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 adaptable 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 some French flair since moving here and have almost forgotten all about my American habits (until I go back home). Adapting to the new culture is part of respecting it, so let’s get into it.
Curious about what American habits I lost when I moved to France?
American habits I lost when I moved to France
1. 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 tend to look effortlessly chic in Paris 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). Even French people’s casual clothing choices are elevated with classy accessories, especially in big cities, so think casually chic, not casually messy.
What the French find weird about Americans >>
2. 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.
In the USA, all commercially produced eggs need to be refrigerated to prevent condensation from forming on the shell. Moisture allows bacteria to get into the egg and makes us sick.
In France, the eggs retain the protective coating that prevents this from happening due to the way they’re processed. French people do sometimes refrigerate their eggs but not out of necessity like we do in the USA. They’ll refrigerate them to extend the shelf life or to free up counter space.
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. You don’t have to refrigerate your eggs in France unless you want to get them off the counter.
3. 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. It’s not an obligatory task that we all rush through to get to the next thing on our to-do list. I wrote more about my favorite French mealtime habit here. What a welcome change it is to slow down!
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).
Of course not every meal is cooked fresh and slow, but overall, the French put more of a focus on savoring high quality food and enjoying the time at the table with their friends or family.
4. 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. That’s not to say it never happens, but it’s not on the same scale as it is in the USA.
This is because the French respect the personal versus private sphere in social contexts. A French person may be curious about something you’re wearing or doing, but instead of being inquisitive about it, they’ll keep to themselves out of respect. I still chat with people who seem open to it, but tend to let the French person take the lead.
17 American things I do that confuse French people >>
5. I don’t tip
Americans are used to tipping at restaurants, the hair salon, and many other places as we go about daily life. Tipping culture is very different in France and the French do not leave 20% for servers at restaurants, etc. This is because in France, service personnel are paid a livable wage and tipping is just not part of the culture in the same way.
In the USA, tipping is part of our culture and an obligatory part of eating out at a restaurant, getting a haircut, and other services. We know that when eating out, a 20%+ tip for good service is customary, and even when the service isn’t great, 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 extra in France, 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.
Again, that’s because servers are paid a livable wage and don’t depend on tips to get a decent paycheck like they do in the USA.
I definitely don’t tip in the same way in France!
6. 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’ve found it takes people a little longer to warm up to newcomers in France. Some people will always keep their distance and that’s OK.
French oddities that don’t seem so weird anymore >>
7. 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 (pre-pandemic, anyway). If you hug someone, you’ll make them feel extremely awkward because it’s seen as too intimate and will come across as culturally ignorant. Don’t hug!
American social norms that don’t translate to French culture >>
8. Flossing my teeth
Just kidding. I still floss. My American dentist back in the U.S. has drilled the importance of flossing daily into my head since I was a kid. But in France, it’s not as prevalent.
My French 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.
What they do use are interdental brushes which work pretty well but can get expensive.
——>> Fave floss: For those of you in the U.S., Cocofloss is the best floss I’ve ever tried. It’s a premium product that comes in delicious flavors. Get $10 off here!
What habits have changed for you since moving abroad to France or elsewhere?
Jamie Gunter says
I love going to the store and not seeing anyone hideously dressed in sweatpants!! I have changed in that way as well! I had to get used to the hugging thing however and I know I still bother some of my friends when I do it haha! It’s crazy how we adapt so fast and how it all seems so normal now!
