Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London, Stereotypes /

When something annoys me, I wait for a while to see if it still bugs me after some time. In this case, it did. What am I talking about? Celia Walden’s article on the seven lessons in the art of being a French woman (published on The Telegraph here). I didn’t understand what we French women had done to deserve this. Maybe it was as simple as having a strong French accent. Or being French-born. Seriously, what is it with this obsession with French women? It seems to me that such an obsession shows a close relationship with psychotic processes, and says more about perceived British shortcomings rather than how we French (if there is such a thing as ‘we French’) truly are. I have been told countless times that I shouldn’t complain because the myths on French women are considered to be positive, but try being taken seriously in a technical job when everybody else holds the belief that you are a glamorous creature who preys on unsuspecting British men at night. A myth, positive or not, remains a falsehood. And for the record, I am so tired at night that I tend to sleep, just like most mothers, come to think of it. Surprising, right? I know, I know.

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I have tried countless times to correct false beliefs, but quickly realised that it didn’t work. In fact, things became even worse. I noticed that, when I was trying to give some fact-based evidence to my interlocutors that they were completely wrong about the French, it entrenched their pre-existing positions. Truth be told, it was backfiring on me in a massive way, and I was getting even more personal comments like ‘all French men have a mistress and your husband probably has one, whether you like it or not’ (don’t you love it when people know your life even better than you do?) or ‘French women are such sluts’ (Really? What did I do again?)

In short, just telling people the evidence for the truth doesn’t work. For instance, would you believe that we French don’t say ‘oh la la’ at every possible opportunity? Well, we don’t. But myths don’t work like that. I had to learn to go with the flow and try to change myths little by little. Sometimes it works. Most of the time I must admit that it doesn’t. The beliefs are so deeply ingrained that I am not sure I can do anything about it. But hey, I will keep trying. So here it is: a point by point response to the article:

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French women don’t do sisterliness

Don’t you find it a bit rich? Seriously, Celia, who are you to lecture us on sisterhood when you slam French women at the first possible opportunity? And try asking a British mum for the phone number of her kids’ tutor to see if it is any easier…

French Women Don’t Get Fat… because they drink a lot of black coffee and smoke

For the record, I don’t smoke, I only have one coffee a day, and I am a runner. Oh, and here is a newsflash for you: there are fat women in France too. Just saying. Maybe Celia is pissed at us because she hasn’t lost all the baby fat? No need to blame French women for this, because I can assure you that we have absolutely nothing to do with it. It takes time, you just have to accept it and make the necessary adjustments, if it is your priority of course. In fact, Celia, why don’t you come with me for a run in Hyde Park next time you are in town? It will teach you a thing or two on how we French women run maybe?

French women love a pharmacy

I don’t think that this is specific to French women. It is a French thing, and it has more to do with the fabulous healthcare system we enjoy in France. When you see your GP there, you often end up with a prescription longer than the arm. Over here, your GP will tell you to suck it up. You will have to convince him or her that you are sick. In France, it is the opposite. You will have to convince your physician to go easy on the drugs. It’s a cultural thing, and has nothing to do with French women.

They also love matching underwear

So what? Is it a crime? Maybe that’s why we have the reputation to get more action in the bedroom. And seriously, Celia, it is also time to move on from the granny pants. I thought I should let you know. You might even like it.

French women terrify French men

Well, I hadn’t noticed. My husband seems fine, and we have lived together for the last two decades. He doesn’t seem traumatised. I have never thrown his Blackberry through the window. And even if you were right, it is a shame that we don’t terrify British men too. It would have saved me the embarrassment of getting unwanted advances and love declarations just because I happen to be French. So, how can I terrify British men too please?

French women don’t whinge about glass ceilings

Life is too short to whinge, right? I passed that stage a long time ago anyway. I am not sure it is a French thing. It’s just me. You should try it.

Lastly, French women don’t take advice

Celia, if, like me, you had been educated in France, you would have had to take a lot of advice. You would have been corrected and told off every day. Unlike over here, in fact, where kids are barely corrected when they make a mistake.

I wonder how people would react if I were to write a similar article on British women. The thing is, I simply wouldn’t, because it would be far too offensive. So much for being French!

