Are you a different version of yourself when you’re home versus when you’re abroad? If so, in what ways? What aspects of your home culture do you embrace and what feels most natural when you’re abroad? I’m currently in Florida visiting family — after having been away about a year and a half — and I definitely find myself acting more American in the USA and more French in France. It’s only normal. I’ve been settling in now to Florida life for two weeks and here are the things I find myself doing more in the USA than in France.
Things I find myself doing more in the USA than France
Living abroad makes you a bit of a chameleon in a lot of ways. You switch between languages and cultures while adapting to a different way of life. I feel like it’s pretty easy to fall back into the American way of life when I’m back in the USA as well.
Before I get into my list of mostly little things, I will say that it’s hard to do an apples to apples comparison of how my everyday life is different in the USA because I no longer have a normal “everyday life” in the USA. For the most part, the USA Diane is in the USA on vacation, more relaxed, and happy to see friends and family. France Diane is living normal everyday life and has all the stresses that come with that.
As I always say, real life isn’t vacation and the “real” version of me is France Diane, or somewhere in the middle.
For this Florida trip, it was unplanned and I’m not on vacation exactly, but I will say I’m not in work mode either and am trying to enjoy myself and the time spent with family. It’s been too long!
Regardless of what brings me back to the USA each, I am different than I was. Any way you look at it, when you live abroad, your new culture rubs off on you and expands your horizons. That’s most certainly a good thing. I think living in France has taken bits of who I was and molded them into a new version of myself that I’ve really come to like. It’s all for the best.
Lastly, as I always say, the US is a big place so not everyone’s experience will be the same. This is mine.
Maybe you can relate?
Here are 11 things I do more in the USA than in France:
1. Cash back at the register
It’s normal to get cash back at places like the drug store or supermarket instead of having to go to an ATM. The cashier will add an additional $20 or $40 to your bill, you then pay by card and then get the extra cash back in your hand. It’s an option I don’t think I’ve ever seen in France, although I’m sure it’ll slowly catch on.
In the USA, it’s super convenient to not have to seek out an ATM and be able to get a small amount of cash at the register when you’re shopping at CVS, Publix… everywhere!
2. Coffee to go
I’m not a big fan of coffee from Starbucks, but I love their chai and I’ll never say no to a frappuccino for old time’s sake. There’s something about Starbucks that brings me back to my college days in NYC or even work breaks with colleagues that were always a welcome escape from my computer screen in the World Financial Center. Going to Starbucks when I’m back in the USA feels like a treat and makes me feel like I’m home.
Many of the locations near my parents’ house even have drive-throughs, which weren’t the norm when I left the USA. I still think it’s faster to run inside to order. In France, it’s way less common to see coffee shops that serve to-go coffee, especially in smaller towns. Starbucks only started popping up in big cities a couple of years ago and aren’t mainstream like they are nearly everywhere in the USA. And definitely no drive-throughs at coffee shops in France!
3. Dressing casually and fitting right in.
It’s not that the French don’t dress casually — they do! (especially outside of bigger cities) — but I’d say it’s more commonplace to dress down in the USA. I’m not talking about wearing your PJs out and about, though. That should be avoided at all costs anywhere. 😉 I dress for myself and don’t really care if I fit in, but I do notice there are more people dressing like me in the USA when out and about. I’m not one to put on my Sunday best to walk my dog in the park.
Still, I think my casualwear is more dressy than some of the styles I see in Florida, so the French way has definitely rubbed off on me. Here in Florida, it’s totally normal to see people at the grocery store in beachwear — think rubber flip flops and beach cover-ups — or super casual t-shirts and shorts. No stress!
4. Going out to eat
Tom and I don’t go out to eat too often in France although we have a few favorites we’ve supported via takeout during the pandemic. In the US though, when you’re on vacation, going out to eat just makes more sense. It’s nice to eat a meal out with the whole family and I find that I have more choices, even in smaller towns in the US, and of course more flexible hours where a late lunch is no problem at all.
