Since the day i arrived I began noticing many differences between the USA and France that i could fill a whole book with them; but in this short article i will only mention a few which i think are the most noticeable ones. From markets to pharmacies, from greetings to foods, the differences are in plain sight for all to view. After a week or two in France you’ll realize that France is exactly how people describe it in movies or books. Do they eat a lot cheese,bread, and drink wine all day? Yes they do. Are some Frenchies grumpy and cold at times? You bet! Do they work or go to school as much as Americans do? Never! Do they smoke and drink more than Americans do? Of course they do, they are French! Welcome to France baby.
Wait, doesn’t the USA have cheese, bread, and wine? Don’t we have the same pizza and burger fast food restaurants as they do in France? What then could be so different that would make someone write about it? Well, even though both countries have the same fast food restaurants there are still many, many, many things here and there that set us apart. For example, will you ever see a French macaroon in the McDonald’s menu? Or a croissant? Not likely, no, you will never see that in the USA. But i don’t only want to talk about McDonald’s of course; i want to talk to you about the stinky French cheese, the wine and the bread. All the French people i have met so far eat some kind of cheese with baguette after lunch and dinner. For breakfast they eat simple things like croissants with jam or nutella and a very small but extremely strong coffee. In my husband’s family they eat freshly made bread (with jam) which they buy each morning from the boulangerie in the corner. And yes! There are boulangeries in every corner of the neighborhoods. Bread is the most important food for the French.
Now a days, as my Frenchie husband says, French children eat cereals in the mornings for breakfast and cookies with milk too, just like Americans do. I have seen kids eat bread with nutella, drink big bowls of hot chocolate, and eat either sugar or nutella crepes a lot here though. But no matter what the French decide to eat for breakfast, you will most likely never see one eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is so hard to find peanut butter in super markets, i usually find it in the expensive organic stores called La Moisson in Clermont L’Herault or at Super Us in the foreign foods section (if that is what they call it). My husband himself had never seen or heard of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before we met; I just couldn’t believe it!
But for jellies, jams, and fruit sauces, there is a whole section of it! For cheeses, well there is a lot of variety to choose from. Their favorite cheese i would have to say is chevre which is goat cheese. All the French i know keep their chevre cheese outside the fridge to make it older, stronger and smellier. (I have a chevre cheese on top of my fridge right now as a matter of fact and i’m not French haha). Of course, they eat cow and sheep cheese too and a lot of it; but I bet chevre is number one here in France.
The wine is never served for breakfast but you can be sure that after 12 every adult who stays home will take out their glasses and begin a never-ending day of zipping and pouring from either bottles of wine or huge gallons or boxes they buy at cheaper prices. Wine is served everyday, all the time at any time and it doesn’t matter if it’s cold or at room temperature. Restaurants serve wine all day long and nonstop, it’s what they sell the most. I always wonder how French people drive, think, work, and live after drinking so much wine! I mean it seems to me like they would always be in some kind of buzz state from all the drinking but no, i’ve only met one alcoholic French since i’ve arrived here.Go figure!
What about chocolate? Mmmm la chocolaterie is one of my favorites because some of their chocolates remind me of the ones they have in Oaxaca Mexico. To me Oaxaca still has the best chocolate in the world but the French eat it so often and so much that there has to be a chocolaterie in every town or neighborhood. The chocolate is very expensive compared to the ones you could buy at a grocery store, and for that reason a lot of French prefer to buy it from the super market, just like i do.
Snails? No i will never eat snails, not if i don’t have to. They are so disgusting but the French personnes agees (older people) seem to love them. I saw two old ladies eating snails with garlic in a restaurant in front of the Fontainebleu castle one time and i almost vomited, i just couldn’t help it. I am sorry if it insults anyone but i can’t stand them the way you probably can’t stand other foods. I’ve never seen a young French eat snails thought, but i am almost sure than anyone over the age of 40 has tasted them.
The French also CAN their snails and bottle milk in plastic containers which are kept at room temperature.
HERE IS THE VIDEO OF THE VISIT TO FONTAINEBLEU CASTLE
They also buy most of their vegetables and fruits from La Marchet. La marchet comes to each neighborhood or centre ville once or twice a week. In these kind of French farmer’s markets, you can buy anything from cheese, shoes,meat, fish,bread, clothes,veggies, fruits and one euro items. It is not at all like the farmer’s markets in USA where all you can buy is fruits and veggies, so its pretty good; i love them.
In this video my kid and i show you the marchet in centre ville which comes every Saturday.
Another difference about the French is that they take their time to eat and talk at the table. You know how in the USA everyone eats at whatever time they want or whenever they are hungry? In the USA some of us eat standing by the bar and others in front of the tv while watching a movie right? Well that will never happen here unless you rent your own apartment and live by yourself, or if you only live with Americans. All the French i know eat at the proper time each time, and could sit and talk for hours and hours at which i become bored and irritated to do. There are rules to follow here and the knife is always needed even for children. Yes i know, in the USA we use knives too but not for every meal, at least it never happened in my home. I think i only set the table a few times a year in the USA for holidays or special occasions but other than that, we ate with only a fork and at times without it (pizza pockets,microwaved burritos). I guess it is nice to eat properly and correctly but the never ending talk, smoke, and drink gets to me at times. “I got things to do people! Move it along!”
