Depending on where you live, what you’re used to and how observant you are, a trip to France might seem very familiar or like you’ve landed on Mars — or a mix depending on the day. Do you know what you won’t find all over the place? The American things and concepts I’ve listed below.
In many cases, that’s a good thing — France is its own country, after all, and there are so many French things to discover. But a few things on my list would probably delight the French and foreigners alike (or maybe just me).
Popular American concepts that don’t exist in France
I love talking about cultural differences so that’s exactly what we’re getting into here. Please note that some of the things and concepts below that are common in the USA do exist in France, but as a whole, France hasn’t made them the norm. They are certainly not widespread and as mainstream as they are in the USA.
Keep in mind that some of the things I mention aren’t necessarily American inventions but are just things we commonly find in the USA.
Here’s my big list of 16 American concepts and things common in the USA that don’t exist in France:
Ah, baseball, America’s favorite pastime. This is not a sport that’s common in France at all and you won’t see baseball games on TV or kids playing it at school. Many French people know what it is due to its coverage in the media and in films, but baseball is not well-known or played on the pro level. Soccer and rugby are the most popular sports in France and you’ll see people playing them in person and see matches airing on TV.
2. Credit cards
This next one is something I became aware of after moving to France and seeing how the French do banking. First, the French don’t generally use credit cards and don’t have personal lines of credit via a charge card or credit card, at least not to the extent that we use them in the USA. Credit cards are not used for day-to-day purchases and if they are used, they’re more common among business owners. Credit cards with points or cash back really aren’t mainstream.
The French favor debit cards, carte bleue, which are the norm. For anyone unfamiliar, credit cards allow the purchaser to buy now and pay later via a line of credit that’s extended to them each month. Unlike a debit card where the money leaves your account immediately, a credit card company hits you with a bill each month that you can then pay in full or in installments until the balance is paid off.
In many nations like the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, credit cards are a common way to pay. In France, debit cards as I mentioned are widely used where the money comes out of your account immediately.
There is an option on some cards to have the total amount you’ve spent during the month debited at the end of the month in one fell swoop, not at the point of sale in real time, called débit differé but it’s not something everyone has and still doesn’t function like a credit card does.
Because of this, the French don’t carry a ton of personal debt. It’s not a credit society. Stores do offer credit for larger purchases or an option to pay in installments but this is usually handled by the specific merchant.
Aside from that, if the money isn’t in your account, you don’t make the purchase. Another thing to note is that in France people don’t have a credit score number like we have in the US that is used when trying to get a loan, rent an apartment, etc.
3. Coin counter machines
I’d see these all over in the USA at supermarket entrances and also at my at TD Bank (no commission if you have an account, but they no longer have the machines).
Machines like Coinstar (they take a fee) that are a great alternative to the time-consuming process of manually putting coins in paper sleeves and bringing them to the bank. With a coin counter machine, just dump your bucket of coins in the machine and in about a minute, you get cash.
I can’t say I’ve ever seen one of these in France but I know they do exist in certain areas. They definitely are not mainstream and would really come in handy at the moment. ***eyes huge bottle of coins that we’ve been collected for a couple of years**
4. Air conditioning
As Je Parle Americain puts it, “Air conditioning is one of the most brilliant inventions in human history. You recognize this undeniable truth when you no longer have it.” Isn’t that the truth!
In my house without a/c, if you sit around doing nothing and close the volets when the temps top 90F, the heat can be bearable but if you put on makeup and a suit for work and have to actually move, sweat trickling down your face and back before you even step out the door really sucks.
Are the French afraid of air conditioning? You definitely won’t have sub-zero temps inside stores and businesses in the summer like we do in certain areas of the USA. Update: I finally got a standalone a/c unit for the hot summer nights.
5. Drive-through pharmacies (and banks)
If you’re pressed for time or just don’t want to go into the pharmacy or bank for whatever reason, many have drive-thru options which are really convenient, especially after hours.
You can pick up a prescription that was called in to the pharmacy or do some simple banking via a tube and a microphone. In France, the pharmacy experience is very personalized and a cultural phenomenon so not sure we’ll ever see drive-through pharmacies in France become mainstream.
6. Breakfasts with non-sweet foods
Eggs, sausage, bacon, mmmm. Although Tom has adapted and loves bacon and eggs for breakfast, he gravitates toward sweet things like most French people when he’s in France.
The French generally eat something sweet for breakfast like baguette with jam, a croissant, or just coffee and something light. That said, Breakfast in America is a diner-style restaurant in Paris famous for its hearty American breakfasts and is a raving success. The owner, Craig, has a great book about his experience setting up shop in France.
