French cultural differences: How to freak out an American

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

How to freak out an American

The lovely Geraldine of CommeUneFrancaise recently posted a video on how to scare the hell out of a French person which was really informative and absolutely worth a look. Since French cultural differences are such a huge focus of my blog, I wanted to take a look at the flip side in this post — some French cultural differences that will freak out Americans.

Continue on!

Here’s my short list of French cultural differences that will freak out an American:

1. Going in for bisous when the American is expecting a hug.

The French greeting in an informal situation (family, friends and even some work colleagues) is la bise, or a cheek kiss. Sometimes two or more depending on the social norms of wherever you are. Americans would normally hug in a situation like this. But hugs are a no-no in France. So when you see that French person coming in for what appears to be a kiss, just turn your head slightly and make sure it lands on your cheek! Or tap ears, or whatever I do.

rabbit in french grocery store

2. Serve horse for dinner. Or rabbit.

While not super common, supermarkets do sell horse meat as well as rabbit and other types of meat Americans might find strange. Many Americans are adventurous and open minded but we don’t want to eat horse for dinner. So just serve up Mr. Ed for dinner and watch the American run for the door and never come back. I have to note, though, that most French people don’t serve horse or rabbit as regularly as chicken. It’s more rare but it does exist.

7 Things I’ll never understand about the French >>

3. Don’t smile and act cold.

Americans are enthusiastic and friendly (sometimes it’s fake, but generally we emote in conversation) and aim to put the other person at ease, even upon just meeting someone. Take for example waiting in line at the grocery store. An American might make small talk with the woman behind her. In general, this is in sharp contrast to the French who have more of a poker face and aren’t so friendly at first. The American might think he/she did something wrong after not being well received by the French — when really it’s normal. The French aren’t very outgoing or smiley. Not necessarily bad — just different.

4. When making an ophthalmologist/dermatologist/other specialist appointment, inform them of the 5-month wait time.

As a new patient, the wait time for a specialist can be maddening. Apparently I live in an area of France where there’s a shortage of specialists, but even still, five months is insanely long. Just the other day, I tried to get an ophthalmologist appointment and the first opening any of the doctors had was in October. I kid you not. I fared a little better with the dentist and dermatologist. And if you have something urgent? They’ll tell you to go to the hospital. Lesson here? If you need just a regular checkup, make your appointment early and don’t put it off!

4 Myths about the French healthcare system you should stop believing >>

5. Make sure nothing is open past 8 p.m. or on Sundays.

Americans are used to having everything available at any time of day — and that goes double for those who live in a big city. From 24-hour convenience stores to late nights at the diner and even Target which stays open well past normal French closing times, Americans are used to being able to consume whenever, wherever. There are pros and cons on both sides here, but the fact remains that Americans might be shocked to find out that you can’t get much done late at night or on Sundays in France and that it’s necessary to adjust your expectations and schedule.

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What French cultural differences would you add to my list?

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Comments (17)

  • Cosette

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    In Miami, everyone kisses (very Hispanic). Here in Oz, it might be a handshake, a wave, a hug, or a kiss. It all depends on the relationship. I never know what to do and wait for the other person.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh wow, yes probably best to just wait and see what the Australian does. Love your new pic!

      Reply

  • Alan

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    All great examples.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you

      Reply

  • breadispain

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    Great post and so true! Oh la la…it took me ages to get used to the bises and it still throws me off sometimes. And the doctors appointments and closing times…haha, you nailed it! 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      I’m still not used to the bise. My father-in-law seems to try to break my jaw each time and I tread the big clank he always gives me. Ouch. I’d rather just wave hey. haha. And you just reminded me to call a doctor. Hoping they don’t tell me to come in October. Thanks for checking out the post!

      Reply

  • Melissa

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    I’m from NYC. I moved to San Diego for a few years & everything closes early there too. I didn’t like it. Haha. You do get spoiled when things are open all of the time. But I love Paris so much better than NY & would trade it all in.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, and after being spoiled it’s hard to adapt! I think for me, NYC will always win over every other city. Just holds a special place in my heart. But Paris has its own charm. Thank you for stopping by!

      Reply

  • Ze Coach

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    Your list is so true. Here’s my suggestion, from a French guy who lives in the US :

    6. Tell them about vacation in France
    French people usually have 5 weeks of vacation plus sometimes 2 more (“RTT / 35 heures”) and they use them all, not save them for the next years, and try to travel (not necessarely very far). I like the face Americans make when I tell them about the number of days off France has. Some think it’s great, some think it’s too much. One told me one day that it would be tempting to spend a lot of money to have so many day off. Free time can cost a lot! 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh man, i think that one would make them FALL IN LOVE with France or get frustrated at their own lives. Healthcare usually elicits the same response! I always get scared when my husband says he’s taking his Friday or an afternoon here or there always think he’ll get fired for not “putting in the time” but the work culture here is to actually use your days off, which I think is great. Thank you so much for your input!

      Reply

      • Ze Coach

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        About healthcare, 2 years ago, I made one of my colleague come to France for work. She was sick so I called a doctor for her, you know, the ones who can come directly to your house. I sent him to her hotel within few hours. She paid in cash and told me that it was even less expensive than in Dallas, even with no reimbursement from her coverage. And in Dallas, you cannot find any doctor coming to your house. She was impressed.
        Now, for specialists, I know that in France, for eyes, you sometimes have to wait for 5 months! That’s crazy.

        Reply

  • Punaiz

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    To scare a French, I would suggest you tell him/her “in god I trust”.
    Well of course, some would share your view or even understand. But the large majority would just believe you are a kind of crazy extremist…

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup that’s a good one, Geraldine in my link at the beginning of the post has some great ways to scare “the hell out of a French person.” 😉

      Reply

  • Jen

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    Diane – totally going to bite off this idea for a post. it was funny and informative. actually my husband and I were just talking about #5 yesterday morning over breakfast at a new spot. they didn’t have a few things I ordered and I said to him “Do you think it would matter as much if I wasn’t from a place where you get whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want??

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Go for it! Would love to hear about life in the Dominican Republic. We hear about DR as a place to visit on vacation but am interested in checking out your blog more and learning about expat life there. Also, love that you have two rescue poodles. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply

  • Eric

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    bonjour Diane j’ai choisit un de vos articles pour illustrer mon billet ” Les regards sur la planète de nos webamis expatriés http://ow.ly/3k1u91” bon lundi.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Merci beaucoup et bon lundi aussi!

      Reply

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