Hyperactive drinking and unjustified smiling were just some habits Franco-US writer Meaghan Beatley had to lose to act ‘typically French’.
Living in France changes you in the smallest ways as you become more integrated into French culture.
1. Hyperactive drinking
Chalk it up to the United States’ competitive athletics and college drinking culture, but Americans seem to always be on their feet the second there’s a drop of booze. Beer pong! Flip cup! Kings! To the French, drinking is just that: drinking. Cigarettes may be smoked and music played, but that’s as far as it goes. Let’s not get too crazy.
2. Being overenthusiastic
Watching Americans meet for the first time can be hilarious and endearing: every new bit of information trotted out into conversation is greeted with boundless enthusiasm, regardless of whether said information concerns being handpicked for the latest Mars expedition or a pet hamster finally giving its wheel a full spin: “That’s awesome!” The French, as a more subdued people by nature, often find these sorts of reactions insincere. Maybe avoid telling the French about your hamster: they won’t care, and they might tell you as much.
3. Wearing leggings in public
That’s like wearing tights and nothing else. What are we, harlots?
4. Apologising for everything
Here’s a probable scene: a French person informs you his dog was run over, and you, being proper, respond by saying you’re deeply sorry. Your interlocutor looks at you incredulously, and after a few seconds’ worth of silence, asks you why on Earth you’d be sorry – did you run his dog over? Some cultures express sympathy by apologising: ‘I’m sorry’ is a logical rejoinder when someone tells you of a death or closes a door on his or her finger.
An apology in France, however, is an admittance of wrongdoing and thus only used when you actually barrel into someone’s dog. As a friend told me, a better way to express condolence or sympathy is by simply saying, “Merde” – basically, “Oh ****, that sucks.”
5. Expecting friendly customer service
I was convinced every waiter and shop attendant in the hexagon (as France is also known) hated my guts until I realised that excessive sighing and passive aggressive swipes were the norm in French customer service.
6. Drinking coffee on the go
We have a tendency in the US to view coffee much like a diabetic would view insulin or a hyper-allergic person sees epinephrine: a survival tool to be shot into our system in order to make it through the day. We’re apt to groan about the fact that we’ve only had one cup of coffee before 9am and guzzle another on our way to the office. If we could, we’d probably all walk around with caffeine drips hooked into our forearms.
In France, coffee may come in a miniature-sized espresso cup, but be sure, that miniscule amount of liquid is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated while sitting down, preferably at a street-side café, over a period of minutes.
7. Eating fried things
A time-honoured tradition in many parts of the US, dumping various food items into large amounts of smoldering oil is not a practice the French have largely taken to. This isn’t to say that the French are 100 percent healthier than Americans — between drowning their food in sumptuous but highly caloric cream sauces and accompanying all meals with bread, the French certainly have their own ways of packing on pounds (for those who don’t smoke four packs a day). But fried food is regarded as so distasteful that you’re just not likely to find much in that department. Anyway, your arteries will thank you later.
8. Unjustified smiling
Unless your waiter forgot to charge you for your second croissant, there’s no reason you should be smiling. Bored skepticism is the expression du jour.
9. Asking for a doggie bag
First off, if you were to ask your waiter for a doggie bag, I’d expect he’d look puzzled for a minute, then, depending on your restaurant’s level of service, possibly hand you a Chihuahua fashioned into a purse. Doggie bags are not a thing in France. In fact, asking for a puppy with handles might be better than actually requesting your waiter to wrap up your leftover food – a preposterous and downright barbaric suggestion.
Meaghan Beatley is a franco-US writer lumbering back and forth between Argentina and Chile for the past few years. Her interests include reading most literature, learning obscure folk dances, eating and instigating debates over which South American nation has the best wine.