Sep 272011



(asked by Kristin from Scotland)


Bonjour Monsieur,

I was just wondering what French people think of ginger/red hair and if there is any prejudice against it?
I just call it Ginger hair but some people find this term offensive. Is there an offensive term in French or is roux/rousse just a descriptive word without any derogative connotations?

I have seen quite a few French websites about ginger hair but what is the real attitude towards ginger hair and how are they portrayed in society and in the media? For example quite often they are seen as the temptress or the nerd in a movie, or they have the reputation of being hotblooded or fiery tempered in novels etc is this the same?

I live in Scotland where ginger hair is very common but it must be much rarer in France, how is it viewed there? Are there any preconceptions about ginger hair? What is it like being a ginger kid in France or for that matter an adult?

Do you know any good jokes about gingers or any funny stories?
Also what do french men think about women with red hair?
Do they find women with ginger hair attractive and what about men with ginger hair?

I am ginger myself and I am really interested as how we are seen in France some of my french friends say people think it is funny yet others assure me that ginger hair is lovely but I was wondering if they are just trying to being nice!? I have looked up many articles and I am hoping you can give me your unbiased view as you have no need to sugar coat your answer!

Thank you very much in advance for taking the time to read this and hopefully you will shed some light for me on how gingers are viewed in France!

Merci beaucoup,


Hi Kristin,

As you are already aware, red haired people are relatively rare in France. Not extremely rare, but definitely not as common as they are in the United Kingdom, especially Scotland. Because of that, they don’t often come up in conversations, and not everyone know some (I believe that I don’t know any red haired French person).

There are a few stereotypes about them in France, but they’re as rare as actual red hair. Most of them come from as far as the Middle Ages, and nowadays only very stupid and/or very uneducated people believe them and spread them.

I believe that the main and saddest stereotype about them is that red headed people supposedly smell bad. I have no idea where this came from but you will hear it at times, never from people that are worth your time.

As far as offensive terms go, you will hear “rouquin/rouquine” and while it’s almost always derogatory and offensive for guys, I’ve heard it in non derogatory ways for women, albeit quite rarely.

Society and the media don’t really portray them in any way particular, it’s really just individuals that will.

I also believe that it is much harder to have red hair as a kid than as an adult. You know kids, they’ll find any excuse to ostracize you at times, and when I was a kid I remember, a few red haired kids who didn’t have many friends.

I also believe that guys have a harder time than women, especially into adulthood. Red headed women are seen as attractive, even “more attractive” at times (and many non-red haired women dye their hair red), when this is not the case for men, far from it.

No, I don’t know any good jokes about red headed people, and I don’t think I would tell them if I did, as they’d most likely be offensive, not that I mind offensive jokes, but I mind those who are racist (and making fun of red headed people is racism).

I think I have answered all of your questions.

I wish I could get into more details, but truth is, that I don’t have that much experience dealing with red haired people in France, mostly because they’re so rare, and I don’t really know any (while I know quite a few Anglo ones).

If any red haired French person reads this and wants to give us their two cents, please feel free to comment.


More Questions Answered:

  26 Responses to “What do French people think of ginger/red hair and is there any prejudice against it in France?”

  1. Well, this particular rouquine smells of Juicy Couture these days…

  2. Is this really an issue, especially for a Western nation that is quite diverse? I mean, we’re not talking about a unicorn here, we’re discussing red hair. Maybe if this was “Ask the Indigenous Amazonian” or “Ask the Mongolian…” Hmm, well, as a person from a Western country used to a very diverse population (which I believe is also the case for a substantial amount of Frenchman) I don’t see the significance here. I don’t mean to offend Kristin, I’m just puzzled. Nonetheless, I do have the name of a French film that I’ve watched recently that deals with the “issue” of having red hair. It’s about the peculiar relationship formed between a troubled teen and a psychiatrist as a result of them both sharing one common bond: red hair. It’s called “Our Day Will Come.” I ended up watching it because Vincent Cassel stars in it and he’s such a talented actor but I didn’t know what to make of this film. Very strange but addresses the issue at hand, somewhat.

