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.
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.