‘I was surprised by what my French students think of Britons’

Baked beans, dyed hair, a love of fish skin… You can be the judge of whether some of these surprising stereotypes from university students are valid or not

My students are definitely not fans of British cuisine
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In their heads, everybody has a list of stereotypes associated with different countries.

They usually come from media consumption, personal experiences, and in some cases, are simply a globally-recognised trait of a nation’s citizens (that they themselves would agree with). 

Anglophones, particularly Britons, have no end of stereotypes for their French neighbours. 

These range from the probable (they are French so must love cheese, wine, and discussing politics at the dinner table) to the downright bizarre (they are French so wear onions around their necks), but of course the French have just as many stereotypes about us.

Britons may be able to take a guess at what some of the more common stereotypes are about us – Scottish people have ginger hair, English people love beer – but there are much more varied opinions.

I asked my French university students for stereotypes about English speakers and the results were hilarious. While some had grounding, others were completely nonsensical.

Read more: My experience in France as a university English teacher

What do you think? Do you agree with any of these stereotypes? 

Many stereotypes revolve around ‘British food’

According to my French students, Anglophones, particularly British people, have an affinity for the following:

  • Tea

  • Baked beans

  • Jelly 

  • Beer 

  • Mini Coopers 

  • Junk food 

  • Jam (a word that many of my students do not know how to translate from the French confiture)

British food in general was badly reviewed, with many having had scarring experiences in both the UK and in the United States, where portions were considered huge. 

Many of my students buckled at the thought of a classic English breakfast in the morning, and one person gagged while describing the packed lunch she had to eat during a student exchange trip to the UK.

Read more: ‘Our kind French neighbours have made us feel so welcome’

Britons ‘live for the pub’ and have very strong accents

In terms of their non-culinary interests, my students said Britons “lived for the pub” and loved football and the Royal Family. 

Rugby is also a passion for many on the British Isles, they believe.

Our skin was described as both “fragile” and “pale” (maybe they have seen too many holidaymakers suffering from sunburn along the French Riviera).

They said that when they think of a British person, they imagine an eccentric dress style, lots of tattoos, top hats and often brightly coloured dyed hair – green and blue, to be precise (I think this one comes from the newer generation).

In their eyes, Britons retain a reputation for making good music, but they suggested we “take a lot of drugs”. 

In fact, one said that British teenagers in particular “either take a lot of drugs or are very stuck up”. I pressed them on the matter, and from our conversation learned the basis of this stereotype came from the popular UK TV show Skins.

Houses in the UK have big windows, and are often made of red brick, they said, with many streets looking almost identical.

My students also mentioned the number of strong accents across the British Isles, with the variety of dialects well-known even to those who are not fluent in English, due to TV shows and pop culture.

Finally, we are considered tight with money, at least compared to the French.

Read also: MAP: stubborn Bretons and other regional stereotypes around France

What do Britons do wrong in France?

One thing almost all the students wanted to make clear is that we do not know how to eat brioche correctly. 

It was noted that whilst Anglophones often use brioche bread for sandwiches or burgers, this is incorrect and degueulasse (disgusting). It should only be eaten as a sweet snack. 

Apparently, we also do not ‘know how to play Uno’ – this particular theory came from an unfortunate exchange trip where none of the British host families were familiar with the hugely popular game. 

However, I think this is more of a one-off experience than a widely-held belief amongst the French.

Another inexplicable stereotype that came from an exchange trip was that Brits “love to eat fish skin”. 

According to the storyteller, his British exchange student had gone round the French table eating everyone’s leftover fish skin after dinner, leading them believe this was a specifically British trope. 

Across many classes, the stereotype of tension between the French and English arose, and the classic nicknames “Roast Beef” and “frogs” were thrown around. 

Read more: Five things they don’t tell you about ‘les rosbifs’ (Brits) in France

Many simply stated that “English people do not like French people” with Brexit also brought up.

Finally, it was common to think that life is more expensive in the UK compared to France, with a particular focus on the cost of living in London.