Part 2: What the French find weird about Americans

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

what the french find weird about americans part 2

The longer I live in France, the more I realize that we’re a weird bunch. OK, Americans aren’t weird. We’re just different. Well, we’re a little weird too. Or at least by French standards. Want to know what the French find weird about Americans?

Let’s go!

What the French find weird about Americans – Part 2

This is such a big topic that a Part 2 was just waiting to come to life. I wrote installment #1 on what the French find weird about Americans here but I just had to add more to the list. This is all in good fun and of course I don’t think you’re weird! Well, not weirder than me…

We don’t use the metric system.

Before moving to France, the U.S. system of Imperial/customary units made so much sense. I knew how many feet were in a mile and how many inches were in a foot. Gallons and cups and yards were my friends! But then I got up close and personal with the metric system and it just made more sense. 100 centimeters in a meter. Logical. 1000 meters in a kilometer. Makes even more sense. Our U.S. system is baffling to foreigners and it took moving to France for me to realize that.

Our cars are huge.

I’m as big a fan of a giant GMC or Cadillac Escalade as the next guy but unless you regularly cart around a family of 8 or loads of equipment, do you really need such a big car? Maybe, maybe not. Keep in mind that gas in America is much cheaper than it is in France. Roads are bigger. Parking spaces tend to be bigger. People are bigger. To each his or her own. Choice is a beautiful thing.

big portions at american restaurants

Portion sizes at restaurants are gigantic.

American portion sizes tend to be much larger than restaurant portions in France. But we are allowed to ask for a doggy bag in the U.S. (not so most of the time in France) and it’s even welcomed at family-style places like Maggiano’s, which makes the next day’s lunch easy. Aside from restaurant portions, just regular sizes of things seem to be smaller in France. A carton of Tropicana juice is rarely bigger than a quart and even the large bag of chips here seems small and you’d have to buy four bags just to have enough for your party. A large anything here seems to be a medium by U.S. standards.  So are Americans weird for wanting bigger sizes? No, but it is what we’re used to and sometimes larger sizes do come in handy!

We tip (for everything).

Tipping is something ingrained in the American psyche. We know that tacking on 15-20% when we go out to eat is the norm. We know that a bellhop deserves a few bucks when he helps with our luggage. At Christmas, our hair stylist certainly warrants a bigger tip as a thanks for her great work throughout the year. But in France? Tipping culture is majorly scaled back and you don’t leave a tip at the hair salon or for the bartender.

Americans hug to say hi.

Hugging is completely foreign to French people. Don’t attempt it. Instead, faire la bise. A simple cheek kiss — or 2 or 3 — is the norm and not these drawn out, full-body bear hugs complete with pats on the back.

drug commercials on tv in USA

TV commercials for prescription drugs.

In the U.S., drug advertisements on TV are really overbearing. Seeing your medication on TV is just like picking a brand of potato chips. You watch the commercial and maybe it’s something you want to try so you go out to the store (or in this case doctor) and ask for the brand you’re looking for. On our last trip back to the U.S., Tom and I got a kick out of the same commercial that would play at every commercial break for some drug we’d never heard of. By the end of the commercial, that rattled off about 100 side effects, it had us convinced that dealing with your actual illness was better than taking this drug. In France, drugs are cheap in most cases and the patient doesn’t tell the doctor about what drug he’d like to try. You’d never see Big Pharma advertising on TV in France.

Part 1: What the French find weird about Americans >>

What else do the French (or foreigners in general) find weird about Americans?

Lou Messugo
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Comments (37)

  • Ashley @ A Lady Goes West

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    Hi Diane! I love this! It’s so cool to see “Americans” through the eyes of the French. First of all, I can totally see the whole metric-system thing, because our measurements make no sense at all. It would be great if it were universal, meaning the U.S. needs to make the switch. And portion sizes and cars are way overgrown here for sure hahaha. I bet they don’t go to Costco in France and buy in bulk either … do they? Hope you’re doing well! Have a great week!
    Ashley @ A Lady Goes West recently posted…A great weekend and my weekly workoutsMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hello Ashley, yes the US definitely needs to use the metric system. Will it ever happen? Prob not. Costco equivalents don’t really exist here for regular consumers. There is something similar that is either already outside of Paris or will be coming soon but it’s just for restaurant owners. You have to prove you work in food service to even get a membership and I think it’s mostly restaurant supplies in bulk. I feel like the French enjoy going to the store daily. Although it’s old school, it’s a habit and people still have that daily shopping mentality. So small quantities don’t matter if you’re at the store daily to stock up. But I know a bunch of people (me included) would love a Costco! Thanks for checking out my post!

