The lovely Geraldine of CommeUneFrancaise recently posted a video on how to scare the hell out of a French person which was really informative and absolutely worth a look. Since French cultural differences are such a huge focus of my blog, I wanted to take a look at the flip side in this post — some French cultural differences that will freak out Americans.
Here’s my short list of French cultural differences that will freak out an American:
1. Going in for bisous when the American is expecting a hug.
The French greeting in an informal situation (family, friends and even some work colleagues) is la bise, or a cheek kiss. Sometimes two or more depending on the social norms of wherever you are. Americans would normally hug in a situation like this. But hugs are a no-no in France.
So when you see that French person coming in for what appears to be a kiss, just turn your head slightly and make sure it lands on your cheek! Or tap ears, or whatever I do.
2. Serve horse for dinner. Or rabbit.
While not super common, supermarkets do sell horse meat as well as rabbit and other types of meat Americans might find strange. Many Americans are adventurous and open minded but we don’t want to eat horse for dinner. So just serve up Mr. Ed for dinner and watch the American run for the door and never come back.
I have to note, though, that most French people don’t serve horse or rabbit as regularly as chicken. It’s more rare but it does exist.
3. Don’t smile and act cold.
Americans are enthusiastic and friendly (sometimes it’s fake, but generally we emote in conversation) and aim to put the other person at ease, even upon just meeting someone. Take for example waiting in line at the grocery store. An American might make small talk with the woman behind her.
In general, this is in sharp contrast to the French who have more of a poker face and aren’t so friendly at first. The American might think he/she did something wrong after not being well received by the French — when really it’s normal. The French aren’t very outgoing or smiley. Not necessarily bad — just different.
4. When making an ophthalmologist/dermatologist/other specialist appointment, inform them of the 5-month wait time.
As a new patient, the wait time for a specialist can be maddening. Apparently I live in an area of France where there’s a shortage of specialists, but even still, five months is insanely long. Just the other day, I tried to get an ophthalmologist appointment and the first opening any of the doctors had was in October.
I kid you not. I fared a little better with the dentist and dermatologist. And if you have something urgent? They’ll tell you to go to the hospital. Lesson here? If you need just a regular checkup, make your appointment early and don’t put it off!
5. Make sure nothing is open past 8 p.m. or on Sundays.
Americans are used to having everything available at any time of day — and that goes double for those who live in a big city. From 24-hour convenience stores to late nights at the diner and even Target which stays open well past normal French closing times, Americans are used to being able to consume whenever, wherever.
There are pros and cons on both sides here, but the fact remains that Americans might be shocked to find out that you can’t get much done late at night or on Sundays in France and that it’s necessary to adjust your expectations and schedule.