Some generalisations about the French just aren’t true

Published: December 15, 2011

The French are some of the nicest people I have ever come across. They are not racist or arrogant - they are kind and friendly. PHOTO: AIMA KHOSE

Before I left for Paris this January, a horde of advice was thrown at me from aunts, uncles, cousins, friends – almost everyone had an opinion on how I should handle living in France. I got all sorts of cautionary remarks such as:

“Un se ziada dosti mat kerna, boht racist hain.”

(Don’t be too friendly with them – they are very racist)

I was repeatedly warned about the language barrier, and how the French are very arrogant about their language. A lot of friends advised me to learn some basic French before I left.

“The French are very unfriendly and they won’t help you.” I was told by my friend.

Naturally, I was terrified. I was worried about being branded a terrorist, being a Pakistani. How would this unfriendly, racist country receive me, I wondered fretfully.

I should have worried about something else, for when I arrived in the glorious city – the city of love – I was received with utmost warmth and hospitality. The French are some of the nicest people I have ever met. My experience here has truly taught me that generalisations are unfair, and here are some crude stereotypes about the French that I would like to clarify:

The arrogant French

Many people had warned me before I came to Paris that the French are arrogant about their language and even if they know English, they do not speak it because they dislike the language and consider it to be inferior to theirs.

This cannot be further from the truth. The French don’t speak English not because they hate the language, but because they are ashamed of their ignorance of it. English was taught in their schools, but they never thought it was important enough for them to study. However, as they grew up, they realised that English is an international language and that they cannot avoid it. Thus, they are embarrassed that they do not know it. They are frustrated when they cannot communicate with you in any language if you don’t speak French. They are never arrogant, just embarrassed.

But even with all that, they still try; they really do. I have never been denied help by a French man or woman because of the language I speak or do not speak. Sure, they tease me when I say I don’t speak French even though I have been living here for eight months now. However, they don’t judge me, and I appreciate that.

The racist French

The French are not racist, contrary to what we have been told. The truth is that they don’t know anything about Pakistan. In fact, they think it is an Arab country and often confuse it with Palestine. All they do know is that I am from a Muslim country. If they are curious about Pakistan, I can see the mental struggle on their faces when they are trying to choose their words carefully so as to not say anything offensive. What surprised me is that a lot of the French youth either did not care about the burqa ban, or did not support it. They believe in freedom of expression of religion and they felt it was unfair that the burqa was targeted the way it was. Knowing this made me much more comfortable with letting them know that yes, I am from a Muslim country.

The uncouth French

The French are not rowdy. They are extremely quiet. Even the metro and the streets are very silent most of the time. The only noise you hear is from the cars passing by or the tourists who are walking about in excitement. They are so quiet that if you talk too loudly on public transport, they turn to you and tell you to keep your voice down. This has happened to me twice, I am embarrassed to say. My answer, even though I know it is wrong to generalise, is: ”I’m half-Punjabi, of course I’m loud.”

The romantic French

The French are not as romantic and charming as the movies make them seem. They have a very charming sense of humour, but they don’t go out of their way to be romantic or charm a lady. In fact, the are shamelessly flirtatious!

They warned me, when I came to Paris, that even eye contact with a Frenchman is seen as a sign of flirtation. This holds true. If you smile at them, it is a green signal for them. They talk to you for five minutes before saying: ”So, you want to get out of here and go some place quiet?”

And I mentally roll my eyes. But having said that, I love how they say ‘you are very beautiful’ – vous êtes très belle.

The stinky French

Lastly, I’d like to put to one stereotype to rest: the French do not smell bad. They are meticulously clean and even the ordinary Frenchman will own many nice-smelling products which they use lavishly. I don’t know how this rumour came to be, but it is absolutely incorrect.

If only I had known all of this before I went to France, I wouldn’t have worried half as much as I did. I have been looked after here, and have never felt slighted or insulted due to my ethnicity. We often hold grievances against foreigners and claim that they stereotype us as Muslim terrorists. We resent them for calling us “Pakis” and “brown”. However, don’t we do the same? Didn’t I do the same when I thought the French were arrogant? They proved to be anything but.

This experience has been vital for me in realising an important life-lesson: it is wrong to generalise.

Aima.Khosa

Aima Khosa

A student of international affairs, passionate about photography

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Asad

    Visiting a place and actually living there is miles apart. If you work with the French and stay in their country for a longer period only then will you know all the truths.

