Home Moving to France Integration France’s little differences
Last update on December 08, 2018

From the lack of small talk to grandmas in high-heels, a US expat lists some French things she may never get used to.

I was crossing the street yesterday and as I edged across the street and the little green man called me on, a car swerved and turned the corner quickly. I paused like a deer in the headlights, and noticed others didn’t even react, so I followed the French and continued crossing. As I pondered how this was one of those things I may never get used to in France, it inspired me to create a list of all my favourite and not-so-favourite little French differences.

Things I may never get used to in France

1. Crossing the street.

In Oregon cars stop way back. In France their lights are on top of you as you wait to cross.

2. Making a doctor’s visit.

In France you have to pick a doctor, call them, make an appointment – no hospitals or insurance companies.

3. No small talk. Ever.

You know, at the cash register, and you are like, “Oh yes, and my dog loves that brand, haha.” Here, they scan, you stand, you pay, and “Bon journée.”  It’s honesty, but it’s also one of the reasons French have a stereotype of being Water in toilets. There’s half of the water in the toilets in America.

4. Pink toilet paper.

Makes me feel weird. I dunno why.

5. Disgusting public toilets.

I’ll admit, Oregon has some nice public pee spots.

6. Being touched and squished on the Metro.

Look, I’m American and I’ll admit that I need at least a four-inch perimeter around me to feel comfortable – in France ‘personal space’ doesn’t exist.

7. Dubbed American television.

Everyone on TV is dubbed in French; it feels awkward to watch Friends and have ‘Rachel’ be called, ‘Raaa-sheelll’ and then I end up debating the real name with my friends. Horrible.

8. Notebooks are graph paper.

It’s a pet peeve. I like college rule, lined paper. Every notebook in France is graph. I hate graph.

9. Cheap veggies.

It’s still shocking to pick up two kilos of tomatoes and shell out EUR 3.00 – not sayin’ I don’t like it!

10. Grocery stores not bagging, and beyond that, no option between ‘paper or plastic’.

They throw everything past the register and, kind of like a video game, you have to grab it and stuff it into plastic bags. Sometimes those are provided, most times they are not and you have to bring your own.

11. Grandmas in orthopedic high-heels.

Every woman in France wears high heels. The trend is dwindling – thank God for ‘Fashion Boots’ – but grandmas hold the tradition and scoot along in, I kid you not, orthopedic high heels.

12. Being interupted.

It’s a cultural thing in discussion in France to interupt as you feel the need.

13. Protests every weekend.

Every weekend someone is not happy about something and they make big ol’ gatherings to show they are not happy.

14. Sales are only twice a year.

It’s incredible, sales in France only exist twice a year, although this may change with future laws. Still, it’s something I can never get used to. In the US there is always a sale, somewhere.

15. Mini coffees.

All the coffee in France is served in tiny little cups – reminding me of when I played ‘tea time’.  No free refills. No giant cups.

16. Aspirin in fizzy form.

All the pills in France that I’ve taken have been in fizzy form, which you put in water and it becomes liquid, like Alka Seltzer.

17. The exchange rate.

I feel all awesome cause I have 100 bucks, in dollars, in my account – but in reality it’s only EUR 70. So sad. Once I start working and earning the euro I’m sure I’ll feel better.

18. Grocery stores.

I feel like the choices in the stores are so different than home. Here cheeses are everywhere, giant aisles of smelly-good cheeses.

19. The work week.

35 hours a week? Woah. Things here are closed on Sundays, even in the centre of the city the grocery stores are closed – I find solace in my Corporate Honing Device in Starbucks in Bellecour.  People like time off in France.

20. Social aide.

As a student I get a nice chunk of change from the French government – even though I’m not a French citizen. I also have cheap health care, and if I get a job I get five weeks vacation and unlimited sick pay. Cool cool cool.