    • Sorry, but I fail to understand why it’s an issue for you that Kristin asked this and that I answered.
      Maybe it’s simply because you ignore the history of red hair in Europe (do you?)
      Red headed people are the original scapegoats in Europe, way before dark skinned people and Jews. In the Middle Ages (and even probably before) red haired people were ostracized, burned to the stake at times, just because of their hair color.
      Why? Oh the usual stupidity and bigotry (and unsurprisingly religion was in the middle of all of that).

      So, I think it’s all fair that somebody asks what the situation is nowadays in France, because there are some remnants of that ostracism even nowadays in Europe. And it’s a more interesting question in my opinion than the usual clichés coming from the US about France, not mentioning the “I met this French guy” questions that I’m still getting by the dozen.

      • Nope. I don’t have a problem with Kristin asking this question or with you answering it. I fail to understand how in this day and age people could be so ignorant and discriminate against or conjure up/believe stereotypes about someone because of hair color. I thought we’ve evolved beyond that since the Middle Ages, but apparently that’s not the case. Ho hum.

        Now, onto more pressing issues, I met this French guy…

        • My bad, I misunderstood what you meant.
          And well it’s always the same story, why do people discriminate against people not the same hair color, skin color, weight, height, etc?

  3. Well, I am a red headed Aussie and, no, I didn’t experience any discrimination or problems at all during my time in France (although I was mainly in very tourist-oriented areas.)

    I guess if red haired men aren’t seen as attractive, there goes my chance of ever winning myself a sweet little mademoiselle. Sigh. :-p

    On a more serious note, interesting that David says there aren’t many red haired French people at all - must be very much a Celtic gene if it is predominant in Scotland, Ireland, etc. It would be interesting to know if there are more red heads in Brittany, since they are more closely related to the Celts in the British Isles.

    • Yes, it’s definitely a Celtic gene.
      I recently read a very interesting piece about the mutations that created blond and red hair.

      Starting with blond hair, light colored hair is a trait that is common with babies and even sometimes kids all over the world, whatever skin color they have (I remember that the article had a picture of blond Australian aborigine kids to illustrate the thing, and it’s true that I have seen many Asian toddlers with light brown hair).
      Then, growing up, food and/or sun intake will activate eumelanin and their hair will turn dark, as dark hair is the “normal” color for human beings (just like “black” is the normal color for skin, but that’s for another topic).
      In latitudes where there is a lot of sun, people’s diets all over the world were mostly based on agriculture and the combination sun + cereals/plants allowed the activation of melanin (I forgot how and why, but it has to do with a vitamin), in latitudes where there isn’t much sun and/or long dark winters (think people from Siberia and Inuits here) there were little to no agriculture, but the meat/fat based diet associated with the lack of sun had the same effect (dark hair).

      However one region in the world was different, because of the Gulf Stream, Northern Europe could grow cereal and develop agriculture despite the lack of sun, and this is this combination of cereal based diet + lack of sun created a mutation that allowed child-like traits (light colored hair and eyes) to survive into adulthood and triggered a mutation after a certain number of generations of people staying blond all their lives.

      This is how blond hair blue eyes were born in Northern Europe (around the North and Baltic seas basically).

      Red hair is an extra layer of mutation to that mutation that happened in Scotland/Ireland (I can’t remember the details exactly), but the conclusion is that the Gulf Stream is not only responsible for mild climate in Western/Northern Europe but also for blond and red hair.