    There is a joke that after dying, a person visited both paradise and hell with the angels and he thought that hell was not a bad place- there was just some warm breeze. So the person chose to stay in Hell. It was then he was surrounded by the torments and punishments of fire and snakes. This person complained to the angels that when on his visit he was not shown these. The angels said that was a visit and he just saw the tourist attractions of hell! Now he had come to live there permanently and was no longer a tourist..lol.

    Morale of the Story: You cannot judge a place and its people on a short visit trip. Recommend

  • Faz

    I don’t know how long you have been living in France or rather should I say Paris and what is the purpose of stay, employed or a student ?
    But I think its premature assessment on your part, you are perhaps too overwhelmed. What I can say is most Western Europeans are warm and polite at formal contact levels, but the real test comes when you get personal and intimate with them, provided if they allow you, nevertheless exceptions are there too. Then only you can give a general assessment.

    Actually French people in particular have a totally different value system; “La Liberté” is the motto Pakistanis when compared are more like Americans; “in God we trust” kind. Its not only the liberty to speak or express but seemingly liberty to not being questioned at all and not corrected or underlined even if wrong, mind your own business type.

    You guessed right they try to avoid offensive remarks and are politically correct in conversations, but it necessarily doesn’t mean that they are politically correct in their heads too.Recommend

  • Ali

    that is so true, I had the same experience from my only visit to FranceRecommend

  • Aima Khosa

    I am not a tourist there Asad. I live there. It has been almost a year now (I work and study here), and my stay is still not over. Nothing has happened in this time to have changed my mind about this piece. I am not judging the French because of their beautiful architecture or their history. I talk about them as they are now. My experience with them has been great. Recommend

  • Aima Khosa

    And I have gotten to know the French as a part of my every day interactions (and not just people of Paris – French people from other cities and towns too). They are my friends and co-workers. I will not say they have always been politically correct. But why generalize the whole population on the basis of the ignorance of one or two people?Recommend

  • Qaisrani

    Your observation about french not being so romantic seems bet simple to me.In fact they are quit liberal in their expression of love and romance.You will notice it when you move to other European countries.

    Similarly you forgot to mention an other stereotype about France i;e about their perceived prejudice against Islam as coined by Pakistani media.Pakistani media portrays France as anti Muslim state while is hell bent to remove veil from public life.People in Pakistan d’not understand French society dimensions.France is proud secular country which ensures freedom of practicing one’s religion.Every one is free to go to mosque and practice Islam.There are hundreds of mosques spread all across the country.There are more than 5 million Muslims in France living peaceful life here.

    Overall nice write up.

    Liberté,Fraternité,Egalité.

    Vive La France.Recommend

  • Anum

    Who cares?Recommend

  • Khalil

    Nice write up and it’s good that Miss khoso is having good time in Paris but but i’d say its still too early to judge french cultural or people-to-people contact. I’ve been living in Paris for last five years and what I feel, they are not racist but its quite a tough job to get integrated in french society as they are not that open and welcoming.bonne séjour !Recommend

  • maria

    @Asad:
    8 months is not a short period if u work n socialize with people………u r tourist for few weeks not for monthsRecommend

  • Khalil

    I agree that its never fair to generalise a nation on the basis of few popular notions and sterotypes.Recommend

  • Rimka

    I think it is an eye opening piece about Paris and the French. Paris is an amazing place with beautiful people from all around and i am lucky to be living here. Aima, great piece. I am proud of you :) Recommend

  • Arsal Shoaib

    Extremely Well Written indeed Aima Khosa. The Way You carry it all on, explaining almost the true side of the true French is absolutely Sublime (atleast in my opinion). What I love about this blog is that most of the facts are completely misunderstood by Pakistanis Like us and almost 90% of my fellow countrymen are blinded by what our media tells us. With no passion to explore these intrugating facets about some country result in arrogance and lack of acknowledgement.

    I Seriously hope that people do get to know these things rather than just been hypothetically one sided in the wrong direction. All I can do is wish that Pakistanis obtain the passion to explore something (right or wrong) on their own rather than just trust and believe anything what flashes as a red belt on their TV screens.

    Really Nice Article Aima,
    Well Apreciated !
    Keep Writing More :)Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    Don’t forget the concept that all French people wear berets, scarves and black-and-white shirts.Recommend

  • Asad

    @Aima

    Well fair enough then. Hope you enjoy your stay in France!

