The joke about the French is that they are smelly. I encountered some smelly French people, usually on the subway at around 6 PM, which is when they all encountered a smelly American. Being all smushed together on a train is not a recipe for pleasant odors. But other than that, I did not notice the French to smell any differently than any other people I've encountered.
However, the French are a bit different when it comes to showering, as we discovered in Lyon.
Every time you go someplace new, getting the shower to work can be a bit confusing. Even in our apartment in Paris, we had a bit of trouble, mostly because the knob in the shower stall was a little sticky, and I was afraid to apply too much force, lest I rip it out of the wall with my brute strength. A friend of mine has anxiety about unfamiliar shower configurations, such that he would use it as a reason to not stay with people that he suspected might have weird plumbing. How you spot such a person, I cannot say.
Are Americans judgmental?
But in the house in Lyon, there was a nice full bathtub and a shower head with a long hose. However, there was no way to attach the shower head to the wall. And there was no shower curtain, which made sense, because if you're pointing the water flow yourself, you can just not spray the bathroom.
I admit that this bathing situation gave me anxiety. I have a routine when I shower, but I found that my system was not really appropriate for this kind of situation. I usually rinse, lather, rinse a series of body areas. To do this in the French bath required turning the water on to rinse, turning it off to lather, then turning it on again to rinse. I felt like I was doing it wrong, but I no idea how I was supposed to do it. As our stay went on, I would try to adjust the order of body parts that I went in, so that I could do all my lathering in one go, followed by a full rinse. I didn't quite manage it, mostly because there is one body part that has to be lathered last, and I did not plan for that. And then our stay was over, and now I'll never know how to bathe in France.
Are Americans complete morons?
Besides not understanding how I was supposed to clean myself, I did not understand why they hadn't just attached the shower head to the wall and bought a bar to hang a curtain. Until in conversation, our friend mentioned that water was really expensive there.
Ding! Er, Click! Bloop? What sound do light bulbs make when they go off, anyway?
That explained why the shower wasn't quite a shower. Confusing as it was for me, I had to admit that I used less water, even after I did accidentally spray it all over the bathroom.
Are Americans messy?
The cost of water affects them in many ways. We were sitting outside at a cafe, having a drink one evening, when Josh pulled out his cigarettes. Our friends were appalled and gave him some statistics about smoking-related deaths, as if maybe he just hadn't heard that it was kinda bad for you. Then we moved on to talking about where you could smoke. Like here in North Carolina, the French can't really smoke in public buildings anymore. As nonsmokers, our friends liked the new rules. They said that before, if you went out at night, you'd come home smelling like smoke and you couldn't even wear the same outfit the next day! I had a private giggle at that. Me, I will frequently wear clothes multiple times between washings. Josh, on the other hand, will wear three different outfits in one day and call them all dirty. Our water comes absolutely free out of the ground.
Are Americans wasteful?
So maybe the French are different about hygiene than we are. But the difference is not in the people themselves. There is not a smelly gene or some kind of congenital nose disease where they just don't know they smell bad. It's because of a totally boring and practical reason. It makes me wonder how many of our other notions about people in other countries could be explained by something as dull as the price of water. If our water was expensive, everyone else would think we were smelly, too.
Note: As to the other questions about the French, the answers are, respectively: at least one of them does, many of them do, and not that we saw. You're on your own on the questions about Americans.