45 Things Americans think when visiting France for the first time

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France, travel

What Americans think when visiting france

It’s a thrill to visit a place for the first time and all kinds of thoughts will run through your head. Here are 45 things an American will think when visiting France for the first time.

Read on!

What Americans think when visiting France for the first time

An American expat named  Cristin who blogs at Between Roots and Wings inspired this post with her humorous take on Australia. And I thought I’d share mine about France.

I fell in love with France when I first visited as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed high school student on a group tour and over time my love for France has grown even more. But what did I think when I first arrived? A whole lot.

Here are 45 things an American thinks when visiting France for the first time:

eiffel-tower-after-rain-sunset

  1. Wow, the Eiffel Tower looks just like it does in pictures!
  2. All that French charm I heard about is real.
  3. Damn, baguettes are amazing! Gotta get another one later.
  4. Scratch that — this croissant is AMAZING. Gotta get another one now.
  5. That line out the door of the bakery is sooo long. What’s that, you say? They’re waiting to buy bread??
  6. There really are guys on bikes with baguettes (no berets though).
  7. The wine and cheese are way cheaper than I thought they’d be.
  8. Holy crap that’s a lot of yogurt! Look at all the choices and cute little containers!
  9. Parlez-vous anglais? Phew, you speak English.
  10. Nope, really, I don’t know any celebrities personally.
  11. Does everyone smoke?
  12. How many bisous do I do?
  13. Do they know what a pooper scooper is? Apparently not.
  14. Everyone eats dinner late here.
  15. Why is there an egg on my pizza?
  16. OK, it’s been 20 minutes since we finished eating and we’re still waiting for the bill. Oh, I have to ask for it? Or get up to pay? I’ll keep waiting.
  17. Everyone really does know their cheeses.
  18. Is there something on my face? Why are you staring at me?
  19. Parisians are pretty nice.
  20. Ahhh, how do I open the metro train’s door? Oh, there’s a button for that.
  21. All the guys rock colorful pants. And pretty sweet glasses.
  22. Yeah, we’re on the third floor. Why are you looking for me on the fourth?
  23. Does anyone do yoga here? No one is wearing gym clothes out in public.
  24. Is every car in this country a stick shift?
  25. Is parking on the sidewalk a thing?
  26. How much is that gas? Oh, that’s not too bad. Oh, that’s per liter? OMG.
  27. So how much is that in dollars…
  28. 22 degrees today. So in Fahrenheit that’s…
  29. You’re leaving on 2/1/2015. Wait, you mean February 1, 2015 or January 2, 2015?
  30. Awesome, McDonald’s looks super hip.
  31. There are a LOT of bakeries. And hair salons.
  32. Where’s the air conditioner? And where are the window screens?
  33. What time do we shut the volets?
  34. It’s 7 p.m. Do I say bonjour or bonsoir?
  35. How can I do anything at lunchtime if you’re closed midday?
  36. You’re closed again? Oh yeah, it’s Sunday.
  37. You’re still closed? But it’s now Monday.
  38. You’re closed already? It’s only 7 p.m.!
  39. You can’t get aspirin at the grocery store. That’s interesting…
  40. It’s 50 centimes to use the toilet. You’ve got to be kidding.
  41. And the sink is in another room?
  42. And what’s that second flush button for exactly?
  43. Whoa, what? You get HOW many weeks of vacation?
  44. Why’s the milk on a shelf and not in the fridge? Eggs too? Will I get sick?
  45. God I love France!

French-vinyard

What would you add? What did you think when visiting France for the first time?

 

Curious about what the French think of the U.S.? Click here for Tom’s take with 45 Things French people think when visiting NYC for the first time!

All Things France link-up:

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Comments (55)

  • Maggie

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    What about ‘Why has that car just pulled out in front of me from a side road?…oh it’s their right of way?’ Great post.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Excellent addition, thank you!

      Reply

  • Alan

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    All great observations! And I finally understand ovolets!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you, Alan!

