British Stereotypes as seen by the French

I have a confession. When I moved to Paris eight months ago, I arrived with two huge suitcases and a long list of misconceptions about the French. No, they do not all walk around in breton tees with a baguette shoved under their arm and a string of onions round their neck. No, they do not all smell. And no, they are certainly not all rude. But what on earth do the French think of us? And are they justified in their opinions?



The French consider drinking to be a central part of British culture. And they are not wrong. Whereas in almost every every other culture (including French), it is considered good form to be able to handle alcohol, the British seem to consider it fashionable to get (or at least appear) drunker than they really are. Accordingly, the French believe us to be a nation of binge-drinkers. I have never been a big drinker. One glass of wine and I'm good to go. Two and I'm ready for bed. My French friends are constantly baffled by this revealation, such that I am now quite immune to comments like 'finish you're drink, t'es anglaise, n'est-ce pas?'.



Whilst we're on the subject of beverages, it would be impossible to write about British stereotypes without talking tea. As the French see it, 'afternoon tea' remains a long-standing national ritual that is dutifully respected regardless of class, gender or indeed time zone. Now in England, mention of 'afternoon tea' conjures images of tiered cake stands brimming with scones and finger sandwiches. Whilst it would seem that the French preconceptions are a little less fancy, it is very much assumed that the 4pm cuppa is an indispensable necessity for any true Brit. Last Friday I got up from my desk at 4.17pm and went over to put the kettle on, at which point my colleague pointed to the clock and warned me that 'c'est pas 16h' and that I must therefore be losing my roots.



Whilst the British might appear almost obsessive on the beverage front, this does not, or so the French seem utterly convinced, translate into a love of good food. Les rosbif, they believe, eat for sustenance, not pleasure. We can't cook and we don't cook. As a self-confessed lover of all things foody, this particular stereotype really touches a nerve. Granted, fish and chips and bangers and mash aren’t exactly the epitome of culinary sophistication, but what about Beef Wellington, Cornish pasties and the quite frankly unbeatable Sunday Roast? Or Sticky Toffee Pudding, Eton Mess and the Chelsea Bun? Not to mention our extensive variety of delicious cheeses. The French may claim that they have a different cheese for every day of the year, but according to the English Cheese Board, we have over 700 different varieties. Et toc!










Ok, ok, we like to queue. This is one stereotype that I will not even try to refute. We Brits are programmed to form an orderly line whenever the need arises. We don't like to push and shove. We wait our turn. Is this not simple common sense? Evidemment pas. After nine months in Paris, I can confirm this as fact. If, in a stroke of nostalgia for British decorm, you attempt to politely wait your turn at rush hour on métro line 1, you will, without question, find yourself at the very back of a bustling mass of bodies. And in such circumstances, that oh-so-British glare of disapproval will unfortunately get you nowhere.


Waiting patiently:                                                       Meanwhile on the Paris métro:












And for the final, and perhaps most ridiculous of French misconceptions about the British. When working as a language assistant in a Parisian lycée, I was required to teach a series of lessons on the British Royal Family. In the first of these classes, it became quickly and hilously clear that my pupils were genuinely convinved of the fact that, being British, I must have met the Queen. And if not her, then at least le prince 'Will-yam'. Ok, we're a relatively tiny island, but honestly...



By way of conclusion? Well, this advert for McVitie's biscuits says it all:


Author: Camilla Freeman

Share this