What French people find weird about Americans

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

Weirdo American

Americans aren’t weird… are we? Maybe we are. Many times I’ve been going about my business, doing normal American things and a French person will be weirded out by something I’m doing. That person is usually my husband. What do French people find weird about Americans? I’m about to tell you.

Go!

Weird Americans

When two cultures collide, like in a marriage, there’s bound to be a lot of laughs and OMGs over things that are seemingly normal for one half of the equation. The other half will be appalled and shocked and utterly confused by the other culture’s norms. And today, that weirdo culture is my own…. good old American.

This is a general list and I can assure you all of them are absolutely true. Ha ha ha. My husband was weirded out by ALL of them. I used to think that maybe my husband was the weird one but other French people seem to share the same sentiments.

So here’s my attempt at a list of what French people find weird about American culture:

We like pumpkin. In our desserts.

Amen to that! Pumpkin is hands down my favorite flavor ever. No, not raw chunks of pumpkin that you pick in the pumpkin patch and definitely not how it tastes right out of the can. But mix it in a smoothie with some cinnamon or in a pie and I’m in heaven. Just get used to it all you people who are missing out on all the pumpkiny goodness — Americans like pumpkin in dessert form. French people, on the other hand, think of a pumpkin as a vegetable. Period. As in pumpkin soup and the like. I found this out when my in-laws looked perplexed when I served up a pumpkin pie last fall. Pumpkin pie and muffins are not common in France at all and the average French person might do a double take if you give them a slice of pumpkin pie, offer them a pumpkin milkshake or pumpkin ice cream, etc.

Bring on the breakfast food.

Americans eat breakfast and things like eggs, sausage and bacon are common breakfast foods. We like sweet things too like donuts and pancakes and the like, but we also know what healthy is and Nutella on a baguette ain’t it.  Now would a French person sit down to a plate of scrambled egg whites and turkey bacon? Definitely not.  

Walking around with bare or sock-covered feet at home.

Americans know what slippers are and many Americans love slippers. But not to the same extent as French people. Many Americans don’t wear slippers all the time at home and in the winter, heavy socks work just fine. Maybe it’s just my husband’s family, but if feet don’t have slippers on them, they assume you’re cold or just weird. I must be weird. Slippers just aren’t my thing.

Americans watch baseball games and find them fun. Not long and boring and a waste of time.

I can’t say baseball is my favorite sport to watch but many Americans enjoy it. A lot. French people just don’t get it. (can’t say I blame them on this one)

We eat dinner early. Or at least earlier than the French.

A normal dinnertime in the U.S. is 6 or 7 p.m. and if you’re in a big city and are hip and cool and child-free and work late, maybe an 8 or 9 p.m. dinner reservation would be normal. Or maybe you just like to eat later. But in suburbia, especially families with young kids, most families have dinner on the table by 7 p.m. and even earlier in the winter. In France, I’d say 8 p.m. is the norm. Saying this took some getting used to is an understatement. When the clock hits 6 p.m., my stomach starts growling and I know I have at least an hour and a half to go or Tom starts giving me “the eye.” French blogger Mathilde, who now lives in Boston, talks all about this in a recent post (in French).

Americans like coffee on the go.

Of course we like meeting friends at coffee shops and cozying up in those oversized Starbucks chairs to sip our $5 concoctions while catching up. But we really like taking things on the go too. We love drive through coffee and have no problem carrying it into meetings and appointments or on the street. It’s convenient and normal. But not for the French. This notion of walking with your coffee to go is not part of French culture and outside of major cities, the concept just doesn’t exist. Dammit.

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We tend to be a bit enthusiastic about things.

Americans like to smile and be really friendly and tell you about that AMAZING thing they did. Sometimes it’s sincere and sometimes it’s fake. But it’s almost always enthusiastic. This can be offputting to foreigners who don’t expect people to be so over-the-top friendly — even sales people greeting customers with, “Hi, how are you?” can come as a shock. That’s just not done in France. Yes, French people are polite but they seem to be a little more neutral when it comes to expressing themselves especially with those they don’t know that well or at all.  