      Reply

  • Matt

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    i love it very useful 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you!

      Reply

  • Jackie

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    So true ! I had two friends who visited Paris before me. I asked both of them how they liked it. Both said they would not be going back. Both had negative experiences. Well, they are negative people so that made since to me LOL I only had beautiful experiences and can’t wait for another trip to France.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yah, everyone’s experience is going to be different. I wonder what made the experience a bad one for your two friends. About the article you linked to, it’s surprising that Paris is listed as affordable. It’s expensive in terms of rent, food, everything. And French salaries are low so no idea how a new grad would be able to afford anything!

      Reply

  • Laurence

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    It’s too good not to share! Love it!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks so much, Laurence! Appreciate the support!

      Reply

  • Ashley @ A Lady Goes West

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    I just LOVEEEEE this post. I’ve been to Nice, but that was only for one night when I was studying abroad in college and did a little trip with friends on the train from Florence. That’s terrible that no one wears workout clothes around, I guess I wouldn’t fit in. But everything else sounds pretty amazing. Outside of stores always being closed. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Merci! So funny that you think it’s terrible no one wears workout clothes out really… I’m totally with you on that! Workout clothes are so stylish now. I think the French can get behind the trend if given the chance to really embrace it. 😉

      Reply

  • Molly @ Toffee Bits and Chocolate Chips in Paris!

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    Never quite figured out when to start saying bonsoir- that was always quite the mystery. Is it when it starts getting dark? who knows haha But! I did notice to say bon soire (totally the wrong spelling) like bon-swar- rai, emphasis on the “rai” at the end, when leaving a shop when they said “bonsoir” when you entered.

    Reply

    • Cal-expat

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      Molly, I stopped in my tracks for at least 45 seconds before realizing you meant “bonne soirée”!! trying to show how to pronounce another language is usually fun 🙂
      FYI, “soir” is the evening (late afternoon till bedtime), while “soirée” is usually after dinner.

      I saw a license plate the other day, it was “bone jur”. could it be possible the owner totally misspelled “bonjour”, or am I missing something?

      Reply

      • Diane

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        Thank you for your explanation, Cal-expat! Sometimes in the winter I think bonsoir starts around 5 p.m. when it’s just getting dark, whereas in the summer, it’s still bonjour until 8 p.m. Depends on the person and region I guess, no hard and fast rule.

        Reply

    • Diane

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      OHHH, got it, thanks Cal-expat. I thought you were saying that sometimes the French focus on the last syllable of a word like bonsoir, bonsoir-uh to add emphasis but you mean bonsoir vs bonne soirée. Upon arriving, the shop owner says good evening, a greeting and upon leaving they’re wishing you a good evening, like have a good evening. That’s what you meant right?

      Reply

      • Cal-expat

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        bonsoir-uh 😉 That’s funny! 🙂
        No, actually, it’s exactly like saying bonjour in the morning, and wishing bonne journée (have a good day).

        I like how Californians found a way to not choose between day, afternoon, evening… I usually hear “Have a good one!”
        I don’t know if people say it elsewhere.

        Reply

        • Diane

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          Yup, have a good one is pretty common everywhere! Just a variation. I think we should invent something similar in French to avoid the bonsoir/bonjour nonsense haha

          Reply

          • Punaiz

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            Je vous en souhaite une bonne could probably not be understood.
            But French speaking canadians say “bonjour” when they leave, as French french would say “au revoir”.
            So the Canadian solution of saying “bonjour” all the time could be the ultimate one

            Reply

          • Diane

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            Love it, let’s start this “bonjour” thing at night Canadian style and hope it catches on. Totally eliminates confusion lol

            Reply

          • Cal-expat

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            I’ve seen people wishing me « bonsoir » at 9am…

            Reply

          • Diane

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            Hahha, maybe they were still up from the night before!

