What a lovely weekend we had. We celebrated Oscar’s 15th birthday. We attended a King Cake celebration. And we had friends over for a jam session. Then, Ralph and Maude caught the early train to Paris this morning so they could fly back to California — the next semester starts on Monday. I’m glad their last weekend was an especially good one. (I shared snippets from the weekend on Instagram stories — I believe you can still see them even if you don’t have an Instagram account.)
Time is flying! This week marks four and a half months of our family being back in France. So I thought it might be fun to share a few observations about French life that are different than our California life.
-As you get to know Europeans from lots of different countries, it’s interesting to learn there are some countries where English is spoken as a second language quite fluently, and others where it’s less common — even though everyone learns English in school. We were told that for countries where English isn’t spoken as fluently, one of the reasons is because movies and television are generally dubbed in the native language of the country.
This is true for France. No matter where the movie/television show is made, instead of subtitles, the original actor or actresses’ voice will be replaced with a French-speaking voice. The lip movements don’t line up perfectly, but they seem to prefer that to subtitles. It also means that when you think of famous Hollywood actors and actresses in movies, those voices that might be very familiar to you, aren’t used.
In bigger towns and cities, you’ll see some movies listed as Version Originale — this means they are in the original language and have French subtitles. So for example, when we saw Little Women, the theater had 3 showings that day dubbed in French, and 1 showing in Version Originale.
We’ve been told that in countries where English is spoken more fluently, the Hollywood TV shows and movies have subtitles instead of dubbing. (So if you’re wanting to learn a new language, watching lots of shows in the target language can’t hurt!)
-The strike has been going on for a month now. At first people were talking about it quite a bit, but I haven’t heard much chatter lately. This is probably because my French is still quite poor so I’m probably not hearing the discussions that are happening.
-Related, our French friends have told us everyone is unhappy with President Macron. But they are also quick to downplay the dissatisfaction and say that it’s tradition in France to hate the current president, no matter who it is, and to speak fondly of the most recent past president.
-Public bathroom stalls are significantly more private in France. The stall walls and door extend all the way to the ceiling and floor.
There’s no knocking on the stall next to yours to ask for TP in an emergency — they would have no way to hand it to you. : )
-The French drink far less water than Americans. This is true at meals, and throughout the day. At a restaurant you’ll need to ask for a glass of water (they’ll usually bring a small carafe of tap water), and you’ll have small water glass and the glass or carafe won’t be refilled unless you ask.
Related, schools, museums, and other public buildings have no drinking fountains. The only place I’ve seen a drinking fountains here is at the American Military Museum.
Also related, the French don’t carry water bottles or coffee cups. The drinks-to-go-culture just doesn’t exist in much of France. You’ll see some portable coffee cups in Paris (they have Starbucks of course), but I have seen them zero times here in Normandy. It’s just not a thing.
I mean, they do drink tea or coffee or water, but they do it at very specific designated meal/eating times. They sit down and enjoy whatever it is they are eating or drinking. And they don’t eat or drink at any other times.
-Automated car washes are plentiful in every French town I’ve seen, but you don’t stay in the car for the car wash. You park the car, get out, and wait by the side while the machine moves around your car.
-Even though we share an alphabet, our keyboards our set up a bit differently. Instead of QWERTY, they refer to AZERTY.
-Another thing that might not occur to you unless you live outside the U.S.: 911 is not a universal emergency number. In France the general one is 112 (it’s actually a pan-European emergency number), or there are specific ones you can use: Dial 15 for Ambulance. Dial 17 for Police. Dial 18 for Fire Department.
-This morning, a truck came by to refill our heating fuel tank with oil. The big tank sits in the unfinished basement. The oil heats the radiators — one in each room. After a tank refill, you have to leave the radiators off for three hours. This worked the same way when we lived in the countryside as well. In the house that we bought, it has radiators, but not a fuel tank. Instead it has what’s called gaz de ville — meaning it has access to the city gas lines. So we won’t need to order refills there and will just get a monthly gas bill instead.
Appointments to get the oil tank filled are usually several days out. So if you forget to order and run out of oil, you may be cold for a few days! As you would expect, we fill the oil about once a month in the cold months, and then hardly at all in the warm months.
-In France and throughout Europe, they use 220 volt electricity instead of the 110 volt electricity used in the U.S.. It’s fascinating to see which of our U.S. electrical products work, and which ones don’t. Anything tech-y works — laptops, iPad, Alexa, and TV all work. Our Dyson vacuum works. Zero kitchen appliances work — not the toaster, the blender, the electric kettle. The iron doesn’t work either. You know what else works? All of our plug in lamps.
Though I should, U.S. plugs don’t fit in the French outlets, so you need to used adaptors. These are our favorite 2-prong and 3-prong adaptors — if you’re headed to France, order these ahead of time.
