We have it pretty good in the US when it comes to all things fitness. Even suburbs have a variety of gyms, classes and activities to keep even the most energetic fitness nut from getting bored. I didn’t realize just how good I had it until I moved abroad. Here in my little corner of France, the fitness scene is severely lacking.
Here are 3 things I miss about the American fitness scene (and 4 things the French win at).
3 Things I miss about the American fitness scene (and 4 things the French win at)
People I meet for the first time always ask me if I like living in France. I do and I tell them that. The next question is what don’t you like/what do you miss?
There are plenty of little annoyances that get under my skin but generally speaking only a couple of things really, really bother me about living in France. Stores closing early is annoying, not the end of the world. Same goes for dog poop everywhere and stores being closed on Sundays. Not the hugest deal.
But what’s at the top of the list for things that actually bother me? We’ll talk about that another time. But if we’re talking about things I miss, the severely lacking fitness scene in small-town France is one of them. For some this may sound silly, but for me being active is a huge part of my life. Coming from a place where the options were endless back in NYC, well, not having an awesome gym and plenty of cool studios to sweat it out in has me gloomy if I think about it too long. CycleBar, PureBarre, Orange Theory, PLEASE COME TO FRANCE!
P.S. Update June 2019: The Peloton app has saved me.
What I miss about the American fitness scene:
France understands the work/life balance, but sometimes they understand it a little too much and business hours become majorly inconvenient for people who want to get things done early or late. Or have to work early or late. This carries over to gym hours as well. Not everyone works out at home or in the park.
My neighborhood gym in France opens at 8:45 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. Oh, and they’re closed all day on Sunday. They also are closing for two weeks in August starting today (we still pay the full membership cost for the month). That’s not convenient at all if you want to work out before work or after dinner. The first class isn’t until 9 a.m. or after on most days. But I adapt.
Women in the weight room
French women haven’t gotten the memo that lifting weights does a body good! Once in a while I’ll see a fellow woman in the weight room and it is getting more popular, but most of the time it’s me and the guys. I’m OK with that, but it can get lonely out there! If there is a fellow woman, she’s probably not picking up anything heavier than 10 lbs. Women lifting weights is not mainstream yet in France like it is in the USA. Yes, women care about fitness but there are fewer hardcore types here. Maybe it’s different in big French cities.
Variety of options
In my suburban New Jersey town, I had my choice of about three full-service gyms and 10+ specialty studios ranging from indoor cycling, to bar workouts, to yoga and Pilates to Crossfit and more. Drive 10 minutes and there were about 10 more gym options. And in NYC after work? It was almost impossible to pick a class because they were all amazing and taught by some of the best in the biz.
As long as I had the cash, I could go a whole month without taking the same class twice and I LOVED that. My gym was big and modern and had a fab variety of classes as well. Just the variety was motivating! My gym in France is the only full-service gym in town and doesn’t compare at all. Class variety is minimum, scheduling isn’t convenient, and it’s not a motivating atmosphere. And studios? They don’t really exist on the same level, although in recent years, a Crossfit gym and Pilates place have popped up. They also hate mirrors. But comparing NYC to where I live now is not a fair comparison because it’s not apples to apples.
For everything I miss, there are a couple of things I definitely do NOT miss about the US fitness scene.
Here in France, the French win at:
The relaxed attitude.
No one is competing with anyone else and no one is dressing to impress (although wearing a cute outfit definitely helps me to have a more productive workout, maybe it’s just a mental thing). We’re all just there getting our sweat on. I will say that once people are done sweating in their non-fashiony gym clothes, they usually do put on something fashionable to leave the gym in — whereas I like fashionable gym clothes and have no problem going out on the street in my fly capris and colorful sneakers.
Not afraid of being sued.
In the US, if you asked the gym management for permission to use a bike in a studio without an instructor on your own, you’d be told no because of insurance reasons. They can’t risk you hurting yourself without an instructor present. Rules are rules.
In France, the rules matter to an extent but are there to be broken. Suing people for minor things isn’t commonplace here — probably because medical care is affordable and attitudes are different. I sprained my ankle badly in a dance class and I showed myself out (hopping on the good foot all the way out. Everyone stared. No one helped). No one on the staff lent a hand aside from throwing me an ice pack. In the US, the staff almost bends over backwards to help. Maybe they’re just trained on these sorts of things or are naturally super helpful. Or maybe it’s because they want to follow procedure to avoid a lawsuit.