The toilets are weird.

Anyone who’s had the pleasure of using the toilets in both countries will tell you that American plumbing seems to be more sensitive. Loading up a toilet with toilet paper is a major no-no and will likely result in a clog in homes in the U.S. and/or water on the floor. The toilet bowls in the U.S. are always full of water and the flush seems to be really weak in comparison. Americans know to use small amounts of toilet paper and how to use a plunger. But an unsuspecting French person perched atop a porcelain throne in an American home for the first time (and using it like a hardy French toilet) might get a major surprise if he’s not careful. My husband Tom talked all about the finicky nature of American toilets and plumbing in his recent Ask Tom Tuesdays post. Consider yourself warned…  

Read on for Part 2 of this post by clicking here!

So French people, tell me, do you agree? What do you have to add about those weirdo Americans?

 
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Comments (36)

  • Molly @ Toffee Bits and Chocolate Chips in Paris!

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    I’ve definitely had a discussion about just about all of these with French friends. Pumpkin, yup! and Coffee on the go- but not socks! I did get weird looks when I was barefoot instead of wearing socks or slippers in England. haha!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Glad you can relate! I guess the socks/slippers thing varies by family. Thanks for your comment, as always. 😉

      Reply

      • David

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        We went to the home of some older French friends, and since it had been raining, my shoes were wet. So I slipped them off so I didn’t muddy the carpets. When our friends commented on this apparently bizarre behavior, I explained that my shoes were dirty and that I didn’t want to mess up their home. Their response? “But it’s not very elegant, is it?” .

        Reply

        • Diane

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          Hi! They thought taking your shoes off was weird? I know in Japan, NOT taking off one’s shoes is weird but in France I think it’s common enough. They thought your socks weren’t that elegant — but for me dirty floors are way worse. Totally up to the person though if they want to take off their shoes. Either way works for me.

          Reply

  • Sweetteamob

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    What a great post! Thanks for including the part pumpkin desserts, which can be extended to carrot cake, zucchini bread, etc.

    I’ve also gotten strange looks and comments from French people for avoiding slippers or scarves on chilly days, making iced coffee or mocha, speaking loudly in public, hugs, enjoying beer (as a woman), and eating pizza with my hands. Rien n’est facile!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Great additions! The hug thing definitely weirds out French people, probably as much as bisous still weird me out. The thing with pizza is that in France, pizzas seem to be more personal size whereas in NYC, the pizzas are like a meter wide so it’s easier to just fold and go!

      Reply

  • Dana

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    Burgers in cans!!! How can someone eat that!

    Btw I love your website! Congrats!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you! So glad you like the site. And burgers in cans? Can’t say I’ve ever seen them! Maybe that’s a good thing?

      Reply

  • Elodie

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    Great post!

    Pumpkin pie: I agree it is weird for us… One thing really weird I also encounter here in China is corn and green peas in deserts. Well I have to say green pea ice cream is actually good 🙂
    I still have to try pumpkin pies one day.

    About walking around bare feet or in socks: that’s what we do in our family. Here in China, it seems like wearing slippers is a must do.

    Eating early: I love it… When i went back to France last year for a few months it was hard to eat lunch at 3pm on sunday and dinner at 9pm.

    What I did find weird about americans:
    – Ice cube distributors
    – clothing (ex: wearing very short shorts or clothes that not flattering at all)
    I am not familiar enough to add more to this list héhé. 🙂

    Happy new year by the way!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh wow, green peas in desserts? I’ve heard of green tea ice cream but green PEA? I think I’d try it once… And yes, totally agree about slippers in Asian cultures.
      I’d die if I ate lunch at 3pm. I wake up too early to manage that. At my house, we eat at American times (like 7-8 pm dinner). The French guests can deal! Haha. Happy New Year to you too!