7. Pickup trucks
You see them here and there but nowhere near as often as in the US. Although they exist, pickup trucks are pretty rare in France and are used to actually haul equipment and not just for the look.
Workmen usually drive a different kind of vehicle to haul their gear that looks like a van/small truck and not a big Ford F150 pickup truck that people have in the USA even if they don’t use it for work. Pickup trucks are for function first and foremost in France whereas in the USA, I think people buy them for the look as well, with function being secondary in some cases.
8. Line etiquette
In France it seems like people will make 5 different lines behind 5 different cashiers in the pharmacy or one line for each self-checkout machine instead of one big line. So this means people who arrive after you may get helped before you if they choose the fast line.
Etiquette is very different here and I can’t say it’s more efficient. People cut and if a new cashier opens up next to you after you’re already in line, people from behind you will rush over to it and get helped before you. That would get you popped in NYC but here no one says anything. So you adapt. 😉
9. Coffee to-go
Dunkin’ Donuts style coffee in big cups and iced coffee in general isn’t really a thing in France although it’s become a bit more mainstream over the years I’ve lived here. I miss my to-go coffee — especially my to-go iced coffee during the warmer months.
A few Starbucks-style coffee shops have popped up around the region and Nantes and Angers have Starbucks (not the case when I first moved) and I make it a point to stop in whenever we visit either of those cities. It’s not that the coffee is better, but it feels comfortable to go to a Starbucks and makes me feel closer to home in a way. The French are more in favor of sit-down café culture which also has its perks.
10. Deli cold cuts
Stocking up on a half pound of freshly sliced Boar’s Head turkey, ham and American cheese from the supermarket deli counter is a lunchtime staple in the USA, but you won’t find it in France. The butcher and the meat area of the supermarket does have some ham and various meats, but it’s not exactly deli meat for amazing sandwiches.
Think more along the lines of charcuterie. If you want some sliced ham or turkey for sandwiches, you have to buy it already packaged and sealed in an industrial plastic pack instead.
11. Boutique fitness studios
There are a few fitness studios in big cities but in the suburbs, aside from normal gyms, the boutique fitness scene is years behind the American scene. There are no yoga studios in town let alone anything else that’s more trendy like big-name franchises like you’d find in the USA. That’s OK though because I’ve been loving my fitness apps the past couple of years.
12. Self-serve frozen yogurt
Or froyo in general. This is a crying shame for froyo lovers like me. Although there are a few shops around France in bigger cities, frozen yogurt places aren’t widespread in France and they don’t compare to the big name chains like Pinkberry and Red Mango in the US. When it comes to regular yogurt though, France has no shortage of that!
13. Birthday cakes
I love American-style birthday cakes. There’s nothing better than a buttery yellow cake with chocolate frosting. In France, you won’t see birthday cakes for sale in bakeries like you would in the USA. The French have great pastries and desserts but fluffy layered birthday cakes are not part of the culture here in the same way. Funfetti isn’t a thing. I make my own.
In recent years, specialty bakeries in big cities have popped up that do specialize in colorful, fluffy cakes with fun fondant, but they aren’t mainstream.
14. 100-euro bills
It’s pretty common to see 100-dollar bills in the USA and they are widely used and accepted. In France, the highest denomination you’ll regularly see is a 50-euro bill and most shops won’t accept anything higher. I can’t even tell you what color the 100-euro bill is because I’ve never seen one (ATMs give out 50-euro bills as the highest denomination).
I did see a tourist in Paris with a 200-euro bill years ago — it’s green if I remember correctly — and he was having trouble using it because stores wouldn’t accept it. For everyday life, a 50 is normal, nothing higher, so if you ever have the choice of denominations, go small.
15. Secret Santa gift exchange
It’s common for workplaces, friends, family, and other communities to do a Secret Santa gift exchange during the holiday season in the USA. It’s all about spreading the holiday cheer!
The concept is simple. Each participant is secretly matched up with another participant for whom they buy a gift. You don’t find out who your Secret Santa is until the day you exchange gifts. In France, the concept doesn’t seem to be widely known or practiced.
16. Safe deposit boxes
In the USA, many people have a safe deposit at their bank in which to store important documents, valuable jewelry, cash, and other high-value items they don’t want lost, damaged, or stolen. They’re affordable, come in different sizes, and you don’t need to be extraordinarily wealthy to have one.
In France, safe deposit boxes at your bank aren’t mainstream and many banks — especially smaller branches — don’t have a vault lined with any safe deposit boxes. Many banks don’t even handle cash!
What else is popular in the USA that’s not really a thing in France? Talk to me in the comments!
yes to all of this! I really miss drive-thru pharmacies! I also miss ice being the norm in drinks as well as the lack of smokers and dog poop, and also screens on windows! I haven’t had a real French summer yet, so we’ll see what happens!
