American Stereotypes? What French People Actually Think About American Culture

Salut!

I recently shared a lesson where we talked about one of the biggest stereotypes that people hold about French people. But what about the opposite? What do French people REALLY think about American people and American culture?

There are many stereotypes in France about Americans, from different angles.

In today’s lesson, which is all in French, I’ll tell you what French people really think about Americans. Don’t worry — I’ll speak slowly so that you can practice your comprehension skills. And don’t forget to turn on the subtitles if you need to.

C’est parti.

Summary:
1) How French people see Americans: in French
2) How French people see Americans: English translation
3) How French people see Americans: Vocabulary
4) How French people see Americans: Clips I used in the video lesson

Want all the vocabulary of the lesson ?

1) How French people see Americans: in French

Ah, l’Amérique !

Évidemment, je ne peux pas dire tout ce que ça évoque pour les Français. Ce serait trop long !

Une première idée, c’est que les États-Unis sont la terre de la liberté. Un nouveau départ, vers le rêve américain.

Évidemment, ce n’est pas partagé par tout le monde. Certains Français vont plutôt voir l’Amérique comme le pays de la pollution et de la malbouffe, avec des gros 4×4 et des McDonald’s.

Mais il y a aussi une vraie passion populaire pour l’esthétique américaine.
Comme les rodéos ou la musique country.
Ou la chaîne de restaurants populaires Buffalo Grill, qui centre tout son marketing sur cette image.

Et évidemment, Johnny Hallyday.
C’est le pseudonyme de ce chanteur belge, qui a eu énormément de succès en France depuis 1960 jusqu’à sa disparition en 2017. Son esthétique de chanteur de rock’n’roll américain en France en a fait une icône de la France populaire, avec des millions de fans. Même s’il est totalement inconnu en dehors de nos frontières !

Mais de façon générale, les États-Unis sont le pays du cool.
Par exemple… on dit “cool” !

On trouve l’influence des États-Unis, par exemple dans la pop culture
ou la publicité, et même notre vocabulaire quotidien.

Parce qu’au fond, la France est en grande partie une province de l’empire culturel américain. On regarde Netflix et les films Disney, on écoute de la pop, on mange des burgers chez McDonald’s, on reprend les images et les idées et les produits des États-Unis avec une poignée d’années de retard au plus, c’est la vie.
Mais OK, toutes ces images parlent des États-Unis comme pays ou comme puissance. Mais que pensent les Français des Américains, comme individus ?

Là aussi, c’est compliqué. Mais c’est surtout positif !

Quand des Français rencontrent des Américains en France, déjà on se dit… “Bonjour.” Puis on fait connaissance en tant qu’individus. Les stéréotypes et les préjugés ne s’appliquent plus une fois qu’on a pris un peu de temps pour se connaître, donc pas de panique !

Mais bon, c’est vrai. Au fond, il y a quand même des stéréotypes, on s’attend à certaines réactions. Alors au fond, comment est-ce qu’on imagine les Américains ? Eh bien, je dirais, surtout, enthousiastes.

D’après le cliché, un Américain en France va être impressionné par tout ce qu’il voit, en bien ou en mal : les monuments, la nourriture, les voitures, les paysages… Tout va être formidable !

Y compris les gens. Donc ils vont facilement faire la conversation et trouver des choses positives.

Et c’est très flatteur ! Et ça change !
Nous on est habitués à avoir des Français qui veulent garder l’air blasé et intellectuel, et c’est rafraîchissant de voir le monde sous un meilleur angle.

C’est aussi lié à l’image d’être plus intense. C’est compliqué à expliquer, mais par exemple, d’après le cliché, les Américains ne vont pas simplement aimer bien manger : ils vont se définir comme “foodies”. Et tout prendre avec un peu plus d’émotion qu’on en attendrait d’un Français.

Et c’est super ! C’est une bonne chose !

Mais encore une fois, ce ne sont que des images et des stéréotypes, qui s’adaptent dès qu’on peut faire connaissance personnellement.

2) How French people see Americans: English translation

Ah, America!

Of course, I can’t talk about everything that it brings up for French people. That would take too long!

One first idea is that the United States are a land of freedom. A new start towards the American dream.

Of course, it’s not shared by everyone. Some French people rather see the US as the land of pollution and junk food, with big SUVs and McDonald’s.

But there’s also a real popular passion for the American aesthetics. Like rodeos or country music. Or the popular restaurant chain Buffalo Grill, that centers its whole marketing on this image.

And of cours, Johnny Hallyday.
That’s the pseudonym of that Belgian singer, who had a terrific success in France since the 1960s (!) until his demise in 2017. His image of an American rock’n’roll singer in France made him an icon of popular France, with millions of fans. Even if he’s totally unknown beyond our borders!

But generally, the United States are the country of the cool. For instance… We do say “cool” !

One can find the influence of the US for instance in French pop culture or advertisements, and even in our everyday vocabulary.

Because in the end, France is mostly a province of the cultural American empire. We watch Netflix and Disney movies, we listen to pop music, we eat hamburgers at McDonald’s, we share pictures and ideas and products from the United States, after a handful of years at most. C’est la vie !

But OK, all this stuff is about the US as a country or a power. But what do French people think of American people, as individuals?

Well, here again, it’s complicated. But mostly positive!

When French people meet some American people in France, they’ll say… “Bonjour.” Then we’ll get to know each other as individuals. Stereotypes and clichés don’t apply anymore once we take some time to get to know each other, so don’t worry!

