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So, What do the French Really Think about Americans?

So! What do they really think?”

Wendy from Santa Ana, California

Wow, that’s a big one.

You’re aware that – more than ever – there are as many answers as there are French people, aren’t you?

If you had simply asked, “What do the French think about Americans?” I could have answered with the usual of clichés and stereotypes:

  • they’re fat
  • they have no culture
  • they’re uneducated
  • they’re warmongers
  • they eat terrible food
  • they don’t know anything about the rest of the world
  • they’re obnoxiously loud
  • (am I forgetting any?)

But no, you mean business, you asked: “What do the French REALLY think about Americans?”

In order to properly answer this question, we’re going to do things a little bit differently today. I am not going to answer the question myself (especially because having lived in the US for seven years and having lived and worked with Americans many more years, my answer may not be the typical one). Instead, I’m going to ask the French people who are reading this blog to tell us what they really think about Americans.

I want your real personal opinions. Remember, it’s about what you really think – not a list of generalizations (I can do that by myself).

Of course, I thank you all in advance for contributing so helpfully to this blog.

And because this post is actually imported from an old blog of mine, I do have some answers from the comments on the old blog. Here are some of the most interesting ones (edited for clarity):

Friendly individually, but arrogant as a nation. (…) Some big misunderstandings very often because “friendship” doesn’t have the same value for [both cultures]. We are allies, good or bad. It is the more important.
My English is not very good, sorry!

anonymous

Having met Americans abroad, I would say the following:
You will easily connect with another American. If you meet an American that you don’t know in a random place, starting a conversation will be easy, you’ll speak about a great variety of subjects, etc.
However, it has always been difficult for me to build a real friendship with an American.

You can distinguish American from British people because most Americans always start their sentences with “you know“. Some of them also use the word “like” instead of commas, which can sometimes be really irritating.

I think that the French as well as most Western Europeans, wonder how the Republican Party and the NRA can have so many supporters.

As for the stereotypes, I have been quite lucky to never meet any stupid or fat American, but I’ve never been to the US. It’s probable that American spending time abroad are not a representative sampling of the whole population of the US.

Ben

At their best, confident, energetic, uncomplicated – what you see is what you get. They can be terribly nice, and don’t do sarcasm or undermining the way other nationalities can.

At their worst, and maybe having primarily encountered Americans as tourists in France and England isn’t the fairest way to judge – very ill-informed about other places, under the impression Europe is some kind of theme park designed for them to ‘do’ on a ten-day tour, unsophisticated, under the impression that only other people have an ‘accent’.
Oh, and with some bizarre kinds of evangelical Christianity. (…)
A tendency to wear clothes that say which university they go to, and funny shorts and sportswear in the city, like they’re wearing pajamas.
Some of them seem enormously picky about food, and seem to have gone to Paris in order to look for brands of things they eat at home, and go crazy when they can’t get the right cereal.
Some of the college-age Americans have a very weird attitude to alcohol. The weirdest thing is that they want to be friends right away, and they tell people so much about themselves right away.

Eva

I am not French but my very good French friend thinks that the Americans he has met are generally very materialistic and tend to judge others by their monetary worth. Some like to talk about money way too much [which we find quite vulgar!] and many lack in education sometimes regarding manners and courtesy. Culturally, most are not as sophisticated as Europeans…and they don’t seem to read good literature very much!

Gina

I’m French and I’ve lived in Connecticut for a few years now. I’m going to try and sum up my vision of Americans but it would be more honest to say : my vision of New Englanders because I realize that I would have a different experience in other parts of the USA.

Americans are really generous. I started to feel this way as I was a guest in a family in Virginia when I was a teenager. I’ve kept feeling the same after I moved to Connecticut (in my thirties). It’s a stark contrast to political views on generosity and the general consensus that government isn’t supposed to assist people in need. As much I admire the bursts of charity like for the Katrina disaster, I’m flabbergasted how social issues are dealt with by institutions. I’m going to restrain myself from talking of medical insurance because it’s irrelevant to the present topic, but it’s really an alien world to me.

