There’s something about French guys… and you just want to hear what they have to say! I’m often asked what my husband thinks about American culture, food, the people and more. Curious minds want to know what French guys think about all kinds of things, so today, my husband, Tom is bringing you the third installment of his series called Ask Tom Tuesdays. He’s answering your questions about whatever you want to know….
He came up with the idea for today’s post almost two months ago but because of how big of an answer it is, we’re going to run this “Best of Both Worlds” series in a few different parts. Hopefully every (or every other??) week until Tom has said all that he needs to say.
OK, on to today’s post. Tom’s talking about the best and worst of the USA and France — Part 1.
Toilets in the US
Before we get into Tom’s post, I want to extend a heartfelt thanks for making this series a success. The posts have generated a lot of interest, and to be honest, when Tom set out to write his first post, he was a little apprehensive. Scared to write in English and that maybe no one would understand what he meant or that his viewpoint would just be written off. But that’s not the case, so thank you for your support. I think there are a lot of American perspectives on France from expats like myself sharing their worlds with the blogosphere, but how many French guys are there doing the same in English? Tom and I really appreciate the support! (so show him some love in the comments please.)
Question: “As someone who used to live in France, I find myself missing things from there now that I’m back in the U.S. What are the best and worst aspects of life in France versus the U.S.” — From a reader named Nicole
Hello Oui In France readers. I’m baaaaaack! After a short break mostly due to our move (yes, two months is a short break for a French guy ;-)) I’m back with a new post. And today’s post is about what I love and hate about life in both France and the USA. And this is a big answer, so for Part 1, I have to say that the perfect world would have French toilets.
Let me be the first to tell you that for a French guy, a trip to the bathroom in the U.S. can be stressful!
It’s absolutely not a matter of hygiene — the U.S. toilets aren’t dirtier than the French or anything — I’m talking more about… well, let’s say the “system.” You see, in France when I go to the bathroom, I do my little (or big) business, I flush and it’s done, no stress. But in the U.S., I got stressed because I never really know if the toilet is going to get clogged or not, thus leaving me in an uncomfortable situation, and that’s stressful. This just doesn’t happen in France and it’s happened several times to me to clog toilets in the U.S. (and trust me those are not really the kind of “memories” I’m happy to share! I can’t even believe I’m writing about this).
My worst experience with American toilets was this one time when I was at Diane’s aunt and uncle’s house for a Christmas party. After doing my business, I flushed. But damn, the water didn’t drain and I realized shortly after it’s clogged. The level of water started to rise, but I was too embarrassed to go out of the bathroom to get help. So instead I decided to take my chances again, thinking that a flush might work the second time (which happens in France to make sure all your business is flushed down). Oh boy, what a mistake! Nothing got sucked down into the toilet and instead the water rose even more, so much actually that it was half an inch away from overflowing the toilet. And then it happened almost in slow motion. The toilet overflowed and started spreading over the entire bathroom. Oh damn, I’m starting to sweat at this point and feeling very uncomfortable, and now I’m trapped, without plan B!
The only solution to this mess is to go to Diane’s uncle in the middle of the party and tell him that I kind of had an accident in his nice bathroom!
Which I did, losing the pride I still had at that time! Haha! And her uncle came right up with his plunger like it was no big thing and I cleaned up the water. Now Diane and I sometimes joke about it, but in the moment I was very embarrassed! And that’s one of the reasons (because as I said it happened to me several times) why I’m often stressed to go to the bathroom in the U.S. Now I know to do about five flushes so all the paper doesn’t go down at once.
Now before you think I just don’t know how to use a toilet, believe me or not, it has NEVER happened to me in France! So I wondered why, and I came to the conclusion that the toilets here work differently than there.
I noticed that in the U.S. the bowl is always full of water (at least in most of the places where I’ve been), and when you flush all of that water goes into circles and that’s apparently how it gets drained out (as you imagine, I always watch that little toilet swirl dance to make sure that nothing gets stuck!). In France, there’s just a tiny bit of water in the bowl, and when you flush it sucks the contents of the bowl kind of like it does in an airplane.
