Soooo. When I chose to study abroad in Bretagne (Brittany to you non-French speaking people) I had a vague understanding that the region was different from the rest of France, but for the most part I really had no idea
about it’s long history (here’s the Wikipedia entry if you need to brush up) and how that its impact is still very much present today.
The people here are fiercely proud of their heritage and its very common to see the Breton flag on bumper stickers, in shops, and even in murals/graffiti on the sides of buildings.
Which is why I find it particularly interesting that it seems to me that many of the “French stereotypes” come from Bretagne.
For example, that whole stripes thing. First of all, this is one stereotype that is very much alive and well- I see people wearing stripes all the time- but the history of the stripes comes from Bretagne’s fishermen. So the whole striped nautical thing is actually a Breton thing….and check out the Breton flag itself: stripe-y.
Another thing that France is famous for is its crepes. I don’t know the whole history of it, but for some reason, they are native to Bretagne. There are creperies- restaurants that serve only crepes and galettes- all over Rennes but they aren’t as prolific in other areas of the country.
There are other stereotypes of Bretagne that I’m glad have not permeated France, however. This would be the Andouillette (which is technically Alsatian, but since I ordered it in Rennes, I’m blaming Bretagne. Ha. ), and the whole Bretagne Hippie style which is really really unfashionable…I wish I had a photo that encompassed this trend, but google image search has failed me in this department.
Other stereotypes of France that I’ve noticed are so incredibly true, but are so not limited to Bretagne:
1. Smoking. I would say the majority of French people smoke and a large percentage of those people seem to roll their cigarettes. They have these cute little pouches they keep their tobacco in. Its a whole other side of accessories that I had never thought of. Anyway, you’ll see students leaving classes with their tobacco pouch and a bag of filters in one hand and they’ll start to roll as soon as they get out the door. Also you’ll often see people with cigarettes in their mouths on the metro, waiting for the doors to open, so they are prepared to light up the second they hit fresh air.
2. Strikes aka Grèves. Yes. In my short time here, I have witnesses countless protests, railworkers strikes, marches etc etc. Basically the French are very vocal about their right to strike and voice complaints about their country or their situation. I’m pretty sure there is a grève des sans-papiers going on right now- which is a undocumented workers strike. Needless to say, undocumented workers striking is sort of an oxymoron, but people living in France who don’t even have the right to strike are going on strike.
3. Baguettes. Enough said. This one is true beyond belief. In the “Restos” or the university cafeterias, you get a free baguette roll with whatever you order…even if you dont really want it. Haha.
More stereotype debunking to come (nudity, hotness, eyesight, fashion sense, etc)!!