The French Aren't That Great

Maybe it's the Cannes Film Festival or maybe it's everyone's desperation for a vacation, but either way the internet had been coughing up an awful lot lately about how much better the French are than the rest of us. Well, light up one of your Gauloises and hang onto your hat (or beret) because I'm about to get real with you: They're not all that great.

I mean, the French are okay. They're okay like the rest of us are okay in that some of them are cool and others less so. There's nothing wrong with the French (or, by extension, being French), but, like in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world, they're a mixed bag of people who range from exceptional to ordinary, smart to dumb, fancy to slovenly, mean to kind, leisurely to rushed, rich to poor, confident to insecure and so on and so on.

Not that we'd know it. For some reason (probably because it's romantic to imagine it this way), we've chosen to admire the French not for their politics or history or culture, but for a weirdly limited and elite lifestyle that we perceive them all to have and that we'll never be good enough to achieve.

For example, here's an article written by U.S.-based writer Eimear Lynch for The Cut comparing French weddings to American weddings:

French women don't have bridesmaids; they have witnesses. And they would never post their engagement rings on Facebook. The bridezilla exists in every culture, of course, but in France she's a rare breed. At French weddings, the bride is not the center of attention. Instead, the focus is on the two families coming together.

Ya hear that, you corn pone Yankee jerks? The French do weddings classy-like. None of this diamond flashing. None of this bridesmaid-having. (Never mind that a lot of Americans opt out of that whole process, as well.) Instead, a French couple will opt for a simple ceremony. I'm sorry — simple ceremonies.

The weddings themselves are weekend-long affairs. That's in part because in France, only civil marriages are legally binding. So lots of couples have two ceremonies: one legal, one religious. Fabien and Virginie's wedding, for instance, consisted of a Friday-night civil wedding; a religious ceremony, cocktail party, dinner, and reception on Saturday; and a big lunch on Sunday.

Because that's all we need. Weddings that last longer.

Also at The Cut (they're really going to town over there), there's a different article on how Parisians are just sooo good at partying.

Alyssa Shelasky writes:

At 11 p.m., the Shangri-La lounge was as French Vogue as I imagined it would be. Girls in gold Chanel sequined pencil skirts paired with bulky Adidas sweatshirts, boys in tight Sandro suits and Michael Jackson shoes. Like a softcore porn of short bangs, Champagne, and Guerlain, the room was impossibly chic and undeniably awesome.

The lessons Shelasky learned: The French only drink champagne, going to a party alone will — as one French girl told her — make "people think you have AIDS" and that French women don't get wasted (I have been to a couple bars in Paris that would highly suggest otherwise).

It's noteworthy that all of these pieces are written by tourists or well-off expats and not by actual French people. It makes sense, though — when you visit a place, you tend to only see a very small part of it and it's easy (albeit a little doofy) to assume that the tiny slice of life you experienced is somehow representative of the lives of everyone who lives there.

The whole mentality is perfectly represented in this sketch by the very funny Kate Berlant and John Early:

"Do you know that for every minute you spend in America, in Paris it passes three minutes longer to the second?"

While some native French folks are lucky enough to rent a food truck for their 3-day wedding at a manor in the country, spend Wednesday nights clad in Chanel at the the Shangri-La lounge, eat whatever they want and never gain weight and take six-hour coffee breaks in the middle of the day, that's not how the whole country exists. France still has poor and middle class people who can't afford that kind of shit. There are people there with shitty jobs that don't allow them to constantly live la vie en rose — at least, I assume that's the case. Like with these other women, I've only ever been a visitor. The only difference is my reluctance to assume that my experience is everyone's experience. (If it was, then French people would never get anything done because they'd be too busy getting lost on the Metro and stuffing their faces with croissants.)

To be perfectly clear, I love France and have encountered several lovely French people. It's a gorgeous country with an intricate history, rich culture and incredible cuisine. The French gave us Godard, Monet, Simone de Beauvoir and, most importantly, a whole bunch of cheeses.

At the same time, they love Jerry Lewis, white denim and electronic music so take it all with a grain of salt. Nobody's perfect, yo.