The biggest cultural differences between life in France & the US
I got several questions regarding the main differences between life in Europe and life here, in the United States. So much that I decided to compile them in a blog post.
I want to start by stating that, obviously, all of these represent my own opinion based on places I've lived in and people I met and have to be taken with a grain of salt.
I absolutely love Europe and equally adore the life I have here in the US and I don't think that one is better than the other. Just different...
FORGET ABOUT TIPPING
Yeah, we don't tip in Europe. I mean, you can, but no one would ever expect you to.
At the hair salon, in a bar, or in a 5* restaurant, the taxes and tips are already included, so when you get the check, there is just nothing else to add to that amount.
So easy and simple.
I got so many eye-rolls when I started traveling to the US and asked my friends questions like :
“Wait, WHAT percentage again? And how much do you tip if you order at the bar? Do I have to pay the people at the drive-thru? Also, why are there SO many drive-thrus - can’t we just walk?”
LUNCH TIMES ARE DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT
When you’re working in an office in the US, often (but not always) the expectation is that you run out for a sandwich or salad and bring it back to your desk to eat while you’re working, or that you would take a 30 minutes lunch break but not longer.
This does not fly in France. If you try it, your colleagues will be giving you funny looks, or they’ll be telling you to come and enjoy lunch with them.
Lunch is always taken outside to a local cafe/brasserie. You seat down, you talk, you eat (1 or 2-course meal) and you even sometimes drink wine!
Now, both have their pros and cons. I've found myself stuffed after a meal with French colleagues, unable to focus on work as the carbs (and wine!) hit in the middle of the afternoon.
But, we also know the sadness of looking at the sunshine outside, while clicking furiously on the keyboard counting the days until retirement.
YOU DON'T ASK FOR DOGGIE BAGS
In Europe, no one takes leftover home, it's simply not something that we do.
You might get a nice waiter/waitress (wayyyy less nice than in the US, remember they don't get tips, so it doesn't really matter to them if you have the best experience or not) that will give you a box if you ask for one, but don't get offended if they give you side-eyes.
While in the US it's absolutely common! The portions are huge (WAY bigger than in Europe), so it only makes sense to take your leftovers home if you feel like it.
SMOKERS, SMOKERS, EVERYWHERE
In the US, I think I met only maybe 5 smokers, two in New York and three in Arizona.
In L.A there is nothing more frown upon than someone smoking.
In Paris, everyone and I mean every-one smokes!
Not all the time, but once in a while, they get at least one cigarette with a glass of wine when seating in a terrasse. It's the most common thing ever.
It can’t be denied though, French people look great while smoking. Not sure why, but they make it look chic and effortless. Not worth trying though, believe me ;)
EVERYONE TAKES AUGUST OFF
When August hits, the whole city of Paris empties, and many businesses shut.
If you ask me, this is probably the best time to visit the city if you want to avoid any kind of crowd, the downside is your favorite restaurant or bar might just be closed.
French people usually can expect around 30 days of paid vacation per year if not more, depending on the company and tenure.
It is expected and encouraged that you take long periods of time off. Whatever your position, whatever your workload. Whether you take 6 one-week trips or 6 weeks at once, it's totally up to you but you take off and recharge. (the most common thing is 4 weeks in August and 2 weeks off for Christmas and New Year)
Now, I've been incredibly lucky with the companies I worked for in the US. They both have very generous PTO (Paid Time Off) benefits. The first one offered 4 full weeks paid vacations and my current company offers Unlimited PTO. And if it's easy for me to take long weekends or a week off when I need/want, I don't think I heard about anyone taking 2-3-4 weeks off at once.
UNIVERSITY/COLLEGE IS FREEE (OR AT LEAST A LOT CHEAPER)
You may be expected to pay around €400 per year for an undergraduate degree in many parts of the EU. Most students graduate from top universities without any debt or student loan.
This also brings the fact that in general, Americans have more debts, period. The whole system is drastically different and cannot really be compared, since again there are pros and cons, but it's nonetheless something that surprised and terrified me when I moved here.
In Europe, you take pride in the fact that you don't have debt (people mostly pay cash for everything except for your mortgage), in the US pride comes more from having a good credit score, which is basically your ability to pay back the debts that you have (which can be student loan, mortgage, car payment, credit card debts and sometimes medical bills).
PEOPLE ARE NICER IN THE US
Yes, I said it. At this point, this is not an opinion anymore, just a fact.
People are friendlier, kinder, and more open in the US (yes, even in New York City. I made some great friends there).
