Everyone says that the USA is the land of opportunity… but not for everything! Here’s a list of things I can do in France that I can’t in the USA.
First, as I always say, this isn’t a judgment of France or the U.S., nor am I saying any one country is superior. They’re different countries so it’s only normal that we do things differently. I think it’s super interesting to learn about cultural differences, not only to better prepare ourselves for travel but to further education and cultural awareness.
Also, I write from the perspective of an American in France — my lived experience — but the things I list below don’t necessarily apply only to France.
17 Things I can do in France that I can’t in the USA:
1. Walk my small and well-behaved dog into a restaurant and dine with her under the table without anyone batting an eye. In many cases, the waiter will even bring her a bowl of water! (If waitstaff goes out of their way for your dog, definitely leave a small tip!)
Dagny has eaten at outdoor cafes as well as Michelin-starred restaurants, and as long as your dog is quiet and calm, it’s rarely a problem.
2. Go to a local emergency veterinarian on a Sunday and leave with a bill that was only in the low 3 digits (for something that would be well over $1000 back home).
3. Drink an open container of alcohol in plain view walking down the street without the fear of getting arrested. I have never attempted this since I like to get tipsy when I have the security of a chair and table to prop me up, but it’s legal in most areas of France to open some wine for a picnic or imbibe as long as you’re not sloppy, fall-down drunk. Ivresse is what you want to avoid.
4. Get a perfectly decent bottle of wine at the grocery store for under 10 euros. And get a wedge of Brie and a baguette for a few euros along with it. Now you’re not going to get a top quality Bordeaux wine for 5 euros at the supermarket but there are many wines that are great table wines — even organic ones — that won’t cost you a ton of money.
Even if you buy direct from the winery, many wines in France are perfectly affordable. I live out by Angers in the Loire Valley and lots of wines are under 10 euros/bottle. Baguettes and bread are anywhere from 1 to 2 euros each depending on what you get and a wedge of cheese can be picked up for a couple of euros as well.
5. Join a gym without signing a lengthy legal waiver to protect them against lawsuits. Signing up for a gym membership was a quick and painless process. If I slip on the floor, it’s my problem — not theirs.
6. Go to the doctor without filling out a clipboard full of paperwork beforehand. Healthcare in France is nothing like our system in the USA.
7. Along with that, the ability to see a doctor without worrying about the bill. And have the doctor make a house call if you can’t get out of bed. Now that’s not to say all Americans worry about medical costs. They don’t because some people have good insurance, but the difference is in France everyone has the same base coverage and then most people have affordable supplemental insurance for even more coverage, called a mutuelle. Healthcare in France is a right, not a privilege and isn’t attached to your job status.
And doctors can make house calls if necessary. Also, a price list is displayed in a doctor’s waiting room so there’s no mystery about what the prices are. I’ve had the experience in the US where I ask how much a certain test costs and they are unable to tell me in advance. In France, that’s not the case.
8. Order a glass of wine at a work lunch without anyone batting an eye. It’s normal and meals are meant to be enjoyed! Regarding social norms, here are some U.S. social norms that don’t translate to French culture.
9. Take off work for 3 weeks in the summer for vacation and still have a job to return to when you come back! Many Americans get 2 weeks of paid vacation per year and legally, it’s not required by law to give any days of vacation at all.
That’s right, the Fair Labor Standards Act does not require American employers to give employees any vacation leave at all. In France, all full-time employees get 5 weeks of paid vacation and that’s mandated by law. Many French people take 2 or 3 weeks off in the summer and it’s a normal thing to do, not grounds for termination or a sign that you’re slacking off work. The French work to live, not the other way around (and it doesn’t mean they’re lazy!).
10. Buy a Kinder Surprise Egg in the grocery store (they’re banned in the USA because they’re a choking hazard).
11. Travel internationally by high-speed train. France’s high speed train is called the TGV, trains à grand vitesse. You can go from Paris to nearly everywhere around France and then outside of big cities, there’s a well connected regional train network.
There’s even a discount card for all types of situations, seniors, students, etc. These trains can reach speeds of up to 320 km/h so travel times are reasonable. Paris to Brussels is about 90 minutes. Here’s my ultimate guide to train travel in France.
12. Drive on highways that don’t have an abundance of potholes.
13. Know the total price of your purchase upfront without having to do any math (the price you see on the ticket or menu is the price you pay). The VAT is standard everywhere.
14. Go to Picard — France’s frozen food store! It is like nothing I’d ever experienced in the USA, and I make weekly visits (or as often as my freezer space will allow). It’s a favorite among the French too.
Picture your regular grocery store’s frozen food aisles times 10. This isn’t any frozen food store, though. Picard foods are all Picard brand (a few exceptions) and extremely high quality, not to mention the selection is unreal.
Picard has over 1,100 products including appetizers, soups, fish and meat both plain and prepared, sauces, vegetables, fruit, chopped herbs, pasta, all kinds of desserts and ice cream and even bread and pancakes. They’ve offered organic products since 1998 and pride themselves on offering products that are as close to their natural state as possible, without GMOs, hydrogenated oils and only minimal salt. 70% of their suppliers are in France with local know-how.
Even if you enjoy cooking and have the time to do it, is not feasible for most modern families to cook every single meal 100% from scratch every single day, so when you need something, Picard is always the answer. Yes, it’s that good.
P.S. Here’s where to get French grocery items in the U.S.
15. Find mostly non-GMO produce in the supermarket.
16. Find amazing baguettes everywhere! It’s not a stereotype — the French really do frequent the bakery often.
17. Graduate from university with no debt! The French pay a small fraction of what students pay in the USA for higher education. The tuition at public universities is less than 500 euros/year, and even the top tier grandes écoles, France’s best equivalent to US Ivy Leagues are much less expensive.
It’s common in the US for adults to carry to student loan debt for years, well into their 30s and that would be quite unusual for a French person. Even medical school in France doesn’t cost hundreds of thousands of euros. Master’s programs may be 4 or 5,ooo euros/year.
There are loads more. I’d love to hear your additions to my list of what you can do in France but not the United States! For tips to better prepare you for your trip, check out my eGuide titled “75 Beginner France travel tips for a standout trip!”
Don’t forget to check out the opposite post about things I can do in the USA that I can’t in France!