    I live in the UK and from what I hear from my British colleagues, the French and Dutch are the two most unfriendly and racist people in Europe. Even in the UK, I have noticed that the People of London are more tolerant of different cultures but in smaller cities of UK it can be hard for a Pakistani to keep their job for long (Especially if you are seen praying Zuhr or Asr Prayers). However London is definitely a more Pakistani friendly city as compared to other UK cities. Some right wingers often hate London for this and call it Londonistan.Recommend

  • MAQBOOL

    Bonjour,

    I have been living in France for last six years for study and then work. Although there has been some exaggeration, I do agree with most of the things writer said.Recommend

  • Faisal Khan

    Seeing your points, I’d assume you lived there for a week or so, but still a nice roundup.

    There is a huge difference in that place if you go as a tourist and if you plan to live there; let’s say few months. It’s a great place to live, specially if you know a bit of French. I won’t go point by point or wouldn’t brag anything; but one thing is for sure; no one calls you Paki or brown in any country, unless you live in UK or you are confronted with some confused waliti-born desis.

    and oh, try going to any quite metro or androssiment on weekends after 12; you’ll be surprised :-P (in a good way probably).Recommend

  • http://Zaghreb Uncle Sam

    The people in Europe are probably not much different for any where else. Hospitality, empathy, racism are general human traits. Tagging french specifically as closed people is far from truth. I ve heard same for Germans but after living here for almost 6 years i find everything I was told to be quite untrue. You run into an argument every once i while about your philosophy to lead life and things like that but that can happen back home as well. If one is insecure himself, then he usually takes offense. And the major problem usually rest with us. Pakistan is a closed society where dissenting opinion be it with a house or friends or national levels are not encouraged.
    I personally have witnessed attitudes ranging from complete humbleness to outright arrogance. But humble people are far more than the other ones. Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/menteliscio mentelisco

    generalistaions are fools yet the whole world does it. just run through your head and get the results: arabs, indians etc
    the same holds true west having generalistions for usRecommend

  • Mir Agha

    FREEDOM FRIES!Recommend

  • http://solomon2.blogspot.com Solomon2

    Ms. Khosa, I presume you took the photo above. The sky shows up as green on my monitor. Is that really how it looked?Recommend

  • Yousuf

    Bonjour Messieurs Madames,

    That’s nice writing. And I have to jump as I am living in Paris for about 4 years (study). I always changed my thoughts about french society, and still won’t say anything particularly in favor or against these assumptions above. But i would like to say one thing important, it depends all on your personality and living style. If one lives in some society with preoccupied thoughts then its hell, but on other hand if you go with open mind , respecting their culture and society (keeping your restrictions and ideas to yourself), you will enjoy every moment of life. Recommend

  • Aima Khosa

    @ Solomon 2

    No, it didnt. The sun was just setting, it was actually pink and red. I’m a photographer, I like to mess around with lights and filters :)

    @Asad, and you do know that the French and British historically do not have great impressions of each other? I read on a French person’s blog somewhere “Seen from Paris, England does not seem like a very likable country. Parisians like to recite the long list of afflictions the old nemesis seems to have: bad weather, alcoholism, ugliness, revolting food, hooliganism. . . . There seems to be no redemption.’ Now you tell me how much of that is true?

    It all boils down to stereotyping people. Which is the core of my post. Recommend

  • Qaisrani

    really i feel pity when some Pakistanis talk about racism.We,the Pakistanis are the most racist people in the world.in Pak,we are humiliated in each and every walk of the life ranging from peon to prime minister.When we go out side at the places where they respect us and give any chance to flourish and have good life,suddenly we started to feel insecure if there is some thing wrong with any one’s attitude.lot of hue and cry how the Europeans are racists etc etc.if any one who lives outside Pakistan and still complains about that particular country,then he should return back to Pakistan.Recommend

  • Majid Urrehman

    so basically u wanted to tell us that u have visited France! Nice…And next time…you go somewhere and then write about it, don’t write that you were afraid of being treated badly for being Pakistani.Recommend

  • Shahneel Baray

    Working in a French company, I have been visiting Paris atleast thrice a year for the past 5 years. 3 weeks ago, I have permanently moved to Paris. I do agree with Ms. Khosa’s comments regarding the french people. I have never been or felt racially discriminated by any French colleague, even in Dubai. In fact, some people say that the French know English, but don’t speak the language because they dislike speaking in English. On the contrary, French dislike British people but not English speaking people. Ofcourse, this language barrier can be an awful struggle. I couldn’t even register my wife with any French hospital because the receptionists did not know English. In my first trip to Paris around 5 yrs ago, I remember stepping out of the Metro and asking people how to exit the station, not knowing that Sortie meant Exit in French (I thought it was another Metro). Apparently, nobody understood my question, until finally I asked a man with a laptop who pointed out the exit. Recommend

