French and American Differences




Differences between the French and the Americans

For generations, Americans have entertained a certain ‘fascination’ for the French.  Perhaps the word ‘fascination’ is a little strong, but it’s true that, on the other side of the Atlantic, our counterparts are observing us with curiosity.  A number of works have come out this year, (How the French Invented Love: 900 Years of Passion and Romance by Marilyn Yalom, French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman, All You Need to be Impossibly French by Helena Thrift Powell, The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham, La Séduction: How the French Play the Game of Life by Elaine Sciolino…).  All of these books are without exception best-sellers in the United States or the United Kingdom.  It would seem that we have a scandalous reputation when it comes to love.  Throughout the entire world, France is synonymous with glamour, elegance and ‘chic’…especially Paris.  This image that’s been plastered onto the Hexagon goes back a few centuries now.  On the other hand, the idea that the French are unfaithful and quite libertine when it comes to sex is very widespread in the American collective imagination, and the aforementioned books never cease to promote this image of France, an image which is as clichéd as it gets.   It goes without saying that with the Dominique Strauss Kahn affair, the unprecedented media battle that the French and American press threw themselves into only added fuel to the fire of these tenacious cultural stereotypes.  

So, are the French really more permissive when it comes to the relations between men and women?  Do Americans really have anything to envy about the French?  Are French women really lacking that much in solidarity amongst themselves, as some of the above- mentioned authors would like us to believe?  Here are some preliminary answers:

 What differences are there between the relations between men and women in France and the USA?

Lucy Wadham, in her book entitled The Secret Life of France (La vie secrète de la France/des français), declares that the relationships between men and women in France are radically different from those that their American counterparts maintain.  French feminism being less radical and out-there than American feminism, Lucy Wadham is of the opinion that French women are in less permanent (though underlying) conflict with their masculine counterparts.  The French woman does not wish to be the equal of a man at any cost.  She only asks to have the same opportunities, especially in education and in her professional life, without for all that systematically demanding and brandishing the standard of equality.  The French woman sticks with staying a woman, the French man sticks to staying a man.  Each person must be able to live with each other without betraying their gender.    In the United States (and the United Kingdom) the categories into which gender, the sexes, are sorted are not so clear cut.  Women tend to struggle openly or more implicitly with men so as to demonstrate that they are as capable as men.  It’s out of the question in the United States to hit on a young woman a bit too insistently, or to be overzealous, or to make a sexist joke (funny though it may be).  The feminist battles were much more intense and difficult across the Atlantic.  It’s therefore not a subject people joke about; one doesn’t say to a woman what she can or can’t do because of the fact that she’s a woman.  However, in France, everything (or almost everything) is done so that women aren’t handicapped in their professional lives because of pregnancy and the birth of a child, which is generally not the case in the United States.  

The game of seduction is thus different from one country to another

Thus, in France, women more easily accept being chased after, given compliments that are clearly meant to coax them…and they therefore enter more easily into the game of seduction.  In general, there’s no need to be offended if a man you barely know compliments you on what you’re wearing or on your charms.  French women don’t feel like they’re in a position of inferiority with regard to men when they’re being pursued.  They’re perfectly aware that they’re at the center of a dance of seduction…but instead of associating bad intentions with this attitude of ‘conquering’, French women prefer to think of themselves as objects of desire, and let themselves be the center of this attention if the man doesn’t exhibit any aggressiveness or intrusion.

According to Selon Helena Thrift Powell, American women are generally more suspicious than French women when a man approaches them.  On the other hand, the techniques of seduction are the same in both countries, once contact has been established.  Again according to Helena, French men are generally unfaithful to their partners, and all of this will be accepted and is acceptable by everyone, without for all that being permissible in broad daylight.  All French people, or almost all, won’t hide their infidelity and will accept their partner’s indiscretions as long as they aren’t being too obvious about it.  A lack of the feminist mindset in French women leads women to go to great lengths not to complain about their husbands’ cheating.  Our values are purportedly much more permissive…and obviously many French men don’t see themselves as fitting this description.   

French women purportedly feel less solidarity between themselves than American women

Americans have a concept that is uniquely their own and which we are deprived of here in France: ‘sisterhood’.  According to Americans, French women are so obsessed by the idea of seducing and being seduced that they leave the feeling of solidarity between women by the wayside.  In the United States, girls stick together come hell or high water…and they especially stand up to men that could at any moment try to make them feel inferior. In France, friendship’s fine and dandy…but love might just be better.  All girls have friends they hold in high esteem.  But the French may have less of a tendency to form a group of girlfriends from the teen years, to whom they stay loyal until death do us part.  Incidentally, it was the Americans that invented and exported bachelorette and bachelor parties to other western countries.  In this American culture, it’s important to be with other men and women, respectively, to talk and let lose without any distraction from the opposite sex.  It’s a way of coming together, to occasionally separate into ‘clans’, as if to remind yourself which gender  you belong to.  Some even go so far as to think that this kind of attitude, much more frequently observed in the U.S. and the U.K., engenders a kind of open aggressiveness on the part of women towards men…which nevertheless remains to be proved.  


Liked this article? Read more about French seduction in our article on Elaine Sciolino's book La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life.