      Reply

  • Ze Coach

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    Hi Diane, oh yes, metric system. Temperature system too. Water freeze at 0°C and boils at 100°C. Now I’m getting used to Farenheit but I just have a few reference. Freezing (32°F), warm at home (68°F) and hot summer in Texas (100°F).

    I agree with you on the cars. First comment of my daughter when she just came over here from France, right out of the airport: “cars are huge here”. About parking places in France, it’s like the designers didn’t think that you need to be able to get out of your cars once you parked between 2 other cars. Pickup trucks with nothing in the back most of the time.

    Other things to add to your list:
    [Extra] white teeth.
    Tanning with color spray.
    Buying fire arms at the equivalent of Carrefour or Decathlon.

    Always a pleasure to read your post. Have a great day.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, the metric system is so simple! I think I’d feel like a foreigner in Texas as well. I’ve never been there but have heard stories. I did a double take there when I read your last point. I read it as “fire alarms” and not “firearms” and was confused. But yes, it’s very common to pick up a gun at sporting good stores. Luckily it was not an easy feat in New Jersey where I’m from due to all the regulation, but many states have stores that are fully stocked.

      So I guess you haven’t gone in yet for your spray tan and teeth whitening treatment? Ha ha ha.

      Reply

      • Ze Coach

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        Oops, my comment was confusing. I know guns in Texas is not the same as in the other states. For example, Texas House of Representatives just voted to allow residents to publicly carry guns in holsters…
        About pickup trucks, I did not finish my sentence. It is very popular over here but it seems to me sometimes that it’s just for the look more than the use.
        You guessed right, I prefer not to look orange and force people to wear sunglasses when I smile 😀

        Reply

  • Mary Z

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    Everything you mentioned is what I love about France. I would love to stop tipping! And, I think American portion sizes are ridiculous, and why should we eat a full meal and then bring a full meal home in a doggy bag? Americans are getting bigger and bigger, too. Food and prescription drugs. That about sums up Americans. I can’t stand all the drug commercials!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      I think waitresses should get paid a livable wage in the US and then we can stop tipping. Deal? 😉
      But I agree, tipping culture in the US is getting a little silly.
      The drug commercials really are over the top. It’s insane!

      Reply

  • Annie Andre

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    My French friends are astounded that our family does not eat McDonalds. I suppose it would be like being surprised to find a French person who does not eat cheese. (yes I have a French friend who does not eat Cheese or drink wine).
    Peanut butter is another thing that my teenage son’s friends think is weird.

    Surprisingly, my friends don’t find BBQ sauce weird. They love bbq sauce despite the fact that it is not popular or served in restaurants.

    They think it is weird that I think it is weird that men wear speedos at the beach.
    Annie Andre recently posted…International and French Business Etiquette A Visual Guide InfographicMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      I never ate McDonald’s in the US. Like really never. Then I came to France and will occasionally grab some chicken nuggets. Here McDonald’s is perceived as cool and in the US it’s not at all. I met a French woman the other day who does not drink and was shocked.

      And the speedos, oh gosh don’t get me started. They are weird. Even boy shorts ones are strange. Give me board shorts over speedos any day.

      Reply

  • Betty Carlson

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    I love this post and think it is even more astute than the first installment, which I just read. I would add that the French think it’s very weird to love your job and be proud of it. Note the distinct lack of profession-oriented “fun” items for sale. I used to have an “I Love Teaching” mug in the USA — I doubt I could find anything with “J’adore enseigner” on it here!
    Betty Carlson recently posted…Backroad Wanderings: Palmas, AveyronMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Why thank you, Betty! I think if I could rewind, I’d redo this as a series about “weird americans” and break down each post by category like about eating and food, about hygiene and home stuff, about social things, etc. There are so many things to list!