My favorite French mealtime habit >>
5. Leaving 20% tips at restaurants
Tipping culture is huge in the USA and leaving a 20% tip or more at a restaurant is expected and I do it every time we eat out. Americans factor in the cost of the tip when deciding to dine out. While there are instances where you do tip in France, waiters do not depend on tips to live like they do in the USA because they are paid a liveable wage. I tip in France for a good meal but the norm is nowhere near 20%, nor is it required in France.
6. Walking around
I walk more when I’m in the US! Part of this is because I’m here with family and we have errands to run (so I’m not stuck working all day behind a screen). This past year, life in France has been interrupted by lockdowns, closures, and curfews. Tom and I weren’t out and about as much as we usually were.
Here in Florida, it feels good to be outside in the early morning for a walk when I have the most energy and running errands when most people are still in bed. I’m even more of an early riser here and like taking advantage of the stores that open early before the heat of the day takes over.
7. Doggy bags
Generally speaking, meal portions are quite large at US restaurants. It depends where you eat, though. And if you do get too much food, taking it home is better than wasting it and is easily doable — just ask for a doggy bag. France is changing their stance on doggy bags and is apparently the customer’s right to ask for one, but no one really does it.
It is much more common to take your leftovers home in the USA than in France since there’s often food left over, which makes for a great next-day lunch. I can’t remember a time when I’d asked for a doggy bag in France. Usually the portions are the perfect size so nothing is left to take home. The French tend to go out to eat when they have an appetite for a good meal.
8. Going out somewhere after dinner (other than a bar) because places are still open
Many stores and other businesses are open after dinnertime in the US so it’s normal to go out somewhere after dinner. Or shop on Sunday afternoon. In France, we are generally in for the night after we eat dinner since stores are not open. That said, we do tend to eat later in France. Some places in France are open later but there’s no such thing as a 10 p.m. Target run or grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon. There’s no Target. And if there were, it wouldn’t be open past 9 p.m. French work culture and store hours are different.
9. Finding myself surprised at little things
I grew up in NJ, so Florida has always felt like a different world even when I’d come on vacation as a kid. The tropical weather, palm trees, rainbow-colored lizards and beautiful birds, turquoise water, excellent froyo at the gas station, amazing selection of hard seltzers, and huge highways are just the beginning.
On this trip, some of the billboards caught my eye because I’m not used to seeing them in France. Gun laws aren’t the same, for one, so you won’t see advertisements for weapons in France and I can’t see I’ve seen any pro-life signs on public roads in France either. It’s so interesting to look at the two cultures, especially when you’ve been away awhile. I love being weirded out, surprised, or delighted by things on my home turf. It’s funny what you get used to after seeing it all around you.
10. Drinking beverages other than wine
Wine is expensive in the USA!! US$15 for a bottle of wine from the supermarket — on the low end — adds up and wine by the glass at restaurants isn’t cheap either. Of course there are expensive wines in France too, but you can find local wine for casual drinking that’s reasonably priced since it doesn’t have to be imported.
All in all, it’s a bit more affordable to drink well in France, so I’ll save my wine consumption for when I’m back on that side of the Atlantic. Besides, in the Florida heat, water tastes amazing. There are also all kinds of non-alcoholic sparkling seltzers that are all new to me.
11. Making small talk
Small talk is a little different in France. People tend to keep to themselves more when out shopping and in other public situations where they’d encounter strangers. In the US, I’ve had random conversations with strangers almost daily since I’ve been here. After being away for so long, it can almost feel intrusive because I”m not used to it. That’s not to say French people don’t ever strike up conversations — they do! — it’s just on a smaller scale.
It’s not that Americans are friendlier necessarily either, it’s just that social norms are different and the French have a different concept of what’s polite socially. Chatting it up with strangers while in line at the grocery store, or even with the cashier beyond a hello, is not as common in France because it’s seen as not respecting someone’s private sphere. That’s not to say everyone is making small talk all the time in the USA, but overall it’s more common to strike up a convo with a stranger or compliment someone randomly on their shoes.
What about you? What do you find yourself doing more of when you’re in your home country?