The USA is a huge country, and no matter where you go, you’ll find all types of everyday conveniences that make our lives easier and more efficient. In France, many things we take for granted in the USA are done a little differently. Let’s talk about them.
Everyday USA conveniences you won’t find in France
OK, first up, here’s my quick disclaimer. France and the USA are different countries and that’s a great thing. It’s a lot of fun to learn about the things that make them unique. I’m not making a judgment call about what’s better where. I’ll leave that up to you. 😉 I’m just pointing out some differences you may want to be aware of before traveling. And let’s not forget the everyday conveniences France has to offer… like the ability to get fresh bread. Or being able to travel just about anywhere by train. The pros/cons balance themselves out in the end.
1. Urgent care centers
I’m not talking about emergency room care at hospitals here. France absolutely has hospitals with emergency rooms and trauma centers for those of us who need that sort of care. What I’m talking about are the for-profit urgent care walk-in centers you find in many areas of the US that provide ambulatory care outside of traditional ERs. They are commonly found in office complexes or as a storefront in strip malls. They are especially handy when you don’t have a local doctor or need care but don’t necessarily need to go to the ER at a hospital.
Urgent care centers treat a wide array of minor emergencies like breaks, burns, cuts, bad colds, nasty rashes, and whatever else you need a doctor for. They also provide pediatric care, have a full-service radiology department and much more. Urgent care centers usually have extended business hours including holidays and weekends. Some larger cities in France may have a smaller urgent care clinic as part of their emergency services but it’s not exactly the same as what you’d find in the USA. If you need immediate care that goes beyond a doctor’s house call after hours in France, the ER is generally your only option.
2. Drive-through banks and pharmacies
I can’t say that there’s no bank or pharmacy in France with a drive-through options, but I can say that they’re not common at all here. If you need to go to the bank or pharmacy, you go inside and actually speak to a person about whatever you need. Money and drugs are things you have to deal with in person! You can’t just roll up in your car and get your medicine or deposit checks at a drive through booth.
3. OTC medication available in the grocery store
Sometimes you just want to swing by the grocery store, pick up some Advil or other over-the-counter medicine, head to the self-checkout and be on your merry way. In France, medications of all kinds can only be found at the pharmacy — and they aren’t part of the grocery store.
Usually there’s an on-call pharmacy in every town (or nearby if you live in a small village) that’s open around the clock which is called la pharmacie de garde, but it’s not always convenient and sometimes it’s easier to not have to talk to anyone about what medicine you need and why. Remember, in France, if you need anything from pain meds for a headache to an anti-diarrhea pill or anything, the pharmacy is the place you’ll need to go. But don’t worry. They’re often a lot of fun.
4. Free access to the restroom
At train stations, big department stores, and even on the street in bigger French cities, it often costs money to use the public toilet. The average fee I’ve paid lately is 50 centimes and it can be paid in cash or even with a card. I recently saw that option at the Bordeaux train station. Modern, eh?
Yes, the restrooms in train stations are usually well maintained so when there’s no other option, be prepared to pay up. Keep in mind that restaurants and stores generally won’t let you use their restroom unless you’re a customer. Sometimes you’ll even find a code (that changes often) on your receipt to access the toilet in busier places like McDonald’s. Always keep a few coins in your pocket when out and about.
5. Free customer service numbers
French customer service is a little different than what I was used to, and one difference I noticed right away was the fact that phone numbers to call help lines were often not free. Whether it’s the post office, your TV provider, an airline, or anything really, calls to speak to a customer service employee can cost upwards of 15 centimes/minute. I find that interesting because you’re usually calling about a problem that’s not your fault, so to pay just to get the problem ironed out seems a bit over the top. All of those centimes add up quickly especially when there’s a decent amount of hold time.
6. Extended store hours
If you work a night shift in France and want to swing by the grocery store after work to do your shopping, you may have to wait a few hours. France doesn’t really have extended store hours at the grocery store, pharmacy, and big-box store like we do in the USA. My local grocery store opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 7:30 p.m. Some of the bigger stores might close at 8 or even 9 p.m. in big towns. But a 24-hour grocery store (or something open until midnight) is pretty much unheard of in France, so plan accordingly.
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Photo credit: Shutterstock.com / Ryan DeBerardinis (plus feature image)