            Reply

  • NCGirl

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    We were surprised to see poles rise and fall in the road to allow motorists to cross . These were for people who lived on narrow private driveways. Wonderful bistros on every corner. Very inexpensive but delicious!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Interesting about the poles. Can’t say I’ve seen them in my area. And yes, love the bistro and cafe culture. Thank you for stopping by!

      Reply

  • Beth

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    Yeah, I had no idea the metros had buttons! Took forever to figure out how to get the door open.

    I still have yet to run into that anywhere else in Europe, or in the world actually.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yea I think everyone on the Paris metro for the first time has that moment of panic when they arrive and the door isn’t opening. Lucky for me I figured that out at rush hour when someone else hit the button. But in an empty train, it can be difficult to know what to do. And now you have me thinking about metros… NY def doesn’t have buttons. Don’t think London does either. Anyone out there know of other cities where the doors don’t automatically open?

      Reply

    • Revé

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      It’s the same here in Madrid. Some doors have buttons to push, some have latches to pull, but they don’t automatically open except in a few cases (mainly when the doors on both sides of the metro car open at a particular stop)
      Revé recently posted…HiatusMy Profile

      Reply

      • Diane

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        Interesting, seeing doors with buttons and latches seems to be a European thing. Even to exit apt buildings sometimes, there’s a button on the wall that if you’re not accustomed to it, you’ll stand there like an idiot for 5 min until someone comes along freeing you. That’s happened to me many times, not realizing a button opens the door from the inside. Happy Sunday!

        Reply

  • dorothy

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    After my first week in Paris, my thought was “What do I need to do to live here permanently!”

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Love that, Dorothy! Excellent addition 😉 Have a great weekend!

      Reply

  • Sara @ Simply Sara Travel

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    Haha, great list! Love #9 – reminds me clearly of the first time I visited Paris. My husband and I didn’t speak any French (which didn’t change any before we moved to France later lol) and I had a little handwritten list of some French phrases. I practiced saying “Parlez-vous anglais?” a few times before walking into the hotel, and of course, the receptionist spoke English.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Well, it’s always good to be prepared! I always feel better when I know a few phrases in the language of the country I’m visiting. Even if I sound dumb, at least I tried. Have to be proud of that. And look how far you’ve come since then!

      Reply

  • Marty

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    I remember visiting France (Paris) for the first time.The various trades going on strike. Baggage handlers at the airport, then some train issue. People really know how to protest and the police presence was something to behold. They really show up in force. I also remember the flower market where everyone was purchasing some beautiful bouquets for their homes. The countryside was beautiful and the amount of agriculture was amazing.

    Reply

  • Marti

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    I’ve only seen France while in the DOM. But, why are there no toilet seats. I don’t mean squat toilets, but normal toilets without any seat. Should I bring my own? Now that would look a little funny.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Marti, I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes it’s just a toilet bowl and no seat to lift up or down. I have no idea what the reason is for this. Maybe toilet seats break or get stolen or are time consuming to clean? Or cost too much? No idea! What island did you visit?

      Reply

  • kimberly

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    We live in Lyon and our kids go to the Int’l School where many toilets have no seats! It’s horrible for the kids (older and younger, boys and girls) who need to use the bathroom. We’ve tried to get seats but school is not interested, even when we offered to pay for them ourselves. I’ve been told by my other Expat friends that it’s a “French” cultural thing. My boys won’t use the bathrooms if they need to go other than “pee”. Many kids hold it all day – not healthy! Oh and on top of it all off many of the bathrooms have no doors so kids have no privacy! Even the little ones (under 4) want privacy. It’s quite uncivilized.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      What the heck??? Even if you offered to pay? I don’t understand the lack of toilet seats. How did they explain the cultural difference to you? French homes have toilet seats so why not the schools? I wonder if there are portable seat covers that maybe you could get? The no doors thing is just crazy! And even more baffling is you wrote it’s an international school!!! Maybe, just maybe I’d understand in a French school but ahhhhhhhhh

      Reply

  • Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

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    This is a fabulous list, so well observed. I’ve been in France so long now that I just accept all the cultural oddities as the norm but it’s fun to see things pointed out again from your American point of view. Down in the south where I live people start saying bonsoir straight after lunch! Well not everyone, but lots of very local southerners do. It’s even more confusing. This is such a fun post for my first ever link up, thanks for joining in!
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo recently posted…All About France #1My Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you for stopping by Phoebe, so glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for hosting the linkup!