People will be more likely to chat with you, to ask you about your accent and where you're from.
They will also help you with direction or change a flat tire with a smile.
I never officially met or talked to my neighbors before moving here. Now, I know them by their first names, I get cakes, flowers, and cookies on my birthday and sweet kids pulling my trash cans up the driveway twice a week. In the US, people make you feel like you're part of a community.
The downside of this, and I think every expat will agree, is the connections and friendships you make in the US are more superficial. They love you one day and forget about you the next.
People in France, are not mean, they can be a little snob-ish and they just don't give you their friendship easily. They make you work for it!
I once heard: "The French are like coconuts; it takes a long time to break through their outside and get to know them, but once you do, they are sweet on the inside.”
FAST AND FURIOUS
Cars are smaller in Europe and roads are narrow. You'll find very few straight roads and streets inside cities, they are full of roundabouts and there's not a lot of stop signs. Freeways only have 3 lanes.
Traffic laws are different (you always yield for vehicles coming from your right!) and most cars are standard transmission rather than automatic.
You always have to parallel park and sometimes in very very small spaces. French drivers are... intense and are not afraid to use their horns (and hand gestures!).
Also, jaywalking is kind of common.
I hated driving in Europe (both in France & Belgium). I love driving here in the US. It is SO much easier and straightforward!
In Paris, I was first living in a 17 square meter studio, which is about 182 square foot. You read that right. Just the size of a small master bedroom in the US. It was located on the 5th floor without an elevator. I would climb those stairs about 4 times a day on average and my legs never looked better!
Far different from the usual 3/4 bedrooms 2/3 bathrooms houses in the US. Even in bigger homes in Europe, it's not common to have a bathroom for each bedroom.
Not all houses have a driveway and a garage. You park on the street wherever you can find a spot. Sometimes it's two, three blocks down the street.
Also in Europe, we don't have AC. Simply because we don't need it, like ever.
Windows are never blocked by screens or shutters like they are in the US. In Europe, you’re expected to open the window to get some air circulating at least 10-15 minutes every day, regardless of the season.
FOOD AND STUFF
In Europe, you don't solely rely on grocery stores to shop. You go to outdoor markets, butcher shops, wine, and cheese stores, bakeries, fish, and flower markets. You handpick what you want and you usually only buy 2 to 3 days worth of food at the time. Fresh is best, always!
You can buy in smaller quantities without being more expensive, which is nice and less wasteful.
For example, you can go to a bakery and only buy half a fresh baguette. That'll cost you $ .60 when a full baguette is $1.
The food is more natural and local, so it may not be perfect looking, but is definitely healthier than mass shipments of genetically modified produce that we often see in the States.
Another difference is, in Europe, we don't pick a recipe and buy things we need to make it, we make a recipe based on what we have available in the fridge and pantry.
Taking your time to shop for food, cook, and eat (at home or in a restaurant) each day is a huge cultural thing in Europe. I grew up spending hours on end at the dinner table on Sunday when my whole family would come, we would have a real tablecloth and linen napkins (a must), silverware and china, and a 4-course homecooked meal.
We also spend countless hours at restaurants, where we love to take our time to enjoy food and good conversations.
And finally, the fashion piece! I noticed big differences in styles between France and America.
For example, In Paris, no one really goes out in public wearing leggings and flip-flops. Even to just walk your dog, you would put on a cute, easy dress or jeans, a top, and some flats comfy enough to walk a few miles.
In the US, leggings, tank tops, and hoodies are the national uniforms of pretty much everyone between 15 and 50.
The first time I went on a walk around the neighborhood with my husband I had some cute ankle boots with a small heel on. He asked me if I wanted to change my shoes for sneakers or hiking boots (?!!).
Workout clothes are for working out. Hiking boots and gears are for hiking (a thing I don't really enjoy by the way. I know, I'm SO not American...)
Parisians are universally known for their effortlessly chic looks. Everything is stylish yet simple.
Their outfits are intentional and coordinated. They don't do fashion, they have style. Style is timeless. Fashion and trends expire quicker than milk.
Americans love comfortable, fun, easy clothes.
That's probably the biggest difference I noticed. American girls love their affordable fashion and trends. They will likely buy cheaper items at Target, H&M, Tj Maxx, or on Amazon, that they don't keep for more than two-three seasons.
Fast-fashion and high street are more the norms here in the US, where quality over quantity, more discreet patterns, and high brands are more common in France.
Now, what are the differences you noticed? I would love to know!
As always, thank you for reading!