      Reply

      • Derek

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        Those not green peas, but mung beans I believe. It’s usually a choice between mung beans and azuki beans

        Reply

        • Elodie

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          Oh yes Derek thanks, it is indeed mung beans. I don’t know exactly how there are called in English and French, i don’t think they are common in France. Their name in Chinese translate directly into “green peas”.

          You can find mix with azuki, corn and mung peas and my favorite is the mung bean Popsicle héhé.

          Reply

  • Punaiz

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    I would suggest your strange love of guns, and big big cars as most weird aspects. And most of all, the fact that some do not know where to put Paris on an empty world map (but just ask to a French to put Paris-texas, or Oklahoma city on a world map, and you will laugh in return).

    About barefeet, it is very variable from one French Family to another…
    About early eating: true, how do you manage not to be hungry when going to bed?

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Good additions, fair points. But do you really find them weird and not just known stereotypes? What I mean is that big cars and guns are all over American films and are known aspects of the supposed American culture, so are they really something that’s weird at this point when you see that everywhere? My focus here was on lesser-known points that maybe aren’t so pervasive and well-known. Also, you know many Americans are anti-guns and love cost efficient hybrid cars? 😉 About eating early, I guess it’s just what you’re used to. I eat when I’m hungry so if I eat dinner at 7 and want an apple at 9, I eat it. Just like a French person may have a “gouter” at 4pm to hold them over ’til dinner. Thanks for your comment!!

      Reply

      • Punaiz

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        Fair enough, I report prejudices and stereotypes.
        But it is a huge gap and the source of endless miscomprehension (maybe not for cars, but than yes for religion, which I forgot in the first post).

        By the way, congratulation for the follow up of comments. It is extremely pleasant to feel the both directions of communication, when being a reader of an interesting blog.

        Reply

        • Diane

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          Happy to have you here! And I enjoy responding to readers and do so whenever I can, so keep the comments coming. 😉 And what would your comment be about the weirdness of religion? I’d like to hear more! You can email me ouiinfrance@gmail.com if it’s easier. Thank you!

          Reply

  • Megan

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    My husband always talked about eating out being a big difference – refills before you even finish a drink, meals big enough for 3 people, eating quickly, leftovers to take home, and to-go cups of pop. Obviously we didn’t do those every meal, but none of those are even heard of in France. And the waiters bothered him a bit, they seem pushy when compared to French waiters.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yes, totally agree about restaurant culture, Megan. Leftovers are a definitely taboo in France but it kind of makes sense since the portions are smaller so there’s less of a chance that there will be any leftovers. Excellent addition!

      Reply

  • Amanda C.

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    I am still laughing from this post! I wrote a similar one (in reverse – French people in California.) and it was good to get some validations for my own assertions – eggs for breakfast, friendliness.

    Reply

  • nicolas

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    dans notre famille nous venons d,accueillir une jeune étudiante américaine.Je m,étais préparé a beaucoup de choses ,mais je suis vraiment embarrassé par sa façon de nous prendre dans ses bras.Après avoir parcouru des sites d,expatriés américains ,je comprends que faire la bise en France est compliqué ,Comment je peux lui expliquer ,sans la vexer que cela est embarrassant pour notre famille.
    Ne prenez mon commentaire comme un reproche .cette jeune fille est formidable .Nous somme bretons et il est possible que les bretons soient un peut plus rèservé

    Reply

  • Marion.

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    Loved this post! As a French, I do agree with the slippers situation. In my family, wearing slippers is almost a religion. We all have our pair, and when we come home taking our shoes off and putting slippers on is the first thing we do. Oh and when we visit close relatives we bring our slippers. My parents even had spare pairs of slippers for when I was a kid and often had friends over.
    I think most of it is due to the fact that our house has a non-heated tile floor that makes it slippery and cold when walking bare or sock-covered feet.
    Although this isn’t really a representative example because I’m sure most french people must find that crazy as well!

    Reply

  • Julie Cohn

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    I am so glad you are in our new Triberr group. I love your writing and cannot wait to read more! -JC

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks so much, Julie! Glad to have you here!