      Reply

    • Diane

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      So glad you enjoyed the post! Might have to do a part 2 😉

      Reply

  • Elizabeth (Wander Mum)

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    Love these! What gets me is the closing for lunch… Two hours – no exceptions – what a great lifestyle… If you can’t beat them join them. Oh, and a glass of red with lunch is mandatory! #allaboutfrance

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yea, the closing for lunch thing can be a pain when you need to get something done, but at least the restaurants are open for that red wine. 😉

      Reply

  • Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault

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    Fabulous list and I can relate to many of these even being an expat from just over the English Channel … oops I mean La Manche. I could add (more as an expat that a visitor mind) – “Good grief what time exactly did you say the school bus leaves in the morning?” and “How heavy is that school bag?”
    Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault recently posted…Update on my Home Alone WeekMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you! What time does the bus come? I have never seen a school bus here where I am (kids walk), but back in NJ my bus would come at 6:30. Crazy early!!

      Reply

  • Christy Swagerty

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    Every single one of these thoughts passed through my mind during the first two years we were in France! When I first read the title, I was like, how could there possibly be 45 things?! But there really are, and it reads great…sounded like my brain on my first trip to Paris back in 2011! Great memories, thanks for bringing those back!
    Christy Swagerty recently posted…6 Reasons I Will Never Be FrenchMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for checking out the post! I really had to dig deep to nail down the first 20 things but then the rest just kind of flowed. 😉

      Reply

  • Our French Oasis

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    This is a brilliant observation and great fun to read. Having just returned to France from four years in Florida I can see this from both a French and an American view point!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Merci beaucoup, Susan! What part of France did you live in? My family is in the Boca Raton area now. Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

      Reply

  • Inkflo

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    Woah … I have to walk past that man at the urinal to get to the ladies!!!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      That does happen pretty often, doesn’t it… you’d think someone would figure out bathroom design so the women don’t have to pass by men at the urinals!

      Reply

  • May

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    This post was such a great laugh! I just came across your blog & the timing couldn’t be any better. We just moved to France for about a period of 6 months & your blog has now become my bible during pur stay!!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Cool, so glad you enjoyed the post and that I could provide some comic relief. 😉 What brings you to France and where are you living? Hope everything is going well! All the best to you in 2016!

      Reply

  • mag73

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    J’ai vécu aux Etats Unis et j’ai beaucoup aimé le n° 8
    Version US pour un Français Holy crap, that’s a lot of corn flakes, peanut butter …..

    n° 28 et 29 même souci pour un Français aux US , j’ai mis du temps à convertir les ° Fahrenheit en ° Celsuis, les miles en kilomètres etc …
    Il faut dire que c’est un peu perturbant au démarrage et puis on s’habitue

    Quand il y a parfois 2 boutons de chasse d’eau sur les toilettes, ce système est censé économiser l’eau

    Entre les 5 semanes de congés payés et les RTT ( 15 jours à 3 semaines en plus / an ) ce qui est appréciable même si je trouve que ça fait beaucoup

    Le lait est stérilisé UHT donc non pas de risque on peut le laisser sur l’étagère tout comme il était au supermarché mais une fois ouvert, il faut bien sûr le mettre au frigo et le consommer rapidement.
    En revanche le lait acheté au rayon frais doit se conserver immédiatement au frais

    Moi, j’ai eu des soucis avec la taille et la contenance des briques de lait aux USA, c’est encombrant dans le frigo et surtout très lourd mais sans doute bien pour muscler ses bras dès la matin en sortant le lait du frigo.

    Reply

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