About the bowl full of water, I must add that’s it’s really not convenient when you pee (at least when you’re a man), because it splashes everywhere! Better not put your nice shoes too close to that bowl! (I really wonder who invented that!).
Last observation about toilets in the U.S., is about toilets in public places (malls, airports…) is they’re really horrible for privacy.
The doors and walls are so tiny that you can hear everything and see too much (like you know exactly at what step your neighbor is on, pants down, pants up…). Let alone the noises made by guys who sound like they’re giving birth, or some crazy people talking to themselves.
Like that guy once in a public bathroom in the Philadelphia train station, he was talking to himself in the bathroom, saying all these crazy things about his life story, even asking questions while I was peeing (was I supposed to answer when he was asking why he had to spend two years in jail?), no need to say that I didn’t bother drying my hands after washing them that day!
(Note : I have to say that it looks like the newer models of toilets in the U.S. seem to be like the French/European ones with less water and economical flush options).
And one last thing. I want to apologize for not responding to your comments from the first posts I wrote. That’s going to change starting right now!
Can anyone out there relate??
And don’t forget to tweet or message me your questions for Tom for an upcoming post. Nothing is off limits! And for more on life in France versus the USA, tune in next week!
Molly @ Toffee Bits and Chocolate Chips in Paris! says
I LOVE how the first difference is the toilets. too funny!!! It really is those every day things that can be so stressful!! Loved the post!
Hi Molly, thank you very much for stopping by and commenting! I guess I wanted to get rid of the most shameful experience right at the beginning! Also I’ve never really heard anyone talking about the same “problem” so I wanted to know if I was the only one experiencing it! it’s not a matter that is usually discussed so I had to put it on the table!
LOL oh my gosh this post was hilarious, it had me laughing so hard! Thanks for the honesty Tom and putting it all out there, so to speak! Who knew American toilets were so panic-inducing? LOL keep up the great writing, look forward to the next one!
Thanks a lot for your comment Kristi! I’m glad that at least my bad experiences can make for good writing and laughs. When Diane first read that post she was dying laughing (yes, my wife makes fun of me!), and retrospectively I can laugh about it too (and now we’re married, so her uncle is officially family, so I can clog his toilets and he’ll still love me!).
Oh man I was SO embarrassed to come back from a day of sightseeing in California and see an unholy mess in the toilet in the bathroom of our friend’s house. Turned out the flush hadn’t worked properly when my husband last used it in the morning. Cleaned it up and crossed my fingers our friends didn’t use the bathroom that day (they have their own in their bedroom, this one was across the hall from us in the guest room). European toilets have powerful flushes!
I totally agree with you, power is the key! it sounds like a commercial saying like that, but it’s really the point! I’m so used to the powerful flush we have here that I was never really careful when using toilets in the US. My mistake when I first had an issue was to try to solve the problem by flushing again, which led me to a bigger mess of course! Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, I feel so much better knowing that I’m not the source of the problem (which I thought for a while!). Are the toilets in New Zealand similar to the ones we have in Europe?
Bon je savais pas trop si je devais écrire en francais ou pas mais c’est ce que je vais faire 😉
Rassure toi Tom, cette histoire m’est aussi arrivée lors de vacances aux Etats Unis dans une famille américaine, donc tu n’es pas le seul! J’étais tellement embarrassée moi aussi… Ahah je pensais que ce n’était arrivé qu’à moi, et en plus ce n’était que le deuxieme jour que j’étais chez eux , tu peux donc aussi imaginer ma honte ^^
Merci pour ton commentaire Pauline ! ça fait vraiment du bien de savoir que je ne suis pas le seul à avoir eu ce type de problème, qui est quand même super gênant ! Comme dit au dessus, je crois que nous sommes habitués à nos chasses d’eau puissantes…avec le temps j’ai appris à gérer, mais j’ai toujours une petite appréhension à cause de mes expériences passées. Merci encore pour ton commentaire, you made my day 🙂
On a somewhat related noted, let me say I was blown away by how pretty the bathrooms are at CDG airport.
I think that commercial toilets (those in public places) tend to flush better in the U.S. than some of those in homes, but I get what you’re saying.
