When you think of Americans and the French, who seems more relaxed overall? Is one group of people more strict or uptight about certain things? For me, it’s a tossup and depends on what we’re talking about. Both the French and Americans can be more relaxed…
So let’s get to it with 7 things the French are more relaxed about than Americans!
Things the French are more relaxed about than Americans
Sometimes when I’m back in the USA, I feel like American culture makes us ashamed to eat dessert. Like it’s a bad thing. This depends on your social group I guess, but most of the time dessert is not even an option at restaurants because I’m too full by the time the dessert menu is presented to us. Thinking about eating one more morsel at that point makes me queasy, so I pass.
But when Americans want dessert and still have room, we say things like we’re “going to be bad” and order something to “share with the table.” There’s so much guilt around enjoying dessert in the US and we’re anything but relaxed about it.
Now what about France?
The French eat dessert all the time and seem to embrace the mentality that we only live once! I’m not saying French people are gorging themselves on pastries, cake, cookies and ice cream 24/7 — that’s not the case — but if they go out to eat or host a special meal, dessert is always served and is always eaten and savored. Sometimes it’s as simple as fresh fruit or a yogurt, but most meals end with some sort of a dessert option. Other times it’s a small, freshly prepared pastry. The guilt factor is rare.
A few points to note: The portions are small. Dessert might be a small piece of pie and not something the size of a brick. Normally you’ll still have room for dessert after a French meal. The French don’t snack all day so when it’s time to eat a meal, they’re hungry.
In the suburbs, there aren’t as many food options all over as there are in the USA. This way, the French savor dessert at mealtime because they haven’t downed their Frappuccino 3 hours earlier or grabbed a late lunch at 3pm (most restaurants are closed outside of mealtimes in France) or popped into their favorite pretzel place or smoothie joint. There just aren’t as many options to eat whenever.
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Bluntly put, French customer service sucks. If you come from the land of The Customer Is Always Right, getting anything resolved from a customer service perspective in France might make you nuts. I wrote a whole post on American vs French customer service and while I can’t say the French are OK with sub-par service, they’ve seemingly come to accept it. I don’t know if acceptance is the same as being relaxed but people just seem to shrug and move on when stores don’t go above and beyond. You deserve better, Frenchies! Don’t settle!
Nudity and cursing on television
If you want to see nudity and hear the f-bomb on American TV, turn on Showtime or HBO. Regular network TV, even late at night and rated TV M, can’t show you boobs or swear. Cable channels in the US sometimes have racier content — but usually 9pm or after — and still the TV M rating isn’t nearly as racy as French TV shows.
Even French commercials are more suggestive than what we see in the USA and a naked butt at 5pm or a putain isn’t anything to bat an eye at. I don’t know if Americans are uptight because nudity just isn’t what we’re used to or if we really are offended by our bodies and swearing. The French are definitely more relaxed about this one.
Cutoff times for award shows
Sticking with TV for a minute, I’ve noticed that on live television in France, they aren’t so strict about adhering to a perfect schedule down to the second. At awards shows in the US like the Emmys or VMAs, award winners come on stage and have about 30 seconds to speak and thank everyone. Sometimes if they’re going on and on, the network will start playing the “go to commercial” music or cut the mic entirely to shut the person up. In France, they seem to be less strict about that and let people talk even if they are going over the time limit.
Also on shows like The Voice in the US, host Carson Daly will be in charge of sticking to a very regimented schedule and will often have to rush his speech at the end of the show to make sure he gets everything in before the network cuts and airs the next program, which is always on time. It’s a bit more relaxed in France.
Why is this the case? Money.
It probably has to do with the fact that France is less dependent on advertisers’ dollars, so with fewer commercials, each second is less important. If a weekly show starts a little late because the live program before went over by 20 minutes, no big deal.
Being on time
Arrival times are just suggestions and aren’t set in stone. Party starts at 8? Showing up at 9 is fine. Have a doctor’s appointment at 2? Show up at 2:30. I know that both American and French doctors are notorious for running late and it’s not a French problem by any means. But how we react to it is where the difference lies. Americans expect a phone call from the office’s secretary if the doctor is running behind because sitting in a waiting room for 2 additional hours will ruin our day.
The French, on the other hand, seem to expect that the doc is running late and tolerate it. Life in small-town France just seems to move at a slower pace so time isn’t such a huge focus. I was raised that being late is rude whereas in other cultures maybe being on time is impolite. Cultural differences explain a lot.
Taking vacation time
The French are relaxed about their time off from work because they have so much of it. Five weeks of vacation per year is the norm and many employees have significantly more than that. Taking off for two or three weeks in July or August is expected and welcomed whereas in the USA, that might put you on a performance improvement plan. Many American employees stress about when they’ll have time to take their vacation days because the demands of their work are too high, but in France? The vacation time seems to be the priority, not the work.
The US has no shortage of proud racists behaving badly. In many areas of the country, people still believe that different ethnicities shouldn’t mix and that interracial couples are inherently bad. Gallup’s Minority Rights and Relations poll claims that 13% of Americans do not approve of interracial marriage (this figure was 48% of Americans in 1995). Say what?!??! I guess we’re moving in the right direction but still.
