Intercultural differences! (#1)

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Harriet Welty Rochefort and webmaster Philippe Rochefort doing what the French love to do most - earnestly discussing life with a French friend over a cup of coffee on the terrace of a bistro.
 A few stereotypes of how the French and Americans often see each other....   Of course these are broad generalizations and once Americans and French really start talking to each other and explaining their societies to each other, the stereotyped vision changes. There's more room for "grey" in what is generally seen in black and white. See the mutual stereotypes of the 28 European countries

The Americans see the French as ...

  • Lazy : people who do not work and demonstrate in the streets (when they are not on strike)

  • Cowards : they always surrender, unreliable allies

  • Rude, anti-American and ungrateful, people who don't speak English, distant and difficult to meet

  • Communists : people who live in a bureaucratic Socialist system and who are totally dependent on the State

  • Dirty : people who do not use soap (recently, I received a message : "why do French women use perfume instead of taking a bath?")

  • Arrogant and conceited people, always giving lessons to the others

  • Not democratic : people who do not respect religious freedom

  • See the remarkable list of Q&A ("112 questions about the French") published by the US Army for the GIs in 1945

  • Read about the French "Godwin Point"

  • See more stereotypes about France and the French

Read about the image of France in the US press and the image of the French for the other European countries, how the French see their own country and see the page on irksome France..



The French see the Americans as ...

  • Arrogant and sure they are always right and good,

  • Moralizing and overly religious

  • Insular : people who do not know other nations and whose press never addresses international issues : read more about it, see a few examples, try our French Quiz ; read a funny letter about it and measure your insularity score !

  • Domineering : people who do not take criticism (see examples...) : see why you can't criticize them !

  • Naive : de grands enfants (ie, people who are naive and have no, or a too short, history)

  • Violent : people who have free access to guns and who use them to shoot each other when things go wrong (read my column: "No more prayers, legislation please")

  • Materialistic : people who are arch-capitalists and only think about money

  • Unequal : it is a fact that wealth inequality is much bigger in the US than in Europe and in France

  • Racist, and always lecturing other people about racism

More about America as seen by the French

 A psychoanalytical view....    Anti-French America..

Pascal Baudry is a Frenchman who lived in California where he ran an organization, WDHB, that holds seminars on international management. His cyberbook gives fascinating explanations of intercultural differences between the French and the Americans :

  • For him, the key factor is in infancy : the fact that Americans are weaned early and toilet trained late when the French are weaned much later and toilet trained much earlier (Pascal Baudry is a psychoanalyst, was trained as an engineer and also got an MBA degree)

  • Later, education develops major differences : schools help American kids become independent and autonomous (their mother says : "have fun ") whereas French kids learn the principle of authority (the mother says : "be good "). Read more details in French Toast

  • According to Baudry, the major cultural differences come from infancy and education.

Contemptuous : about the evidence of the Iraqi threat (as brilliantly demonstrated by Colin Powell!) " convincing that only an imbecile, or maybe a Frenchman, could conclude differently... " (NYT Feb.5, 2003).  
He was referring to the weapons of mass destruction (which are still to be found and were just a deliberate lie by the president of the USA and his government to take the country into a stupid war). Read my comment about it and read a letter from a Harvard student.
 In a nutshell, the major intercultural differences are :


  •  are highly explicit
  • are highly implicit
  •  optimist and positive: value present and future ; good at action
  • pessimist and negative: value past ; good at analysis and criticism
  •  binary : "it is true or false"
  • contextual : "it depends"
  •  like what is simple
  • like what is complex
  •  do not lie (it is bad)
  • lying is no big deal
  •  want to be loved
  •  want to be independent
  •  social identity is based on the individual
  • social identity is based on being a member of a group
  •  law and contracts must be respected ; everything is in the contract once it is signed
  • try not to get caught ; signing a contract is just the beginning of a relationship
  •  a contract is not linked to the relationship
  •  the contract is strongly associated with the relationship
  •  process oriented : everything must be clear and documented ; reacts as planned
  •  like grey zones and nuances ; very creative ; very quick to react and sometimes more inventive
  •  try to get a win-win deal
  •  if the other one wins, it means that I'll lose
  •  DOING : you are judged on what you do
  •  BEING : you are judged on what you are
  An example : with the same word ("to do" and "faire"), you get two very different meanings :
  •  positive : a "doer" is someone who gets things done
  •  negative : a "faiseur" is someone who is arrogant and obnoxious
  •  value quality of work
  • value quality of life
© Philippe Rochefort



