While we on holiday in France last year we made plenty of observations about French people and French culture. I disapprove of generalising or tarring a nation with one brush but it looks like I’m going to do it anyway, and I don’t think anyone will mind just this once.
1. The French aren’t fat.
They spend two whole hours eating lunch and another two eating dinner but they’re not overweight, it’s incredible. They eat after 8pm which a nurse once assured me was a guaranteed way to gain weight, but this doesn’t affect the French. They eat cheese and crepes and drink wine and it just rolls off them.
2. Bikinis are de rigueur
The women all wear bikinis at the beach – or at least half a bikini anyway. The one-piece costume is a rarity reserved for the British and aged. My daughter says “they don’t respect their tummies”. The French would probably say their tummies are at “liberté”.
3. Almost no French people have tattoos.
A total contrast to a British summer, it was one of the first things we noticed. It made me want to get inked and go back just to emphasise the point. But I soon got over it.
4. They don’t drive SUVs.
Now, perhaps Renault, Peugeot and Citroen make terrible SUVs, I don’t know. But the contrast to British aspirations is stark; the UK has gone mad for Chelsea tractors or smaller copies. It’s not smart to get a tall car if you want to put bikes on the roof, so the French have probably made good choice there.
5. They really know how to camp.
French holidaymakers have the coolest tents and motorhomes, they have the best camp cookers and barbeques, they just settle right into their pitches like you might sink comfortably into your sofa, it really suits them. The weather probably helps them get one up on us here.
6. They are great with children.
They are tolerant, kind, thoughtful and welcoming to children. They provide all kinds of kid’s facilities in every environment and expect families to go everywhere together. Children are never out of place. I generalise of course, we did get one belated and cold child’s dinner from a grumpy waiter.
7. Their parking is free.
Well, outside of Paris it seems to be. Even in private carparks, town squares, prime spots by the beach or the restaurant we never saw a paid parking space, although we never visited a city centre. The only exception we found was a prime spot in a large seaside town, but it was so ridiculously cheap it hardly counts.
8. The drivers are great with cyclists.
French drivers will just follow cyclists very slowly and patiently for as long as it takes for a safe passing place to come along. This doesn’t usually take that long because the roads are quiet and many have cycle lanes. Wobbly kids on little bikes are carefully watched and tolerated too.
9. Supermarket food is stuck in the past.
The food in the supermarkets has not advanced much since the 1980s when I used to visit regularly as a child. The French are still eating the same food. I was quite surprised; a visit to Super U was like a trip down memory lane. I think the French are missing out. In the UK we get a lot of fun from food fashions. The French deserve their reputation as good cooks, but it’s traditional stuff, their grand-mère’s stuff, few foreign influences or speciality food aisles.
10. The French love a protest
They have their own etiquette for protests. A traffic jam at the tolls is likely to mean one driver starting on their horn and every other driver joining in. The British would consider this rude but when I was stuck in a slow queue for a roller coaster watching some staff doing nothing to help, I quickly discovered that the British slow-handclap protest is inappropriate in France!
11. They don’t think death is funny.
Well they’re right, it isn’t, but a friendly Frenchman pointed out to us that the British black humour appeals to some French people but not others. They’ve noticed we make a lot of jokes about death. I had to think about that but they’ve got a point. Think of Monty Python, for example. We were told some love it, but many don’t get it.
12. The French reputation for unpleasant public toilets is largely undeserved.
In fact the loos we visited were all nicer than anything in a British motorway services and all provided some antibac spray for cleaning the seat. There was always paper and soap. The only negative was just the faintest smell of wee, which was not uncommon even in an apparantly fresh loo. We had to go somewhere remote before we found an old-fashioned hole in the ground.
France is a great place for a family holiday, I’ve written about our holiday planning tips here.
Get some tips for French supermarket shopping. Click here.