15 Things People Say When They Meet a French Outside the EU

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Remains of my French life, circa 2005

When you’re travelling, the “where are you from?” question is pretty much expected several times a day. For an immigrant or anyone with a multicultural background, it’s a tricky one—there’s where you grew up and where you currently live, plus possible assumptions based on ethnicity, race or accent.

Almost involuntarily, I tend to pause for a split second before replying, long enough to raise even more questions and suspicion. After all, your citizenship, like your name or your age, is a piece of personal information you should be able to disclose without thinking.

As a general rule, if I’m travelling with my Canadian passport, I’m Canadian. But once in a while, I introduced myself as French.

And this is what happens.

People say something completely random in French, like “j’aime Paris,” “les croissants,” “une souris verte qui courait dans l’herbe” or “voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir” (the last one is probably not an offer, unless the person is fluent in French). Worst-case scenario, people start singing in French—Frère Jacques is taught in an awful lot of places around the world, this madness must stop!

People ask where you live. I never understand why because the next question is always “don’t know this place… how far it is from Paris?” Generally, I reply “not far,” which is kind of true considering the size of France.

Women, especially in Asia, longingly whisper “Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton…” as if they were naming close relatives of mine. Then, they eye my bag suspiciously as if wondering if it’s from an exclusive made-for-French-people “grungy” collection and mentally assess how much my outfit cost (total is usually a disappointing $50).

People tell me they learn some French at school, then apologize because they can’t remember any of it. I get it—there are plenty of French grammar rules I also learned at school and promptly forgot.

People name a few French “stars.” Gérard Depardieu, Brigitte Bardot, Napoléon, Victor Hugo and Édith Piaf are apparently among the favourite—or most famous—worldwide. Amélie and Ratatouille are occasionally brought up. I do my part for tourism, I never point out that French rats can’t cook and that Amélie can’t afford to live in Montmartre unless she moonlights as a prostitute.

People tell me they would love to go to Paris. Don’t say “me too,” you’re French, you’re supposed to hang out on the Champs-Élysées every day, even if you live hundreds of kilometres away.

People detail this one trip they took to France a long, long time ago. If you’re in Asia, tough luck—chances are, the lucky tourist did one of these 15-European-countries-in-two-weeks tour and they have no idea where they’ve been exactly, so you might have to nod along when told that the French city of Rome is great because it’s old and picturesque and the French city of Amsterdam was nice with plenty of canals.

People ask you how you find local cuisine as if you were a culinary authority. This conversation can be awkward if you’re caught eating fast food or street food.

People ask you if France is a dangerous country, especially if they saw footage of protests. “Don’t worry, it’s just a French game we play with… ahem, the police. And the government. Yes, when it’s cold, we burn tires… and cars.”

English-speaking Canadians always want to know if I can understand Québécois and “how bad it is” compared to “proper French.” Glance around to make sure there are no Québécois nearby if you feel upset every time you hear “t’es ben cute, toué.”

People tell me I don’t look French, even when I’m not tan. Must be because I’m not half-naked, crying in bed like most actresses in French movies. Or the lack of the typical Parisian French scarf, this tiny piece of fabric used a fashion statement but impractical when it’s actually cold. “Funny, I thought French women were thin,” one of Feng’s relatives also commented when we were in China in 2014…

People ask me how tall the Eiffel Tower is. Note to self—must check Wikipedia for exact height in metres and feet. I still remember that the Mont Blanc’s highest peak is 4,807 metres (as reminded yearly from grade 1 to 12) but clearly, French curriculums aren’t designed by big fans of the famous Parisian landmark because we don’t learn about it.

People seek wine or food advice. I have no idea how to make macarons (I think almond powder is involved?) and I can barely tell red and white wine apart. Note that many French do drink wine but aren’t super knowledgeable about it—I mean, I eat eggs, doesn’t mean I could manage a poultry farm…

People… okay, mostly guys, attempt to cheek-kiss you “like you do in France.”  Frankly, this is the one custom I miss the least. Leave my face alone.

People inform you of a French person sighting—“the house over there… a French guy rented it for a week, five years ago” or “a French couple asked me for directions, once.” This is probably so that you don’t attempt to plant the flag—clearly, you’re not the first national on the territory, now leave peacefully and don’t establish a colony, thank you.

