People around the world are obsessed with French culture and often glamorize French women.
Americans especially idealize almost everything about French women, from their alleged inability to age to their universally flawless style, so it can be hard to know which stereotypes are actually true.
INSIDER spoke with Piu Marie Eatwell, the author of the myth-busting books, “They Eat Horses, Don’t They? The Truth About The French” and “F Is for France: A Curious Cabinet of French Wonders,” to separate the facts from the fiction.
Turns out, we are getting all of these things wrong.
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French women don’t get fat.
This sweeping generalization is false, according to Eatwell. Even though obesity rates in France are lower than those in America, these statistics mask regional differences in terms of weight, she said.
She added that American’s perception of French women is skewed by the places we visit.
“Foreigners tend to visit places like Paris — and hang out in the most upscale and fashionable parts of the city — and therefore come back with the impression that all French women are slim,” Eatwell told INSIDER.
However, this is a misleading representation of France as a whole.
“Women in Paris are much more likely to be slim than in the region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais,” she said. According to the Institut Pasteur de Lille, 20.5% of the population in Nord-Pas-de-Calais is overweight and obese, which is 6% higher than the national average.
They don’t diet.
“While it is true that French women are less likely to follow the latest faddish diet regimes than American women, they are constantly aware of the need to ‘pay attention’ to their figures, and to keep slim,” the author said. “A very common saying amongst French women is ‘il faut souffrir pour être belle,’ which means ‘you have to suffer to be beautiful.'”
This typically involves following a balanced diet and indulging in moderation, according to Eatwell.
French women are rude.
Eatwell attributes this false stereotype to the Parisian women that foreign travelers meet when they visit the city.
The author compared Parisian women to New York City women, as they are both busy city-dwellers who are not representative of a whole country.
“Out in the provinces, people are often charming. However, the impression of rudeness is also due to the fact that the French generally are quite reserved and aloof,” Eatwell said.
Eatwell also referenced psychologist Kurt Lewin’s theory that cultures can be divided into “coconuts” and “peaches.”
“The French, along with the Russians and Germans, are ‘coconut’ cultures. They are ‘hard’ on the outside. They rarely smile at strangers, do not easily engage in conversations, and may look nor friendly or even aggressive first,” she said. “However, if you manage to break through their hard outer shell, they tend to become close loyal friends who will accept you as family.”
“The USA and Japan, on the other hand, are examples of ‘peach’ cultures,” she said. “Americans and Japanese are ‘soft’ on the outside. They are very friendly to people they just met. However, once you get past the initial friendliness, you see the real private self is protected by a hard shell of the pit.”