As much as we may hate to admit it, some stereotypes exist for a reason. Are all Americans loud and arrogant? No, but enough are for that to be how other cultures see us. Are all Canadians the sweetest, politest people on the planet? Probably not, although I’ve yet to see otherwise. Which brings us to the French: Are all heterosexual French men epic lovers with a penchant for smoking, lots of PDA, cheating, and a general sense of superiority in regards to seduction and romance? It depends on who you ask.
French sex and couples therapist, and author of the blog “Piment Rose,” Nathalie Giraud Desforges, says when we meet someone, we tend to have preconceived notions about them based on of their origins. We let these take hold because we are scared of the unknown, something we never know, by definition, if will come with good or bad intentions. It’s a way to reassure and prepare ourselves for something we’ve never encountered before.
In 2013, I met a French man and married him nine months later. We had a whirlwind romance and, at least based on everything I’d been taught or seen in the media, he embodied every cliché that one associates with French men. He was, by far, the most romantic man I have ever met. He was unbelievably passionate in bed, which to me meant he actually cared about my pleasure, often before his. He’d kiss me in public every chance he got, smoked, rocked a scarf perfectly (another cliché about the French), then eventually cheated on me. The marriage dissolved after he was unfaithful and moved in with his much younger mistress, but we never officially divorced before he passed away in 2017. To me, Olivier, my husband, was the pure embodiment of what a French man is — as if plucked from a movie about French men made specifically for foreigners to reaffirm the stereotypes the world already has about the French.
According to Desforges, French cinema helps reinforce different cultural norms for men than what we may find in the U.S. by conveying men showing, accepting, and claiming their feelings. French men are also famous for being very good lovers. In Desforges opinion, this is due to the fact that French men are more likely to embrace their feminine side. But they also listen more in general. She says that open-mindedness happens when curiosity comes without fear.
“My French man falls into the very stereotypical category,” Brooklyn-based sex- and cannabis-positive publicist, Melissa Vitale, tells Tinder. “He’s definitely one of the more passionate lovers I’ve had, both intimately and just in remembering the little things. I’ve never had a partner who bought me so many flowers or who would plan a whole day around finding me the best chocolates.”
Vitale and her beau met in a couples club in Paris and were on the same page about having multiple lovers from the start. “Also, the French also don’t dick around, and that’s where those dating stereotypes come from,” Vitale says. “If they want to kiss you, they’re going to kiss you, audience be damned. If they want to kiss someone else, they do, partner be damned. If they love you, they’re going to be affectionate and unbridled by what society thinks of them. They don’t worry if that’s too forward, mushy or, dare I say, gross. They just do what they feel.”
Meg M., who’s originally from Toronto and has lived in Paris for over a decade now, doesn’t agree with the stereotypes. “They’re all bullshit,” she says. “Yes, [French men] are more particular about appearance, in regards to how you dress, and they prefer a more natural look compared to Americans, but as for the romance and the rest of it, it’s just a cliché. I’ve never experienced it.”
Iris K. is French and lives in Paris. She just came back from six months in Brazil, where she delved into a new culture. She says that French guys are “clingy” and that she actually missed that about them while she was abroad. For her, French men are more romantic than Brazilian guys. Brazilian men will seduce, but they have no desire to get into anything stable. Iris also said that she always felt that French men treated her equally, whereas in Brazil, men still live in a macho world where the idea of equality has yet to be achieved.
But according to Clotilde M., who is French and currently lives in London with her Venezuelan boyfriend, French guys aren’t especially good lovers and are the least courteous people ever. Unlike Iris, she felt an idea of dominance and machismo in every relationship she had with a French man. Her relationships with foreign men were more respectful. She believes they always tried to bring out the best of her, while French men would always focus on the negative.
Many of the clichés we know of French men are also very negative — for example, that they’re unfaithful. Desforges tells Tinder that being unfaithful is a fundamental trait of French culture and history. It is rooted in the ideas of the “lumières” of the 17th century, intellectuals who brought forward controversial new beliefs in sciences, literature, philosophy, and sexuality.
So while Henry the VIII in England had six wives, in France, Louis XIV was married only once but had at least 15 mistresses. In the U.K. or the U.S., political careers can be ruined by of extramarital affairs — or even just rumors of them. That would never happen in France.
Recently I was on Tinder looking to meet French men. When I matched with Guillaume, he messaged me immediately. What followed was another round of stereotypes: He bragged about his sexual prowess, triumphantly explained that the French are superior due to their history (something that Vitale has also heard multiple times from her French partner), and he was quite secure in his ability to make me orgasm and laugh at the same time. I couldn’t tell if it was cockiness or confidence. Also, according to him, he’s going to be the best kisser I ever kiss — should I actually meet up with him. Why? “Because I’m French and we invented the kiss.” Merde!
But while some French men fulfill their stereotype, many do not. It only proves what Desforges says: People have stereotypes because they need to reassure themselves about the unknown. Or in the case of French women, the known. These stereotypes are a benchmark they can measure their own relationships against.
*Translation help for interviews conducted in French provided by Alicia Proton de la Chapelle