-Though there are shops for getting your hair done everywhere, mani-pedi shops are much harder to find. And unless you’re in a big city, there are no drop-in options. You must make an appointment ahead of time. But so many women I know sport gorgeous nails, so I think they must be very good at doing at-home manicures.
-There are very few automatic cars in France. And that’s true even at car rental shops. If you are coming here for vacation, and plan to rent a car, it’s definitely best if you know how to drive a stick shift. (Happily, Ben Blair and I both learned to drive stick when we were teenagers, so it’s not a problem for us. In fact, I enjoy driving a stick shift — I feel like a more engaged driver when I do.)
I’m not totally sure what this is about and why automatic transmission cars have not become a common thing here. I know that when I ask French people about it, they seem to have a certain amount of pride in the fact that they drive stick and not automatic — like automatic cars are silly or something. So maybe it’s similar to how Americans resist using the metric system, even though it’s way easier than the imperial system.
-One of the tricky things about living in a smaller town is that if something breaks down on a Friday afternoon, you’re stuck for the weekend. Our hot water heater went out on a Friday and there was nothing we could do until Monday. We did attempt to call severals plumbers, but either we wouldn’t get an answer because they were closed for the weekend, or we did get an answer but they couldn’t come till Monday or Tuesday. To make due, we would heat water on the stove and in the kettle for washing dishes and taking sponge baths. Hah!
-One of my only negatives about living here in Normandy is the giant spiders. In Oakland, our house was surrounded by trees and there were constantly spiders and webs all over the place. But they were generally the daddy-long-leg types and they didn’t bother me. Here, they are huge and gross and terrifying to me. Happily, they aren’t around in the cold weather!
I think that’s it for now. I hope you enjoy these little tidbits. Is there anything on this list that would be a deal breaker for you? Anything you feel you would prefer compared to how it works where you live currently? And do you have any questions or topics I should consider for my next observation post? Feel free to comment!
115 thoughts on “14 Things That are Different About Life in France”
When I was in France in October, I was surprised by how unaccommodating it is for babies and little kids. No changing tables. Often no high chair in restaurants (and don’t even try to eat before 7:30, and of course no children’s menu!). Definitely not built for strollers (or wheelchairs). You have to pay to access playgrounds. And my kids got reprimanded for transgressions like running across the grass in a park and having their feet on the seat in a train.
I think I could get over all that for a 35-hour work week and tons of leave and benefits and free childcare, but I think of France as more family-friendly than it actually felt to me visiting Paris and Brittany with 3 small kids.
That is surprising L. I live in France and the playgrounds are free ;-) and of course there are high chairs, changing tables and kids’ menus in restaurants… It is important not to generalize a country over one experience…
Even Gabby, who knows France can be a little fast; Gaby, at the restaurant, you have to ask for a “carafe d’eau”, because waiters will not fill your glass of water, it’s just not in the custom. It’s quite fascinating to read your experience!
I’ve only ever encountered one playground that asked for a payment — and that was in Paris at the Luxembourg Gardens and it involved zip-lines and other equipment that needed adult supervision. I don’t think it’s a common thing.
As for carafes of water, yes, we have one brought to the table every time we eat out, but with out big family one carafe is gone is seconds, so sometimes we need to ask for additional carafes throughout the meal.
I think the reason why restaurants don’t automatically give you all the free water you can drink, is that drinks make up a huge part of their revenue. You can buy still water in any restaurant and as the restaurants are trying to run a business, they don’t want to give away drinks for free. After all you don’t get free socks when you buy a pair of pants ;)
In some countries you are entitled to water if you buy food. Other restaurants will charge you a flat fee for table water, like 1€.
They do Maxie, it’s free, you just have to ask for it.
I agree with Agnes in this, and i’ve been in France for the last 15 years. You just have to ask for water. It’s a legal obligation from 1967. At a céfé, there is no such obligation. However, if you come in and ask for water (to take a medecine) or when it’s incredivly hot during summer, I have never seen them refuse or ask for it to be paid for.
Gabby, of course you can ask for all the water you want, please don’t feel shy about it! bread and water, you just have to ask, restaurants must bringthem to you. Just make sure to ask for tap water, else you’ll remember the price of a Vittel for ever ;-)
Tap water is available amost everywhere, while plastic bottles pollute and mineral water is kind of expensive. It’s not because they don’t walk around with plastic bottles that they don’t drink water.
I love that everyone gets to take weekends off there–plumbers included! I wish Americans had more sacred time like that. Also, my daughter just returned from a study abroad in Copenhagen and said the same thing about water bottles. Only the American students in her program carried water bottles and drank water all the time. When I told her we never did this when I was young in the 70s-90s in America either, and said that Americans are actually the crazy ones around the world, she said in this instance she’d rather be crazy. “Because at least we’re hydrated.” LOL
That’s so curious about water bottles! Are other cultures who don’t use them under-hydrated, or are Americans just over-hydrated? I always hate when restaurants only provide small water glasses, but maybe I’m the crazy one!
