French things I don’t do

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

French things I don't do

Being married to a French guy and all, you’d think that some of his Frenchness would rub off on me. Maybe some of it has but let’s be real. I lived most of my life in the USA, so there are plenty of French things I just don’t understand or do — probably a good and bad thing. 😉

Here’s my list of French things I don’t do.

French things I don’t do

You can only adapt so much…. 😉 Here’s my short list of French things I don’t do.

I’m not a volet master.

I couldn’t care less about whether the volets are open or closed except when I wake up in the morning and it’s pitch black in the kitchen. I faithfully open the volets downstairs so I can see my coffee cup in the light of day and to let the dog out but beyond that? I don’t bother with them. Volets look like hurricane shutters and we’re not in Florida. Tom sometimes wonders why he’ll walk into a room at night and I’m there with my lamp on in full view of people outside. Why? Because I’m anti-volet. Just annoying to constantly open and close the windows to care about some silly shutter things that triple pane glass and good blinds can take care of. But this is why I have my husband. He opens and closes the volets every day like clockwork and if he didn’t? They’d all be left open 24/7.

Note: Read this if you need a refresher on volets >>

I buy a baguette like once every other month.

The majority of French people really do buy baguettes daily (or at least several times per week) and the booming boulangerie business will confirm that. But little old me? I spend like 2 euros/month at the bakery and buy a baguette here and there and when my in-laws visit. The bread is good and all and I enjoy it but it just hasn’t made it into my daily routine. Tom’s not a bread fiend either so we often go without and we’re both fine with it.

french things i don't do

I don’t make French-style coffee.

People complain that American coffee is weak, but listen, at least we have the option of “regular” Dunkin’ Donuts-style coffee and espresso and everything else. I miss Dunkin’ Donuts coffee like crazy. Now here, if you pop into a French cafe and ask for un café s’il vous plait, you’ll be given a tiny black shot of espresso strength coffee in a little cup that will take you about two sips to finish. Even at my in-laws’ house, when they brew a pot of coffee it’s so strong that I have to cut it with water and milk. When French people come to visit us, I use my Nespresso machine to make them a little cup of something strong and then brew a pot of my regular coffee that I’ll add milk to. I guess I’m set in my ways.

I don’t really like specialties like oysters, boudin noir or tripe.

I know many people love these foods but they just don’t jive with me. I wrote about it here.

fresh fruit fresh market

I mess up the order of things at mealtime — on purpose.

If I’m cooking at home, I’ve been known to eat salad before or with my meal (not after, like the French do), and bust out some cheese with the main course instead of eating it after. Who cares? The French have a more systematized way of doing things. It all ends up mixed together in your stomach anyway, though, right?

Paying by check at the grocery store.

It seems like whenever I’m in a rush at the grocery store, the person in front of me has to pay by check. It’s surprisingly common (and not just for those over 70 years old). This grinds the flow of the line to a halt while we all stand there and mentally huff and puff. As to not aggravate the people behind me, I never pay by check at the grocery store. Well, the real reason is because I don’t have a checkbook and don’t know how to fill out French checks. But even if I did have a checkbook, I wouldn’t use it. Didn’t checks die in the ’90s?

American habits I lost when I moved to France >>

That social politeness thing.

OK, most of the time I’m 90% there. Really. I make sure to say my bonjours and s’il vous plaits and respect social boundaries and the polite conversational norms. But sometimes my American-ness takes over and I’m curious and ask a few too many questions. The French may come across as cold because small talk isn’t a cultural norm in France but sometimes American-style questions can seem invasive and cross the line into one’s personal sphere (even though this might be normal in the US). What can I say… I’m learning. You can take the girl out of America but you can’t take America out of the girl.

***

What about you?

     
Lou Messugo
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Comments (29)

  • Shelby

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    I love this! I’m right there with you on most of it, especially the checkbook thing. Just let them die!

    Also I recently learned you’re supposed to say goodbye to people on the elevator when you leave. I wonder how many French people have thought I was rude after never saying anything!
    Shelby recently posted…a pretty day in positanoMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hahah, I think I say bye to people on elevators about half the time. I usually do if they say bonjour on the way in and if there are several people. I guess we should just always say it? Seems like the polite thing to do.

      About checkbooks, I do think they’re time wasters and dinosaurs from the ’90s but people commented further down about how they’re free. So I understand why people use them but I think banking should be free including debit cards — problem solved!!

      Reply

  • Eileen

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    I’ve actually gotten into doing a lot of these things… except the oysters, boudin noir, and tripe, but then my French husband doesn’t eat any of those things either! My hold-outs are more about French nutritional beliefs (no savory snacks in the afternoon!! sugar is great though! wtf??)

    Also I’d like to point out that French coffee is not, contrary to their belief, very good. We ordered Italian espresso capsules for our machine by accident and will never go back.

    But as for checks, I used to feel that way too, until I learned that checks are free in France, as opposed to the bank card that I pay 144 euros a year for. So for our joint account (which we pay all our groceries out of), we just have a checkbook because we refused to give any more money to our stingy bank. We may have to get a bank card for that account soon since we hope to pay for more things out of it… and I’ll resent paying for it.