Maybe I should just go with “I’m Canadian,” next time…


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Oh, how much I sympathize with all that!!! In my split second before answering I assess if the person asking me the question is commenting on my accent (in which case I answer: French), or my looks (in which case I say: Argentinian), or if I’m in the states I say Canadian because that’s simpler. Only the other day it happened during my aquatic class, but the lady was genuinely curious and chatty, so we ended up telling our lives stories… 🙂 (lately I also like to say “I’m Canadian, but I speak 6 languages” if I feel some judgment about my accent, or why I’m yelling in French after my kids. It usually does the trick — I instantly look a little less crazy, and much smarter! 😉

    • Do you look Argentinian? I saw a few pictures of you and to me, you could be European or yes, I guess, Argentinian. The ability to speak multiple languages usually confuses people. I had random Brazilians at the beach or in stores telling me I should speak Portuguese to Mark. I mean, great idea… except it’s not exactly a language I master 😆 So yes, I can speak basic Portuguese (apparently enough for people to think I’m Brazilian, although only during very VERY short interactions :lol:) but I have zero ties to Brazil.

      I often explain Latinos that most Canadians are “Canadian AND…”.

  2. All of that is so true!
    In a hostel, because we said we were French, my friend and I had to cook for all people there…
    I wasn’t much of a cook back then, my friend was no better, we made a F*** mess of the kitchen and called it «the French way».
    And the funniest question I had about France was definitely: Is it close to Mecca?
    (A guy in Venezuela 😀 )

    • WTF??? I mean, the geographical blunder but how did the question even come up (considering you’re not Muslim–I think??)?

      The “French are great cooks” myth must die. I mean, we tend to value food but it doesn’t mean I’m making coq au vin when I want a quick dinner.

      • I know right!
        I am not Muslim (and religion is not my thing anyway) and the guy was just kind of a hard core Christian. From what I remember, he wanted to go to Mecca, on a pilgrimage, and that was the only place he knew anyting about, out of Venezuela. I asked him about going to Spain, Compostela, as I tought it was just a confusion, but he was positive he only wanted to go to Mecca, the holiest city of all, asking me if I had been there, how close Paris was from there…
        The all thing was really weird.

        • It sounds like one of these completely bizarre interactions you can only have when traveling 😆 Traveling make you meet interesting characters, people you’ll probably never notice or chat with at home.

  3. Funny, it’s also a lot like dating in Canada.
    Some are more straightforward than others when asking where else I’m from.
    I can’t teach them a wine course but please do bring that nice bottle of red.
    I won’t make coq au vin but I do love food and cook you all the veggies and introduce you to slightly sweetened flavorful deserts instead of brownies and cheesecakes.
    I might just coucher avec toi ce soir oui.
    And yes I don’t wear a ton of clothes to hang out on my couch. It’s my house haha
    Yes I will also introduce you to stinky cheeses and judge you on your reaction.
    No my outfit isn’t expensive, but yes I like to pay attention to the way I dress.
    Yes I love biking to tje bakery at the weekend to get croissants once in a while.
    And yes my dog regularly goes on strike and frowns in a very gaelic way at me.
    OMG I am more French than I realized

    • I find Canadians rarely ask bluntly “okay, where are you REALLY from?” but something along the line of “and what’s your background?” (which basically mean, you don’t look like the typical French/Chinese/Indian/whatever).

      Love your comment about Canadian (and American) desserts, so true! Have you ever tried the Nanaimo bar? I haven’t for some reason, it’s not that popular in Ontario, but it is in BC?

      Do you manage to find stinky cheese over there?

      Dog strikes are serious issues these days, especially since they unionized and started demanding longer pee breaks 😆

  4. Oke, apologize. :))
    Once, I bumped into a French worked in Jakarta for a while, and for icebreaker conversation I went
    “ I love Amelie the movie” (which I do, because it was silly and I watched it when i was in my early 20’s with best buddies that time

    “I went to French Movies Festival every year!” (Yes this event takes places annually since I was in colleague)

    • Amélie is a great movie! I was in high school when it came out, a friend and I got free advance screening passes. A few weeks later, we realized it was *the* movie of the year, everybody was talking about it. I think people needed a bit of romanticism and a sweet story, if I remember well, it blew up after 9/11 (even though it came out in the spring).

    • Ahem… not trying to be offensive, but can’t they pick it up from your accent? Even if you speak very “neutral” French, French are picky about the language and love pointing out accents.

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