But yeah, it’s true: deep down, there are still stereotypes, we’re expecting some reactions. So, in the end, how do we imagine American people are going to be? Well, I’d say, mostly, enthusiastic.

According to the cliché, an American person in France is going to be impressed by everything they see, good or bad: monuments, foods, cars, landscapes… Everything is going to be amazing!

Including people. So they’ll easily start a conversation and find positive stuff to share. And that’s really flattering! And it’s a change!

We’re used to seeing French people who want to keep a blasé and intellectual attitude, and it can be refreshing to see the world from a better angle.

It’s also linked to the idea of being more intense. It’s hard to explain, but for instance, according to the stereotype, American people aren’t going to simply like eating well: they’ll define themselves as “foodies.” And take everything with a bit more emotion than you’d expect from a French person.

And that’s great! That’s a good thing!

But once again, these are simply images and stereotypes that will get updated as soon as we get to know each other more personally.

I might make a whole lesson on Johnny someday. He started out in the 1960’s as a pastiche of Elvis for French audience. He became part of the “yé-yés” movement of young naive innocent pop singers – named that way because their songs (often pure translation of English/American hit) had a lot of “Yeah! Yeah!” in there. Then he successfully navigated the 80’s, by putting on mega-shows and hiring the best songwriters. He became a symbol of “the average French person [derogatory]”, a low-class status, but in the 2010’s, it kind of became cool again, part of it ironically. Also helped by the movie Jean-Philippe (2006) (titled after Johnny’s real first name.)
He really was a weird part of French culture.

3) How French people see Americans: Vocabulaire

Les États-Unis = The United States. A “liaison” (“z” sound) after both “Les” and “États.”

L’Amérique = America. Used for the whole continent, but also to simply mean the US.

Un nouveau départ = A new start.Ou” = “oo” sound, “eau” = “oh” sound.

Le rêve américain = The American dream. “Ê” sounds like “è” (“ay”). “Ain” is the French nasal sound like “un”.

C’est la vie ! = “That’s life, that’s the way it is, that happens.” We do use that expression in France too!

Les gens = “People,” in general, as in a crowd or a faceless group of people.

Formidable = Fantastic, amazing!

Y compris = Including

Un 4×4, pronounced “un quatre-quatre” = a four-wheel drive, an off-road vehicle – having in mind a big car that’s made for rough terrain but that’s used in suburbs to get groceries.

4) How French people see Americans: Clips I used in the video lesson

Some clips I used in the video lesson (the links worked on Youtube in April 2022):

God Bless – Volo (2005) – A listing of all the things that come to mind when talking about “America,” for good, bad or random.

Long is the Road (Américain) – Jean-Jacques Goldman (1984) – I love Jean-Jacques Goldman. This song goes all the way on the American Dream angle.

It pairs well with his famous and beautiful Là-Bas (“Over there”) (1987) – a song / dialogue. The husband wants to emigrate “over there” to start over and maybe find fortune with his work and wits, his wife wants him to stay to start a family.

La Californie – Julien Clerc (1971) – A poetic song about idealized California, as seen from French hippies in the 1970s. Julien Clerc became famous for the lead role in the French translation of the Hair musical around that time, and since then he has kept his singing career throughout the decades.

L’Amérique – Joe Dassin (1970) – Joe Dassin is most famous for his song Les Champs-Élysées. He had a lot of affection for the US, from his personal life and in his work (such as translating Johnny Cash songs.) As you can hear, L’Amérique is also a translation of the song Yellow River from the British band Christie, from the same year. (Yes, many successful pop songs in France in the 1960s-1970s were indeed mere translations / covers!)

Sur la Route – Raphaël (2004) – A duo with Jean-Louis Aubert from the famous band Telephone. Always pleasant to look at his clips.

La musique que j’aime – Johnny Hallyday (1973)“All the music I love comes from the blues.” Enough said.

Formidable – Stromae (2013) – A song about a lost relationship. I love Stromae, a singer from Belgium.

I almost used For me, formidable – Charles Aznavour (1964), by the great Aznavour, who passed away recently. He’s also famous for La Bohème. “For me, formidable” is a funny song, hinging on a French narrator trying to sing his love to an English-speaking woman – without speaking English himself. So the song uses half-English / half-French words, like “For me, for me – formidable”, or “Very, very, very – véritable.”

Et toi ?
Est-ce que tu as compris la leçon en français dans la vidéo ?
Quels sont tes stéréotypes sur les Américains ?

For now, click on a link to find your next step on French culture:

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!


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Join the conversation!

  • Sérendipité – quand vous avez dit “formidable”, j’ai basculé vers un nouvel onglet de navigateur pour regarder Stromae, puis quand j’ai repris, qui devrait apparaître ?

  • France: hors du bureau

    Je suis absent du bureau pour l’ete en vacances en camping. Veuillez m’envoyer un e-mail en septembre apres la rentree.

    Amerique: hors du bureau

    J’ai quitte le bureau pendant deux heures pour subir une chirurgie renale d’urgence. N’hesitez pas a m’appeler sur mon telephone portable a tout moment.
    B

  • Coca-Cola, les hamburgers ou le le bifteck et les frites restent toujours mes clichés des états-unis.
    En ce qui concerne la musique, une liste des clichés des USA dans les années 50 en néopolitain se présente dans la chanson de Yolanda Be Cool – We No Speak Americano (Video edit by Pink louder) https://youtu.be/h3S4dBk4E1g

    Enfin, Johnny – “Mon Amérique à Moi” est plein du rêve américain.

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