      Reply

  • Debbie

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    Hi Diane, I like the metric system too. I grew up using Imperial measurments in the UK and like you said the Metric system makes so much more sense.

    I’ve never been to America, but I do remember my sister going there and being surprised (and pleased) at the portion sizes!

    xx
    Debbie recently posted…Dog Grooming For Summer…My Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      The portions in the US really depend on where you’re dining but in general sizes do tend to be bigger. I love the option of a doggie bag. Makes lunch so easy the next day!

      Reply

  • Grace

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    Moving is a tough thing.. I still can’t get used to the size of the American meals! I’ve been there twice and every time I walked away with a plastic bag full with food, yummy! Moving is a tough thing..

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yes, doggie bags on vacation aren’t ideal unless your hotel/apt has a fridge where you can store it. But I always enjoyed leftovers from a great meal the night before. 😉 Also depends on where you’re eating — not all portions are huge. What state(s) did you visit?

      Reply

  • Amanda

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    I live in the Netherlands and I will never forget my American friend commenting on the ‘small’ Dutch roads and not being too keen to drive on them. She made me laugh because I see it the other way round in the US – big cars, big roads 🙂 Great list, which I think could apply to other European countries too!!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      I can absolutely understand both sides here. If you’re used to small roads, the big ones may seem terrifying and vice versa if you’re used to a lot of space. The only time I’ve had issues with “small” roads was when I was in Ireland and driving on the left and shifting with my left hand right up against a concrete wall (no shoulder on the road). It was really nerve-wracking and required a lot of concentration to stay in my lane and NOT hit the wall when a car passed. Thanks for checking out the post and taking the time to comment!

      Reply

  • Sally

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    What a minefield! France is my sixth country to live in, and I’ve just spent three months in India (which I don’t count as ‘living’ yet – probably ‘staying’). I agree with the things you’ve said about Americans, but I wouldn’t dare to attempt this about Australians! Even after all time time I don’t have the intellectual distance for it. But one thing I warn people about Australians – don’t ask them to come and stay unless you mean it, because they will 🙂 :). Oh, and being Australian gives (one) the right to be direct, because we can’t help it. 🙂
    Sally recently posted…Notes from the BattlefieldsMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      I love reading about Australians and the the cultural differences. I don’t know many Aussies and the closest I’ve gotten is New Zealand, but I’ll discover Australia one day…
      I like being direct with people. No room for misunderstandings and you save a lot of time when you just say what you mean. In France sometimes it seems like you have to dance around the issue with faux-politeness just to ask for something simple.

      Reply

  • Little Wandering Wren

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    Here’s one …. (counting myself as an honary American) eating the whole block of chocolate, all my french friends have so much more control when it comes to chocolate 🙂
    Wren x

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh hahaha, I’m sure many French people eat the whole tablette. Luckily I restrain myself to one square a night! Lately my fave is the pate d’amande from Cote D’Or. YUM!

      Reply

  • Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

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    I didn’t know about advertising for drugs, that seems very very weird for me as a Brit/Aussie-almost-French! Another interesting list Diane, you really do make some great cultural observations. Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance (I love Wren’s point too.) (Oh and Sally’s right about being direct!!)
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo recently posted…An evening walk in St Paul de VenceMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      As an American, now I even find it weird! Let the doctor do his/her job! Thanks so much for the kind words and thank YOU for hosting the linkup. Have a great week!

      Reply

  • Danielle - Living in Sin

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    Enjoyed the view from the French to the Americans, have you also written the other way around? What the Americans find weird? 🙂 Even as a Brit I struggle with the imperial system, I grew up mostly in France and indeed, multiples of 10 just make more sense

    My blog is mostly food though!
    Danielle – Living in Sin recently posted…Istanbul – Cukur Meyhane for a lovely dinnerMy Profile

    Reply

  • Kimberly

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    Yep! I’m a hugger. When I first met Daisy from THATLou, I hugged her. At least she is an American too but we had a funny laugh about hugging verse faire la bise. Hugs from #AllAboutFrance
    Kimberly recently posted…Travel tip: 5 ways to minimize jet lagMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yep, the hugging/bise one will always get an American in trouble but I think a lot of French people just roll with it now, especially the younger generation that’s used to seeing hugging on American tv shows and in movies. Thanks for checking out my post!