Some revealing perceptions about France (from a Poll published in Figaro Magazine, July 2004) :

  • Only one American out of five ranks correctly France in terms of economic power (among the 5 or 6 major economic powers) : the American image does not correspond to the economic reality and is a conventional traditional view ; 25% rank France beyond 10th ! See more detail.

  • Many Americans ignore that many industrial French companies are world leaders in their field and keep associating France with wine and perfume. See more about it.

  • As seen by Americans, France is a very different country from the one we know (read Guillemette Faure about it)  
  • More to come...

France and the French, as seen by the U.S. press : zero, except for clichés : read more about it

Visit, the authoritative site on French-bashing, with appalling quotes and links to racist and hate sites. See a few examples and more about French-bashing.

Hate the French ? See a list of a few anti-French books...




DID YOU KNOW THAT....? For Baudry as for many observers, there are fewer differences between the French and the Japanese than with the French and Americans ; in both France and Japan, the relation with the authority principle, the individual and the group, the importance of not being blunt, etc.. are very similar and both countries have a long feudal history and refuse to give up their traditions. Baudry links it to the fact that they have the same toilet-training and weaning traditions.

 Stereotypes : what other countries think of France and the French    And how about French-bashing ?

The image of the French for other countries (source : Francoscopie)

  • the Japanese : sophisticated, conservative, elegant, art de vivre, noisy, brutal and dirty, cheerful and patient (see a letter from Japan)
  • the Americans : creative, not open, cold and wary (and anti-American)
  • the Dutch : culture, respectful of human rights, welcoming and open
  • the Danes and the British : disorganized and aggressive
  • the Poles and the Swedes : inveterate talkers, exuberant, impatient, distant and inhospitable
  • the Swiss : unsafe, crime
  • the Germans : they say "happy as God in France"
  • the Belgians : messy, inefficient, self-satisfied
  • the Brazilians : the French do not like children
  • and for all of the above : arrogant. My God!!
  • See another similar list, read Frischer and see a quote by a writer from Quebec ; Nadeau, who is Canadian, wrote "France is a mouse with the skin of an elephant ; America is an elephant with the skin of a mouse" !

And the French about themselves :

  • "The French constitute the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation in Europe and the best qualified in turn to become an object of admiration, hatred, pity or terror but never indifference" (Alexis de Tocqueville)
  • "General de Gaulle is right to believe he truly incarnates the French, he is wrong to believe it is flattering" (Jean François Revel)
  • Read about France as seen by Charles de Gaulle in the History section.
  • More later...

It is funny to observe that many of the stereotypes about the French (arrogant, frivolous, quarrelsome, etc...) were the stereotypes about the Gauls by Roman or Greek authors : read a few quotes about it !






A few examples of major intercultural differences (to be developed)

  • RAISING VOICE : a No-No in the USA, is not as bad in France where it does not necessarily express hostility. It may express passion, motivation, enthusiasm, strong opposition, etc, any strong feeling but not necessarily hostile. 99% of American wives of French husbands (the 100th is deaf) consider it the behavior they hate the most with their French husband. 99% of their husbands, sincerely, do not see what they are talking about (the 100th is an opera singer).
  • More to come...


THE ANTI-FRENCH QUOTE OF THE YEAR was provided by President George W.Bush himself when he said "You know the trouble with the French, they don't even have a word for "entrepreneur" (!!!)" (Sunday Times, July 21, 2002). According to a specialized site, this is an urban legend but, as the Italians say, given the personality of George W.Bush, "si non è vero, è ben trovato".....



