American habits I lost when I moved to France

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

american habits i lost when i moved to france

The best antidote for someone who’s stuck in their ways is to move abroad. You’ll realize your habits aren’t part of your DNA and you’re more flexible than you thought. I’ve had the pleasure of calling France home for a little over three years now, and while I’m still me, I’ve definitely taken on a French flair since moving here and have almost forgotten all about my American habits (until I go back home).

Curious about what American habits I lost when I moved to France?

American habits I lost when I moved to France

I don’t go out anywhere in sweatpants.

A drawn out “Ohhh la la” accompanied by a frown is what you’ll get from passersby if you venture outside in a dreaded pair of worn out sweatpants. Or maybe you’ll be mistaken for a homeless person. In all seriousness, the French always seem to look effortlessly chic and their definition of casual is slightly different than mine. Even in my small town, I feel kind of weird going outside to run errands in casual clothes that a French person wouldn’t leave their house in — ever. I wear gym clothes only to the gym (well, for the most part).

What the French find weird about Americans >>

I don’t refrigerate my eggs.

French eggs are sold at room temperature on a shelf in the grocery store. Yup, it’s normal, and nope, you won’t get sick. I repeat, eggs in France are not in the refrigerated section next to the yogurt or butter. So if you come over and have a look around my kitchen, you’ll see a carton of eggs on the counter just sitting there at room temperature. It’s not a cause for concern — just how it’s done here.

french mealtime

I don’t rush through my meals or multitask while eating.

Mealtime is kind of sacred in France (especially big family meals on Sundays) and food is to be savored and appreciated. What a welcome change! Normally families will eat together without the distraction of TV and will really take time to enjoy dinner. I’ve learned to focus on my meal and not eat while juggling three other things (most of the time).

I don’t make small talk.

The French aren’t really masters of small talk, nor are they accustomed to it. With people you sort of know like your pharmacist or an acquaintance you see from time to time, maybe you’ll talk about the weather or other little things but with complete strangers? No way. The French don’t often make small talk and might seem a little taken aback if the smiling American starts up a conversation in the bakery.

I don’t tip.

Americans throw money around to say thanks for all kinds of things. Tipping is part of our culture and we know that when eating out, a 20% tip for good service is customary, and even when the service sucks, you still tip. Bartenders are tipped. Valets are tipped. Bellhops are tipped, and the list goes on. In France, it’s not customary to tip the same way you do in the USA and I have to fight my Americanness when I eat out. It’s an appreciated gesture if you truly did have amazing service to leave a little bit, but big tips are NOT the norm in France and you will NOT be seen as rude or a cheapskate if you leave nothing extra.

neighbors in france

I don’t talk to my neighbors beyond a “bonjour” and don’t even know their names.

In many suburbs in the U.S. (and in my NYC apartment building), you know your neighbors’ names and at the very least have chatted with them here and there. Even if you’re not friends, you know who lives next door and if you’re ever in a jam or need a cup of sugar, you can ask them to lend a hand. In France, my efforts to introduce myself to the people on either side didn’t go as planned (I even made them cupcakes. Fail.). I don’t know their names and they don’t know mine.

French oddities that don’t seem so weird anymore >>

I don’t hug to say hi.

In France, I learned this one the hard way when hugging my father-in-law resulted in him standing there perplexed with his arms at his sides waiting for this weird embrace to be over. No one hugs to say hi (here’s what to do instead). People faire la bise, or give cheek kisses, to say hi and bye. If you hug someone, you’ll make them feel extremely awkward and will come across as culturally ignorant. Don’t hug!

Flossing my teeth.

Just kidding. I still floss. The French don’t though. Or very rarely. My dentist (who is young and has a modern office, which would make you think he’s on the up and up on all-things-dentist) has never mentioned flossing. French people I know use floss once in a blue moon to get at something stuck between their teeth. But a daily floss? Nope. Yet they still have pretty nice teeth… Not surprisingly, the dental hygiene aisle in grocery stores is majorly lacking in floss varieties. I often find junky waxed floss that is flavorless and breaks, and forget about different varieties of floss picks. I’ve had family members send floss picks and good dental floss because the French stuff just doesn’t cut it.

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What habits have changed for you since moving abroad?

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American habits I lost when I moved to france

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Comments (34)

  • Jamie Gunter

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    I love going to the store and not seeing anyone hideously dressed in sweatpants!! I have changed in that way as well! I had to get used to the hugging thing however and I know I still bother some of my friends when I do it haha! It’s crazy how we adapt so fast and how it all seems so normal now!
    Jamie Gunter recently posted…What to Do in KrakowMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      Hideous sweatpants work better as pjs or clothes to clean your house in but I will say a really flattering and stylish workout outfit with clean sneakers doesn’t bother me at all and wish wearing gym clothes to run errands was normal! I do it anyway despite some stares but sweatpants? No way!

