Especially in the U.S.A and England. French people are often ridiculed for being cowards who surrender immediately when confronted with danger. This idea is based on their rather quick capitulation during the Nazi invasion of France during World War II and has led to the term Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys. This image only became commonly expressed in the United States after French and American clashes over foreign policy during the Cold War. Actually, the French surrendered in order to prevent the destruction of Paris. This stereotype of cowardice also completely ignores the work of the French resistance, who assassinated Nazi officers, attacked their supply lines, and helped smuggle out POWs.
Thanks to the French Revolution and all the uprisings that followed ever since (from the Communards in the 19th century to the May 1968 student demonstrations), the French also have a reputation for being revolutionaries, active in La Résistance, spilling their blood on the barricades. Of course, they will still put everyone on the guillotine, even though this was abolished by law in 1981.
Everyone Looks Sexier If French, Everyone Sounds Sexier In French and Gay Paree: France also has an association with love, romance, and sex. Candlelit dinners by moonlight in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background are not uncommon in romantic films. French men and women are often portrayed as sexy or even oversexed. There are a lot of erotic terms associated with France, among others: a “ménage à trois”, “soixante neuf”, lingerie, liasons, Femme Fatale, voyeurism, French kissing, a French tickler…
Also, All Women Are Lustful in France, a stereotype fed prostitues dancing the can-can in the Moulin Rouge and by actresses like Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve. Even the French national symbol, Marianne, is a bare breasted woman on the barricades.
The archetypal Frenchmen is usually caricatured as a dirty, lazy, unshaven, curly moustached man wearing a beret, striped sweaters, smoking a cigarette, and carrying a baguette under the arm. “Being as dirty as a Frenchman” is actually an English proverb. French squat toilets also promote this image.
Ironically, Frenchmen also have a reputation for being “très chic” and sophisticated. Whoever speaks French must be cultivated, so Gratuitous French is often spoken by aristocratic, posh, snobbish, or very dignified people. This stems from the Middle Ages when most European nobles and royals (even in England) spoke French. Later, during the Versailles era of Louis XIV and later Napoleon Bonaparte, a lot of French sophistication clichés began to blossom, including haute couture, parfum, eau de cologne, a monocle, corsettes, small handkerchiefs, a pince-nez, and a lorgnette.
Pepe Le Pew is an almost perfect parody of a Frenchman, and amalgamates ALL of the above stereotypes — he’s romantic, lecherous, and sophisticated, but is also repellently stinky and an Abhorrent Admirer in his capacity as a skunk.
French are often called “rude or arrogant” by foreigners. They are not afraid of swearing and using bad language (See also: French Jerk). Especially when they are driving. Parisians in particular are considered to be very rude to tourists and foreigners (although not as much the latter as the former). It is not uncommon for travel guides to tell tourists not to look at people in the Metro in the eye, since they will think you have a problem with them.
The English expression “Pardon my French” also stems from the stereotype that the French language is full of insults and/or swearing.
The “arrogant Frenchman” stereotype was also fed by Charles De Gaulle, who both during World War II and later as President (1958-1969) expressed a very non-cooperative and independent view on world politics. During World War II, de Gaulle refused to cooperate in the Allies’ plans to free France. He, unlike all the other leaders, in his public speech right after D-Day stated that this invasion was the real invasion, this had the potential to ruin the Allied deceptions that Normandy was just a feint, with Calais the real invasion point. That was just one of his many, many, many actions whereby it seemed he was more of a problem for his friends than enemies.
Frenchmen will also be portrayed as being too lazy or too arrogant to actually help anybody.
French heads of state also have a reputation for being full of “grandeur”. From the French royals, over Napoleon to the presidents.
French accents are also enormously popular in comedies, Western Animation, and even dramatic films and TV series, often to the point of overkill. French people will always speak with a Maurice Chevalier Accent, usually complete with a “hon hon hon” laugh. All these French characters talk in the same way: “the” and “this” are pronounced “zee” and “zis”, the words “mais oui”, “sacre bleu”, “zut alors”, “mon ami”, or “mon chéri” are used non-stop and the “w” is pronounced “ooweee”. Famous examples are Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther, Lumière in Beauty and the Beast, all the French characters in ‘Allo ‘Allo!, and Pepe Le Pew. Sometimes, like in the movie Shrek (where the British character Robin Hood inexplicably speaks English with a French accent), people are depicted as being French for no apparent reason other than evoking laughs while using the accent. In reality, as with any language, how heavy a native accent is while speaking a foreign language usually has more to do with 1) when in their lives they learned the foreign language, 2) how long they’ve been speaking it and to whom, and 3) how good they are at imitating accents. It’s common for a French student of English living in France to talk this way, for example, but it would be very rare for a Frenchman who’s lived for many years in, say, Midwestern America, to not say ‘the’ more or less like a Midwestern American.
