Since I’m from the U.S., I can tell you exactly what “things” Americans typically like. Some of the stereotypes about us — that we may or may not agree with — say we like big cars and houses, good customer service, free refills, ice in our drinks, fast food, a positive attitude, all things patriotic, BBQs, guns and a whole lot more. But stereotypes don’t ring true across the board, do they? What about the French? What do they like? After observing them for a decade now, I think I can make a pretty good list of things French people love. Maybe you have fallen in love with these things as well like I have? Let’s talk.
French habits that I’ve come to love
Alright, let’s get into it. This is just the short list of French habits and I could probably write a Part 2 and even a Part 3.
1. Going to the pharmacy regularly
Pharmacy culture is alive and well in France! There are so many of them and they are packed to the brim with all kinds of interesting pills, potions, and remedies for things you’ve never even considered (heavy legs, anyone?).
Yes, the French love their local pharmacy out of necessity first and foremost because you can’t get Advil anywhere else, but French pharmacies are mainstays in French life. Many people have a personal relationship with their pharmacist and have for years. They’re the place to go for beauty products, skin creams, baby formula, consults for non urgent burns and sprains, and all kinds of things. Doliprane is a popular pain reliever and Synthol is a must for summer bug bites.
As you probably know, medicines of any kind are not found in the grocery store. In addition to your prescription items, your OTC headache meds, laxatives and anything else you’d rather discreetly buy have to be picked up in person at your neighborhood pharmacy.
Pharmacists are really helpful and never seem too busy to explain a medication or the instructions. All employees have pharmacy training, so no one is hired to just work the cash register and stock shelves. I love French pharmacies as much as the French and even made a behind the scenes French pharmacy video that you can watch over on YouTube.
2. Using of the word “petit(e)”
Beyond its literal meaning of small (or sometimes short depending on the context), the French use the word petit(e) in a cutesy — not literal — way as well that I find so endearing. Like I’m going to have a “petite soirée” tonight with just a few close friends, like 50 people, no big deal. Or “let’s go for a petit café tomorrow,” like a little get-together. I even use “little” in English in the same way that the French use petit. The French usage has rubbed off on me even in my native tongue.
3. Wearing slippers
I don’t know if French people have exceptionally cold feet or if it’s just the French people in my family, but it seems like bare feet or just sock-covered feet aren’t common around the house. Americans like slippers too, but French people really LOVE wearing slippers around the house. It almost seems obligatory.
Tom insisted on buying a pair while on vacation in Florida a couple of years ago so he’d have them to wear around my parents’ house which has mostly tiled floors. Slippers are serious business in France and I’ve come to wear them myself.
4. Having a sugary breakfast
I’m not saying that Americans don’t ever have sugary breakfasts because that would be inaccurate. We like donuts and sugary cereal and all that. But in France, the difference is that a savory breakfast isn’t really an option. The French don’t eat eggs, bacon, and sausage for breakfast. Sweet is the name of the game for breakfast in France, not savory.
Many people in France eat a sweet breakfast consisting of sweet cereal, pain au chocolat or toasted baguette with jam. But eggs and sausage? No way. Many French people even skip breakfast and weren’t raised with the saying, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” Regardless, it’s always been my favorite meal and I still go savory most of the time or have oatmeal but sometimes I do go the baguette and jam route like the French when I’m in a rush.
5. Eating dessert
Let me continue my French habits list with another sweet one. Lots of food items are making my list and all I can say is amen to that. The French are masters at getting food culture right and dessert is no exception. Dessert is a normal course at a French meal.
After the main course, people will often finish their meal with cheese and/or a dessert. No, the portions aren’t gigantic and won’t leave you feeling stuffed, but they will make you appreciate the French attention to mealtime details, depending on where you’re dining. It’s not shameful to eat dessert or a faux pas. It’s completely normal and even encouraged, so go for it!
6. Taking vacation time
I’ve mentioned many times before that the French work to live and not the other way around. They also get five weeks (or more) of paid vacation each year as a full-time employee. If you’re a fonctionnaire like Tom, you get even more time off.
It’s completely normal and encouraged to take a summer vacation and you’ll see many people head to the beach for a full month — or atleast two or three weeks. Plus they take other weeks off during the year to recharge and regroup. It’s common to see local shops, businesses, and even medical offices closed for the entire month of July or August.
In the U.S., it would be more common to stagger vacation among the employees so that all businesses can remain open. In some American offices, two consecutive weeks off might raise eyebrows and actually did in my case when I took two weeks off to visit New Zealand when I was back working for a Big 4 firm in New York. In France, the whole mindset around vacation and work is approached differently. Despite the differences, everything still seems to be functioning just fine in France despite the frequent time off.
Pros and cons of life in France that matter most >>
7. The name Brian
My cousin’s name is Brian and I’ve always liked the name, but in France the name Brian is next level. Ask anyone who studied English in a French elementary school during the 80s and 90s if they know where Brian is. It’s a cultural reference and even a joke among comedians to ask, “Where is Brian? Brian is in the kitchen.” Everyone has heard this one. Gad Elmaleh made it even more popular.
For reasons unknown, it seems that all French publishers fell in love with the name Brian and used the name as an example for all English lessons. Of course, don’t forget to pronounce the name Brian with some French flair. Despite the name being part of a joke, I still like it as much as the French do.
8. Café culture
Taking time to sit down over a drink is part of how it’s done in France. While getting coffee to go is on the rise (was pretty much unheard of when I moved here in 2012 aside from McDonald’s) especially in big towns, the culturally French way to get your morning espresso is to sit down — on the terrace if the weather is nice — with the morning paper and maybe a croissant. Go ahead and people watch, prepare for the day, and enjoy the moment like the French do.
9. Diesel cars
In the U.S., diesel vehicles are less popular but they’re actually quite common in France (and other areas of Europe). In fact, we bought a diesel Nissan Juke back in the day (which we just got rid of after 10 years). At the time, it just made sense since diesel fuel is significantly cheaper than regular gas and makes sense if you drive a lot.
So while the diesel version of a car costs more upfront than its gas counterpart, the fuel is cheaper. If you drive a lot, you probably have a diesel engine even if more and more French people are opting for other options like hybrids and electric cars these days due to the environmental impact. I can get on board with that.
Rental car tip: Make sure you know if your rental car is a gas or diesel fuel vehicle before you head to the pump!
What other French habits do you love about the French way of life?
Check out my eGuide for 75 tips for your first trip to France!
P.S. If you enjoyed this post, let me know in the comments if you’d like me to do the reverse — things the French love that I can’t stand. ;-))