Home France Clashing Cultures: France and the United States

Clashing Cultures: France and the United States

by Taylor Scholl
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Last Updated on August 24, 2015 by

Perhaps more than any other country in Europe, there are a lot of stereotypes about France, and the American experience in France. Here’s what you need to know:


In general, everything is smaller; portions at restaurants or milk at the grocery store. The largest carton I saw was for a liter instead of a gallon like in the United States. French rarely use ice with drinks and if they do, it’s maybe three cubes. Most refrigerated items are kept at a cooler temperature in America compared to France. The eggs and sometimes milk are kept at room temperature. The French meals consists of:

    • breakfast which is small, a croissant and a coffee
    • lunch, which is often a sandwich, omelette or quiche
    • dinner is later in the night and generally consists of a meat entree

The only fast food that I really saw was McDonalds, and the occasional Subway or KFC, compared to the United States where you can’t go a mile without seeing just about every fast food chain. Parisians do walk the streets carrying baguettes, its something commonly purchased on your way home from work.

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Trying out escargot (snails)

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Truffle Pizza, kind of got obsessed with it

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Restaurants are open late but grocery, clothing and other stores close relatively early compared to the United States. Most stores close at 7 which means doors close at 6:45 and workers may kick you out at 6:45 unless you are at the check out. The customer service that one is accustomed to in the United States is hard to find in Paris. I saw workers close the doors on customers, preventing them from entering the store fifteen minutes before the store technically closes. One night I waited an hour and a half for my check at a café. You will learn that the old adage that the customer is always right is a very American concept. Don’t expect to receive stellar customer service.
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Major roads have bike lanes that are shared with buses and many Parisians use them. I gave these bike lanes a try and on some streets they were an amazingly fast way to get around the city, but other roads where scary and unwelcoming. Biking is a fast way to get around the city, and a fun way to explore. But be careful the one way streets and unless you are experienced at using a bike as your mode of transport,  I would stick with public transportation.
Buses and metros are all over the city and how most Parisians get around. During rush hour, prepared to be literally face-to-face with people on the train or bus. And just when you think it’s full, three people will squeeze on at the next stop. The actual road system isn’t that far off from roads within the US. Stop signs are just red circles with a blue outline. Drivers stick to their own rules which can cause traffic issues especially driving around the Arc De Triomphe for example.
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Greetings & Gatherings

If you hug a French person they will be confused and feel like it is an invasion of personal space. Instead, a kiss on each cheek is common and acceptable. The French enjoy get-togethers and gatherings; parks are a popular place to gather and picnicking is huge and can be found all over Paris, in literally any grassy area. They will bring a blanket, bread and cheese and sit and chat with one another.


Within France, major movie releases come out on a Wednesday and United States motion pictures come out about two weeks to a month later in France than they do in the States. I went to an American film at a French theater and the movie was in English with French subtitles. The theaters are smaller then those in America but offered the same concessions.

One of the biggest cultural differences besides the language was having no air conditioning. It’s very uncommon for buildings to have any form of air conditioning. Most museums, where I stayed, the metro, and restaurants were without air conditioning. Normally, this isn’t a issue and most buildings have large windows that provide a cooling breeze. But the first two weeks there was a heat wave (not normal for Paris) but made it warm and difficult to handle without having the escape of air conditioning or an ice cold beverage to cool you down.


No women wore a pair of shorts, it was the easiest way to tell the locals from the tourists. I didn’t see a single French person wearing a beret, granted it was summer, but Panama hats were popular and they often carried around hand fans as a way to keep cool. Its not uncommon in France to wear the same garment multiple times within one week. My professors would wear dresses, tops, pants or skirts sometimes several days in a row which is different compared to in the States where re-wearing clothing within the same week is frowned upon. In general, I did notice teens and younger Parisians wearing less formal clothing that was similar to an American style.

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