Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

This morning I went to buy my Sunday’s newspaper. The newsagent smiled at me and, after hearing my strong French accent, told me that he must know me from somewhere. Yes, I live around the corner. He looked disappointed.

For a French woman living in London, it is a double whammy: you have to deal with the causal sexism -the old boy network is still alive and kicking over here-, and, to top it up, you have to live up to the French cliches. This basically means that you are supposed to be a sex goddess, a great cook, you don’t get fat, your kids must behave impeccably, and so on, and so forth. Honestly, where does it end? 

I keep being asked whether there is some truth in such cliches. I hate to break to to you, but no, I don’t think that there is. There it is. Sorry if you are disappointed. If I had a magic recipe to achieve what is expected of me, I think that I would know by now. I am tired just like any other woman. Not to mention the fact that, this Christmas, I finally tried some brandy butter, and I am pretty sure that it made me fatter. Just like the rest of us, really. The only truth is that, in France, life doesn’t stop when you become a mum, and there is a strong pressure on you to go back to work. After all, the maternity leave is only 16 weeks. You can get more, but it will be unpaid. 

In short, it feels a bit like we are pre-programmed to think that we are different, when in fact we are not. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of cultural differences between the French and the Anglo-Saxons. But the perceived differences are a lot bigger than the real differences. Am I making sense?

So here it is: I am tired of the French cliches. I am very normal and proud of it. So please stop asking me how many lovers I have -I am happily married-, or why French women look so sexy -I have no clue, except that I stole my teenage daughter’s top today-. Oh, and I don’t like drinking (except a cup of champagne from time to time).

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • As it happens I am ‘demi-Francais’ and I find the cliches most tedious. Some of the comments thrown my way over the years, have, to be blunt, been racist. When I was younger I tolerated it but now I’m older I challenge such comments vigorously. As a male I don’t get quizzed about lovers, it’s generally about chomping on onions or eating frogs’ legs. I benefit from also being part Northern Irish. People don’t tend to make fun of this aspect of my heritage. Strange that!

    • Well, I am 100% French. Or I used to be. It is complicated, you see. You are right, some comments are just racist. I am not sure what I can do about that. I have decided to ignore them and carry on.

  • I think there are cliches for a lot of expats, and yes, it gets tiring. As a Brit in the US there are so many I wouldn’t know where to begin (bad teeth perhaps?) The most annoying thing for me however, is not so much the stupid questions (Do you know so and so?) but when people I don’t even know start copying my accent. Unbelievable.

    • Well, nobody copies my accent but, even after 10 years in London, I get comments like ‘oh, I love your French accent. So sexy! Or they show me their ears, to show that they are focused. I can’t stand it!

  • As an English expat in France, I am constantly told that I have a “charming accent” before being asked for the umpteenth time if I have ever watched the film “A nous les petites anglaises”, followed by a leer and a wink. I get the French clichés about the English – many people here in France tell me that they imagine I don’t know how to cook (I boil my meat to death and serve it with mint sauce), have no dress sense and huge wonky teeth, wear sandals with socks on the beach and get sunburnt every year due to my desperate need for the sun. I’d prefer people to believe that I’m a top chef and a fabulous mother. They can keep the rempant housewife bit though, I wear my my socks and sandals in bed.

    • What would we do without cliches? As for me, I keep being asked whether I have seen ‘Faulty Towers’. I keep being told about ‘Madame Peignoir’ and, frankly, I don’t find it funny any more.

  • Best to adopt a vague look and avoid answering I reckon. I get fed up with it here in France too, especially the comments about English cooking. I just smile enigmatically now and change the subject. 🙂

    • I admire the fact that you manage to shrug it off. I hate it. The older I get, the more I hate cliches.

  • LOVED your “around the corner” response. And I thought the French didn’t have a sense of humor… Ooops – another cliche (proved wrong) 🙂

    • Glad you liked it. To be fair, I really live around the corner. It is not even a joke!

  • I know what you mean. Canadians are also assigned a lot go cliches, eh!

    • Really? What are they? I would love to know more about it.

  • Gosh, I guess you could say the same for Aussie women. Firstly we should all be blonde, long-legged and tanned. We should be down to earth, but are also known as loud mouthed, brash and uncouth. There are so many others…most of them not too good these days!

    • Really? I have to say it to you: I would love to live in Australia…if only!

  • I used to work with a Scottish guy who would ask me nearly everyday if I drank wine the night before, you know, because I’m French…and French people drink wine all the time don’t they??!! I get the constant slagging because of my nationality, but in Ireland, slagging is the national sport, so I don’t take it bad at all, I find it rather funny. Maybe I’m just used to it…
    Relax, they will always be uneducated people who will only rely on cliches, and think they’re funny. Just don’t pay to much attention ( That’s my laid back nearly Irish attitude coming out…)

    • I usually don’t pay much attention, but I have to say that it is starting to get on my nerves. But you are right, I will get over it!