  • A very typical form of French-bashing is what I would call "collateral bashing" : you take one very negative thing on one side, and something about the French on the other. The reader or the viewer will make an involuntary association and that's it. For instance, you put in the same article "...Jack the Ripper killed nine women...." (and further along) ".... Jacques Chirac declares that it is time to subsidize cheese..." : the reader may conclude that Jack the Ripper was subsidized by France. Read my column about it and see a few documents to substantiate it.

  • About French-bashing, visit an excellent site on French-bashing, read a "letter" I received and read Paris Diary (after a trip to the USA). French americanophiles are very hurt by French-bashing : read a letter about it.

    This is the cover page of the New York Post (Feb 14, 2003) about "the Weasel Axis" and Iraq evidence... (still to be found!) 
  • Racist ? : Knox (see above) says : "No other national or ethnic group appears to get the same continually negative treatment in print media reserved for France and the French, with the possible exception of Arabs or Palestinians, and even there, the treatment is not so much cultural as political, linked to a specific context or event." He also says "If one were to substitute, for example, "Mexican" or "Japanese" or "Indian" for "French", what would reader reaction be ?". Try to do it the next time you read an article about the French in the NYT! Read my editorial about American racism...

  • The French are irritating... In 2002 the British European Commissioner Chris Patten, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joshka Fischer and his French colleague Hubert Védrine expressed the same (negative) opinion about the policy of the US government. Only the latter was heavily criticized by the US Press and the US government. One year later, Russia, Germany and France opposed the (absurd) invasion of Iraq. Condoleeza Rice, then adviser to president Georges W.Bush said : "Forgive Russia, forget Germany, punish France". Says Colombani: " ...the President (of the USA) is the headmaster and the Europeans are the students. Whenever there's noise in the class, without even turning around, the professor designates the French student as the author of the disturbance ". Another example is the prohibition of the Islamic veil or of the burqa, which is considered (wrongly) by the US press as an attack on religious freedom (read my column about a ridiculous article in the NY Times) : the same week in April 2010, the French government decided to propose a law prohibiting the burqa from public places in France AND the Belgian parliament voted quasi-unanimously a very similar law. The US press did not mention the latter and made their headlines about the dangerous anti-religious policy of France !

  • More about French-bashing and read Jefferson about the benevolent French people...

  • More to come

USEFUL TIPS.... The world famous comic strip books "Asterix and Obelix" (more than 350 million sold) give an excellent idea of how the French see themselves : the whole world is against them but they do not care ! In a small village, totally surrounded, with the whole world against them and particularly the powerful Romans (meaning the Americans...?), they have fun eating, singing and drinking, and the Romans are afraid of them. They survive thanks to the magic potion elaborated by their druid Panoramix and which gives them formidable strength and because they are more astute than the external world which keeps bugging them when all they want is to enjoy their life and eat wild boar in their lengthy banquets... Read these books (in English) : they are a lot of fun and you might learn something about the French ! See a cartoon of Asterix and Obelix and read what Roman authors wrote about the Gauls : you could write it about the French! Near Charles-de-Gaulle airport, the "Parc Asterix" is a theme park devoted to these characters : it is smaller and less spectacular than Euro Disney but not bad at all. It is interesting to observe that this quintessentially French character was created by René Goscinny (of Polish origin) and Albert Uderzo (of Italian origin), illustrating the melting-pot of the French society. Read more about French cartoons.


More on intercultural differences :Click here for :

To related pages : more intercultural (#2), intercultural management (#3), French attitudes, are there too many stereotypes on this site ?, the French and sex, America and the world (#10), etc..

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All of Harriet’ s books focus on intercultural differences. Here’ s an excerpt from Joie de Vivre :

In France you won’ t find waiters strolling by with startling regularity to ask you if you’ re still " working " on your meal. Working ? For my husband and for any self-respecting French person, this is a contradiction in terms. How can you ‘ work ' on a meal, which by definition is a moment of pleasure ?

For more on inttercultural differences, order Harriet Welty Rochefort's books : Joie de Vivre. Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's, 2012, French Toast.An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French, St.Martin's Press, 1999, French Fried. The Culinary Capers of an American in Paris, St.Martin's Press, 2001. More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc).

Together or separately, Philippe and Harriet speak about Intercultural Differences : click here for information.
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