| What do Americans like
|| Is there a French "
Art de Vivre " ?
is an Association of
American Women (and some men) living in France. In the Fev.2001
issue of its Newsletter, it asked its readers "What is your
favorite thing about living in France or what would you miss
the most if you had to leave ?". Among the answers :
- Not surprisingly, many answers
about food and wine : "Food
and Wine. Or should I say fresh, well-prepared food, served at
a well decorated table and eaten with four hours of wonderful
conversation and some very dry red wine" (Wendy S.), "I would miss the French
way of eating the most. Not just the food and wine but their
approach to eating." (Martha H.)
- Many answers on Paris : "Besides loving the beauty of
Paris and the feeling of being 'special' as an American (yes,
believe it or not)" (Jill D.), "the visual quality
of Paris : I still get a thrill just walking around and looking,
after 35 years." (Peter R.)
- On practical
life : " I'd
miss the cost of medical care and the number of vacation days
I get.. " (Diana M.), " Government services
: the TGV, .. the French postal service. The French health
care system. " (Julie W.), "you can reason
with the rules : indeed, you have to make a special case for
yourself at all times. If a rule doesn't make sense in your case,
a French person is usually willing to overlook it. The American
will usually say 'Sorry but that is the rule'" (Julie
- About France in Europe : " ..it is being on the front
doorstep to Europe. You are just about a one hour flight to visiting
almost all the beautiful European cities" (Kristen A.),
" the feeling of being part of Europe and the rest of
the world. I love listening to international news on French radio
and TV and reading Le Monde and the IHT every day. I have a pet
peeve against the media in the States at the moment. It's just
too entertainment-prone and parochial." (Hilary K.)
WARNING ! There are many stereotypes about " Art de
Vivre " in France but do not consider it a fairy land. Nevertheless,
certain aspects of life in France are so different from life
in the USA that they can be considered either as an additional
proof that the country is really decadent, or as a sign of a
different value system which, for some people at least (and hopefully
the French themselves) is a form of " Art de Vivre
". Read a letter about quality
of life in France.
- " More time for personal life
" : France is
among the countries where the working time is the shortest (more
vacations, less hours per week); watch the huge traffic jams
at each beginning of vacation period (every six weeks !), listen
to people talking about their RTT ("Reduction du temps
de Travail " : excess time over 35 hours/week which
is transformed into days off), etc.... ; certainly the French
work for their living but live less for their work than the Americans
do.... (see working
with the French and French productivity,
which is high, to the amazement of most Americans!). Actually,
the French societey makes (implicitely) the choice to transform
a part of productivity gains into more leisure rather than into
more production and consumption of goods and services par capita....
In France, the key word is vacations
: in schools, two weeks every 6 weeks and 2 and a half months
in Summer ; in professional life, from 5 (legal minimum) to 7
or 8 weeks a year. See examples of
curious (for Americans) French behavior and read my personal
opinion about the 35-hour
- " Less tension "
: it is not considered a
shame to do nothing and enjoy life ; France is still a "
bistrot " civilization where people spend time talking...
Less social pressure than in the USA on people who do not work
! Pleasure is neither guilt nor labor ! More about pleasure.
- Other aspects
: " being able to
have a heated discussion with friends who disagree with you WITHOUT
them thinking that you are mad at them." (Lorraine T.), "Crossing the
street in the midle, being late, tolerance, topless beaches,
great food , restaurants and cafés everywhere, beautiful
shops, beautiful everything, that 'je ne sais quoi'"
(Micaela P.), " ...in France, women over 35 are still
appreciated and flirted with" (Julie W.)
- What Americans (any many French
people) don't like : read about irksome France. and read how difficult it is to be
a Japanese expat in
Some of the things that you'll
miss when you're in France
(they do not exist or are
hard to find at a reasonable price)
- Baseball games : nobody can
figure out the rules (but you can watch baseball game in some
sport cafes in
- Good sandwiches (but they're
improving) ; they can be controversial too (read " a
sandwich is not a meal " in French Toast)
- Peanut butter
- Big fluffy American towels
- A real martini (i.e. with hardly
any martini in it)
- Air conditioning
- Ice cubes in everything
- More to come
- " Less vital drama
" : the social system
protects people from the major dramas of life : illness (see
sick in France), cost of education (see
and retirement :
it does not mean that the French do not have any problems making
ends meet but on these key issues, the social system protects
them against major dramas... The French bureaucratic system has
many drawbacks, but imagine life with much less worries about
health, education of children, loss of job and retirement...
- " More beauty and elegance
" : when in a situation
of such choice, the French will most likely choose elegance over
efficiency or comfort (see French woman)
; look at French shop windows, etc...
- And also :
- More to come
| Going back home... a
||What is "Americanization" ?
In her excellent web
site, a young American woman who spent several years in Paris
working for a French company makes the following list of what
she liked and disliked. Here goes :
Things I'll miss :
- The cheese, the Bread, the Wine,
- Socialism (she means : good
and cheap health care, public services, 5 weeks vacation...)