God as I read this a fly just flew in and I hear it buzzing around my head, neeeeeeeeeed screens. I actually saw a DIY screen kit at Leroy Merlin yesterday. I think the French are starting to see how useful they are!
Annie Andre says
1- Board shorts for everyone and in pools
2-peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches
3-Graduation ceremonies and high school dances, proms etc
4-Cake: you know fluffy airy birthday cakes. All the cakes are really dense and molleux.
5- enormous delicious gourmet salads. I love putting cranberries and strawberries and all sorts of things in salads. cobb salad. etc.
6-cupcakes. this is what my kids miss
I am sure i could drum up a few more.
Excellent additions, thank you Annie! Although the sight of old guys in Speedos at public pools is always a fun time!
I LOVE that France doesn’t adopt America’s bad habits! One look at us and I’d do the opposite of what we do, too! Some of the things on the list would be nice, but I’m glad they don’t have to-go coffee and still sit to enjoy a cup. I don’t like seeing all the people in Chicago holding Starbucks cups (such a waste, too, for a green person!), and not taking time to enjoy life… taking everything on the go. We need to slow down. I’m so glad they don’t eat during movies, either. I think that’s rather disgusting. Yes, it could be fun, but it was so much more enjoyable when I saw movies in Paris without everyone crunching popcorn and sticking their hands repeatedly into crinkling, noisy bags. I mean, it’s 2 hours, and people consume 2000 calories! People here eat for entertainment… anything for an excuse to eat. My commute home is a 2-hour train ride, and most people open up a snack the minute their butt hits the seat! Obesity is a real problem now. I went to a dine-in theater near Boston once, and I did love the luxurious, big leather seats and being able to order an alcoholic beverage. That was fun, and comfortable! I love that France keeps their old buildings. In America, they tear beautiful old buildings down and replace them with ugly monstrosities that are “up to code”, but they have no character or charm. Vive la France! I hope they remain smart about what to adopt and what not to.
Hi Mary, thanks for weighing in. I’m glad France doesn’t adopt America’s bad habits too. It’s a careful balance. As you noticed, I really enjoy talking about American/French culture on my blog and in no way think the two countries should be the same or anything. Just pointing out differences. Sometimes family or friends are surprised to learn that we don’t have something in France that they take for granted back in the US so just figured I’d put a bunch of those things into a post. And sorry about your long commute. I did that for a while too and it really is taxing after a while. I liked to take naps to pass the time. With a snack. 😉
I second Diane’s comment above about old french guys in speedos. Glad we haven’t picked up that habit in the US…
I agree with Mary Z above – and I love both countries!! The only point I disagree completely with you, is the AC one.It’s the worst in the US!! It’s such a pain to have to be COLD inside – no sweater can warm you with a full blast AC on. Open the window, wear lighter clothes, and don’t waste energy! I’m pissed
Well there’s a fine line between having a/c on full blast to the point of being cold (like how it is in public spaces) and having the room at a comfortable temperature so you can do housework and cook and sit on the couch without sweating. I hate when it’s not THAT hot out and the bank, for example, has the a/c on so it’s freezing. Not comfortable at all! I’m all for opening the windows and wearing lighter clothes when it’s in the 70s but in the 90s with full humidity, a/c is a must because you sweat just doing nothing, yuck!
I love both countries, too. It is very interesting to compare the two. Mathilde reminded me that when I worked at a French Consulate here, the French women complained about the AC and thought it was crazy that we make the rooms freezing so that we have to wear sweaters in the summer and then make them so hot in the winter that we are too warm. They like the idea of just opening the window in the hot months. I agree with that, except when it gets above 90F. Then I’m just too hot and uncomfortable and love some AC!
The possibility to get cash back when you go shopping! It’s really useful ! We should do that in France 🙂
Oh yes, great addition. That can be so useful sometimes like if you know you need just $20 and aren’t near an ATM and don’t have time to find one. You’re right, now that I think of it I’ve never seen that option in France!
If we had that in France there would also be fees 😉
oh the screens! I was so surprised when I stayed in France for a month for work and the hotel I was in didn’t have screens. On several occasions I would have sword a seagull or pigeon was about to fly in my room. And if a bee ever had that…oh dear that would have been dreadful! Thankfully my room was up on the 4th floor so I didn’t have to worry about random people walking by poking their head in! Ah France! I do so love your differences. 🙂
Hahha dying laughing at the sword a seagull line. Great visual. But I know what you mean. Just last night we had our back door open to get some air since it’s really warming up and I was so afraid bats would fly in! A bird flew into my in-laws’ apartment last year. SO yes to screens!