      Reply

  • Marianne

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    ha I would not agree that the French have good teeth. I have seen soooo many dental problems here! And in people who are young, and have good jobs too! Maybe it’s because nobody flosses…
    Marianne recently posted…Brussels, Beautiful in its Own WayMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      Well, maybe that was a slight exaggeration. But I think it depends on the individual and the area. I know that people in rural areas of the US who don’t have access to a dentist might not have the best teeth and it’s unfortunate as well for those without insurance. I didn’t have dental insurance in the US for a while and paying out of pocket for a cleaning, exam and two small cavities was not easy on the wallet. Same thing in France, cleanings are cheap but they’ve been half-assed in my experience and anything beyond routine care is EXPENSIVE! We should all floss 😉

      Reply

    • Abby

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      Yes, plus one to Marianne’s comment. Their teeth are pretty bad (crooked, jagged, yellow, etc.) and their breath tends to be worse (rampant smoking obviously doesn’t help this). Also, orthodontia doesn’t seem to be valued too highly here, as gaps between one’s front teeth are seen as quirky and glamorous (think Vanessa Paradis…) Agreed on the more formal dressing, though!

      Reply

  • Patty @ Reach Your Peak

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    wow this is so interesting! I am dying to go to france. It has been my dream since high school. I regularly try to keep up with french (which I also took in HS) just in case I ever go haha. The egg thing is so funny because in my native country (Paraguay), they also keep eggs at room temp. And they also do kisses to greet you – no hugs. Kisses on both cheeks though. Funny how every culture is so very different!
    Patty @ Reach Your Peak recently posted…Week 13/52 of Training – 2015My Profile

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    • Diane

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      If you ever get the opportunity to go, do it! Even if it’s just for a few days or a little village and not a big city.

      Yup, lots of countries in Europe also keep eggs at room temp (milk isn’t refrigerated either, well only after opening the bottle) and that’s cool about Paraguay. Didn’t know that about the eggs or hugging!

      Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, knock on wood haven’t gotten sick or anything. When Americans visit they are always shocked to see milk at room temp (before opening the bottle) and eggs on the counter and now it’s so normal to me. But at first I was shocked too. P.S. I read all your posts but there’s no comment option for name/url. But love your site 😉 And congrats — your wedding was beautiful!

      Reply

  • Laurence

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    I’m French and I always store my eggs in the fridge. Thinking about that, I was wondering why and I have found this post in French
    http://www.papillesetpupilles.fr/2013/10/comment-conserver-les-oeufs.html/

    And about the small talk, it’s sad! I love that when strangers talk to me out of nowhere. It’s refreshing and fun.
    As for introducing oneself to the neighbors, we should really learn from the American expats!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Laurence, going to check out the link. Thanks!
      And yes, I miss small talk. I still chitchat with acquaintances but sometimes a compliment from a complete stranger and a chance conversation can brighten your day. I’ll have random conversations here but always with people I’ve seen before or talked to, so not exactly the same. Are you living in the US now?

      Reply

  • Natalie Ray

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    Haha this made me chuckle. I also lived in France for a year (from the UK) and some of those habits struck me as well. The mealtime thing is excellent and something I’ve tried to adopt at home. The French do always look gorgeous but sadly even after living there for a year I still always look terrible, making an effort was not a habit I managed to maintain. Great post.x
    Natalie Ray recently posted…Where does negativity come from?My Profile

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    • Diane

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      I’m sure you looked better than you thought! Outside of big cities though I feel like the French look is a little bit more relaxed, so I fit in for the most part. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply

  • Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

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    The last point about flossing is the most American for me…many of the other points relate to a Brit adapting to France too but like the French, we don’t floss! And our teeth suvive!!! I love your cultural posts Diane, thanks for linking up again #AllAboutFrance
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo recently posted…All About France #3My Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank YOU for hosting! You don’t floss??? Didn’t know that it wasn’t common in the UK either!

      Reply

  • Christy Swagerty

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    Fun post, Diane! I can’t not refridgerate the eggs…yet! And I only bring floss from America. I ran out last year and had to use what felt like ropes from Carrefour instead. Never making that mistake again!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hahhaha dying over the felt ropes. It’s true! You either get felt ropes or about 10 cm of crappy waxy floss that breaks. For 5 euros.