 

 

 

 

  • John Jackson

    Celia Walden’s article is just cheap journalsm – pandering to her readership (if there is one) and their prejudices!

    • It was a disappointing piece, in my opinion.

      • deGency

        Yep, agree, I suspect it was designed to create reaction rather than add to informed comment.

        • I don’t mind creating reaction, as long as it is done in a funny/respectful way, which IMHO wasn’t the case in the original article.

          • deGency

            One of the best ways in my experience of a great verbal/written put-down is to ask the question of someone who’s either written or read an article of which you disapprove “And did you think that it was informative?…” And watch/listen to them try to justify it. Try it and come back to me with your findings 😀

  • ALK

    You tell her, Muriel! I’m with you on EVERY single point she/you raised. How dare Celia Walden palm off not even half-chewed clichés about my female compatriots? What exactly qualifies her to do so in the name of ‘journalism’?

    C’est d’un navrant, je n’ai même pas les mots pour le dire…

    • C’est effectivement extrêmement décevant. I have had enough of such cliches. Why have we French women such a reputation? Will it ever go away? I hope so…

  • James Casserly Omaexlibris

    You beat me to the punch with your last sentence. As I was reading your article I thought, “How would people like this Celia Walden (I’ve never heard of her before) react if a French journalist were to write an article on British women and listing the clichés as if they were fact?” I suspect she would be leading the outraged masses. Having a cursory glance, her entire piece smacks of petulance, ignorance and envy.

    • It was cheap journalism, James. I am glad that you agree. I really don’t understand this obsession with French women.

      • deGency

        Ah, l’attrait de la différence – this may be a tad inflamatory to Brits, but living on an island makes one literally and figuratively insular, so “the continent” becomes mysterious, esp our nearest neighbour. Add to that the declining number of people who speak French well enough for the French (!) and you can see some aspects of the issue.

        • The funny thing is that we French don’t talk like this about our British neighbours. I really don’t understand what this obsession is about.

          • deGency

            You’re right, but that’s not to say that there’s a lack of interest, seem to recall books like Les Carnets du Major Thompson. What I found irritating in the article were the “certainties” and the claim to authority of the jorno, it could have been done tongue in cheek, but I suspect that the author may have a contingent rather than absolute sense of humour….

          • I really don’t understand the point of her article. And if it’s parody, it certainly doesn’t sound like it…

      • britishsillybilly

        Muriel I think it is you who is obsessed with French women. And France in general. And stereotypes.

        • Guilty as charged. I am. But you have to cut me some slack here: I have had to put up with all the cliches and stereotypes for more than 10 years. It was bound to leave some marks…

  • Diana Keeler

    I agree with much of what you say, Muriel – try being an American in a country where the predominant stereotype of your countrymen is of braying boors and promiscuous idiots. But saying that Celia Walden “hasn’t lost all the baby fat” and implying she wears “granny panties” is beneath you and your argument.

    • Point taken, Diana. That said, I was just trying to give to Celia Walden a (small) taste of her own medicine. And I am acutely aware of how hurtful cliches can be!

  • Isn’t is annoying how people make a blanket statement without knowing you, or what they are talking about…

    • I used to simply ignore it, but I must admit that in this instance I decided to speak up. I can’t take it any more.

  • deGency

    Methinks the jorno in question claimed some credentials, to wit born and raised in France (partly similar to mine :-D) but there are no indications as to whether she’s lived there for some while. It does pander to some classic streotypes and misperceptions of the French as seen by the Brits and to be honest doesn’t provide much revelation at all. To be dismissed rather than attacked?

    • I tried to dismiss it, but frankly, I have had enough of all the cliches on French women. You see, Richard, I have had to endure them for more than a decade. Don’t judge me too harshly!