      Reply

  • Renaud

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    First of all, great blog. Congratulations!
    Maybe, it’s due to my french education, but what I find very weird in Americans is when you email them for professional issues and they start to reply to you as if you were their best buddy, calling you by your first name etc… though you have never ever met them :p
    I understand that it’s more relax but for a french(wo)man, it’s a bit puzzling 😉

    Reply

    • Diane

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      So funny you said that, Renaud, because in my post I wrote today about the census, I had a good laugh that the woman who came around to pick up the papers was a Mrs. So and So and not just Nadine. It is SO strange to me that everyone is a Mister or Misses in France. The formality is definitely strange for an American! So I completely understand how the contrary would be off putting for you. Thank you for stopping by!!

      Reply

  • Sonia

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    Hi,

    I am a French Angevine leaving in L.A. and one of the thing my American husband find weird , even crazy is that… I am ironing my t-shirt and my jeans…

    Reply

    • Diane

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      I thought only my mother-in-law did that!! I don’t think very many Americans do that — at least not the ones I know. Unless the jeans or tees are abnormally wrinkly. But hey, to each his own. Thanks for sharing! 😉

      Reply

  • vicky

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    It’s funny that you mentioned that Americans eat early – I also recently discovered a video where a French girl living in the U.S. says that Americans go clubbing early

    Here’s her video if you’d like to see her opinions on America and Americans. http://youtu.be/72loVxocUQo

    I think your both opinions are complementary and fun!

    *

    Reply

  • Lisa

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    Hi, I just came across your blog – love it! I am preparing to go to France for several months so find your observations very helpful. (I’ve been there before, years and years ago, but I wasn’t as tuned in then!) Having hosted French visitors in my home I can see in retrospect why they had some of the reactions they had to the American way of life. Hugs, for one thing…as a typical American I was always going for the hug only to be met by a stiff and uncomfortable response. But hey, we were in the USA, so I figure they should have studied up on American customs before they came here and been prepared for hugs! 😉 And the other thing they found completely bafflling – like you said – is the fact that we have animated conversations with people we meet in the checkout line at the grocery store or the server in a restaurant, etc. Once, after a routine chit chat with a waiter, the French teen with me asked, “Is he a friend of yours?” He couldn’t understand why we were having a conversation if we didn’t know each other! But at least I know to avoid the “hug” in France and I’ll confine my friendly greetings in public to a simple “bonjour” and leave it at that. Now if I can ever understand when you swtich from Vous to Tu when you are getting to know someone…

    Reply

    • Diane

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      So funny that the French teen asked if the waiter was a friend. Americans get familiar fast which I guess has its drawbacks but for some reason I like it that way. Polite chitchat, the same old thing each time, gets old real fast and I think it’s impersonal. But we adapt, on both sides of the Atlantic. So glad you’re enjoying the blog. Have a great time in France!

      Reply

    • Mary

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      Lisa, always use vous unless you know someone REALLY well. And always wait for them to use it first. As for the bise, offer you right cheek first.

      Reply

  • Christine

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    One strange thing I found when I set foot in USA is I had to meet for the first time my parents in law. This night (or I would say this afternoon) my mother in law made a big meal but with corn wrapped in aluminium foil. I looked at my husband and whispered to him “is not for hen or pig meal this?” He laughed hard. As his parents were wondering why their son was laughing, he reported the issue. I think my mother in law did not appreciate too much haha. But still, I can’t eat this even after 4 years I am living in USA. Other thing surprised me, it is the big breakfast that my husband take every single morning that God makes, is that Bacon, eggs, but also if we have left over from the last night he eats the potatoes with the meat (beef or chicken)!!! My mother in law loves my quiche lorraine that she eats once she gets up from the bed in the morning!!! At the same time, they are all surprise when they see me taking just a cup of coffee without sugar, and without milk. Finally, my biggest problem when I go to the restaurants, is that I do not have BREAD with my meal!!! Not all restaurants offer bread or you need to pay it (ok it is not expensive, but still). Oh and one thing too: For Christmas they start to eat at 3pm !!! so at 10 pm it is already time to go to bed ??? Is it only in my in laws they do this or it is in general ? They don’t celebrate either the 1st of january!! So now, I spend these holidays in France with my kids and family with whom I have more fun! haha. Have a great day, Diane

    Reply

  • Michelle

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    Walking around town in flip-flops got me very strange looks in the French speaking part of Switzerland!

