationary for years. In France, you have many who move from the countryside to big cities, but little movement beyond that.

#6 – French people hate fast food

Alright, I have a confession to make. Many of you know me as the guy who never eats fast food. Well, I failed. My 4th night in Paris, I met my friend William and his friends, all French, before we were going to a huge party. They’re from the suburbs, and we didn’t want to spend much money for dinner. I told William to show me his life in Cergy, which meant take me to places you would go normally.

Where did they go for dinner that evening?


Fast food is as common in France as the US, though it’s different. KFC’s in France have no bisquits (NO BISQUITS! What’s the point?) or original recipe – and don’t even think about asking for KGC. The non-original recipe fried chicken runs about 2 to 3X what original recipe chicken goes for in America. But with Sandwich Grec (mmmm) stands everywhere, kebabs, french fries, fast food is as ubiquitous in France as the States, but with it’s own local flavor.

The most shocking thing about KFC? It was full of well dressed, good looking, young people. In America….it’s usually more like this.

What’s Next?

In Marseille today, two days here, then back to Paris before leaving France for the Netherlands and, more cold. Next post on Marseille and my reasons for coming to visit this oft hated and loved city, the 2nd city (and distant 2nd) of France.

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