Americans are easy to engage. Starting a conversation is usually not an issue. On the other hand, many of these conversations feel quite shallow. Often I’ve felt that what I’m saying is boring my interlocutors no matter how much I try to talk about something they can relate to. It feels like very rarely people are genuinely interested in exchanging views and opinions with a foreigner. (…)

Americans are straightforward. They usually don’t sugarcoat their opinions and are eager to express them bluntly. In my professional life I’ve enjoyed this a lot. Compared to the omnipresent double language during my career in France it’s quite refreshing. Now outside of my office I sometimes wish people had a little more restraint and tried to not hurt others with blunt statements when there’s no need to. (…)

Americans are too lenient with their kids. At least that’s how I often feel. Under the pretense of doing the best for their children many parents seem to create monsters. Now, I’m all for childhood protection and America has been courageous in the way of dealing with child molesters, abusive parents, perverse teachers/priests etc. You’d say that many parts of Europe have quite a lot to achieve in this field. But it sometimes lead to another extremity where children become so sacred that an exceptional spanking (which I believe most kids need to experience at least once) is considered intolerable violence. Many American kids seem really irresponsible too.
On the other hand American kids are offered very little opportunity to experience freedom from their parents. It seems like their always supervised. Sex is taboo, alcohol is taboo, going places without adult supervision is taboo. I really don’t envy them and I feel so lucky that I was entrusted by my parents to be a responsible teenager as early as 14.

Americans restrict their own freedom more and more. First it’s probably related to the fact that lawyers are so visible and omnipresent. Many conflictual situations in Europe are handled without using the full extent of the judicial systems. I’m still not used to seeing commercials for lawyers, or public call to start legal procedures on TV. Second there’s this tendency to forbid people to do stuff for their own good. For instance hitch hiking is forbidden. Walking in the street while drunk could get you into trouble with the law, even if you behave. Stopping your car to enjoy sightseeing is suspect if you don’t do it at the (rare) tourist parking lots. It’s like every time some jackass do something stupid and hurt people/themselves there’s a good chance that the whole population ends up deprived of this or that, just because some retards don’t have an once of common sense.

Boulet

I’m a Frenchman living in the US. Everyone here seems to categorize “Americans” as “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” (WASP), which is arguably the section of the population that travels to France the most. But let’s just not forget that if Americans are difficult to understand, one of the reasons is that they are so incredibly diverse. Would you all put in the same bag say a White Protestant from Boston, a Catholic from wherever, a Jewish from Brooklyn, a Mormon from Utah, a Cuban third-generation immigrant from Miami, an African-American from Alabama, an Asian from San Francisco, a Native American and a hard-core Southerner from Texas? They’re all Americans, though.
But the question asked is: as a Frenchman, what do I REALLY think of Americans? In my case, there are two questions in one. What did I really think of Americans when I lived in France? And what do I really think of them now, after living here for 10 years?
First question: uneducated, imperialistic, obnoxious with their money (think everything can be bought), ignorant about the rest of the world, crazy, really crazy.
Second question: nice, friendly, easy-going, charitable but unaware of the concept of solidarity, respectful of the law and rules in general, honest and honorable, ignorant about the world they live in, crazy, really crazy.
In a nutshell, a lot of my pre-conceived notions were right. But now at least I know why.

Anonymous

As a Frenchman who spent some time in my teenage years in two different upper-middle class American families, I have a pretty positive opinion of Americans. The people I stayed with were pretty stereotypical Americans: the first family was fat, entertainment-driven people and the second were more serious evangelical protestants. But going beyond the stereotypes, both families were incredibly welcoming and friendly people.
From these experiences and my encounters with other Americans it seems to me that Americans are very easy to approach and to get along with. But contrarily to other countries, it is very difficult to tell when an American is your friend or when he’s just being friendly out of politeness. This reinforces the stereotype that Americans are superficial people. In France, when somebody doesn’t like you, you’ll know it right away.
Also this will sound like a cliché but most of the time I spent in the US was in LA and most of the people I met there were particularly ignorant, especially when it comes to geography. I even met people there who didn’t know where France was and thought that Paris was only the name of a infamous socialite.
Moreover, I found American society to be pretty hypocritical: the evangelist family I stayed with did everything to maintain social appearances (we are a happy family, we love Jesus, our kids don’t have sex before marriage, etc). In reality, it was obvious that the parents didn’t love each other but stayed together for social appearances, the father of the family smoked secretly in the backyard at 2 am (I spotted him several times) and their older son who wanted to become a pastor confessed to me that he had sex with several girls, that he smoked pot and drank heavily but that it would break his parents heart if they found out.
So from my personal experience I think that Americans are very friendly and accessible people (much more than us French) but they are quite ignorant about other countries. However, mainstream social customs influenced by puritan Christianism are definitely hypocritical: they try to go against human needs, urges and flaws.
I am aware that all of this is based on my personal experience. I know that the US is such a diverse country with different people coming from different cultures. It is difficult to generalize as I believe that in the US one can find the worst there is to find as well as the best.

Vassia

This selection is from the comments on my old blog, if you have more do add, do not hesitate. 🙂

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