    They have Starbucks there, but it automatically tagged me as a foreigner if I was walking around town with my white mocha. Loved the post!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Haha yes, a Starbucks cup in hand is always a dead giveaway but in bigger cities like Paris, even the French see the value in coffee to go. Well, some of them. 😉 Glad you liked the post!

      Reply

  • Emily

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    Hi Diane !

    Your article made me laugh, thanks! I’m French and I came home today from the US. I must admit that I agree with most of your points (except for the slippers…I go barefoot at home too).

    I often don’t know what to answer when I’m told “hi, how are you” in a store. I often answer “Hi, fine, thank you”, but my boyfriend says I don’t have it right…

    About the toilets, I never had such a problem but what strikes me most is the gap there is almost ALWAYS between the door and the wall, which means no privacy at all. If you’re waiting in the public restrooms, you’d better be looking at your feet or else you might catch a glimpse of something you really didn’t want to see!

    About the dinner time, I was shocked indeed to see a restaurant in Louisiana once which closed at 9 PM. But you should see Spaniards, they often eat at 10 PM.

    Thanks for the article! I’d be curious to read what you, as an American, you think of all our little habits. Because, boy, we are weird! 🙂

    Reply

  • Lili

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    Very interesting ! I’m french, and I’ve discovered pumpkins in desserts a few years ago, when my children – at school – learned about anglo saxon culture, especially Halloween : they cooked pumpkin cookies. I had never heard before that pumpkins could be cooked in something else that … soup ! I’ve also discovered carrot-cake, so delicious … but I NEVER serve it telling what it is (I just say ‘a spicy cake’), or for sure half of the people will not try it ! For breakfast, you’re so right, french people only tolerate sweet meals, never eggs and meat ! For my part (in a paleo diet way) I’ve change my breakfast for baccon-eggs and smoothies, but I’m an exception. About coffee, I’ve discovered american ‘on the go’ coffee when I was in Florida. And I loved it. I tried to do the same in France, with a little thermos bottle, but … I had forgotten that my old little french car doesn’t have a place to put it ! About enthousiasm, it’s really true, even the tone language is completely different. And I sincerely prefer the american way, full of energy and so friendly. About hugs, I’ve not tested out american hugs ; here we use to make 2 kisses (it’s different in each part of France, sometimes it’s more or less …) and when I married my husband that is asian, he told me that in his culture kisses are too much familiar ; I’ve never kissed or touched my mother in law for exemple. But he walks barefoot in the house, that – even in full summer – I never do. About diner time, the problem is that at 6 or 7 PM most french people are at work ! For my part I finish early, around 5:30 but I’m not home before 6:30, sometimes 7:30, then I have to cook … I really don’t know how I could eat before 8 ! And when the kids were young, I had to feed them, bath, go to sleep … then was time to think about our diner, around 9 … How do american people do ? But it’s clear that around 6/7 I’m sooo hungry that I eat a little something… that is not healthy !
    There are customs I’d like to exist in France , f.e. the way american people celebrate everything, making parties, decorating, school proms, etc… we do not do that here or so few. About USA, in one hand I admire the community spirit, mutual aid … so less developed in France because here the State gives so much … but in another hand, I don’t like the so powerful place of religion(s) in the public area in USA (so much churches everywhere, it scared me !) and the price to pay for health care, or education is just uncomprehensible for me.
    But, beyond our differences, we’re all part of a global western culture, shared through internet, series, etc. I hope that more and more french people, especially the young generation are used to or at least informed of the american way of life. And open to differences … it’s a long shot …

    Reply

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