Hideous sweatpants work better as pjs or clothes to clean your house in but I will say a really flattering and stylish workout outfit with clean sneakers doesn’t bother me at all and wish wearing gym clothes to run errands was normal! I do it anyway despite some stares but sweatpants? No way!
ha I would not agree that the French have good teeth. I have seen soooo many dental problems here! And in people who are young, and have good jobs too! Maybe it’s because nobody flosses…
Well, maybe that was a slight exaggeration. But I think it depends on the individual and the area. I know that people in rural areas of the US who don’t have access to a dentist might not have the best teeth and it’s unfortunate as well for those without insurance. I didn’t have dental insurance in the US for a while and paying out of pocket for a cleaning, exam and two small cavities was not easy on the wallet. Same thing in France, cleanings are cheap but they’ve been half-assed in my experience and anything beyond routine care is EXPENSIVE! We should all floss 😉
Yes, plus one to Marianne’s comment. Their teeth are pretty bad (crooked, jagged, yellow, etc.) and their breath tends to be worse (rampant smoking obviously doesn’t help this). Also, orthodontia doesn’t seem to be valued too highly here, as gaps between one’s front teeth are seen as quirky and glamorous (think Vanessa Paradis…) Agreed on the more formal dressing, though!
Patty @ Reach Your Peak says
wow this is so interesting! I am dying to go to france. It has been my dream since high school. I regularly try to keep up with french (which I also took in HS) just in case I ever go haha. The egg thing is so funny because in my native country (Paraguay), they also keep eggs at room temp. And they also do kisses to greet you – no hugs. Kisses on both cheeks though. Funny how every culture is so very different!
If you ever get the opportunity to go, do it! Even if it’s just for a few days or a little village and not a big city.
Yup, lots of countries in Europe also keep eggs at room temp (milk isn’t refrigerated either, well only after opening the bottle) and that’s cool about Paraguay. Didn’t know that about the eggs or hugging!
Its more than just culture. In the US, eggs are required to be washed for sanitary purposes. However, that wash strips the protective coating off the egg. So, eggs HAVE to be refrigerated in the US. Its not just a cultural habit. Its about safety based on the way the eggs have/have not been treated.
Amanda Elizabeth - Meet @ the Barre says
That is so crazy about the eggs but really it is all culture things like that and clearly you have been fine! The tipping thing is another point that is a great reminder for european travel. Thanks for sharing!!
Yup, knock on wood haven’t gotten sick or anything. When Americans visit they are always shocked to see milk at room temp (before opening the bottle) and eggs on the counter and now it’s so normal to me. But at first I was shocked too. P.S. I read all your posts but there’s no comment option for name/url. But love your site 😉 And congrats — your wedding was beautiful!
Mill is only kept at room temperature before opening because everyone buys UHT milk. Fresh milk is sold in the refrigerated section. Not that many people buy it. It wasn’t hardly available when i was a child but now more and more I see fresh milk available
I’m French and I always store my eggs in the fridge. Thinking about that, I was wondering why and I have found this post in French
And about the small talk, it’s sad! I love that when strangers talk to me out of nowhere. It’s refreshing and fun.
As for introducing oneself to the neighbors, we should really learn from the American expats!
Hi Laurence, going to check out the link. Thanks!
And yes, I miss small talk. I still chitchat with acquaintances but sometimes a compliment from a complete stranger and a chance conversation can brighten your day. I’ll have random conversations here but always with people I’ve seen before or talked to, so not exactly the same. Are you living in the US now?
Natalie Ray says
Haha this made me chuckle. I also lived in France for a year (from the UK) and some of those habits struck me as well. The mealtime thing is excellent and something I’ve tried to adopt at home. The French do always look gorgeous but sadly even after living there for a year I still always look terrible, making an effort was not a habit I managed to maintain. Great post.x
I’m sure you looked better than you thought! Outside of big cities though I feel like the French look is a little bit more relaxed, so I fit in for the most part. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for commenting!
Phoebe @ Lou Messugo says
The last point about flossing is the most American for me…many of the other points relate to a Brit adapting to France too but like the French, we don’t floss! And our teeth suvive!!! I love your cultural posts Diane, thanks for linking up again #AllAboutFrance
Thank YOU for hosting! You don’t floss??? Didn’t know that it wasn’t common in the UK either!
I’m British and I’d have to disagree. I floss and people I know floss. The dentist / hygienist also mentions flossing during check ups and you will always find a selection of floss options down the supermarket aisles.
Christy Swagerty says
Fun post, Diane! I can’t not refridgerate the eggs…yet! And I only bring floss from America. I ran out last year and had to use what felt like ropes from Carrefour instead. Never making that mistake again!
