The best antidote for someone who’s stuck in their ways is to move abroad. You’ll realize your habits aren’t part of your DNA and you’re more flexible than you thought. I’ve had the pleasure of calling France home for a little over three years now, and while I’m still me, I’ve definitely taken on a French flair since moving here and have almost forgotten all about my American habits (until I go back home).
American habits I lost when I moved to France
I don’t go out anywhere in sweatpants.
A drawn out “Ohhh la la” accompanied by a frown is what you’ll get from passersby if you venture outside in a dreaded pair of worn out sweatpants. Or maybe you’ll be mistaken for a homeless person. In all seriousness, the French always seem to look effortlessly chic and their definition of casual is slightly different than mine. Even in my small town, I feel kind of weird going outside to run errands in casual clothes that a French person wouldn’t leave their house in — ever. I wear gym clothes only to the gym (well, for the most part).
I don’t refrigerate my eggs.
French eggs are sold at room temperature on a shelf in the grocery store. Yup, it’s normal, and nope, you won’t get sick. I repeat, eggs in France are not in the refrigerated section next to the yogurt or butter. So if you come over and have a look around my kitchen, you’ll see a carton of eggs on the counter just sitting there at room temperature. It’s not a cause for concern — just how it’s done here.
I don’t rush through my meals or multitask while eating.
Mealtime is kind of sacred in France (especially big family meals on Sundays) and food is to be savored and appreciated. What a welcome change! Normally families will eat together without the distraction of TV and will really take time to enjoy dinner. I’ve learned to focus on my meal and not eat while juggling three other things (most of the time).
I don’t make small talk.
The French aren’t really masters of small talk, nor are they accustomed to it. With people you sort of know like your pharmacist or an acquaintance you see from time to time, maybe you’ll talk about the weather or other little things but with complete strangers? No way. The French don’t often make small talk and might seem a little taken aback if the smiling American starts up a conversation in the bakery.
I don’t tip.
Americans throw money around to say thanks for all kinds of things. Tipping is part of our culture and we know that when eating out, a 20% tip for good service is customary, and even when the service sucks, you still tip. Bartenders are tipped. Valets are tipped. Bellhops are tipped, and the list goes on.
In France, it’s not customary to tip the same way you do in the USA and I have to fight my Americanness when I eat out. It’s an appreciated gesture if you truly did have amazing service to leave a little bit, but big tips are NOT the norm in France and you will NOT be seen as rude or a cheapskate if you leave nothing extra.
I don’t talk to my neighbors beyond a “bonjour” and don’t even know their names.
In many suburbs in the U.S. (and in my NYC apartment building), you know your neighbors’ names and at the very least have chatted with them here and there. Even if you’re not friends, you know who lives next door and if you’re ever in a jam or need a cup of sugar, you can ask them to lend a hand. In France, my efforts to introduce myself to the people on either side didn’t go as planned (I even made them cupcakes. Fail.). I don’t know their names and they don’t know mine.
I don’t hug to say hi.
In France, I learned this one the hard way when hugging my father-in-law resulted in him standing there perplexed with his arms at his sides waiting for this weird embrace to be over. No one hugs to say hi (here’s what to do instead). People faire la bise, or give cheek kisses, to say hi and bye. If you hug someone, you’ll make them feel extremely awkward and will come across as culturally ignorant. Don’t hug!
Flossing my teeth.
Just kidding. I still floss. The French don’t though. Or very rarely. My dentist (who is young and has a modern office, which would make you think he’s on the up and up on all-things-dentist) has never mentioned flossing. French people I know use floss once in a blue moon to get at something stuck between their teeth. But a daily floss? Nope. Yet they still have pretty nice teeth… Not surprisingly, the dental hygiene aisle in grocery stores is majorly lacking in floss varieties. I often find junky waxed floss that is flavorless and breaks, and forget about different varieties of floss picks. I’ve had family members send floss picks and good dental floss because the French stuff just doesn’t cut it.