10 THINGS AMERICANS WON’T UNDERSTAND IN FRANCE

Americans come to France in droves, unprepared for the cultural differences existing over here. Our countries were founded under freedom, have similar colored flags, and we both love French wine, so what could be shocking? Here are 10 things that Americans have to get used to when in France so that you can avoid the culture shock.

HOURS OF OPERATION

Store hours in France are frustrating. Most establishments are not open 7 days a week and often close early in the evening. Likewise don’t expect to go shopping, banking, or errand running around lunch time because a locked door will greet you. The French take their breaks very seriously. Fifteen minutes before closing means not getting inside.

Luckily some French stores have started extending their hours of operation, especially around touristy areas. Many Americans don’t shop at Walmart at 3AM but it’s comforting to know we have the liberty to do so. We take this for granted in the States.

FOOD

The French will drench snails in garlicky butter yet call peanut butter or pumpkin pie “disgusting.” A whopping 89% of Americans and Canadians eat peanut butter, the other 11% have food allergies or are just plain weird. Well in France, there are no Reeses cups, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter beer, peanut butter cheesecakes nor PB brownies. If that doesn’t make you cancel your flight to Paris CDG, I’m not sure what will.

But, my fellow Americans, it gets worse. I once went camping with a few French friends and asked who brought the ingredients to make “s’mores.”

S’mores, what are s’mores?”

They looked at me as though I had 3 heads. I peered over the mountain’s edge to see if jumping from this height would kill me and magically take me back to the States.
What else about “food” would bug Americans in France? After living here a total of 2 years:

  • Burger King is regarded as the 2nd coming of Christ by French adolescents. They rave about eating it. Seriously?
  • Although known for culinary excellence, chocolate cake or brownies that taste better than those made in the United States don’t exist. Disappointing.
  • No free refills. This one is self-explanatory, please fix this France.
  • Genetically modified foods haven’t killed me yet. No, I won’t pay an extra 3€ for organic tomatoes.
  • The bread is addictive. What is it laced with?

To be fair, I believe that when you come to France, you should eat as the French do. Otherwise, you should have just stayed in the States. Am I eating significantly better food here than I was at home? Eh – sometimes. I miss mom’s home cooking though. My mom should come to France.

DRIVING

Driving in France is different: laughably high fuel prices, narrow city streets and manual transmissions will make you lament every single moment of operating a vehicle here. There are roundabouts everywhere, which is strange at first. There is also a weird desire for every hatchback vehicle on the market.

I find hatchback cars ugly, sorry, not my style.

The lack of pickups doesn’t bother me, but Texans may cry on the inside. Ford pickup trucks exist but always seem out-of-place.So is everything horrible in France? No, the speed limit on the highways hits 82mph. Which is great.

Halftime Score: France: 1, USA: 12.

When talking about distances, the French find driving more than 2 hours or commuting more than an hour a day as unbearable. In the U.S, if we had to drive 4 hours to get somewhere, it’s not a problem. I drove 12 hours straight from D.C to Miami, solo, and it was enjoyable.

The process required to obtain a driver’s license is much more intensive than in the States too. My driver’s test lasted 5 minutes and consisted of me parallel parking and recounting how to use my windshield wipers. In France you have to pay thousands of euros and follow a determined amount of driving lessons to get your permit. The driving age is 18.

Driving truly is a privilege in France.

NUMBERS

Americans who have never been to France need to watch out.

French numbers... ugh.

French numbers… ugh.

We write dates out as Day/Month/Year in France instead of the Month/Day/Year format. Sometimes I try to enter my date of birth when purchasing things online and then realize I’m using the wrong format because there’s no 23rd month. Luckily I can catch my mistake, but if you were born on a low number day then you must remain vigilant. When filling out administrative documents in pen, this can make you rage.

But dates aren’t the only difference. In France a COMMA is used in place of the decimal point. So the number 2,345.24 will actually be written as 2.345,24. I kid you not. I kid you not.

The 24 hour clock is prevalent in France. Some Americans may have a hard time adjusting from 7PM to 19h00. In France, cooking is done by weight instead of volume, so converting 100g of X ingredient into cups becomes a hassle. Recipes are also written in such a head-spinning manner.

The metric system (like most of the world) is used here. When I tell people I ran 10 miles, they think it was a 10 km stroll. No, it was over 16 km of intense, heart-pounding action. When the weather forecaster says it’s 13ºC outside, I can’t decide if I need to wear gloves or not. The struggle is real – growing up using Fahrenheit means 13º sounds COLD.

APÉRITIF / GOÛTER

In France there’s a special time of day when you sit down and drink alcohol with the occasional salty accompaniment. Time stops and you just chat with Friends. Goûter is considered an afternoon snack.

I wish these were a thing in the United States. Come on guys, let’s make this a thing.

TELEVISION

French TV compared to its American counterpart is similar because the French just steal all of our TV shows and dub over them. But where are the differences?

There are practically no commercial breaks in France. Wooohooo! You can watch an entire two-hour movie on a normal French channel without intermittent brainwashing in-between. That’s great. However something you’ll find bizarre is that shows are scheduled at crazy times. You have programs starting at 11:15, 3:20, or 6:45. In the United States we’re accustomed to shows being placed into one or more 30-minute time slots. This is a minor point because you shouldn’t be mindlessly watching TV when in France on vacation. I live here, that’s the difference. Go outside and enjoy what the country has to offer!

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