Hahhaha dying over the felt ropes. It’s true! You either get felt ropes or about 10 cm of crappy waxy floss that breaks. For 5 euros.
I’ve actually found that since becoming an expat I’ve refined my British habits and my accent. I do however now keep my eggs in the fridge as the summer in South Africa would reduce their life span and now in Dubai they’d just cook within seconds.
Chit chat can be a bit of an issue because of the language barriers, esp in SA where English was often spoken as a 3rd or 4th language.
In regards to tipping, it is so expensive to eat out in Dubai, i only tip if the service was exceptional, however in South Africa one tips everywhere, fuel pumps, car parks, restaurants etc as a lot of people don’t get paid a salary, just tips.
I’ve never visited South Africa either but it’s interesting that they are a tipping culture. I don’t know how you bear the heat in Dubai. When it hits about 30 C here I start getting uncomfortable if I sweat just sitting on the couch. Please tell me a/c is the norm in Dubai homes…
Thien Lan says
Hi Diane, funny I’m French I indeed I started flossing when I moved to Australia. So hard or expensive to find dental floss when you go back to France for the holidays.
Got some trendy sweat pants this season from H&M and Bershka. Love them! Too lucky they are back in fashion!
Yeah hugging is definitely a no no. My kids learnt to shake hands with their school mates instead.
Came by through #allaboutfrench and love the look and feel of your blog.
Love that you got some trendy sweatpants. There are some nice casual pairs that look great with booties and it’s all about how you accessorize.
Thank you for stopping by and for the compliment. 😉
How do you like Australia?
This is funny because when I was younger, Icame to California visiting my family I though it was kinda weird to flossing. I thought flossing was only in movies.
Hugging in France is “weird” when you’re not close enough. Because I’m doing it every time I see my friends then we doing “la bise”. Ahaha!
The big family meals on Sundays are what I mist more here 🙁
YES! I couldn’t agree more – the French are always so chic! They turn up to lectures in heels and dresses, which is so strange for me when I used to wear jeans and a tee to lectures!
Ashley @ A Lady Goes West says
I’m glad to know you’re adaptable. Sadly, I would have trouble accepting some of these things. No sweatpants? That’s rough. But then again, I didn’t EVER go out in sweatpants until I worked in the fitness industry, so maybe I could revert if I ever moved elsewhere hehehe. Eggs? Wow? This is an interesting one, Diane. Thanks! 🙂
Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault says
It always amazes me as an English person that for 2 countries so physically close and with such an entwined history we are now so culturally different. As for floss – yup – we “import” that from the UK ! #AllAboutFrance
Betty Carlson says
I’m an American and have lived in France for 25 years. I agree with most of the above and they are funny points! My (French) husband does manage a lot of small talk but I agree, it’s not as frequent as in the US. I keep my eggs in the fridge because there is that handy compartment for them, but I have gotten so used to buying them at room temperature that I don’t even think about it anymore.
The only point that has been different for me is the neighbor one. We have generally gotten to know at least some of our neighbors, and a few became good friends. However I would agree that you would have to know a neighbor pretty well to dare ask to borrow food from them. #AllAboutFrance
Cathy Sweeney says
I have to say you surprised me with that last one. They don’t floss? Hmmm. I think that the relaxed dinners with no distractions is a wonderful thing and there are just too few of them for most people. I think that some people and families don’t even know what that it. If you were my neighbor, I’d be happy to accept your cupcakes and have a chat.
veri nice. Congratulations..
Ajit Das says
Its your good habit that you floss regularly. It keeps your teeth free from all kinds of periodontal disease and give your beautiful smile. You should not give up this habit.