- UGC Carte Illimitée (unlimited
movies anytime, 16 Euros)
- Café Culture
- Public Space
- No Open Container Laws
- Tip and Tax Included in the
- The Pronoun "One"
Things I'll Not Miss :
- The Ridiculous Shop Hours
- The Dog Shit
- The UnAirConditionned Metros
- The Metros Don't Run All Night
- The Collective Taste in Music
- The Concept of Meetings (see
our Section : "Working
With the French")
- Queuing Up and/or the Idea of
- No Coffee to Go
- Cat-Calling and Leering as a
Part-Time Job (she must be pretty, otherwise it would not be
What do the French call "
Americanization " ? There
is no doubt that America is associated with progress, efficiency,
culture, etc... But like the other people in Europe, the French
often fear that the influence of America might threaten their
economy, their way of life and their culture. This feeling is
largely shared among the left wing, but not only. By Americanization,
they often mean :
- American mass culture (films, music) dominating the world
and weakening or destroying national cultures : see " exception culturelle
" . In Africa, American distributors offer free US TV series
in exchange for TV commercials for US products (cited by Belgian
daily le Soir, Feb.10, 2005)
- American institutions and
legal practices : for
example, when signing a contract with a powerful American supplier,
the contract will be in English, drafted by a US law-firm, the
last provision will be that, in case of conflict, the case will
be taken to a New York court, ....
- Having to speak English, as a common language ; this is one
of the most important issues of the building of Europe
and, contrary to what many American think, it is NOT just "convenient"
and "neutral" : when you speak another language, you
BECOME another person. Their language is the most important common
value for the French, and they
Google challenge (2004)
to scan the books of five libraries (Michigan, Stanford, New
York, Harvard and Oxford) provides an excellent example of potential
americanization : if a search engine and all the references are
in English, they will of course convey only US and British cultural
references and values. This is why Europeans (French, German
and others) are designing an additional (but not counter) project
in their own languages.
Jill Bourdais, a psychotherapist practicing in Paris,
writes a very perspicacious column in the Paris
Voice. In the May/June 2005 issue, she describes the
adjustments an expatriate returning to California after many
years in Paris may have to make :
- High expectations, after many
- Lack of familiarity : the country
- Indifference to the experience
of the expatriate : many Americans are insular and not very interested
in other countries
- Clashing values : compared to
Europe, America appears very counsumerist, conservative, individualist
and oblivious to international concerns
- Lifestyle differences : the
expatriate might miss what is good in France (health care, public
transportation, less commercial TV, interest in food, culture)
- Career issues : American employers
do not always value an European experience.
My conclusion, for American expats :
stay here !
Read a column by Harriet Welty
Rochefort : "You
can't go home again- or can you?"
- Consuming foreign products and changing eating habits, leisure,
etc ; the fact that the proportion of obese in the French population
is increasing is considered closely linked with the " Americanization
" of eating habits (like snacking, for instance : see the
secrets of the French
- Read "Seducing the French
: The Dilemma of
of four-course meals ? Try some of the traditional French
(or integrated into French cooking) dishes which mix one or several
kinds of vegetables and various meats and make a very filling
and enjoyable one-course meal. Among them : couscous (Arab origin,
semolina, lamb, shich-kebab, chickpeas, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes,
turnips, etc, with a spicy sauce), paella (Spanish, rice, mussels,
shrimps, chicken or rabbit ( !), sausages, octopus, etc), cassoulet
(South-West of France, beans, sausages, pork, duck or goose,
etc), choucroute (Alsace, sauerkraut, sausages, ham, pork chop,
potatoes, etc), Pot-au-Feu (beef and veal, carrots, potatoes,
cabbage, turnips, etc...). You can also try an Assiette de Fruits
de Mer (raw oysters, crab, clams, shrimps, etc).
| French family traditions
|| How to become almost French....?
- First week of January : " galette
des Rois ", a crusty
cake filled with almond-paste, celebrating the visit of the kings
to Jesus ; there is a small object (" la fève ")
in it : if you have it in your portion, you are the King/Queen
and you choose a Queen/King among the others by giving him/her
a paper crown, which is given with the cake.
- February 2 : " Chandeleur ",
you make thin pancakes ("crèpes"),
tossing them around with a gold coin in the other hand brings
- April First (April fool) : you make people believe things which
are untrue or you hang a paper fish on their back ("poisson
- Easter Sunday ("Pâques")
: you eat chocolate eggs
(or fish, or bell) filled with sweets ; Easter Bunny is known
only in the East of France. The symbol of Easter is a bell (they
are supposed to fly-back from Rome, loaded with chocolate!.
- May First (" Fête du Travail
") : offer lily-of-valley,
thousands of people sell it in the streets
- End May/Early June : "Fête
des Mères" (Mother's
Day) : watch out : the date is not the same as in the USA !