      Reply

  • chickenruby

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    I’ve actually found that since becoming an expat I’ve refined my British habits and my accent. I do however now keep my eggs in the fridge as the summer in South Africa would reduce their life span and now in Dubai they’d just cook within seconds.
    Chit chat can be a bit of an issue because of the language barriers, esp in SA where English was often spoken as a 3rd or 4th language.
    In regards to tipping, it is so expensive to eat out in Dubai, i only tip if the service was exceptional, however in South Africa one tips everywhere, fuel pumps, car parks, restaurants etc as a lot of people don’t get paid a salary, just tips.
    chickenruby recently posted…Creating a garden in the desertMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      I’ve never visited South Africa either but it’s interesting that they are a tipping culture. I don’t know how you bear the heat in Dubai. When it hits about 30 C here I start getting uncomfortable if I sweat just sitting on the couch. Please tell me a/c is the norm in Dubai homes…

      Reply

  • Thien Lan

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    Hi Diane, funny I’m French I indeed I started flossing when I moved to Australia. So hard or expensive to find dental floss when you go back to France for the holidays.
    Got some trendy sweat pants this season from H&M and Bershka. Love them! Too lucky they are back in fashion!
    Yeah hugging is definitely a no no. My kids learnt to shake hands with their school mates instead.
    Came by through #allaboutfrench and love the look and feel of your blog.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Love that you got some trendy sweatpants. There are some nice casual pairs that look great with booties and it’s all about how you accessorize.

      Thank you for stopping by and for the compliment. 😉

      How do you like Australia?

      Reply

  • Florence

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    Hey Diane!
    This is funny because when I was younger, Icame to California visiting my family I though it was kinda weird to flossing. I thought flossing was only in movies.
    Hugging in France is “weird” when you’re not close enough. Because I’m doing it every time I see my friends then we doing “la bise”. Ahaha!

    Reply

  • Lauren

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    YES! I couldn’t agree more – the French are always so chic! They turn up to lectures in heels and dresses, which is so strange for me when I used to wear jeans and a tee to lectures!

    Lauren xx
    The Lifestyle Diaries
    Lauren recently posted…Lunch at KuPPMy Profile

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  • Ashley @ A Lady Goes West

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    I’m glad to know you’re adaptable. Sadly, I would have trouble accepting some of these things. No sweatpants? That’s rough. But then again, I didn’t EVER go out in sweatpants until I worked in the fitness industry, so maybe I could revert if I ever moved elsewhere hehehe. Eggs? Wow? This is an interesting one, Diane. Thanks! 🙂
    Ashley @ A Lady Goes West recently posted…Little ways to reduce your stress every dayMy Profile

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  • Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault

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    It always amazes me as an English person that for 2 countries so physically close and with such an entwined history we are now so culturally different. As for floss – yup – we “import” that from the UK ! #AllAboutFrance
    Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault recently posted…Book your Holiday Direct with the OwnerMy Profile

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  • Betty Carlson

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    I’m an American and have lived in France for 25 years. I agree with most of the above and they are funny points! My (French) husband does manage a lot of small talk but I agree, it’s not as frequent as in the US. I keep my eggs in the fridge because there is that handy compartment for them, but I have gotten so used to buying them at room temperature that I don’t even think about it anymore.

    The only point that has been different for me is the neighbor one. We have generally gotten to know at least some of our neighbors, and a few became good friends. However I would agree that you would have to know a neighbor pretty well to dare ask to borrow food from them. #AllAboutFrance
    Betty Carlson recently posted…5 years ago on La France ProfondeMy Profile

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  • Cathy Sweeney

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    I have to say you surprised me with that last one. They don’t floss? Hmmm. I think that the relaxed dinners with no distractions is a wonderful thing and there are just too few of them for most people. I think that some people and families don’t even know what that it. If you were my neighbor, I’d be happy to accept your cupcakes and have a chat.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted…A Taste of Burgundy in California Wine CountryMy Profile

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  • luana

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    veri nice. Congratulations..

    Reply

  • Agnès

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    Hello !! I’m French and I floss my teeth every day !! And I’m not the only one here looooool !! All my family does ! I know a lot of people who floss their teeth, but… okay… not everybody 😉

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Great to hear, Agnes! Thanks for your comment! I know that many French people do floss their teeth but my point was more about the overall push toward preventive care being a little different in France than it is in the USA. In the US, preventive care is a top priority for dentists and in grocery stores you can find 8 brands of floss in 18 flavors, plus a kids’ section. American dentists drill it into your head to floss, floss, floss almost to the point of it being overkill. In France, I spoke with my dentist recently (he’s young and finished school last year) and he told me that the emphasis in dental school is not on prevention as much as in other countries. Just something I found interesting. Thank you so much for checking out my post and keep on flossing!

      Reply

  • Julia Weich

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    I love spending time in France — mainly in the Loire Valley — and I cannot get used to not refrigerating eggs! Guess I should French-up and just do it.

    We have made friends in France and I know they are a little put off by my enthusiasm. I laugh when they back away from me and my over friendliness!

    Reply

  • Ashley

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    Now, I only eat fruits and veggies that are in season. I have the opposite problem with my neighbour. In rural Provence, you’re considered rude if you don’t have a coffee with your neighbours every few days and you must see them every day. Basically, I’m rude. What can I say- I like my privacy!

    Reply

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