Hello !! I’m French and I floss my teeth every day !! And I’m not the only one here looooool !! All my family does ! I know a lot of people who floss their teeth, but… okay… not everybody 😉
Great to hear, Agnes! Thanks for your comment! I know that many French people do floss their teeth but my point was more about the overall push toward preventive care being a little different in France than it is in the USA. In the US, preventive care is a top priority for dentists and in grocery stores you can find 8 brands of floss in 18 flavors, plus a kids’ section. American dentists drill it into your head to floss, floss, floss almost to the point of it being overkill. In France, I spoke with my dentist recently (he’s young and finished school last year) and he told me that the emphasis in dental school is not on prevention as much as in other countries. Just something I found interesting. Thank you so much for checking out my post and keep on flossing!
Julia Weich says
I love spending time in France — mainly in the Loire Valley — and I cannot get used to not refrigerating eggs! Guess I should French-up and just do it.
We have made friends in France and I know they are a little put off by my enthusiasm. I laugh when they back away from me and my over friendliness!
Now, I only eat fruits and veggies that are in season. I have the opposite problem with my neighbour. In rural Provence, you’re considered rude if you don’t have a coffee with your neighbours every few days and you must see them every day. Basically, I’m rude. What can I say- I like my privacy!
Pamela Christmas says
I had to remember what the deal was with eggs. I lived in the UK for a while and I too couldn’t believe eggs were in a middle aisle but then remembered it had to do with cleaning the eggs. The process weakens the shell, thereby making them less safe to eat. Several countries do not wash the eggs before selling for that reason. Love your blog. So happy I found it. we’re wanting our honeymoon in Paris in a couple years. I have wanted to go to Paris since I was about 3, LOL. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/09/11/336330502/why-the-u-s-chills-its-eggs-and-most-of-the-world-doesnt
Thanks so much, Pamela! Happy to have you here. Your trip to Paris sounds great—hope you’re able to do it. Will be a trip of a lifetime 🙂
I just wanted to mention something about the eggs (I live in Ecuador where we don’t refrigerate them either and have lived in Paris and in the USA) it turns out you should refrigerate them in the USA because of the way they are treated where they are produced, it turns out they wash them with something that strips their protection. A good general rule is store them the way you found them at the store. I loved your post, I do see those differences too and so many others!
You must refrigerate eggs in the US because they put them through a cleaning process (because they needs eggs to look clean??), which strips the shell down and makes it absorb germs from the air. If they didn’t do that, they would not need to be refrigerated.
It’s soo funny.. everything you mentioned above it’s very true, I go to France every year, my sister and her family lives there, just came back roughly 3 week ago, I would say I’ll do my best to go live there.. so fascinated with country and the people, oh did I mention that my sister lives like less than 10 min from Eiffel tour, ah mon dieu la vie en France est incomparable
You know the eggs can be left out in France because they don’t sanitize them the way we do here, right? If you get your eggs from a farm, great, leave them on the counter – if you get them from the grocery store in the U.S., you have to refrigerate them! We sanitize them in a way that removes the natural coating that preserves them on a counter.
Americans don’t tip to say thanks… they tip because service employment is paid less. Those servers you are saying ”thanks” to are making 2.13$/hr. In France, the wages are higher and service industry employment isn’t paid like it is in the us. the burden of wage is not left up to the customer. It’s not… and I repeat NOT because you are saying thanks. if you overtip, then that is thanks. Service industry can’t work for free.
Rebecca Meador says
I love your blog. My husband and I are interested in retiring in France. The area north west of Limoges looks promising. We would love to have a gite too. Are we crazy?
I live in the U.S. The one thing my friends and I missed the most during the pandemic was not being able to hug each other when saying hello and goodbye. There’s nothing better than a nice warm hug between family and friends. No small talk or smiles…I would be so lonely in France. I have visited France. My husband and I had a great time there. We had manny French people make small talk with us. They were curious about America. Some had some really funny ideas about Americans from movies they had seen. All in all we were treated exceptionally well in Paris, which is where we stayed. We found the French people we met to be very charming. We can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so we can revisit Paris. I will say my husband and I don’t try to be anything other than what we are when we travel. We respect others customs but we stay true to who we are.
Don’t use a knife with your salad, no matter if you come across an oversized piece of lettuce.