University of Wisconsin–Madison

First French Differences:

  1. French people smile less…

But that doesn’t mean they hate you. I don’t know why, but French people try to make a little eye contact as possible with others on the street. If you come from the Midwest (like me) and are used to shouting « Good Morning ! » to complete strangers across the street, this can be a tad disheartening. My first week in Aix I went through a sort of friendliness withdrawal and had to fight the urge to start running down the street hugging people. However, after a week I’ve gotten used to it and walking down the street looking at blank faces doesn’t bother me anymore because….

  1. French people are extremely polite.

As part of everyday etiquette one cannot simply walk into a store, buy something, and leave without uttering so much as a syllable to the salesperson. Upon entering it is expected you will greet the salesperson with bonjour, bonne matin, or bonsoir, depending on the hour of the day. (Don’t greet a salesperson with bonjour if it is nighttime. Dead give away that you’re an American.) You must always say please and thank you, and most of the time wish the person who waited on you « Bonne journée » or « Bonsoir » depending on the time of day.

I LOVE THIS! I think people who walk don’t say please/thank you, who are short with wait staff/salespeople, or even worse- those who go through store checkouts wearing headphones and don’t even acknowledge the person helping them, should be taken out back and slapped HARD by their grandmother. Unacceptable. Happily, it seems the French population mostly agrees with me. Ok, maybe not about the being slapped by your grandmother, but the whole politeness thing still stands.

  1. EVERYONE smokes…

I’m serious; everywhere I go I see some one smoking a cigarette. However, their smoking etiquette is phenomenal. When you talk to someone smoking a cigarette they always put their hand down so the smoke won’t trail in front of your face, they always open windows if they smoke inside, and they make a good effort not to blow smoke in your face. The smoking hasn’t bothered me at all (I don’t smoke) because the French are so good at making sure it doesn’t bother you.

  1. French people love specialty shops.

For the most part, the stores in Aix aren’t one stop mega shop centers. There is a store called Monoprix (like a French target) that has everything, but it is more expensive than the other stores, and I think there are only two in Aix. If you want to buy bread you go to the boulangerie, for meat the charcuterie, and for fruits/vegetables the marché. Also, the pharmacies here actually only sell pharmacy items. No frozen pizza’s, holiday decorations, and other knick knacks that pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS have. I’m obsessed with Walgreen’s and kind of miss this.

  1. French people do things either extremely early or extremely late.

The open air markets in Aix open very early in the morning and close at 12. Similarly, most of the stores in Aix close at 5 or 7. The Monoprix is the only store open until 9 and also the only store open on Sunday! That’s right, unlike America where Sunday’s are reserved for shopping for everything you’ll need during the week, in France all of the stores and most of the cafes close.

When it comes to nightlife, the French like to do things extremely late. The clubs don’t start filling up until 1 or 2 in the morning.

  1. There are so many dogs !!!!

Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere there are dogs. In the street, in cafes, sometimes even in stores! Also, usually the dogs aren’t on a leash. They’re allowed to amble about as they please. Of course, French dogs are also super polite and seem to always obey or follow their owners.

What is not so polite is that they can pee and poop wherever on the street and their owners don’t pick it up. I guess it’s just a cultural norm to not pick up dog poop. In fact, if you step in dog poop with your left foot it’s considered good luck.

So far there hasn’t been any major culture shocks and I’ve liked the changes I’ve seen!