However, you know what I hated while in France, for a week anyhow? The wimpy hand dryers! Why even bother. Maybe they were just wimpy everywhere I happened to visit, but the newer models in the U.S. are much stronger.
I read somewhere online once that French people don’t ever ask to use other people’s toilets when visiting friends, and they also don’t like to use public toilets. This seemed unrealistic to me. Is it true that French people don’t like to borrow someone else’s toilet? Here’s the link. I went and found it!
Last time I flew back to France, we went through Orly but next time I’ll keep an eye out in CDG for the bathrooms. And about the hand dryers, I have to say they have a lot of Dyson Airblades that you just put your hands in and they dry really fast. Guess it depends on where you are. And I’ll let Tom weigh in on the last part. French people have to pee too!!
Hi Madeleine, sorry my response is below, I didn’t hit “reply” when I sent it, I still have to get used to “blogging” 😉
I forgot to hit reply as well! I don’t think that’s a blogging thing as I’ve been a blogger for many years. Hmm.
Hi Madeleine, thanks for your input! I’ve honestly never clogged any toilet in a public place (unless a hotel room can be considered as a public place!), so they might actually be more powerful, even though the “system” usually seems to be the same.
I’ll also have to pay attention next time I go through CDG, maybe it’d be something positive about that airport I don’t like!
Concerning the dryers, the old crappy ones are also progressively replaced with powerful newer models in France, so it’s more a matter of luck (it obviously also depends on the standing of the place you’re at).
Finally, I read the post you linked, and I totally disagree with it! I’ve never had any problem with going to the bathroom to someone else place neither I’ve heard french people having issues with that…I really don’t know where the author of that article got that idea!
actually I’m french too and I and all the people I know find it really dirty to use other people toilets so maybe it depends from family to family. Once a good friend from the family ask to use our toilets and we were so emberrassed we even washed the toilets with javel after he used them we found that disgusting (even if he just pee), I don’t use public toilets too and I prefer to pee in the street than to pee at my friends house I just think it’s dirty.
No offense at all, but that’s very strange to me. You’re not sharing their toothpaste or wearing someone else’s underwear (which would be more intimate than I’d like lol). Using someone’s toilet, when clean, is the same “level” as eating dinner off someone’s clean plate or using a fork that’s been washed when you eat dinner at someone’s house. No more or less dirty than that in my mind. I’m not sure if that’s a French thing (first time I’m hearing of this). I can understand if you have diarrhea all over the floor (that’s embarrassing) but peeing at someone’s house? We all pee, right? So what’s the problem with where you do it… And peeing in the street is cleaner than peeing in someone’s toilet? Totally lost your logic on that one!
Thanks for your response. I’m happy to hear the French aren’t weird about using toilets!! Ha. I guess you can’t believe everything you read online.
I’m trying to remember where the crappy dryers were located in Paris. It’s slipping my mind.
By the way, your English is so great. I can’t tell it’s your second language. I want to know French like that! I’m currently doing several things: watching French movies on Netflix, reading French children’s books, listening to French music and using the Duolingo app. I’m not sure it’s working, but I’ve become addicted to “Heartbreakers” with Romain Duris. I’ve tried to watch other French movies repeatedly, but this is the only one I enjoy no matter how many times I’ve watched it. I also enjoy listening to Joyce Jonathan, though I really have no idea what she’s saying. I need to track down those French lyrics. That might help!
Sorry for responding late Madeleine, I was actually totally focused on writing my next piece which is coming out tomorrow! (and as usual I’m late!).
Thank you very much for your compliments about my english, but you’d definitely know that English is my 2nd language if you spoke to me in person! it’s way easier for me to “lure” people when I write than when I speak!
I really think you’re doing the right thing to master French. Watching movies and tv shows in English still helps me a lot in my never ending learning process!
L’arnacoeur (french title for “heartbreakers”, it’s actually a play on word – “arnaqueur” means “scammer” in french, and as you know “heart” = “coeur”) is a great movie!
For the lyrics, you can check websites like “paroles.net” or google the name of the song and add “paroles” (french equivalent for lyrics) 😉
“Paroles”!! Oui, merci.