    Anyway, great post.
    Eileen recently posted…The Past WeekMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      The sugar thing really is nuts. I know a bunch of Americans eat sugary breakfasts but not many people are under the illusion that it’s a healthy choice. Like snacking in and of itself isn’t bad, just depends on what you eat.

      I will have to check out some Italian espresso. You’ve piqued my interest. What brand is good?

      I didn’t know checks were free, so thank you for mentioning that. A few other people said the same thing. I figured that since having a card cost money that checks would follow suit. I understand why people use them but still it’s a pain to be stuck behind a check writer when you’re in a rush! But I’m with you on principle — don’t pay the banks more than you have to!

      Reply

  • MaryZ

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    I’ve read that it’s best to eat salad or raw veggies before a meal so they can get the enzymes working and start being digested. If people eat them after meat, which takes longer to digest, they just sit there rotting and don’t get to the bowels where we absorb nutrients until it’s too late, basically. Makes sense to me. I like salad first. 🙂 I don’t like strong coffee, either. I always have to remember to order a cafe creme when I’m in France.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      I didn’t know that about digestion but it makes me feel better about chowing down on my salad before the meal. I ordered a grand cafe the other day and when a medium sized black coffee arrived I mentally scolded myself. Forgot there would be no milk in it!

      Reply

  • Clément

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    Thanks for your blog, I find it very entertaining and I really like the way you point out some funny French quirks as well as some American ones 🙂

    It is not accurate to say that all French people eat salad at the end of the meal. It’s a regional thing, actually in most southern parts of France, you’ll eat salad as a starter.

    Also, the reason why people still pay by checks (I know it sounds a little crazy) is because it’s the only payment that is still free, alongside cash. But in the countryside, you don’t always have a cash machine handy, and sadly banks are closed most of the time. Payment cards always come at a cost but you don’t have to pay for checks or cards for withdrawal only.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you for your comment, Clement. Love hearing from my French readers.

      I know in restaurants (I’m not in the south) usually I’ll be served salad at the end of the meal with cheese but maybe it just depends on the restaurant. In any case, I will keep an eye out to see if sometimes salads come before.

      And thank you for clarifying about the checks. I really didn’t know they were free! Makes sense.

      Reply

  • Marybeth

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    When we moved back to the States after 9 years in France years ago, I missed the routine of closing the volets at night. I thought it was silly when we first got there, but then I grew to love it. They also help in the summer when it doesn’t get dark until 10pm to darken the room to get the children to sleep. I wouldn’t mind having them here.

    I also miss the french washcloths the gants de toilette.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, I can totally understand missing what you’re used to. The volets are so central to French culture and I see their advantages. And yah, come to think of it, we have washcloths in the US but no gants that actually fit over your hand. I wonder why… I’ve dropped my washcloth in the shower before and rarely drop the gant!

      Reply

  • Alan

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    I’m with you and the whole volet thing. I like being able to see outside.
    Alan recently posted…Sami Gets a MinionMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      I understand their purpose. I’ll even say sometimes they come in handy. But I like seeing outside too an waking up to natural light. Now if I had automatic ones that lowered after I fell asleep and opened in the morning before I woke up, maybe I’d change my tune. But yes, as I’ve said before, if Tom is away for work I leave them all open all the time. One less thing to do!

      Reply

  • carolyn byrne

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    Hi Diane: Just a few comments: BREAD: don’t care for french bread much..I’m addicted to the bread I get at Lidle..SHUTTERS: I find it a nice routine and tres french, getting up in the am and opening the shutters to see the day..also, helps to keep out the cold at nite, with no double vitrage! COFFEE: I only drink coffee 2X a week when I go to the cafe to meet my chatty friends…it’s always a grand creme and i never ask for it anymore…they see me coming and bring it (perks of living in a small town) CHECKS: PLEASE! Don’t stop them! When you’re on a pension, they are great because they don’t go through for a few days..but I always have them ready with signature when presenting them..unlike the French who NEVER have their cards, checks ready at checkout! On BOUDIN & TRIPE…YUK!!..As far as talking is concerned, I am known as THE AMERICAN here…they tell me they know when I’m coming because it’s like a tornado has entered the room!! Oh well…tant pis!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      You know I’ve never bought bread at Lidl. What kind do you get?

      Hahah the tornado, so funny. Great nickname though!!

      Reply

  • Ashley

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    Glad to hear you haven’t adopted the cheque at the grocery store thing. After the CAF it’s likely the thing I hated most about France when I lived there!
    Ashley recently posted…Going Rural in Liébana, CantabriaMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      I can see the point of a check at the doctor’s office when they don’t have a credit card terminal or at a place where time is not of the essence, but at the grocery store when there’s a line behind you, if you have a card, just suck it up and pay with a card! I get that checks are free but still, it’s 2015!!