- November 1rst ("Toussaint") : you bring flowers (chrysanthemum)
on the grave of the beloved ones
- Christmas Eve ("le réveillon") is usually a family dinner, when New
Year's Eve ("le réveillon du Nouvel An")is
generally shared with friends: both are huge meals with typically
oysters and/or Foie Gras, then turkey or goose or roast-beef,
salad and cheese and chocolate cake and/or ice cream etc...
- More to come...
In France, the National Holiday is on July 14 and it is
callet "le 14 Juillet" (nobody calls it "Bastille
Day"). There is no family celebration and a flag on a house
would be considered a sign of extreme chauvinism. There are parades
(a big military one in Paris), a speech by the President and
many balls all over the country (in Paris, in Fire Stations).
What do the French like
best about their own country and their lifestyle? What do you
need to master to be like them ?
- Habits and tastes includes :
- Prefering esthetics :
beautiful shoes to comfortable shoes, a brilliant loser to a
boring winner (read about Vercingetorix!),
- Taking pleasure in a discussion
where you strongly disagree with the other one, particularly
your best friends : remember that here there is a different idea
- Understanding that you can survive
without air-conditioning (which would be necessary only five
times a year...)
- Enjoying life without feeling
guilty, if you do not
work or if you do not "do something"
- Life and society :
in the streets and vociferating at the State whenever
anything goes wrong... Always say : NO, and never : Why not ?
- Opening a "Livret de Caisse
d'Epargne", a state-managed tax-free saving account
: 45 million French people have one.
- Surprised ?
- Food and leisure means :
- Enjoying long meals with children and/or friends and talking endlessly about food,
cheese and wine...
- Commemorating everything happy
with Champagne (professional success, family event,
etc...) and Foie
More practical tips...
- How to drive on a roundabout ? Cars already in it have priority on
incoming cars. But many French drivers do not agree with this
- Do not expect to do your shopping between 12 :30 and 3 pm, especially outside
Paris : shops are closed and shop-keepers are enjoying their
- Do not expect
to get your money back if
you change your mind about something you bought : unless specified,
the most you can get is a credit on another purchase
- Five intercultural keys to communicate and live in France (according
to St.Germain en Laye International Lycée, 2004) are :
- You obtain more by building
- Get used to French time management
- Remember the French are implicit
- Do not expect too much from
- Leadership styles are always
- More to come...
DID YOU KNOW
THAT .... ? Zip codes in France are 5-digit numbers :
the first two are the "départements" (counties)
in alphabetical order from Ain (01) to Yonne (89), Paris being
75 and its region from 91 to 95 ; within Paris, the 20 "arrondissements"
(precincts) go clockwise (or more precisely "snail-shell-wise")
from the very center of Paris (75001) to the North-East part
of the city (75020).
USEFUL TIP..... Road signs are different
in France : they do not give the number of the road and the direction,
they give the name of the next town and the main town in this
direction. For example, if driving to Lyon, look for Lyon and
not for A6 (the expressway between Paris and Lyon). In cities,
it is the same principle with streets and neighborhoods. Color
code is : everything red is forbidden, everything blue is suggested.
- Shopping every day : before EACH meal, you buy your bread,
generally a "baguette"....
- Enjoying a before-dinner
less frequently but depending
on the region or the social status, it can be port wine or whisky,
or a traditional " anisé " drink (like Ricard)
; you drink champagne (" brut ", i.e. dry, of
course) whenever you want to celebrate something special ; (American)
Martini is unknown.
- Organizing your whole life around
vacations and considering the month of May as a month of vacation with
a few days where, unfortunately, you have to work...
- Playing pétanque:
a ball game you play with iron balls on almost any kind of field...
life includes :
- reading a newspaper or
a magazine : more about the press and see the most frequently
covered events in the French
- surviving a French meeting : read more
- watching TV or listening
to radio : see the most
popular TV channels or the most
popular radio stations (observe that several are state-owned). remember : if you don't watch French TV and read French newspaper, your opinion about French issues is not different from Main Street's. Read my column about it.
- Buying a ticket of loto,
the French national lottery : see gambling
- opening a tax-free saving account
- Getting French nationality ? See the rules.
- More to come...
DID YOU KNOW THAT ?......In France, you do not
send Christmas cards (or, as Americans say to be politically
Happy Holiday cards). You send cards wishing a Happy New Year,
and it is acceptable to send them even relatively late during
the month of January. The first week of January is devoted to
"cérémonies des voeux" (New Year Parties)
: in all French organizations (companies, administrations, etc...)
the tradition is that the boss gives a speech and, while wishing
a Happy New Year to his/her staff, the boss tells them everything
he should have told them in the last 365 days. Then they all
drink and eat. The President of France gives a speech on TV and
the press comments it lengthly.
|To related pages : more about life
(#3) and retirement (#4)
in France, Paris Diary,
the French health care system, a French Quiz,
of the page
Back to home
For more on intercultural
differences, order Harriet Welty Rochefort's books :
- "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
- "French Toast, An American in Paris
Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press,
New York, 1999
- "French Fried, The Culinary Capers
of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
events, testimonials, etc..)
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