Some say (my husband’s family) that is because of us Americans that some of their young have begun eating and liking the things we eat and do. To my knowledge most of them hate that and blame us for their youngsters eating habits. Yeah i get it, it’s like we are forcing them with a gun to the head to love our crappy fast foods, fashions, music or whatever they blame USA for…to that i say Puuuh! They got the right to chose don’t they.
SUPER MARKETS AND PHARMACIES
In the USA the big green cross in front of a pharmacy means dispensary of marijuana, but not here in France. Whenever you see a big green cross it simply means pharmacy. I didn’t know that when i first arrived and i thought the French smoked weed as much as they drank wine, but i was wrong. Nothing weird about it is just different. I do like the way they keep their pharmacies clean and neat, but i don’t like other things about it.
You know those labels you get on your medications in the USA which let you know what medications are for, the side effects, and the indications on how to take them? Well you will not get those here in France.
Instead, the pharmacist explains or writes (if you are lucky) the instructions on the box for you to remember when to take them. The good thing is that you get the prescription back with your medication, they don’t keep it like in USA; but its stamped of course so you can’t use it again nor read the instructions on it.
For the markets it’s a whole other story but similar. I would say that bout 90 percent of the markets don’t stock make up, vitamins, or medicine in any of their isles. Why? i don’t know and i don’t care but I’m just telling you what I’ve noticed. I think only big stores like Hyper U or big Carrefours in big cities have make-up and some vitamins; but they will never ever have otc medications such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, cough syrups ect.
Also, you know how in the USA most markets and pharmacies are open 24 hours and 7 days a week? Well not here my friend, you will be lucky to find one open when you need them the most. Most or all markets, pharmacies, and post offices close during lunch hours, open late, close early, disappear for holidays and some even close Saturdays and Sundays. It was so annoying when i first got here but now I’ve gotten used to it and memorized their schedules so i don’t get upset about it anymore.
The French are big complainers inside markets, yes it is possible,more than Americans! I’ve seen it many times when they huff and puff whenever they have to wait at the check out line, even my husband does that. Everytime, i have to remind him that he has no where urgent to go and to calm the heck down lol. That i can say that i have seen in both countries a lot; in USA I saw it happen in Ralphs and CVS, and in France at Leader Price, Simply Market, and Super U.
You will not find a lot of variety of fruit and veggies like you find in California’s Whole Foods, and definitely NOT all year-long. But you can count on the fact that the best veggies and fruits will be ORGANIC; those which are grown in France, Spain, or Africa are best. I recommend to buy organic because the other ones have no taste and some are rotten in plastic containers (the ones they sell in Simply Market, Netto and Leader Price). The cheese, bread, and chocolate sections will be well stocked all the time of course, as i already hinted in the paragraph above.
GREETINGS,CONVERSATIONS, AND POLITICS
So what exactly is French kissing? (Is not all about the tongue twisting, believe me). The French kiss a lot; even in writing. I am not kidding, you can sign your letters, emails, and texts with” kiss kiss”and no one will think anything of it. The kissing begins after the second or third meeting. It’s like the hug in the USA, sort of but more often and generously. For someone you just met you give two kisses,one on each cheek (or no kiss at all), and for someone you know for a while you give three; you always start on the left cheek. It also depends on the region you are in, for example, in Paris is two and in Montpellier three.
It is crucial and polite for you to kiss other wise you will end up seeming rude and un-polite. My kid had some problems with it and still does because she never wants to kiss all members of the family, or all members of the church, or all members of the friend’s family and it goes on and on and on. You have to kiss when you arrive and when you leave, and if you are in a party, it will take you half an hour(or longer) to kiss everyone before leaving.
The french are good at following formalities and trying to sound polite. There has to be a certain formality followed in conversation that at times it makes me so desperate and upset. I push my husband to hurry when closing deals online on eBay when at the end of each message or text they have to sign “cordialement” back and forth, back and forth. I’m like “Just get it over with” because to me things either are a yes or a no and i hate to waste time. But no, both sides take forever to discuss and politely talk about the deal for a very looooong time and in the end the person doesn’t end up buying the item. Another example is when he talks to his family for two hours before ever sitting down to eat lunch. If they say come for lunch at 12 it means “We will eat at 3 pm because of all the talking,drinking, and smoking that has to take place before the actual meal is served”.