The men enjoy fitness classes as much as women.
My BODYCOMBAT class always has about 5-7 guys and the cycling class is half guys. Even Zumba and BODYJAM have a few token men! I like to see everyone having fun, regardless of one’s sex. Going to fitness classes isn’t just for the gals like it sometimes was in the US. Half the instructors are guys too.
They understand everything in moderation.
If someone bakes a cake and brings it to the gym, everyone has a piece — including the trainers. I’m sure some people are super strict and don’t indulge, but for the most part, everyone’s happy to take part in a little dessert without the guilt. In the US, bringing a rich cake to the gym would be taboo and everyone would be complaining about how they can’t eat that for whatever reason and be mad someone had the audacity to parade a cake around.
In France, people seem to take it easy and just enjoy all of life’s little pleasures… like cake!
Anything you’d add about gyms in the USA versus France? What do you miss about the American fitness scene?
This is a very informative article Diane ! As a dancer in the U.S. I don’t frequent the gym. There is a lot to choose from as far as dance studios go. The opportunity for growth through continued life studies incredible ! There are all sorts of weekend workshops and seminars for the advanced dancer and teacher. As far as the French lifestyle goes I think it’s great. As a French/American I find it difficult to relate to the taboos. I’m usually the only one who eats what I want and orders dessert when I go out to lunch “unless I’m dining with my french friends”. I have never been able to understand why people choose to do things the hard way and deprive themselves. Life is far to short not to enjoy ! For me that includes good food and anything chocolate ! Have a beautiful week and enjoy !
Thanks, Cynthia! I wish I knew how to dance. So cool that you’ve been able to find studios where you live and workshops and all that to keep your skills up. I agree that life is too short so balance across the board is what works for me. Have a great week too!
Yeah I think the fear of being sued is something I associate with the U S A it isn’t a big thing here in Australia either we have gyms that are opened 24/7 and that is good although I don’t go to a gym I am far too lazy to do so………….lol
Tanya Wilkins says
Thanks for this article Diane. The positives I find about aeorbics classes in France are that they can be cheap. We have classes organised by the Mairie, and pay peanuts. I used to go to the classes, but found them to easy for me. One thing that struck me as different here is that the other French people in the aerobics classes chatted and laughed loudly all the way through. This is alien to me, in the Uk, people chat discreetly and very little. These days I work out from home with my kick boxing videos!
Hi Tanya, yes there are a few little associations here that do weekly Zumba and other classes but like you said I think they’re more for fun and not hardcore fitness people. But whatever gets people moving is great. That’s crazy that people chitchat all class long at your gym. The instructors where I go shut that down and will be really strict about people talking. In between songs for a few seconds, fine, and before/after class, but during? Nope. They don’t tolerate it. I think that would annoy me. A little cheering or something is OK but talking? Maybe they aren’t working hard enough!
Glad to hear that Aussies aren’t sue happy. Yes, 24/7 gyms are very popular in NYC and other big cities where it’s common for people to work non-traditional hours. But even ones that aren’t open ALL night still have great hours.
I feel your pain. I am not an American but a Brit and having moved to France at the end of last year are suffering with the same problem of lack of gyms, studios, etc. Which are in abundance in the UK also, and weightlifting women in France forget it!!
Fortunately for me I am a personal trainer equip with squat racks and bumper plates, Kettlebells, Battle ropes you name it. I am in the process of opening up my own studio in the Haute Vienne I am not sure where you are but if your close your welcome to come and lift some heavy stuff with me. Workout buddy’s are hard to come by 🙂
All the Best
Saski, I SO wish you were nearby. I know to some my chief complaint of the lacking fitness scene here may seem dumb or petty but honestly it’s the one thing that gives me the most trouble. Stores closed on Sunday? I can deal. Bad customer service? Not the end of the world. But no SoulCycle or Barre3 or anything like that? WAHHHHHHHH. I went to a place in Paris for cycling a few weeks back when I was visiting and was sooo disappointed. There’s a Crossfit gym opening nearby, first in the area, but the owner was just certified as a Level 1 instructor. In the US, that would never fly — you need more experience. But I guess if my only major complaint is the lack of fitness studios life is pretty good. All the best to you!