I have no idea why I didn’t think of using the French word for search.
I also didn’t realize that play on words for L’arnacoeur. So much is lost in translation. Merci!
J’ai beaucoup ri en lisant cet article parce que concrètement, je le trouve très vrai. Je n’ai certes jamais eu de problèmes de toilettes bouchées aux states, mais c’est vrai que je les trouve bien moins pratiques qu’en France…J’ai d’ailleurs toujours beaucoup de mal avec le problème de “privacy”, les espaces entre la porte et le reste de la cabine sont vraiment énormes…Après trois voyages aux Etats-Unis, je ne comprends toujours pas pourquoi un tel espace…
Merci pour ton commentaire Em 😉 J’ai déjà du mal en France avec les toilettes de centre commerciaux (stye petite porte) alors aux US c’est encore pire, et je me pose exactement la même question, pourquoi aussi peu d’intimité ??? je me suis même demandé si c’était pour des raisons de sécurité (pour que quelqu’un qui aurait un malaise ou quelque chose ne reste pas bloqué dans les toilettes sans que personne ne s’en aperçoivent), mais je n’ai toujours pas de réponse…Merci en tout cas d’être passé !
Low flush toilets were all the rage in the US a few years ago – supposed to be more economical, less water, etc. but they were/are a disaster!! I used to have a little sign and plunger in my bathrooms for guests. Embarrassing except everyone had the same kind for awhile. My husband and I replaced every one in our home (3) after the newer stronger flush type came out. Yeah!
Yes! The signs are really commonplace in US homes. Like don’t use too much paper or make sure the flush knob is back in place before leaving or things like that. So much room for disaster even with regular toilets. Happy to say nothing has overflowed in our house in France and hoping it stays that way! Happy holidays
yes yes yes I can relate!!!
la dernière fois que j’ai bouché des toilettes en France, j’avais 8 ans. Depuis 3 mois que nous habitons en Californie, j’ai déjà dû utiliser 10 fois la ventouse !!!
Haha, it’s embarrassing right? Hopefully all 10 times were at your house because it’s worse when it’s someone else’s house. Silly delicate toilets. Happy holidays!
You are really a very good writer/blogger. I am very happy you decided to educate Americans about the difference in our cultures.
Please keep up the good work.. I also enjoy all of Diane’s blogs…
Thanks so much, Heidi. So glad you enjoyed the post. Happy holidays to you!
I know this is a very late comment, but I have always had the same problem with toilets, and here is the reason: many toilets in American homes are inexpensive toilets that have a glazed surface only where you can see, so “things” can be stopped by friction on the rough, unglazed surface of the toilet outlet. More expensive toilets have glazing everywhere, so “things” exit the toilet with very little friction.
My worst experience with US toilets. Well, 2 actually…
1) In Ellis Island, NYC, the doors were like saloon louvered doors. I could see people through them but obviously they couldn’t see me. Utterly disturbing! And the door is so high as you said, like knee high, and I’m short so i was always paranoid about what ppl could see from the outside.
2) In NYC we stayed in Harlem in the appartment of a couple who did live here. And one day i wanted to go to the toilets but they were clogged. I had to go and see the guy and tell him, that was so embarrassing! (hopefully i knew the word “clogged” and did not have to find an akward vocab to explain)
Awww, sorry to hear of your toilet woes! I think my husband STILL panics when he uses the bathroom in the US. I didn’t realize that public bathrooms in France were different until I came here and saw for myself that doors fully closed with no slits or space on the bottom. So embarrassing when you know people can see your feet, especially at work! Where in the Loire do you live, Aurelie? So happy you’re enjoying my blog. Thank you for taking the time to comment. 😉
Regarding the toilet incident…did Tom wrap his hand “Michelin-Man” style? Indeed, you may have to use TP a little more judiciously that that. I’ve never had a problem like that but maybe it’s an innate sense developed from growing up in the U.S. of knowing how much TP you can use here before having to break it up with multiple flushes…
Great article! its the little every day things that stick out. Don’0t forget the sizeof the toilet paper roll, lol