Yes! I do wish they would get screens! Mostly for pets’s sake. I saw a dead cat on the sidewalk in Paris. It had fallen out of a window. 🙁
Thanks goodness they have not got air conditioning. I have had pneumonia 3 times and each event has been blamed on air conditioning by the Dr. The last time we were on a 7 day cruise, the whole ship was air conditioned and I spent most of the holiday in the ships hospital on drip!!!
Car window can open so no air conditioning in our car is ever on.
Have a good day t’other Diane
Tpdd V says
Retail store hours across the board. But there is a price to pay – will change the culture in negative ways too as noted by Mary Z. Hyper-consumer culture is something I like less and less.
a French thing that didn’t take in the US? the “drive”!
do your groceries online, go to the store a few hours later, and they load your trunk. No need to ask if they deliver in your area, or to get stuck at home waiting for the delivery…
We have that here in Canada, along with the delivery of said groceries (No Frills [https://www.nofrills.ca/]) and Loblaws (loblaws.ca) .
Sorry to be a little late (I just discovered your blog) but there is a drive-thru pharmacy a few minutes from my house (on the RN4 just after Pontault-Combault if you want to know), so while it’s not common it’s not an unnknown concept.
Hi there, thanks for your comments! Yes, I just meant that the drive thru pharmacy concept where you can go pretty much 24/7 like you can in the US isn’t mainstream and hasn’t caught on throughout France, so while you can find one here or there, it’s not the norm in every city.
Lionel from Paris says
Coin counter machines? OMG you are innocent! in France (that “paradise” that you see with rose-tinted glasses) they would be vandalized and plundered in a heartbeat!
Anyone who had skied in France has certainly experienced the lack of line etiquette.
My skis were never so scratched up as when I skied in France. Skiers actually crowd ahead with no regard for others skis. It is really crazy and dangerous. I have seen people fall or nearly fall as others clomp on to the backs of their skis.
The attitude of a no credit but spending what you can debit sounds incredibly responsible and sensible. So unlike the American buy now pay never attitude. Fun to read! Thanks Diane.
Aussie Jo says
Coin machines, dive through places and safe deposit boxes are pretty much unheard of here down under we don’t have pick ups we have utes
Terry ORNER says
Diane, our E. LeClerc in Saumur has a coin counter machine next to the cash registers – it’s great. It dispenses a bon d’achat for your E. LeClerc purchases. As for the drive through pharmacies – there’s no need. We never wait in the pharmacy more than 5 minutes for our Rx to be filled. No need to ‘call it in’ either. So much simpler with the dispensing of boxes of medicine.
Awesome, what’s the fee on the coin counter machine? And is it a private company or affiliated with the bank?
So happy your pharmacy is efficient. Mine is always hopping and it takes forever to get what you need.
Thx for reading
pb & j peanut butter and jelly sandwiches yum!
Dinty Dubois says
France is way ahead of the US in trying to curb the promotion of cigarette smoking. French laws mandate that all cigarette packaging be basically generic and uniform in look and message. All packages contain standardized warnings ( message, type size and positioning) the largest being “Fumer Tues” along with dominant color photo images of cancerous body parts. There are NO brand logos: and no branding colors. Other than the color photos, all packages are black and white.
The only brand identification (Lucky Strike, Pall Mall etc) is relegated to the least visible positions on the package and rendered in a small type size and type face that is common to all brands.
I’m a graphic designer and non-smoker and I find these restrictions to be wonderful and I hope they’ve proven to be effective. The French Government has seriously challenged the Tobacco industry. Bien joué !
You would think the packaging would help but I’ve actually spoken to several tabac owners, curious myself, and they’ve told me it’s made absolutely no difference in sales sadly
All of the things in the article are things you can find in Paris. With the exception of coin star and safe deposit boxes. At my local Monoprix there is even an American section that sells Dr. Pepper, marshmallows and Sunpat Peanut butter. The French actually do have a peanut spread but it’s more oily. The only thing you don’t find is grape jelly. I’ve lived in Paris for 6 years and it’s missing American staples but for the most part they’re there. Including Starbucks everywhere. There are also two American grocery stores but I never visit them unless I need a bag of Cheetos (Carrefour sells puffs but not crunchy). They also do Thanksgiving dinners at restaurants in Paris. I acknowledge Paris isn’t like the rest of France but I guess it helps to be located there when you’re missing home. The only thing I hate are the American neighborhoods like Gros Caillou. Too many Americans and it’s not even like being in France anymore. But of course those are the areas of Paris where you find more American products in the grocery store.
If credit cards aren’t used a lot in France, then how do Frenchmen and Frenchwoman pay for hotels?
With their carte bleue
100€ is greenish
200€ is Yellow
500€ is purple
500 they stopped producing in 2016 but can still be used