Non-French speakers also assume that you can just put “le” in front of every subject and it’s grammatically correct French! The articles “la”, “un”, “une”, or “l'” don’t seem to exist.
In (beat ’em up) videogames, French characters are often depicted as elegant, fatalistic, and angsty, with a penchant for fencing. Examples include Charlotte from Samurai Shodown, Ky Kiske from Guilty Gear, Elisabeth Blanctorche (who uses a riding crop) from The King of Fighters, and French Jerk Raphael and his ward Amy from the Soul Series. Other examples also filled with Gallic ennui include Remy from Street Fighter, who fits the cynical, Nietzsche Wannabe type perfectly and Abel, also from Street Fighter, with his brooding, emo-ish personality (although he is atypical in that he exhibits none of the usual associated elegance, and is a hulking, rugby player type). All of the examples mentioned probably derive from the deep, sullen French philosopher archetype, inspired perhaps by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida.
French painters are also a popular stereotype. Truth in Television thanks to the great 19th century impressionistic artists like Pierre-August Renoir, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin,… Whenever a scene takes place in a large French city, there will be a painter in the background working on an easle.
A mime is also essential. He will always be based on Marcel Marceau and pretending to be stuck in a box.
As are fashion designers like Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, and Yves Saint-Laurent.
Whenever arthouse movies or independent movies are spoofed they are often French (spoofing Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut or any other “Nouvelle Vague” film). (See also: Le Film Artistique).
And if a French intellectual is depicted, he will always be a caricature of Jean-Paul Sartre and ponder over existential questions.
Frenchmen are often cast as cooks, onion sellers, proprietors of restaurants and/or cafés. They will enjoy eating baguettes, croissants, tarts, cheese, and drink wine. Sometimes they are also depicted as having an eccentric taste: eating snails (escargots) and frog legs. This is also why the French are often nicknamed “frogs” in the English language. See also French Cuisine Is Haughty. Examples of French cooks in fiction: Louis in The Little Mermaid and the cooks in Ratatouille.
Gay Paree: Paris equals France in popular culture, no other locations. On the same token the Eiffel Tower ”must” be present in the background, even if the action takes place in just a random French town. The monument will also be used for the big climax of the story. Another stock location in Paris is the Louvre, so that the characters can go and watch the Mona Lisa. You might get a reference to the Moulin Rouge, Sacré-Coeur, Montmartre, Champs Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Pont Neuf, the Sorbonne, Place Concorde, Versailles, Place Vendôme, Père Lachaise and the Notre Dame in there too. Paris in general is a popular choice for travel stories set in Europe (which usually equals Paris in American and English popular culture) and romantic tales. If not one of those the city will be used for a historical story about The French Revolution, late 19th century Gay Paree (expect cameos of impressionist painters and the Moulin Rouge here) and/or during the Nazi occupation in World War II.
The rest of France will usually be the Provence, though Bretagne (to show some cliffs), Reims (for the cathedral), Bordeaux (for the wine), Bayeux (for the wall carpet), the Mont Saint Michel (to have a castle), Arles (because of Vincent van Gogh), Dijon (for the mustard), Cannes (for the Film Festival), Avignon (because of the song Sur Le Pont d’ Avignon), Roland Garros (for the tennis tournament), Rouen (made famous by Joan of Arc), Marseille and Nice could get a small reference if you’re lucky.
If the French play sport, it will be pétanque/jeux de boules or cycling in the Tour de France, which is the most famous European cycling contest world wide.
Since the sport got popular in the 2000s, French characters in (American) action movies are often depicted as Parkour professionals.
If a Frenchman sings, it’s always “Alouette”, “Frère Jacques”, or “La Marseillaise”. If he plays an instrument, it will be an accordion. When he listens to a French singer, it’s usually Édith Piaf."