      (Caveat here: the red hair mutation happened in other regions of the world, certain parts of China and Polynesia for example, but the fact that very light and sun sensitive skin usually goes with it, red hair fared much better in Northern Europe for obvious reasons)

      Concerning Brittany, I don’t think there’s a significant number of red haired people (or even of blond people) in Brittany. Remember a few things about Bretons:They just think they’re special from the rest of the French, they’re not. They’ve been French and part of France longer than most “other” French people who all have foreign ancestors, they may even be the most French of the French, as they’re stuck away in the peninsula and received little to no immigrants over the past Centuries.

      Also, the Celts who moved to Brittany circa 5-6th Century were Celts for the South of England, escaping the Angles and Saxons invasions.
      But all in all, French people got so mixed over the Centuries (yes, even the Bretons) that regional traits can’t be dated to that far back. Even Normands, technically descendants of Scandinavians look nothing like today’s Scandinavians, etc.

  4. Prejudice against French pœple : They are smelly, untrustworthy, temperamental and quarrelsome, and are more libidinous.
    Prejudice against redheads : They are smelly, untrustworthy, temperamental and quarrelsome, and are more libidinous.

    As French redhead it says a lot about me, dœsn’t it ?

    I think that the stereotypes against redheads are more or less the same in countries were the Catholic Church had spread its symbolism in the Middle Ages. And were chasing and burning red-headed young women used to be a pretty popular sport at a time.

    For the population of redheads in France although, it is again a stereotype to think that their is so much more of them in Scotland than in France. Statistics says 13% in Scotland, 10% in Ireland, 5% in France. It’s just that French pœple are believed mostly dark haired (well, mostly, they are) and Scots and Irish pœple are believed mostly red haired (and, mostly, they aren’t).
    Moreover, 5% of the French population, it is about 3 000 000 redheads.
    Not so far from the total population of Scotland (about 5 Mhab, if wikipedia says the truth). That makes quite a few.

    What may explain a little the feeling that their are very few redheads in France is that they are very few “gingers”. Here I understand “ginger” as red and straight haired person with pale skin and freckles. The French population is very mixed, and therefore redheads are from mixed descend. For example, my father is clearly of Mediterranean type.
    That leave room for some confusion. Often willingly made. A redhead will be said « auburn » or « blond vénitien », because these are categories less pejorative than « roux ». I personally can’t picture what « blond vénitien » really mean, but if you’re from a red too light to be called « auburn » that’s for you.

    As a kid, you are the one that stand out easily. And because kids don’t really like the ones who stand out, you’re very likely to be ostracised. The bad thing is that a when as a kid you complain to your parents that « they’re making fun of me at school », they are likely to answer « They’re jealous, don’t mind them, they’ll grow tired ». That’s bullshit.
    Sorry, I’m hard on this one, but it’s a really frequent answer and it is one of the worse you could offer to a kid in this situation. Because as long as you’re standing out you’ll attract attention, and you can’t stop being redhead. My most effective solution as always been a good punch in the nose of the more irritating one. Everybody see you an other way after that, it’s magic ! (and that is for the quarrelsome prejudice)
    I doubt that applies in France only however.

    Both « Rouquine » and « Rouquin » can be used in an affective way. It depend of the context.
    « Poil de carotte » however (Carrot Head, from the autobiographical novel by Jules Renard) is always offensive.

    And red headed women are definitely seen as more attractive as red headed men. For the fiery temper they are believed to have.
    I want to add that red headed boy have a though time dating girl in high school mostly because they are neither the « beau ténébreux » (handsome dark-haired and dark-eyed man) nor the blue eyed platinum blond surfer. Wich are pretty much the only two category of men that girls of that age look at.

    Oops, looks like a long comment. Sorry if my expression is a little awkward. My English feels really rusty.


    • Hey Ludard,

      Thanks for your comment, I find your answer to be actually better than mine (but you have an unfair advantage, you speak from experience), and don’t excuse yourself for the length, when it’s good, it doesn’t matter (and don’t excuse yourself for the English either, it’s very good).

    • Libidinous?! That too? Geez…

      Maybe that’s why I seemed to get so much attention from men while I was there…!!