In France, interracial couples are quite common and everyone is totally cool with that, at least publicly it seems. Generally speaking, the French seem to be more accepting of those who look different. We’re all people, so what’s the big frickin’ deal? The US could learn a few things. But there’s always a flip side, so stay tuned for follow-up on what Americans are more relaxed about. Or maybe a reader wants to beat me to it!
Anything to add? What is France more relaxed about than the USA?
Taste of France says
You’ve nailed it. Along with dessert, there’s alcohol–beer at MacDo, etc.
The French are more put off by violence than Americans, but they don’t care about nudity and acknowledge the existence of sex.
I think they don’t freak out about waiting at the doctor’s office because they aren’t going to get fired for being late back to work.
I disagree on the racism point. They might not care about interracial couples, but I am constantly shocked by the casual racism. People judge others on looks (dark skin, kinky hair, must be an immigrant) and their names and they don’t seem to realize it isn’t cool.
That’s so true. Waits at the doctor’s office aren’t a huge deal because you won’t get in trouble at work. I hadn’t considered that but you’re totally right!
I think there’s casual racism everywhere but about interracial couples alone, I do feel like France is more accepting. Just based on my experience. But yes, racism is everywhere.
Allie Denault says
You nailed this post-especially with the time. I would also add beer/wine. It’s very common to have a drink with lunch and dinner in France and I feel like Americans are more strict about that.
Thank you and excellent addition. You’re so right about a casual beer or glass of wine at lunch — even a business lunch. I feel like that’s more looked down upon at mainstream corporate workplaces in the USA.
The thing about beer and wine is just as true in Australia as in America. I did an oenology course at university here in Australia, which out of necessity had an unit on wine tasting. This came with a lengthy disclaimer that the university was a work place, and drinking during working hours was an occupational health and safety violation — so anyone who actually drank the wine rather than tasting it then spitting it out would be thrown out of class or expelled. I can see that it wouldn’t be appropriate to get drunk during class but the threat was a bit over the top. At the time I wondered what the French would make of it. They were a bit more relaxed about it in practice, however, especially on the last day.
The weather! French people don’t hort food and water before storms. Sure, storms are more dramatic in the States than in France. But after 3 years living in the capital city, I feel like the buildings, the roads etc are not appropriate for the weather.
That’s true. There’s a survivalist mentality in the US and a lot of people do stock up before big storms!
I think the French are more apt to have loud personal arguments in public — in cafés, on the street. I’m probably old-school but in the U.S. I think it’s still considered bad form. In France, I think it’s just a recognized part of life, and it’s probably wrapped up in a different French conception of relationships between the sexes and maybe within couples generally.
I’ve heard of that but never experienced it for myself. I can’t think of any big arguments in public lately. I guess sometimes emotions boil over and public or not we have to let it out. But yea if I had the choice, better to fight at home!
I think I would add smoking and tattoos to the list as well. I am constantly still shocked by the number of people who smoke and by the number of young people who have decided to get tattoos, which seem to be “très à la mode,” with not a real concern for “what if I don’t like this later.”
Stress. I’m don’t see a lot of uptight French people, racing about, although Paris may be another story. The French enjoy life and are very intentional to savor it much as they do their desserts and their vacation time.
Yup, those are both great. SO, so, so many smokers. My husband is one of them and I hate it. People know it causes cancer yet they seem to think if they quit by 40, everything will be fine. To each his own I guess but smoking is not something I personally feel anyone should be relaxed about.
In my area of France, I see a ton of tattoos and not little ones you can hide!
Excellent post, Diane! As previous commenters said, I think you hit the nail on the head with your assessment lax French attitudes. I definitely second the drinking/smoking that some of the others brought up. I was so shocked when I was a teaching assistant in France and we had a nice lunch with wine before going back to teach! Oh la la!
Thanks very much! Yes, the leisurely lunches with wine can definitely be a shock. I know if I had wine with lunch at my old work back in the US, it would have been frowned upon. Personally I try to stay away from wine at lunch because it makes me too sleepy to be productive. But on Sundays when with family? Bring it on!
This is a great list! I completely agree on all your points. And, honestly I love each of these parts of the French culture. They really suit my personality perfectly! Even the customer service element… although I find it irritating, it’s taught me patience, and I like myself better as a patient person! 🙂
I would add that professional “work attire” is more relaxed here, especially for women. In the US, women with middle-level jobs often need to wear suits, or suit-pants and a really nice dress shirt. Here in Paris, I find that middle-level jobs rarely have people dressed quite so formally. I’m constantly surprised to see some mid-level employees wearing skinny jeans and a t-shirt with a design printed on the front! You’d never see that in most companies in the US.
Merci! You’re a better person than I am. I think I’d like myself better as a more patient person… maybe you have some tips? Hahaha.
Interesting about the work attire. I don’t have much experience when it comes to how people dress for office work in Paris but I know in general startups seem to be more relaxed. My husband has to wear a nice suit to work daily and is definitely business formal. Guess it depends on the company too! Thx for taking the time to comment!
