The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Meannedering:Breaking French Stereotypes Wandering Around the Bastille

3 min read

When you see high school students wandering down Campus Walk, lost because they can’t find Ball Circle, do you think “Aw, I should probably help them and make them feel welcome!” or “I need to get to Seaco before the line gets to Chandler, I don’t have time for this.”

My guess is that most of you would pick the latter.

It’s not because you’re bad people (well, you might be).  It’s because you’re trying to mind your own business, you have a 10-page paper due tomorrow that you haven’t started and you just have other things to do. Everyone knows the line for Mama Jean won’t stay short for long.

This is precisely what the Parisians do.  They get a bad rep from Americans because they are “cold,” “mean” or my favorite, they “hate Americans,” but from what I’ve seen, that could not be further than the truth.  Just because they aren’t overly friendly doesn’t mean they hate everyone.

If I were French and living in Paris, I would get pretty sick of people shoving Nikons in my face on a daily basis, too.

The stereotypical French person doesn’t shave, doesn’t bathe, wears a beret and a striped shirt, and is always smoking with either an espresso or a glass of wine.  They are pretentious, rude and say “oh la la” at every opportunity.

I don’t know about you, but if people thought that about me, I might not be inclined to welcome them either.

However, beyond the SNL exaggerations of French personas, what is a French person really like?

It’s true that they aren’t going to smile back at you if you pass on the street.  You wouldn’t see that in most American cities either.

The other day, a few friends and I were lost, wandering around the Bastille (I assure you, this is not the first time this has happened to me).  A French girl came up to us and asked for a light, then realized we were studying a map.

In a half French, half British accent, she asked us in English if we needed help finding our way.  We told her where we were trying to go, and not only did she tell us how—she walked  halfway there with us.

She seemed genuinely interested in what our experience in Paris had been so far, since undoubtedly she knew a few stereotypes herself.  She asked if we thought the people were nice, and we were honestly able to say yes.

The important thing I think I’ve learned lately is that wherever you go in the world, people are going to be people.  There will always be more altruistic ones ready to help you when you look at maps upside down in confusion, or creepy ones who try to talk to you on the metro platform at 2 a.m. in Pigalle (not kidding, that was terrifying and I sprinted to my apartment), or the disgruntled museum workers who won’t give your friend who doesn’t speak French his change because “he said he didn’t want it.”

These traits are not mutually exclusive to France.

On the other side of the coin, you’re American.  Obviously, you’re obese, loud, slutty and unaware that there are other countries outside the homeland.

Is there a problem with that?