When you think of France, the French language, and French culture, you probably already have an image in mind: the Eiffel Tower, croissants, baguettes as well as nasal sounds and glottal “R’s”. But, really, how accurate is that image? Read on as we elaborate on those ideas and look at a few common misconceptions to help put you on the right path!
The language of Romance
What better way to contextualize Francophone culture than by starting with the language? For starters, for all those language nerds out there, French is a Romance language. Contrary to popular belief though, that doesn’t necessarily make it romantic! Sure, plenty would argue that French is one of the most romantic languages in the world, the word Romance relates more to the language family French is a part of, instead of anything to do with amorous intentions.
The most common Romance languages are Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, Catalan, and of course, French. These languages evolved from Vulgar or Common Latin between the sixth and ninth centuries. Interesting, but nothing romantic about them at all! The best news of all? Learning any one these languages is well within reach and there’s such a strong family resemblance, each one is a gateway to the other. Not convinced? Sign up for a few classes with www.listenandlearn.org or take matters into your own hands and try some tips found at www.fluentin3months.com.
How many of these have you heard?
French people are thought to be rude. This is likely caused by French-speakers tending to be more direct than their English counterparts. Whereas English speakers will go around the houses before getting to the point, a French speaker will get straight to it.
The French are the most stylish of nations, always immaculately turned out, and often choosing to where berets no matter the occasion. At least, according to our school textbooks they are! French people are just as stylish and lazy with their appearance as the rest of us depending on their mood, day, or reason for getting dressed in the first place. And as for the beret thing, it isn’t true at all! Anyone can wear one!
One more thing: if you see a French person wearing a string of garlic like some oversized pearl necklace, please take a photo and post it for us all to see. This is one of the most bizarre French stereotypes of all, along with the idea that there are terrible mime artists on every street corner. Seriously, people, which parts of France have you been going to see these things?!
Me when I taught Engish to French students in St Avold, Lorraine, 2007
The French are also thought to have no interest in junk food at all. Wrong again! It’s an old but good story, that outside of the US, France is McDonalds’ largest market, with more restaurants than any other country in the world! Burgers are even outselling baguettes in some parts of France, for which we’re sure we can hear a faint, sacré bleu.
French cuisine, however, when they aren’t stuffing their faces with Big Macs, is generally one of the best in the world. We think this is one stereotype that the good people of France are happy to have about them.
French for France only
One of the strangest misconceptions about French is that it is a small language, only spoken by those who live in France. There are about 77 million people around the world who speak French as a first language, and a further 208 million who do so as a second. And if you want to hear French, you can go much further afield than just France.
Pack your passport and get some currency, because if French is what you’re seeking you can head to any of these countries where it is spoken as an official language: Belgium, Benin, Burkina, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Monaco, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Switzerland, Togo, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.
Okay, over to you. Now you know a little more about the French language and France as a country, aren’t you desperate to visit to see for yourselves? Why not learn a little French before you go?—you know, so you can order your burger (or baguette) of choice with confidence.