Every culture is different and you won’t experience that first-hand until you’re part of it. Before moving to France (the first time in 2009), I had visited twice in my life so I knew what to expect the second time around (moved again in Dec. 2011). So if you’re moving to France, thinking of visiting or are just curious, read on for my short list of fun facts that make France, well, France.
Pharmacies are everywhere in France! In fact, there are over 22,000 thousand of them! In France, all pharmacies are privately owned and aren’t anything like CVS or Duane Reade in the U.S. French pharmacies only sell medicines and the like. They don’t carry candy, cigarettes or magazines. I wrote more about French pharmacies here and even did a behind-the-scenes French pharmacy video.
2. Lunchtime is when everything is closed
No this isn’t Spain, and I don’t know if people actually nap, but the whole place, by which I mean France, shuts down between the hours of 12 to 2 p.m. each day. Thinking of hitting the aforementioned pharmacy or the bank on your lunch break? Think again. Many places (from little shops to the post office) are closed during lunchtime in France.
There are exceptions and you’ll find many places in larger cities do stay open between the hours of 12 and 2 p.m.
3. No sales except for Les Soldes
Only twice a year do French people get to partake in big Black Friday-like madness. France’s big sales are called Les Soldes and can legally only happen twice a year: January and July for about three weeks.
Looking to save big on your spouse’s Christmas gift? Not here (unless you wait to buy it until AFTER Christmas). Generally speaking, there aren’t any great deals to be had in France except during Les Soldes, although sometimes merchants have small sales throughout the year but with only small discounts on a handful of items.
4. The bureaucracy
Any little bureaucratic change is a nightmare consisting of phone tag and a game of “let’s see how many times I can make you come back with new documents before you lose your marbles.”
If you need to get a document from immigration, update your address or attempt to get any mundane task done that requires you to contact the government, prepare to waste a few hours of your time. Bring a book and maybe have a few shots of tequila to loosen up before you attempt to interact with anyone. I’m kidding…. kinda.
5. Certain grocery items are nowhere to be found
Yeah, I know it’s France, but come on, where’s the canned pumpkin? Coffee creamer? PAM cooking spray? You won’t find it here. So you learn to adapt and do things the French way.
On the plus side, there are amazing French items that almost make me forget about the lack of canned pumpkin. Almost. If you’re in the U.S., myPanier is the best online French grocery store.
6. Don’t leave a tip!
Not for your waiter, bartender or even your hair stylist! The French only tip for exceptional service and even then, it’s not anywhere near 15-20% we’re used to paying in the U.S. But that’s because the value added tax (VAT), a consumption tax, is built in to the prices the consumer sees — and it’s 19.6% (yes it’s high but Finland’s is 23%!)!
The price you see is the price you pay on grocery items, restaurant menus and even cars. It’s nice to know the price before you get to the register. Read this for more on tipping in France.
7. Wine, wine, everywhere!
Cafes, bars and your local grocery store all carry affordable wines that will run you as little as $5 per bottle depending on what wine you choose.
8. All debit cards have a chip called a puce and have for years
These days, American debit/credit cards have chips just like French cards have had for years. They’ll generally work in France but have a backup method for gas stations. Even with a chip, my American cards never seem to work.
Also, credit cards aren’t the norm here. Most French people pay their day-to-day expenses with their debit card and the money comes right out of their bank account. The concept of a credit card is somewhat foreign here and definitely not widespread.
9. French people don’t hug
They do la bise. You know, the little air kiss on either side of the cheek. If you’re not used to this, it can be quite an ordeal trying to figure out who you need to kiss. Your husband’s family members? Yup. Even when you’ve never met them before? Yup. Husband’s boss? Not so much.
Oh, and don’t ever hug a French person out of the blue. They’ll just stand there with their arms at their side not knowing what to do. Trust me on that one.
10. Everyone has healthcare
And for my favorite France culture fact, THIS IS IT! If we are unable to take care of our health, nothing else matters. In France, the government makes it easy to look after your health because it’s affordable and not linked to your job status. Even if you lose your job, you don’t lose your healthcare.
Kids under 6 are 100% free and for the rest of us, costs (which are already low) are reimbursed at 70% by the French social security system, La Secu for short. If you have a mutuelle, supplemental coverage, you get an additional percentage reimbursed.
No one here (except me) asks how much a test or medicine is before agreeing to it. Why? Because it’ll never be a problem. Yes, we all pay into the system and healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Here’s more on healthcare in France. And 77 little things that are different in France.
What fun facts about France do you have to share?