      Reply

  • Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault

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    Yes, there are definitely plenty of differences between these 2 countries – I am part way through writing a blog about why I will never be French because even though the history of the UK and France is closely entwined and at our closest we are only 21 miles (33.6km!) apart we different in so many ways. Oh and I STILL prefer imperial weights for cooking although I have never got to grips with using cups – give me pounds and ounces for a recipe and I know exactly where I’m at. #AllAboutFrance
    Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault recently posted…Silent Sunday – June 7th 2015My Profile

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    • Diane

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      Yea the American way makes no sense. If you asked 10 people to measure out 1 cup of flower with the same measuring cup, you’d have 10 different measurements by weight. Makes for some crappy cookies if you’re not careful. Measuring in grams makes so much more sense. I’m a convert!

      Reply

  • Esme

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    As a Canadian residing in the US I find the whole lack of metric system a little odd, The portions are huge here-we used to love crossing the border for the large portions and chips with our food. I would also say that you see more homes flying the flag here then elsewhere.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, so true about the flag. We’re a patriotic bunch!

      Reply

  • Christy Swagerty

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    So so funny! The village where we lived this year thought we were SO WEIRD. Glad to be out of there! 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Why’d they think you were weird?

      Reply

  • Shelly

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    I am from England and here the same things count (with few exceptions) and for me it is incredibly interesting to read this from your point of view because it is funny how American people feel about these differences :). I hope that you feel good in France 🙂 it is interesting that you choose to move exactly the French people are not known for speaking much English! 🙂 Thanks for sharing and good luck!

    Reply

  • Hélène

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    Hello! Nice article!

    I am french, so here are some american things I thinks it’s weeird (sorry for my bad english!)

    1: Haver a politicial telling people to pray. For us a politician should represent all is people, not only christian.

    2: Your obsession about soldier/ army heroes. For us soldier are couragous but not hero. They are hero only if they did something special, being a soldier is a job and some of them did bad things

    3: your generosity: here when people are in dificulty (poverty, ..)the state help them so people think they already had help. In the US”community(therme we don’t know) help them and I think it is great! We should learn from you

    4: The fact that when you help someone, you will record it a put it on tv or web. For me it is like saying “hey look! I gave a home to this homsless guy! I did somethings good, i’m a hero”

    5: The love of cold! You love fresh air in public spaces (I was freezing!) et ice in your glass

    6: You always give a second name to a baby. Many french people have a second name but we don’t use it, don’t put it on the birth card… etc

    7: The fact that the USA is a country but laws depend from where you live in the country, the state.

    8: weapons. Here the only people whith guns are policmen of military. If they are not, they are gangsters. I would be afraid of everybody in the US! But American people seams to fear a lot, like in an old western movie. You also seams to want to do justice yourself

    9: Houses: In the US houses are big, to big for a simple 4 people family (well from a french point of view). And Has a french If I had a house it would be for the garden. But lyou just have small backyard and a big part of the garden is on the front, and nobody use it! for me it’s a lack of monney if you can”t use it without intimity. But I think it is because USA have a lot of spare land, here, in France there is not wild land so having a garden is a luxe

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hello, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment (and your English is great!). I agree with a lot of your points and even as an American some of these things are bizarre. One thing I love though is the air conditioning. Life in Florida would be impossible without it.
      Something that is confusing is all the different laws in different states as well as different sales tax % when you shop out of state. It is hard to keep track of the differences. And the gun problem, don’t even get me started. But our country is huge so you’ll find varying opinions and even different aspects of American culture depending on who you talk to and where you visit. California is very different from Alabama, for example. Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

      PS: Did you catch Part 1 of this topic? http://ouiinfrance.com/2014/01/06/what-french-people-find-weird-about-americans/

      Reply

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