DARE TO ASK: Insulting the French, and prostitutes
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
What does it mean when an American calls someone a "French whore"?
Julie, 22, Nashville
Our country is still obsessed with moralistic rules and judges the way France
glorifies the female body as immoral. These same people also don't want to admit
that the American media glorifies the female body, too (but the plastic Barbie
woman, not the real thing) - the same way they don't think of prostitution as an
Jessica K., 22, Huntsville, Texas
Simple: Like the average French person, whores over there have more elegance
and class than their American colleagues.
Hanna, 27, Sweden
It's "You smell like a French whore" and refers to overindulgence in perfume.
"Whore" would also indicate someone of a lower class putting on airs - in this
case literally by liberally applying perfume.
Doug, 39, Phoenix
Whores tend to overdo all feminine signals (i.e. dress and makeup) and also
are often thought to be dirty. Since the French are considered dirtier and
smellier by those of British descent, it follows that a French whore would be
particularly smelly, indeed.
Tara, Morgantown, W.Va.
Dare to Ask can sometimes offend particular groups of people, so let's be
clear: We in no way wish to affront prostitutes with this column.
They do dally in sex, though, and sexual daring is what the French are often
associated with, said Scott P. Sheridan, associate professor at Illinois
Wesleyan University who studies French culture and even lists "Decadence" as a
professional interest (we're not kidding).
What you have here are historical truisms getting meshed with stereotypes, he
For one thing, as far back as at least the 19th century, France was noted for
being a more sexually open culture, especially compared with our Puritanical
ways. American GIs in World Wars I and II then regaled friends stateside with
tales of pretty, hospitable and pretty hospitable French prostitutes.
Now add in some stereotypes, Sheridan said: The French don't bathe much (they
do, but aren't as obsessive as Americans) and douse themselves in perfume to
cover body odor (we're talking Napoleonic era with that one).
Mix everything together, and you get an image of sweaty prostitutes who carry
a certain bouquet and then heap on the eau de toilette to hide it.
The danger in all this is that Americans, who've pretty much caught up to
western Europe in promiscuity, hold onto these images and assume they are
somehow "better" or more moral than the French.
"France has become one of the few countries it's still OK to bash," Sheridan
said. "It's still a punching bag for stereotypes because we assume the French
aren't relevant anymore."
Sheesh, no wonder they're so rude to us.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to
Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.