Print this page
Culture Shock in France: 15 Things Parisian Expats Find Kind of Strange About France.

Culture Shock in France: 15 Things Parisian Expats Find Kind of Strange About France.

We all have our own definition of the word “strange” or “weird.”

For one person, it could be cycling nude on a bike trail in the mountains in the middle of winter while singing at the top of your lungs—to keep warm, of course.

Another may be a roommate who likes toast, ketchup, banana and cinnamon sandwiches. When it comes to acclimating in a foreign country, the meaning of “strange” can take on even more nuances, especially if you don’t speak the language of your adopted homeland.

There are things about the culture in which you find yourself that are peculiar and make you scratch your head from time to time. Some of them might even be found below.


1. Siesta


No, this is not a myth. Depending on where you are in France, many businesses will close for part of the day, and you might wake a few French friends if you visit them in the early afternoon, when they’re having a nap. They will not be pleased. The French are very much into taking things easy, and making the time to relax is simply part of their lifestyle.

2. Les Escargots


Many people around the world are enamored with French cuisine, and rightly so. But there may be a few things on the menu that give even intrepid diners pause. The idea of eating escargots (snails) may be off-putting, at first, for the untried. However, the way it’s prepared, with garlic butter and spices make it a culinary favorite.

3. Health insurance


Now, I consider this one “strange” but good. Depending on where you grew up, this may seem like a foreign concept to be required to have health insurance. I mean, if you’re not sick, what’s the big deal. But in France, that’s just the way it is, and residents enjoy the benefits of some of the best healthcare in the world, right at their fingertips. And the costs are reasonable, too, what with the programs and reimbursements that are built into the plans.

For more on the French healthcare, see how I got my carte vitale.

4. Kissing.


It may not happen to you right away, but eventually, you’ll have French friends who will kiss you on the cheek in greeting. If you come from a culture where shaking hands and hugs are the norm among friends and relatives, then this might take some getting used to. For the French, it’s a sign of affection and friendship. Before handing out kisses yourself, however, watch and see how it’s done and take cues from those around you.

5. Dressing up for everything.


Are you the kind of person to drag on a pair of leggings/shorts, an old shirt and shoes to go grocery shopping? Well, you may find some who do that in France, but even so, the leggings or knee-length shorts would still be high end, the shirt would be from a designer label, and the shoes, très chic. The French are very fashion-conscious, so you will likely find yourself upgrading your wardrobe with some quality, long-lasting pieces, just to fit in.


6. Bureaucracy – paperwork for everything

Sure, there is red tape in every country. But it is taken to another level entirely in France—and even the French get frustrated with it. Anything from applying for an apartment to starting a business, or even just getting your carte vitale can be a frustrating exercise. And heaven forbid any of the information is incorrect, or the paperwork is messed up through no fault of your own. You will have to start over again. It’s not pleasant at all. Perhaps that’s why the French love their wines. Speaking of which…

7. Wine—it’s the new water.


Really. You can go to the corner store and get wine, and you drink it whenever, wherever—especially after a visit to straighten out paperwork. It’s as popular as water, though just a tad more flavorful and rich with history. Wine is celebrated and wooed by all. There are expensive wines and cheap wines, and the average man and woman on the street likely know more about wine than you or I will ever fathom, short of living in France the rest of our lives. It’s a source of pride and laced with tradition. Did I mention that wine happens to be one of the 13 Basic Daily Consumer Products/Goods Most Parisians Love & Their Prices.

8. Everyone’s so formal.


For some, the first impression of the French is that they are a bit reserved. It can come across as rude, but really, it’s more, they don’t know you, and they want to get to know you first before greeting you with an embrace and light peck on the cheek. It doesn’t mean they dislike you on sight. Word to the wise: when speaking the language, use the polite forms of address: “vous”, not “tu” until invited to do so. Don’t worry, you’ll soon be brought into the fold.

9. People respond in English when you try to speak French.


Have you experienced this? You greet someone in French and they respond in English. For you, it’s just, you’re trying to be polite. For them, perhaps they’re trying to be polite, too. It can be exasperating since you want to practice the language, but don’t let that stop you. Eventually, you will get past it. Be persistent, but in a polite way, naturellement.

10. Don’t ever rush through a meal.


The idea of taking five minutes to scarf down your food before rushing out the door to catch a bus would never occur to the French. Eating, whether it’s a five course meal or an espresso with a bit of pastry is sacred and must be enjoyed and revered accordingly. The French are serious about their gastronomical pursuits and would be highly offended if you rushed through the food so lovingly prepared instead of savoring every bite, as intended.


11. Cobblestones


Admittedly, cobblestone streets aren’t unique to France, but if you’re used to paved asphalt, you’re in for a treat. Now, if you’re a cyclist, it could be a bumpy ride, especially if the cobblestoned area has not been maintained.

12. Vacation is taken seriously.


Paris will never be a quiet city, but the loss of a fair number of its residents to vacation trips is noted every year. It’s not uncommon for the French to take all their vacation at one time, up to three or four weeks, perhaps more. It’s just another way to relax and take care of their health, and we could all learn a lot from that mentality.

13. Laissez-faire attitude.


For people new to France, it can be frustrating to get things done quickly, especially when it comes to government. But with the French, the idea is that it’ll get done, when it gets done. The sense of urgency and now, now, now that you may be used to from your homeland doesn’t apply here. Bear that in mind the next time you have to wait hours at a public service office and take something with you to read. When in France...

14. Paid restrooms.


Images courtesy of Wikimedia: Public toilet in Paris (this one is free)

Yes, there are paid restrooms in France. It might seem odd to have to pay to relieve yourself, but it’s not a new concept and they can be found in other countries in Europe, too. Still, just be happy you have other options when the public restrooms are full and keep some money handy for emergencies.

15. Driving habits.


One could call this a stereotype, but driving in Paris can be a challenge, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Say goodbye to your boring, sedate trips of yore on six-lane freeways. Welcome to the heart attack-inducing world of navigating the city on four wheels. That could be why many people prefer to take the bus or rail or ride a bicycle instead. It’s up to you what works best. Perhaps doing something like that, or walking, might just save your sanity.

Over to you.

Thanks for reading! I hope you did enjoy this? What did you find strange about France when you moved here? How did you move beyond it, or adapt? I’d love to know what you. Please leave a comment below.

Image sources: Pixabay, Wikimedia, youtube


Do you want to receive some awesome articles about the joys, challenges, and lessons learned from expatriation adventures in Paris every week?

Don’t worry, you can unsubscribe at anytime.

Last modified onFriday, 12 January 2018 21:04
Rate this item
(3 votes)
©2020 - Expats Paris - The Leading Paris Expatriates Community
Developed & Maintained by Gatetouch