The written conversations can seem like a never ending calm waltz, and the verbal ones sometimes sound like a fast unresolvable argument that never ends. The French complain a lot, every day, every hour if possible, even more than me haha, and come to think of it, i think i learnt to complain thanks to them and it happened here in France. No seriously, even the most positive ones can’t seem to shake off the dark cloud over their heads. For example, my husband is a great guy, he is nice to everyone and a human rights fighter, but since he is French, at times he can be a little pessimistic. He wont stop complaining about the government, the president,the weather, the quality of foods, the clothes’ material, the French people, the Americans, and it goes on.
That leads me to another important thing. The French are very much into politics. Before i got to France i never really cared that much about politics, in fact, i never really paid much attention to it. But ever since i got here i have learnt a lot about it, my husband is responsible for that too but it’s something i thank him for since i believe it’s good to know what the heck is going on in the world around us, especially now a days.
So i guess it is a good thing that the women, men, teenagers and children always know what’s going on in the country and who is running for the president office. My eight year old kid came home one day and said “Madame Dulant asked us who our parents were voting for and she said she was voting for Macron” OMG! “Was she even allowed to do that?” I questioned myself but i let it go since i was not even voting.
No matter who wins though, even if it was their favorite party, they will hate, judge and criticize them the sam they do with all their leaders. You never hear them say anything good or positive about anyone in government and it can be frustrating to hear. You know how in USA we cheer for our favorite candidate and support them all the way no matter what? (Clinton- Trump) Well not here. The French enjoy discussing unresolvable things in public talk shows that can go on and on for hours if not stopped. You never ever talk to a stranger about politics, money or religion. Not like in USA where we can use our big mouths to pretty much talk about anything which will either get us into trouble or praised (or in the white house).
SCHOOLS AND WORK
When my husband told me that my kid didn’t have to be at school all day like in USA i jumped with joy. Really! In France kids get to go home (if chosen to) from 12pm to 2pm for lunch! It might be the greatest thing France has to offer. They take two hour lunches because as i have already mentioned they talk and eat a lot at the table. School begins at 8:15 or 8:30, ( depending on the region) they go home for tow hours then go back to school and finally get out at 3:30 or 3:45 except for Wednesdays when they go to school for only 3 hours or, don’t have school at all! My kid is loving it because in USA she would take 30 minute lunches, go in at 8am and get out at 2:30 pm. So schools are definitely more cool and relaxed here, but what about jobs?
All the French people I’ve met hate working and hate their jobs. I am not kidding! In the USA i have encountered a lot of people who hate working but also a lot who LOVE their jobs and love going to work everyday. My Frenchie husband doesn’t believe me when i tell him that, but it is true! I used to love working in the pharmacy, until i got sick that is but that is a whole other story and another article.
The majority of people in the south of France do not work; they live of the government. Here it is different from the USA though, over there social workers check your case every three months to see if you still qualify for money and food; but here they give people money for a long time. I have met people who have been on unemployment and receiving money from government for years. The reason is simple and true; there isn’t a lot of work in rural areas and for that reason most of French(i think)want to move to Paris, Montpellier or any other big city that offer more jobs.
No one is worried or in a hurry to work or to do a good job. Seriously! You can see that everywhere you go, from markets, restaurants, insurance offices to government offices such as la prefecture. The government offices are a disgrace; it’s like they have no idea on how to organize well an office, at least not a PROFESSIONAL one. I mean have you ever been to the prefectures near Paris? For shame. They may look organized, proud, and collective, but underneath all the garments and white powdery wigs (picturing Marie Antoinette times) hides the stench and odor of the true French bureaucratic system. I know what i’m taking about, read about what happened to me in the prefecture for a whole year!
I remember in Paris a lot of cashiers looked at me like i was a weirdo whenever i smiled at them, and some never once looked up at me nor made eye contact. Not all French are the same of course, i find that in the south people are way nicer and more humble than in Paris or other big cities. And i did encounter a couple of nice people in Paris, but they weren’t originally from there.
So many times i have told my husband that France reminds me of Mexico. Why Mexico? because besides the USA i have also lived in Mexico and i remember it being a lot like France. The things i found in common were: the way they drive on the streets in all directions(center Paris) like crazy maniacs honking every two seconds, the way people don’t respect the red light(pedestrians) and cross wherever they want, their protesting and on going hate of the government no matter who is in power, and the way of life in rural areas.
ON THE FLIP SIDE
Maybe you feel like shooting me after all i said if you are inlove with France; but i don’t lie, and even if you don’t agree with some things i said let me remind you that this is only my point of view, and my way of seeing things. There are some things that i do like in France a lot though, for example: the beautiful Eiffel tower which i looooove, their magical castles, the great school hours, and the vacations. I also love some of their foods and some of their fashions which i find relaxed, classy, and cool.
So there it is guys; these are the main differences I’ve noticed since arriving. I think they are the ones that make La France what it is. Every country’s got that something that makes it tick and these are the things that make France tick. Thank you for reading don’t forget to subscribe and like.
Here are a couple of videos i made in different parts of Paris which i posted on UTUBE at Vianka’s World.