Myths About Visiting France That Are Not Rooted In Reality

The sights, sounds, and smells of France go on for days, making it easy to love as a travel destination. Yet, if you've never visited the country, you might hesitate to do so based on the myths surrounding it. Some of these generalizations are patently true, like the incomparable fashion and the fact that you should avoid visiting Versailles on certain days of the week unless you want to rub elbows with a deluge of fellow tourists. If you come from the United States, you will encounter some cultural differences. But even so, many of the concerns travelers have about France have arisen from pure fantasy. 


France has distinguished itself as the most-visited country in the world multiple times due to the impressive number of attractions and activities on offer. By looking past the stereotypes associated with it, you may find inspiration for your own vacation there. "You can travel in quite a small patch of the world and the diversity ... will be cultural or just natural," Charline Drappier of Champagne Drappier told CNBC. "Everyone finds something that they want to discover about France ... in the history, in obviously the Alps, the beach, the complete wilderness, and also lot of a cultural [interests]."

The Paris Metro is too complicated

The Paris Metro certainly comes with its share of challenges. Researchers from CEA Paris-Saclay and the University of Oxford wrote for Science Advances (pdf) that their calculations had identified Paris' system as the second most complex in the world — just behind New York City. But thanks to phone maps, you have a little companion to help you along the way. Not to mention that you can grab a paper map from the ticket counters just in case your mobile map goes kaput while you ride.


Speaking from personal experience, you don't need to feel overly intimidated by the Paris Metro. If you've taken subways in major cities like Chicago, New York, or London, you'll encounter a similar process. And if you haven't, don't hesitate to ask a station attendant for help. Contrary to another popular belief, many French residents are approachable and happy to point you in the right direction.

French people aren't friendly

When it comes to myths about France, unfriendliness or rudeness remains one of the biggest. However, this perception may be more rooted in cultural differences between Americans and the French than anything else. "The French aren't rude," Alexander Lobrano, author of "Hungry for Paris" and "Hungry for France," told USA Today. "They're formal and have very precise manners. If you go into a shop without saying 'Bonjour' to the salesperson when you come through the door, which is what the French do, don't be surprised to get a cool reception ... As an American in Paris for over 25 years, I can tell you that the French have a more knowing and nuanced affection for Americans than any other Europeans."


While anyone in any country can be rude, the seemingly negative experiences of visitors in France often come down to different communication styles. Many Americans default to behaving in an overly friendly manner, even with strangers. However, this contrasts with countries like France, where they use more direct language and affection needs to be earned. Just remember your "bonjour," "au revoir," "merci," and "s'il vous plaît." From personal experience, you'll probably be met with English in response, though it's likely well-meaning.

French cuisine is too expensive

Indulging in French cuisine back home might be a costly experience. Yet, contrary to popular belief, not all French food is created equal in France. You don't have to spend a fortune to enjoy tasty dishes, nor should you if this would exceed your travel budget. Even in the capital, from personal experience, you can enjoy a great deal of incredible cuisine without breaking the bank. But maybe steer clear of the macarons, as the sweet treat has become a tourist trap in Paris.


Just because it has "cuisine" in the name doesn't mean it automatically comes with a higher price tag. The word simply indicates how the food is prepared –  in the French way in this case. You can spend a lot on a multi-course meal at a high-end restaurant in Paris or Marseille or keep it casual instead. To be fair, Paris has made at least one list of most expensive cities in the world for two people to dine out, though it came in sixth behind both San Francisco and New York City.

A no-frills street crêpe might be the tastiest snack you have during your French travels. Or a $12 croque monsieur may keep you full all day. Don't let the concern that food will be too expensive keep you away. There is always a way to make it work, with or without expensive eateries.


French people smell bad

The fact that France is home to the perfume capital of the world, Grasse, makes this myth rather laughable. People across countries adore French perfumes, so how did the idea that French people smell bad become so persistent? The stereotype, though completely untrue, has been repeated time and time again.


Gwendoline Gaudicheau wrote for The Local France that this rumor continues to follow her as a French person. Gaudicheau attributed this to the Parisians' lack of easy access to bathing facilities before and during World War II. Yet the stereotype remains steadfast even almost a century later, despite major advancements in the country's plumbing.

True, if you visit Paris in the dead of summer and take the Metro, you may be in for a stinky ride. Our experience of sweaty folks cramming onto a subway car has confirmed that there will be smells — a reality you will encounter in any warm, enclosed space filled with people. We can (and should) wash away this generality.

Paris is the only worthwhile destination

Paris is, without a doubt, the most well-known spot in France. It continues to be the most visited city on Earth, with good reason. Who could resist the dreamy silhouette of the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre at sunset? Still, there is so much more to France than its massive capital. 


As all places do, Paris has a vibe. If that vibe isn't a match for you, it shouldn't mean discounting all of France in the process. Not only is this sprawling city an expensive place to visit, but it also may not offer exactly what you want from a French vacation. Perhaps it's better to do a day trip there if you aren't sure about Paris. The Garden of France (the Loire Valley), with all of its castles and greenery, may be a better fit. Or perhaps the wines of Bordeaux are calling your name. In fact, France is one of the best places to visit in Europe based on your interests, as highlighted by Rick Steves.

However you imagine visiting France, there is a way to make the itinerary extend beyond Paris if you wish. Although Paris is intrinsically tied to France's identity as a destination, it is far from the be-all-and-end-all of places to see. Ignore the myths and enjoy the trip. À votre santé!