      • No, I think that Ludard was joking with the libidinous thing. I can’t believe some people would actually believe that your hair color has an influence on your sex drive, except for some few crazies who think women are temptresses and sinners and such foolish things.

        • Such foolish things, yes, of course.

          Must’ve been the tight pants, then.

        • Oddly there is research that indicates there is a connection between hair color and the production of sex hormones.

          Blondes of either sex produce more female hormones and lower levels of male hormones. Therefore blondes are more “feminine.”

          Redheads produce more hormones, both male and female, than the norm. The result here is more complicated. Red headed males are slightly more likely to be sexually ambiguous while red headed females can be both tomboyish and enormously attractive (okay that last part may just be my own taste in women).

  5. Wow, I can’t believe no one has said anything yet. I really liked your answer on this one and may I be the first to say thank you for saying that making fun of red-heads is racism.

    Many people probably don’t think of it that way. In fact, here in the U.S. it is still common for people to say fairly obnoxious things about people with red hair, and we still hear that ‘blondes are stupid’ too.

    • Angela, people had said things, but as comments are moderated (to avoid spammers and trolls… and a few boring useless comments at times) and I was offline for a couple of days.

      Apart from that, well, yes, racism doesn’t only apply to skin color.

  6. I think red hair is glorious! But then, although I live in France, I am not French. So there you are.

  7. What about the older frenchwomen who die their hair that purple red color? It seemed real common in the area around Vichy when I stayed there and I’ve seen some in Paris.

  8. Red hair is really attractive-on a man or woman. In the U.S. we make fun of redheads or “gingers” a lot. But there are varying degrees of “ginger-ness”. For instance, a person with auburn hair is often called “almost-ginger”. A person with bright red hair but no freckles and a not very pale skintone is usually “part-ginger” or “semi-ginger”, and someone with bright red hair, pale skin, and freckles is a “ginger”. Some people (mostly little kids) can be really cruel, but most of what adults say is just stupid stuff, like “Oh, you’re a redhead, guess you have a fiery temper!”. But there are quite a few redheads in the U.S., mostly in areas where there is a large population of descendants of Irish/otherwise Celtic immigrants. As a Catholic school survivor (who also went to school in an area with a high Irish/Welsh-American population), I can say that the number of redheads jumps up in Catholic schools (oh, the Irish!), so we really didn’t deal with a lot of “redhead discrimination” because a good portion of the class was redheaded. Plus, right now isn’t red hair a thing? A lot women seem to be dyeing their hair red or auburn lately.
    By the way, I am not a redhead. But I am very jealous of people with naturally red locks.

  9. I was just skimming through the wikipedia article about Qu�bec culture, and I found this superstition:

    Having freckles on your arms is a sign of sensuality.

    And I always thought they were a sign of sun exposure….

  10. Votre blog est si drôle, vous avez un merveilleux sens de l’humour continuer à écrire le Français! Cheveux roux, bleu cheveux bruns avec des rayures oranges ne nous nous soucions vraiment? x

  11. I loved reading about the “history” of red hair. But I must say, red hair is found in African-Americans, even if they aren’t considered “mixed”. I suppose that means there’s a Celtic relative somewhere!

    I had dark blonde hair as a baby, and as a child, my hair was auburn. Eventually it turned very dark brown (a good thing considering I have very mocha skin…)

    • Keep in mind that the vast majority of Black people in America indeed have at least one European ancestor, hence usually lighter skin than Black Africans and sometimes lighter eyes or hair.

  12. I’ve found that my Western European friends (except for Britain and Ireland obviously) perhaps due to the absence of gingers in their countries actually have penchants for redheads. In Australia they’re referred to as ‘rangas’ derived from orangutan. There are also nicknames that refer to their pubic hair including fanta pants, rusty crutch and my favourite, ginger minge. I’ve also heard fire crotch but that’s American.

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