      Reply

  • Megan

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    This is so funny! Some of these things I didn’t know about, like they eat salad after dinner? Interesting! And paying by cheque at the grocery store would drive me nuts too! Nobody does that here anymore!
    Megan recently posted…Cincinnati ChiliMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      Thanks for checking out the post, Megan! Yes, the salad after dinner thing is usually just a lettuce salad with a light vinaigrette, often with cheese, and is definitely the norm if you eat at someone’s house. But someone else who commented said it tends to be the case more in the south. The check thing is nuts but it’s mostly because they’re free (whereas bank cards and bank accounts cost money ;-(()

      Reply

  • Stella

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    For coffee and web to eat salad in the meal, you’ll just be happy in Belgium! Here I you ask “un café, s’il vous plait” you’ll get what we call in France an American coffee! And even sometimes you ask for an expresso and you get something that has nothing to do with expresso! And Belgian also mock our habit to eat salad after the main course (I say it’s because they don’t eat the same type if cheese and not the same way so they don’t know about the yummy taste of cheese with salad and bread)

    In Belguim they don’t have checks either they use “virements” a lot (transfer in English? I’m not quite sure sorry). I’m surprised that you find checks are used a lot! I’m from south of France and I find that in many places they don’t accept checks anymore! I used my checkbook one in a while! For the doctor mainly (since he didn’t have a card machine)

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Cool, I went to Brussels and Bruges once a few years ago but I don’t remember when we ate salad and I don’t remember the coffee. I guess I’ll have to return. I DO remember some touristy place in Brussels ripping us off and serving terrible food! So yes, I’ll definitely have to go back.

      Yes bank transfers seem to be the norm here too, like automatic debits for your cell phone bill, water bill, mortgage, etc. Seems like everywhere around here accepts checks but you’re right, I do see signs every now and then saying they do NOT accept checks. Guess it just depends. But they’re always accepted in grocery stores for some reason.

      Reply

  • BacktoBurgundy

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    Actually I like French coffee – in general – although, can sometimes be too darkly roasted for me, but what gets me is when they add foamed cream from a can to make a cappuccino. Yuk! Even writing out cheques doesn’t bother me, it’s when they’re chatting with the cashier, slowing them down and then continue to chat even though they’ve finished being served. But that’s probably the city girl in me still not quite down-stressed to the countryside pace. Weirdly it’s also something I also like about France – that they take the time to talk to each other – I just wish it wasn’t so long.
    BacktoBurgundy recently posted…A Personal View of Auction Rooms – FranceMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      You can get foamed cream in a can??? Like cappuccino topping or you just mean canned whipped cream?
      Haha, yes the people who chat w/the cashier after they’ve paid is ridiculous. Happens mostly with the 70+ crowd in my area. Thx for checking out the post!

      Reply

  • Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

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    I love the whole shutter thing! I’m trying to think back when I’d only been here 4 years like you and think perhaps then I didn’t care, but now I fully espouse the volet culture!!! I love being all snuggly and cosy at night and not being woken up by the light in the morning and then I love throwing them open in the morning. But I don’t like closing them too early. I close them at bedtime. My inlaws who have a lovely urban view from the top of a hill (lots of pretty twinkling lights) and absolutely no one overlooks them close their shutters at the first hint of twilight and that really bugs me!
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo recently posted…All About France #11My Profile

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  • Ashley

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    Good for you! Sometimes it’s exhausting constantly thinking about the dos and don’ts that one must do in another country. Sadly, because my partner is British so it might be more obvious when we partake in faux-pas. But, such is life. I once made home-made chocolate truffles for my neighbour and she scoffed and said they are only eaten at Christmas. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t win! Bust that cheese out whenever you want!

    Reply

  • Cathy (MummyTravels)

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    I love this – I can imagine I’d be absolutely the same about the volets, although I do like the image of flinging them open every morning (not always so practical). I am a complete bread fiend, so I would be at the front of the queue for the boulangerie every day though – perhaps a good thing I’m not able to. #AllAboutFrance
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted…Why I’d rather my daughter travelled than marriedMy Profile

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  • Clare Thomson (Suitcases and Sandcastles)

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    I did enjoy your piece! I spent a year in Paris when I was studying and I never got into the habit of buying a baguette every day. I don’t eat nearly enough bread for a loaf a day and the poor old volets remained open day and night. I’d love to know which French habits you have adopted though.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh good, someone else out there is just like me!! I’ll have to think about French habits I’ve picked up. I’m sure there are some. Have a great weekend and thanks for checking out the post!

      Reply

  • Frederic

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    Social conventions are one of the biggest differences between The French and american culture in my opinion. I imagine it hasn’t been easy for you to accomodate to those differences during your first long sejour in France. The example you gave at the bottom of the article illustrates that quite well.
    I’m pretty sure though that we’ll never get the america out of the girl!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hello! Nope, it definitely hasn’t been easy but I’m managing just fine. I think having a French husband is part of why I’ve adjusted to life here. He helps with the language, the culture, etc. and is truly a lifesaver. Many of the cultural differences aren’t always obvious and it’s only with time that you realize 1) there are differences and 2) how to adapt and be respectful. Through it all, I’m still me and that’s how it should be. 😉

      Reply

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