Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
After spending almost a year and a half in this country, I don’t get that surprised any more by things that I would have definitely assumed to be “weird” when I first got here.
Of course, we humans are rather adaptable and plus, moving from one European country to another isn’t going to be the biggest ever culture shock. However, although distance-wise, France is not too far from the UK, there are plenty of differences to know that here, you’re rather far from home. So here are some surprising things I have found about living in France so far!
It seems that the stereotype of the French being depressed and /or constantly complaining is here to stay. I’ve got to say though that I live in Paris, which many other French people dislike because of such a negative attitude in the city so it might not be this bad elsewhere in the country.
However, here if the French are not complaining about work, the weather, the bad food at the canteen, their partners, their electrical appliances breaking down, well, they will just talk about death. And I am not even kidding here. Having lunch with my colleagues sometimes meant I could not swallow my meal because the subject at the table was so grim. In a way, it’s good that this subject isn’t taboo for them like it is in many other places but to talk about who has popped their clogs at least on a weekly basis doesn’t leave you to be that optimistic anymore. It is in fact so extreme that an American colleague of mine decided to send her 5 year old daughter to therapy (I kid not) as she was worried that her daughter was becoming a bit too obsessed with the topic of death and always asking her (French) Grandma when she was going to die.
Here in France, you would be very hard pressed to go much further than the “acquaintance” stage when you meet new people. They keep their lives as private as possible and they do not indulge in small talk and gossip like we would over in the UK. In fact, this is why the Expat community is booming over here as not many people want to wait for over a year before they find out that their colleague also likes jogging on weekends and invites you to do something. My colleagues, even those that are close to my age have asked me “Have you made any friends yet?”, I reply “No, it’s kind of hard”. They nod in agreement and the conversation ends. Maybe it’s also the big city mentality where no-one really cares who you are and what you do but to me, it was a very noticeable thing when I first came here.
Also, going to the hairdresser’s or a beauty parlour remains a place for the minimal small talk possible – which actually can be quite a relief! Everyone here has their place and the lack of mingling is very evident. La vie privée really does mean la vie privée.
Obviously everyone knows France for its cheese and wine! Going to a supermarket is great fun if you are a fan of these things because the choice is huge there and they also usually leave some samples to try! However, they are also a country who love their meat. Raw. You would be very hard pressed to find a restaurant that will serve you a steak which is not rare. If you ask for it to be well-done, they will just say “Non, ce n’est pas possible” as they find it completely ruins the taste and whether you like it or not, well that’s your problem.
One thing that can also be strange when eating with the Frenchies is that they eat their salads/starter dishes AFTER the meal. When I asked about it, it turned out that by the time they eat their salads first, the main meal will get cold so always eat the hot dishes first. Pretty clever, eh? Still can’t do it though so will leave that habit to them.
Whoever said that the French were lazy..was clearly just jealous! For the French get a lot of holiday leave compared to other countries. Although the minimum is 5 weeks off a year, for those who work more than 35 hours a week, get even more holidays so it could be anything from 5-11 weeks a year, depending on the sector you work in. Frenchies also never take their holidays sur place but will always go to the seaside whether in Bordeaux, Normandy, Nice etc. Many of them have holiday homes there (jealous!) so if you’re wondering why Paris is empty in the month of August, it’s because the Frenchies are taking their well-deserved break elsewhere.
Never have I ever seen so many bookshops in Paris as I have anywhere else. I have always said that the Frenchies just seem a lot more cultured than us Brits and frankly I am still sticking by this. You will see many noses in books on trains and metros around Paris, I’ve seen people with Dostoevsky’s books in their coat pockets. They have book shelves in many wine bars where you can sit and read over that glass of Cabernet and once I went out with a group of young Frenchies who asked me about my favourite book and no-one got the joke when I said “Cosmo!”. “Is that by Oscar Wilde?”
So yeah, for those living in France, now is the time to get cultured! The Frenchies (apart from the tweens I guess) are really not into reality TV or trashy magazines so if that’s what you lived on before, it could be time to make that swap!
Now, you either know to speak a bit of French or you don’t. But this totally threw me when I first got to France and now again I am so used to it, I almost forgot to mention it. Whereas in the UK, we say “uhm” and “like” like, uhm..all the time! Here in France, they got a bit more creative when it comes to filling those silences. These are the very common sounds you may hear when chatting with the Frenchies:
“Baaaahhhh” whilst they reflect on the next word. Usually a “oui/non”.
“a sort of farting noise made with the lips” – means “I don’t know”. Still trying to master this one – you can’t go overboard and do it for too long so timing is crucial here but definitely one of my favourites!
“Air gasp” (how we would do if we were surprised to hear something ) – means “yes”, “me too” or “I agree”
“Op” – said a few times and it could be karaoke “Gangnam Style” but in France, it’s used almost always when you take something, pick something up, sit down, a general all-rounder really.
For those who understand a little bit of French, do give this video a watch! It’s by a very funny French Youtuber called Norman who goes through some of the worse French expressions..
The experience of living in France is definitely an interesting one. There are many things I find great here and many not-so great but that’s why it’s always interesting to really experience it for yourself! Overall, the French are not too bad! Just don’t wind them up with any WWII surrender jokes…
Have any of you lived abroad and had some surprising moments? We’d love to hear some of your stories!