French things that aren’t really French

MyFrenchLife™ - french things - artI’m always amused by American stereotypes of the French, and the things they expect to find on a first visit to France. Visions of berets and baguettes, expectations of pastries and poodles.

While you can count on straightforward (read: rude) French waiters and a strike to ruin your travel plans, there are plenty of things that the English language prefixes with being ‘French’. But is that always accurate?

Guest post by Christine at C’est Christine: (see below)

French things that aren’t French

French toast: Don’t expect to find a pile of French toast waiting for you for breakfast. French toast is called pain perdu, or lost bread, and it’s what the French sometimes do with bread that has gotten too stale to eat. You can’t order it in restaurants, and French families aren’t accustomed to that sort of sugarly, caloric overload at breakfast. Try a pain au chocolat and cafe creme instead.

MyFrenchLife™ - french things - french toast

French manicures: First of all, nail salons are hard to come by. A French book I read referred to nail salons being the brasseries (typical French cafe/bar/restaurant) of America: in other words, there’s one on every corner. Most do offer French manucures, but the fact that they refer to it as being French (not Français) is an instant sign that it’s not authentic. To my amusement, I recently found a salon offering ongles Americains, or American nails (acrylic tips). Nails are often painted, but the classic pink-and-white-tip isn’t seen very often.

MyfrenchLife™ - frenh things - breadFrench fries: I think that French fries are a bigger part of an American fast-food diet than the typical French one. However, you can still find frites in most French restaurants. Steak frites (a simple steak with fries) and moules frites (a bucket of mussels with a side of fries) are particularly popular.

French bread: Luckily for my carb-obsessed self, this is one thing that is still completely and totally French. Boulangeries are everywhere, and you can pick up a baguette for no more than 1 Euro. The French are shocked when I explain that you can’t have a fresh baguette for every meal in the States, as it usually costs $3-4.

French kissing Unfortunately, I have yet to find a French man to test if French kissing is really French. However, the French tradition of ‘faire les bisous’ (or air-kissing on either side of the face) is alive and well. The French are not huggers or hand-shakers, they are air-kissers.

I’m still always a bit shocked when I see two young macho French guys greet each other with les bisous. Even though most of my friends here aren’t French, we still faire les bisous whenever we greet each other. Not going to lie, it’s way more fun than a handshake and less awkward than a hug particularly since I have a large personal space bubble.

French poodles: They’re everywhere, particularly in Paris. My favorite is when they’re with a manly French man out of all the breeds, you chose a poodle?! Really?! It’s just so stereotypical.

With thanks to our Guest contributor Christine at C’est Christine

Here is your opportunity to share with us what other ‘French’ things aren’t really French? And what things are very French to you?

Image Credits
All photos credited to © Christine

About the Contributor

Judy MacMahon

Experience FRANCE beyond the CLICHÉ with MyFrenchLife is for Curious Savvy Francophiles wherever you are. Meet Francophiles in France, online, and/or wherever you live. You’re very welcome to join us - Judy MacMahon -

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  1. astrid Nov 19, 2010 at 9:43 AM - Reply

    I totally agree on that blog but now I do not do de bisous’ anymore because I am in Asia and it vehicules the wrong image here:-)Oh la la…

  2. lkl Jan 2, 2011 at 5:21 PM - Reply

    Interesting article. I just wanted to point out that the French are big handshakers too. They exchange bises with friends and family, and shake hands with everyone else: colleagues, strangers, etc.

    Laura K. Lawless
    Learn French at

    • Judy MacMahon Jan 2, 2011 at 6:41 PM - Reply

      Ahh interesting and important point Laura! Can you give us an example of how this fits into the ‘bises’ puzzle? So, if as a foreigner I shake hands with a french person with whom I am friendly I may insult them? Bises=Tu et handshake = vous?

  3. lkl Jan 2, 2011 at 6:48 PM - Reply

    Salut Judy – that’s pretty good as a general rule, except for between two men. Even if they tutoient one another, they are likely to shake hands unless they are family or very close friends.

    For example, my husband and I were with a friend of ours, her adult niece, and her boyfriend. We all used “tu” and I exchanged bises with everyone, whereas my husband exchanged bises with the women but shook hands with the boyfriend.

    When in doubt, your best bet is to follow the French person’s lead.

    Laura K. Lawless
    Learn French at

  4. Parisian Cyn Feb 28, 2011 at 12:04 PM - Reply

    Hi all… I think there are always exceptions to exceptions 🙂
    I was able to buy – really nice Pain Perdu (French Toast) back in early 2009 from the classy Café de l’Homme (Trocadéro)

    and whilst doing some networking in the offices of a large IT company, I saw a lot of bises on the cheeks amongst co-workers… of course it did seem like they knew each other as friends,
    and I certainly was not greeted with a kiss 🙂

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