Born and raised in the former French occupation zone in Germany, I encountered various prejudices and stereotypes of our great neighbour. Starting with the food they eat: Frog-legs, Snails, Muscles, Paté de fois gras, and cheese on masse…this just sounds like hell to any decent vegan. So why on earth did I come to France? To be honest: I don’t really know. Not for the food for sure – well, maybe for the wine 😜
Many nations deem French and Germans – the “motors of Europe” – to be so similar given their shared borders and similar preferences for cars, bread and alcohol.
PEUGEOT vs. VOLKSWAGEN | BAGUETTE vs. SCHWARZBROT | WINE vs.BEER.
And yet maybe exactly these contradictory similarities create a strong opposition of both cultures. The individual styles emphasize the differences and intensify the competition between those two European states. Though at this point I have to point out that German cars are simply better – and at least our parking skills 😜
While prejudices and stereotypes exaggerate, many subtle cultural differences do exist indeed. Luckily friends of mine have given me a book about“Faux-pas en France” before I came here as a present to learn what not to do in France (Fettnäpfchenführer: Frankreich. C’est la vie – aber wie?) . The book is to guide German people through French culture and actually simply states that we should supress all our customs in order to get along with French. 😏 Yet I don’t agree on that, I was very happy to have read before that in France you do not approach the empty table in a restaurant but wait for the waiter to guide you. The German directness and time constraint are two characteristics of mine I have to confess.
French guys always wear a blue-white striped t-shirt, a beret, a moustache and a baguette in his left hand.
BAGUETTE – When I came to France, I tried to forget about all stereotypes but was surprised to find out that the above described prejudice is true indeed: The day I arrived at Caen I went through the city in the afternoon – and saw all French people walking around I tried town with a baguette in their hand, nicely wrapped into a paper. Though I laughed the first day, I soon adapted to this part of the (vegan) French lifestyle
EATING HABITS-Especially in terms of eating habits, Germans and French are different. Starting in the morning: French people normally don’t eat breakfast. One of the most important (German) meals! When we had our welcoming day in University we were told not to eat breakfast as we will have “a big one” – I think every German took at least 3 plates in order to be not hungry anymore 😏
Further you are not to mess with the French order of dining!!! – Starting with desert before the cheese was served (as a vegan I simply don’t have anything to eat at that time) will only confirm the German savage.
TIME – Hence this is probably also one of my major learnings here in France: time. French people seem to have so much more time than Germans. Waiting in the queue in the supermarket, talking to people, eating… everything is done with tranquillity and calmness. Me, even for a German a rather impatient person (how I survived in Colombia? I seriously don’t have the slightest idea), I can really learn from this. To take a deep breath and calm down. Will be good for my blood pressure for sure!
ORGANIZATION – Coinciding with the prejudice for German neediness of time, organization is a second “typical German trait” and no doubt: German efficiency is unique!
I must admit I was rather naïve when I came to France assuming, that French organizations might be similar. I was taught otherwise by opening the bank account. Luckily the University helped us to get an account so I was (more or less) secure to set my signatures on the papers, hoping the little lies would be forgiven (“J’ai lu et apprendu”… hahaha : the whole paper was in French?!) But after all the paper work a new problem occurred: You need to have a cell phone number to open a bank account/ get your credit card. Funny enough the phone store won’t give you a phone contract, without a bank card…. Vicious circle?!???
HOSPITALITY – Another thing I learned in this first days was hospitality and kindness. While I tried to memorize my school French that I had not been using for longer than I want to admit (never ask a girl’s age 😜), people were super nice and kind and really intended to understand me. Although the German origin is surely undeniable given my (light) accent (arrête, c’est pas drôle)
MONOLINGUALISM – I guess I should somehow be happy about the fact that people in the city are mostly monolingual, as I actually came here to learn French and due to my studies in English I don’t really get to practice it a lot, except for ordering Embuscade in bars. ☺️🍺
LE BISE – And talking about welcoming: also the way of approaching someone for a greeting is completely different to Germany. We need our space, our room, our distance. This prejudice is in fact true. But no, French don’t care. You have to kiss them for hello. Otherwise you are rude and unfriendly – and SO German. 🇩🇪
I was fortunate, as I have had my cultural classes about cheek-kissing in South America already – at least that’s what I thought. But “la bise” in France is a real complicated discipline where even French people sometimes get into trouble: 2 kisses? 3? Or even 4? Right – left – right? Or left – right? Or left – right – left? More than once I have had a near mouth-to-mouth kissing experience given the wrong cheek chosen. But to be honest: this was definitively a perfect icebreaker. We both started laughing and the conversation directly started with a nice introduction.
I have never laughed over a failed handshake with a German so far…
Well… Germans simply don’t laugh – ever!
……..Or do they?
I cannot count the times my professors have pointed at me during class to say Germans are direct, focused, non-social and not nice. So I guess the prejudices do exist the other way around too?!
So AGAIN: WHY DID I COME TO FRANCE ?
I still don’t know. But I am really glad I did! I have met so many nice, friendly, welcoming French people who have not only taught me swear words and which wine to drink but also to –again – stay open minded and really: ENJOY LIFE! (- and wine 🍷☺️)