      • deGency

        I don’t, nae sweat, comme on dit en Charente 🙂

  • Catherine Urbanski

    My take as an American: 1. NOBODY does sisterliness–not even sisters? OK! If you ask a woman where she purchased that great dress or who blows her hair out you’ll most likely get a smirk and she will evade the issue. Unfortunately, we women are our own worst enemies. follow the tweet war between Taylor Swift and Niki Minaj. 2. French women don’t get fat. Really? What part of France has Walden been in? I’m in Paris and the Cote d’Azur on a yearly basis and I can tell you that a great many French women AND young girls have an ass that could rival mine! And thighs too! Have you seen the film “Mince Alors!”–watch it.3. French Women love a pharmacy–and so do I. My first stop in Paris is usually City Pharma on Rue du Four so that I can load up on the good and discounted products I cannot get here in the States. I’m a sucker for that store!!! 4.They love matching underwear. Hey–so do I. In fact, I make sure I have fabulously matching undies when I fly. What if “anything happens” and my body is cut in two? Well, the rescue workers will be able to match the bottom half of my body with the top–by the matching undies! Mommy always said to wear nice underwear! 5.So what? I terrify men too–and THAT’S why I’m with a Frenchman! He’s not scared of me in any way! 6. WTF does that mean? Whinging about glass ceilings? All I know is that I’ve never heard a woman whinging and whining in the French language! I grew up in an Irish/American household whinging was not allowed. At all. I don’t believe the French are privy to whinging and whining either. 6. Really? I dunno about that. I’ve given advice AND received advice from my better half’s Parisian aunt. It’s a give and take. We give. We take. Whatever. My advice to Ms. Walden would be to stay in Britian and not go to France if she can’t stand the women!

    • Love it! And congrats for marrying a Frenchman…

  • Rocket

    If you think Americans and British stereotype French women you should read up on the Japanese…They live in la la land about the French fueled by a press which is making a lot of money keeping the deception alive.

    Japanese publishers will not even consider any article or book written about the reality in France. It’s too much of a money maker to keep the dream alive

    Thing is when these Japanese ladies do finally make it to France they are traumatized by the reality which has nothing to do with the propaganda that the Japanese press has been pushing for years!

    The Japanese men could really care less about the French..They come to France for a few years to work, put up with the irresponsibility in the workplace and then go back home…Happy to be able to eat Japanese food again!

    • I totally need to go to Japan to investigate this further…

      • Rocket

        Good luck Muriel if you go to Japan but you need to read and speak Japanese in order to understand the propaganda the Japanese and now Chinese press is putting out about French women’s lifestyle.

        I know Japan quite well and I can tell you that if you read the Japanese woman’s press you would think that every French woman wears Gucci, carries a Vuitton and has time at lunch to chat with her girlfriends and carry on a secret love affair between 5pm – 7pm before rushing home to take the children from the Nanny!

        The Japanese woman’s press will not print the reality of the situation and for this reason when Japanese come to France they are astonished to see…

        How dirty it is
        They get ripped off by gypsies
        The welcome is less than warm
        The complexity of getting things done
        Peoples lateness

        But DO go to Japan…It is a great place and the welcome (Omotenashi) is the best in the world

        The food is wonderful and there is so much to buy in the shops and beautiful countryside

        If you need glasses (lunettes) wait and buy them in Japan.

        The same glasses (lunettes) that I bought in France for 750€, (I need a strong correction) I paid 100€ in Japan same quality, same correction.

  • Vanina Colomb

    Bonjour, merci pour ce petit ré-équilibrage. Cet article m’a passablement énervée moi aussi (more French bashing yet again!). En temps que Française, je ne me reconnais pas du tout dans ces clichés. Cette personne a l’air d’avoir une sacrée dent contre la France et avec le temps qu’elle semble y avoir passé je suis étonnée qu’elle ne soit pas un peu plus en phase avec ses consoeurs françaises. Et le pire est que ce papier a été traduit et publié dans le Courrier international ! Un beau gâchis d’espace journalistique!

  • Jacques

    It’s the language and accent that adds to the obsession. With your Romantic language, a mom could say “Stop sitting around eating bonbons and pick up your unmatched underwear off the floor!” – the English or American don’t know what you’re saying (one language culture). All animated, sounding and looking good… there you go… ” ah those French women”

  • John B

    This kind of thing comes up a lot where I live now, in Thailand. Articles on cultural stereotypes that are partly true at best make for good reading but the truth is too boring to write about. In settings like forum discussions or blog posts it’s all the more true. If someone tried to sort through how much of the generalities are based on reality that would be a really tiresome read, so it never comes up.