  • Hira

    Seriously who cares!Recommend

  • anonymous

    vous etes etudiant ou vous travaille a Paris? Qu’est ce que vous faites a Paris?Recommend

  • Rizvi

    Very useless article. What is true is that all the people in the World, no matter from which country are normal. No one is racist, arrogant etc. Only a few people are, and that is true in every country.
    Long Live Earth.Recommend

  • Siddiqui

    @Rizvi:
    true…Recommend

  • Maria

    Nice write up. I think that because a good number of Pakistanis are English speaking, we become influenced by English writers in our view of the French. I have found the French a great deal more open and friendly that other Europeans, the British included. To be honest, many French like many Europeans do look down upon Arabs as being backward and a threat to their society. That being said, the Arabs in France share the blame since so many of them are unemployed and a disproportionate number of Arab youth are involved in the periodic riots and crimes that take place in the more ghetto type regions of French cities such as Marseilles and Paris. As a Pakistani, I have never encountered any negative feelings displayed by the French but I think that their racism is more directed to Arabs and blacks from their former African colonies.Recommend

  • Grace

    @Maria: Yes you’re right, when I went to France I found that French people have a generally good view of Pakistanis but that they dislike Arabs mostly. In Germany, the people hate mostly Turks but they are polite to Pakistanis and in Scadinavia, they hate Iranians, Iraqis and Afghanis who go there as refugees. In UK, the British hate Pakistanis because they took over South Asia and ended Mughal rule I guess so they see us as conquored peoples.Each place in Europe has their own racial hatreds.Recommend

  • BRUISED INDIAN

    umm so let me get this right! French woman actually shave their armpits? ;p Recommend

  • Qaisrani

    @bruised Indian.

    such a nasty comment.better ask from your fellow “Sardars”.Recommend

  • BRUISED INDIAN

    @Qaisrani: Trust you to make a communal rebuttal on a perfectly apt comment on “stereotypes”! Recommend

  • Aima Khosa

    @BRUISED INDIAN:

    haha. That is something that is still debatable. I have good, and bad experiences so i really can’t answer.

    they are extremely, extremely well dressed though :)Recommend

  • (not) BRUISED INDIAN

    @Qaisrani

    Fitting response @BRUISED INDIAN. But could have avoided the ‘Sardar’ example.
    Recommend

  • Dante

    I wonder why your article has such low ratings. I enjoyed this article a lot. Even if the French are presumed to be racist, they don’t even begin to compare with the Brits. A part of my family live in France. I agree with 95% of the things you have quoted in your article regarding the French people. Very courteous, polite, family-friendly people. They place a LOT of significance on a child’s future, even more than the Americans. They go out of their way to make every arrangement possible for a child with any learning disability. Well they are actually quite strict in their immigration policy, much more than the Americans actually in terms of tourism etc.Recommend

  • BRUISED INDIAN

    @(not) BRUISED INDIAN: Stick to one ground. One hand you are actually encouraging Qaisaranis remark and on the other hand ask to avoid the sardar example..!?

    @Aima: Spot on. And thank you for actually understanding my comment unlike a few readers. Good post… look forward to reading more of you. Recommend

  • Qaisrani

    @Bruised Indian.

    Sorry.Recommend

  • acha bacha…

    ooow!Recommend

  • BRUISED INDIAN

    @Qaisrani: Takes guts to say sorry on a public forum; am humbled!! Thank you. Recommend

  • Basit

    I agree, actually, when visiting any place, in most cases, is a good experience.

    and some people who are not so happy and see the problems while being the permanent resident, they are also true to some extent. But even then we shouldnt say that they are racist, there might be few for sure, they might prefer their own countrymen first, you can not get exactly the same stature in any country as compared to their nationals.

    Just imagine that if there are many immigrants in Pakistan, they are being discriminated… thats how the world goes.

    & one more point here, as other, I do not like French government :)

    So whereever you are, try to enjoy :)Recommend

  • Sk

    I live in Germany but whenever I went to France I only met friendly people. Good and bad are everywhere but luckily France has more good people. Recommend

  • Dee Cee

    @BRUISED INDIAN: and @QAISRANI: Wow! The power of politeness! :) A simple “sorry” makes people back down from potential acrimony. I wonder when the two countries will start behaving like this! :)Recommend