The REAL France

un pont

Cahors. France

One of my French friends told me about a sickness known as the Paris Syndrome. It typically becomes evident in foreigners who come to Paris with the idea that it will be like the stories they have read about France, the movies they have seen and the advertisements depicting French life. They come and find out what France in general and Paris in particular is really like, and they go into shock and depression. Some people have such a difficult time reconciling their idea of the country to what it really is, that they spend time in a hospital created for people suffering from the Paris Syndrome.

Before you get worried, NO, I am not suffering from the Paris Syndrome. I have visited France numerous times in the past and have gotten used to the idea that what we are brainwashed to believe is the real France isn’t really the real France. I take that back, I haven’t completely gotten used to the idea. Honestly, I am still trying to understand how got it wrong. I had to write this post to shed a little light on what is really going on!

When I came to France the first time,over ten years ago, I really knew nothing about the country. I was like most Americans. I didn’t know much outside of my own country. I knew a little about the Revolution, French bread, the Eiffel Tower (and Statue of Liberty), a little about fashion and not much else. When I came to France, a true love for all things French blossomed spontaneously and unexpectedly in my heart. It wasn’t anything that I read or that I heard from someone. I was on a vacation visiting both the UK and France. I expected to fall in love with the UK since I knew more about that country from exposure to Dickens and the BBC.

After I moved away from France, I kept in contact with the friends I made here so that my language skills would continue to improve. However, they were as interested in all things American as I was in all things French, so I could not fill my desire for knowledge about the wonders of France and the French. I began to read all of the books and movies I could find about France. I would watch travel documentaries, read books by expats and people who spent a year in France, watch American movies of people living in France or French movies that seemed easy to understand. I began to love the idea that was portrayed. It seemed so beautiful…even as I thought to myself, it’s not really like that everywhere.

Recently, I read a couple of cookbooks written by popular bloggers who have been living in France for a while. I like the pictures on their blogs, I like their recipes, but I didn’t really like the commentary in their cookbooks. They are selling the same image as everyone else, and they have been in France long enough to know that it isn’t really like that. Well, maybe a little of what they said was true, but if it was all true, there would not be the phrase or song “Metro-Boulot-Dodo” or train-work-sleep. I was so irritated with these ladies and a few of the other books I read recently written by people who have lived in France and I couldn’t understand why until the recently.

What is going on? I was speaking with a French teacher at dinner a few weeks ago. She said how she liked American crime TV series. I asked her why? Many of the French people with whom I speak like those TV shows and I would never waste my time watching them. She said because she felt like it gave her an idea of what the legal system and America was like. I told her it wasn’t like that, not really. My American life never had anything to do with those shows. It did not resemble most shows in the least bit. “But it sells,” she said. That is when I got it, the image we have been reading about, watching on TV and in the movies is the image of France that sells.

Most people who come to France for a year, write a book and go home get to live the tourist lifestyle for an extended period of time. People who blog about their life in France or write travel books can’t tell everything they see because maybe they too are only looking where other tourist have looked. In addition to that, they probably would not get a publisher to print their work. We want Paris to be the most romantic place because that is what we have been told it is. We want France and the French to stay something special…and it is. It is also a lot like the place where you are living now. I promise. I know because I am living with French people in their French homes, going to the French grocery stores and watching French television. I am not a tourist, except when I choose to be.

No, France is not filled with skinny women walking around with a dog on a leash and a Louis Vuitton bag on their arms. France is not a place where the men are always waiting to sweep you off your feet and whisper sweet nothings in your ear. French pastries and restaurants are not always amazing and will not always be the best meal of your life. And the people certainly do not wear berets all of the time. It is just an image that sells really well.

If you don’t want your idea of France to be shaken, I am giving you a warning. You may not want to read the blog for the next few weeks. I have some things to tell you that you might not believe! But it is all true. After all, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Have you ever heard about a place and then visited and found that it didn’t match the picture that was painted? It could have been better or worse. If you know what I am talking about, I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

12 Comments on “The REAL France

  1. I am so thrilled your back in Paris and I can’t wait to for more stories!
    Lots of love!

  2. When I was younger, I was on a tour bus in Europe with my mother. I was so looking forward to Italy. When we crossed to border from Switzerland to Italy, I was disappointed. The Swiss are immaculate and precise. The Italians are not. Looking at the roadside and even the air in general reminded me of home: Los Angeles. Now, the image we have of French people which you described sounds more like the Italians. We have friends who lived in Paris several years ago–for business. The French meals were one of the few things they described positively. My father came from the south of France where they were and continue to be dairy farmers and sheepherders. Think: farmers in the U.S. Midwest. People like you and me just as you said in your post. Long ago, I concluded that anywhere you go, people are still people. It’s the landscape, architecture, and climate that are different. Thanks for shedding light on the reality of France. P.S. There is a blogger from the U.S. who has been living in Italy for a few years. We readers have learned a great deal about that country from her posts.

    • You said it perfectly; people are still people. There are differences among us,
      but overall, we are very much the same wherever in the world we happen to be.

  3. This is so exciting ! I like to hear more about France, all I know was how romantic this country (Paris) is ,especially the language that I love to hear over & over. Now we have you to tell us more about this country. Looking forward to understand & Learn about it. ?

  4. ROFL – lovely, thankyou!
    I have been saying this for years, puzzled as to the pull of it all when, though it has its nice, beautiful and delicious bits (yes really), is a country that is often frustratingly disorganised, filthy, dull, smelly and various other less pleasant things…. especially to someone living in Switzerland, where things tend to be clean and work like clockwork (I find the people have less humour, tho’ – nowhere is perfect ;o)
    But as you say, it sells…
    I lived on the border to France as a child and it didn’t particularly appeal then, either. My daughter now lives just over the border in France and is learning to deal with it; she is not exactly enthusiastic. We speak the language; maybe that is part of the charm – not understanding the language?! I don’t know 😮
    These days I enjoy spending time in Brittany every summer for a couple of months and appreciate the good sides. I also like to come home, breathing a sigh of relief. Sadly, Switzerland doesn’t have long rocky beaches like Brittany lol!!

    • You are certainly welcome. Compared to Switzerland, I am sure visiting France might
      feel like you are slumming. I find it funny that you feel the Swiss have less of
      a sense of humor than the French. When I see so many people walking around with
      their smile turned upside down, it really looks like their face is stuck like that. HA!

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