Tiina A says
Even though I’ve ever lived in France – this was such a great post! There were several points I can related as a Finn.
Thank you! What points are the same for Finnish people? I’ve never been there — would love to know more!
Great idea for pointing out the differences between the French and Americans. I like the dessert part but must say that I find the nudity overload in France offensive. Especially traveling with kids in France. As for customer service, I much prefer the US version. But, I must say, I love traveling to France and cannot get tired of it.
Thank you! France definitely has its quirks, like anywhere, and yes the nudity can be a surprise if you’re not expecting it. I really only see it on TV. Regular bus stop ads and people in day-to-day life seem to be covered up. It’s the cursing (hearing putain even in professional situations in front of clients) still makes me do a double take. I wrote a whole post on that here: https://www.ouiinfrance.com/2015/08/31/do-or-dont-the-use-of-putain-in-casual-speech/
Emily Commander says
This made me giggle. Particularly the TV nudity. I can remember my husband watching a shampoo ad with his French family and coming over all Benny Hill at the sight of a female nipple (the same nipple which had been banned before the 9pm watershed in the UK). When he looked around the room though nobody else seemed to think that there was anything at all remarkable about it.
Haha thanks for sharing. 😉 I have to say that the French nudity on TV is very matter of fact and not sexualized or porny. At least what I’ve seen. So a nipple in a shampoo commercial was just part of the ad so no one really blinked an eye. But do that in the US (or maybe the UK, not familiar w/norms there), and there would probably be a ton of complaints. Thanks for stopping by!
Remember, in the States, the land of moral rectitude, that, until recently, bra commercials couldn’t actually show the bra being worn.
Oh man, is that true? No bra shots?
Great post. I’m British rather than American but much of this resonates with me. The timing thing can be really annoying. We live in SW France and nothing – ever – starts on time. The worst we experienced was a party where no one got a drink until the stragglers turned up – more than an hour late!
Oh man, I feel your pain. That does NOT sound like a fun party. I guess the lesson is to bring your own flask? Haha terrible. For a punctual person like me, that would drive me insane
I’m constantly amazed at how France has taken on the F word, not just swearing in French but using what is considered one of the most offensive words in British English (can’t speak for US English). They are much more relaxed then British about it.
Yeah, it can be shocking to hear an accented fuck come out of a French person’s mouth. Quite crass and while I’m not one to be offended by cursing, I feel like there’s a time and a place! Otherwise it loses its effectiveness and impact. It’s definitely not used as loosely as putain in most social circles in the USA. I guess it depends on one’s crowd, but swearing doesn’t usually go over well.
Lee McAuliffe Rambo says
I think it’s very telling that the favorite gros mot of the French is putain.
Several years ago I realized that most obscenities and vulgarisms are anti-woman or (what is the same thing) anti-body. I decided to forswear this form of swearing to reflect my feminist convictions.
As feminism remains a dirty word in France, I don’t suppose the French will adopt my practice any time soon. I’ll continue to hear my French women friends employing, as invective, a word that denotes their sisters who service men.
I am French and I read few of your articles. It is nice to read those and see the difference and how we are percieved. I like it very much.
I know that a lot of people are shocked by nudity. Maybe French are not so much about nudity because we see it just like a body and we should not be ashame of it. It is our nature after all.
I lived in the US for a year, and I am currently working for a US company, and i can also said that there are things that shocked me. One of them is that Americans are shocked to see nudity on TV but it is okay to wear bikinis or very tight dresses and very short skirts which suggest the same than being naked.
If you come to France, the girls who wear those outfits are really rare, and French better suggest in the real life than let people see all their curves.
I find that the French are very relaxed about paying their Bill’s on time. I have been told “don’t worry ” so many times when commenting about getting a bill paid . I’ve heard ” they don’t need your money ” as well. I hate to pay any kind of late fees in the US but trying to sort and pay my bills pertaining to our house in France, it has happened occasionally. I will fret over it but my French friends think it is not an issue.
Bradford Robert McCormick says
I “am an American”, i.e.., I was born and have lived in “this country” for 76 years. I find Americans, with a few exceptions, of course like my 88 years old nextdoor neighbor who was born and raised in France, to be superficial. Americans are obsessed, repeat: obsessed with BODY ODOR. Are the French obsessed with BODY ODOR? “The French are more put off by violence than Americans, but they don’t care about nudity and acknowledge the existence of sex.” Sounds good to me.
I think “you” should have won The French and Indian Wars (1754-63). I read the French were more willing to live with (not exterminate) the native Americans, and maybe if “you” had won and kept part of what is not the “lower 48” for New France the “United Staes: could not be as big a bully on the international stage as it is.
America is, with some exceptions, of course, a really disgusting place. “You” had LeCorbusier. We had Wiliam Levitt. Is most French persons’ most cherished possession their lawn? “You” had Charles de Gaulle. We had Ronald Reagan. “You” have chateaux; we have MacMansions.WHy don’t you tell McDonalds to go back where they came from? Yuk. Vive la France!