I also find this super interesting. After living in Arizona for the past 25 years and at high elevation, I can’t imagine not bringing re-usable water bottles with me everywhere! I feel horrible when I’m dehydrated so I’m fine being the crazy one if I’m ever traveling in Europe. :)
Not sure about your over or under-hydrated question. It’s a curiosity to me how Americans have started drinking so much water in the last 20-30 years. Growing up, I don’t recall ever drinking water unless we were really thirsty. We drank milk at lunch and dinner, plus orange juice with breakfast. Kool-Aid was a treat for summer afternoons. My daughter also said restaurants and bars in Copenhagen (or anywhere else she visited in Europe) never give out water. You have to drink alcohol or soda or go thirsty, basically.
Like another commenter said, drinks make up a big part of their revenue. You can order mineral water if you want to drink it. Also it is just not the custom e.g. in Germany where I am from. When I travelled in the US I rarely drank the water offered because it tasted to much of chlorine for my taste… I guess it depends a lot on what you are used to ,
Tis might be a misunderstanding. You can drink water in bars and restaurants throughout europe. You just have to pay for it. It is not common to trink tapwater outside of home.
Oh yes – when I nannied for a European family (in the states), I brought out my reusable water bottle. They laughed and laughed and said “that’s so American of you!” – and they’d lived in a major metropolitan US city for over 20 years!
From my reading, the whole” drink constant water thing” is sort of a made up need. Nowhere else in the world does this, the US did not do it prior to the last 20 years or so, and people elsewhere and in the past were perfectly healthy. Scientific research has shown that there is no need to drink tons of water- just drink a bit when you are thirsty. This “myth” has led to absurd numbers of plastic water bottles added to the waste stream!!!!
Ha! So true! When I was a child, we didn’t bring water bottles to school. Now it’s standard for kids to bring one every day to school. The first time our daughter forgot hers, I fretted about it, but my husband reminded me there are water fountains everywhere at school and she won’t die of thirst in the few hours before lunch or in the few hours after lunch and coming home.
I can so related to this. I grew up in a very hot climate and we never had water bottles. But there were drinking fountains in the schools at pretty much every public place — building or park.
As a teacher I like that many students bring water bottles- because they don’t have to leave my class constantly if they’re thirsty- but dislike it because it seems they have to use the bathroom a LOT more than students did when I was a kid (I think they also use it as an excuse that they need to go to the bathroom sometimes, even when they don’t really need to). That said, we switch classes every 50 minutes and of course there are drinking fountains in the hall for the students who don’t bring water bottles. I do think water bottles are a bit more sanitary (have you ever seen some kids use a traditional water fountain- ew!).
I currently live in Thailand and it is pretty common to bring water bottles with you everywhere. Fortunately, water is also really cheap to buy at a 7/11 or at a restuarant. It is hot here and you would be dehydrated if you didn’t drink water all day. My students carry water bottles around with them and I noticed that my students drink water at lunch, but rarely drink milk. Probably because the dairy industry is not pushing their products to make a profit the same way as the U.S. We will be moving to Armenia next year, so I will get another countries perspective soon. They get all four seasons, so I have a feeling they won’t be drinking water as much either.
As someone living in Copenhagen this surprise me. When I went to uni we all had water bottles and at the uni where I work now all the students carry water bottles around as well. That being said though, it’s more common that women carry water bottles with them than men
We also have oil heat and have a similar process for getting it. But we don’t have to wait 3 hours to use it. Do you know why that is?
If I remember right, it’s that sediment needs to settle to the bottom of the tank.
I agree, obtaining oil fuel is done very similarly in parts of the U.S., for example where I live in upstate NY.
Yes, we’re new to Connecticut and find our heating oil tank funny. We haven’t been told to wait for use, but have been told to not let the tank get completely empty before refilling for the same reason. There are smart gauges you can use that will notify you when it’s time for a refill—I need one because recently didn’t realize it was empty and had a cold house for a day. I’m curious about your prices—ours is $600 for a full tank.
I was also going to say the oil tank thing is the same and you describe across northeast US. There is an emergency refill option but it costs extra. We have reminders to get it refilled periodically at our weekend house.
I Never heard of the waiting 3 hours either.. I suspect it’s an old fashioned idea or a different identification of risk. E.g in London there are no outlets in a bathroom due to fire risk – it’s against code. Different countries obviously have different historical norms!
re: language in countries without dubbed movies…
A couple years ago I (canadian) was visiting family in Denmark. Everyone’s English was very good, but my teenage cousin’s was particularly excellent. I wondered why… was he just naturally good at languages? Was it his favourite subject in school?
Turns out, no. He was a huge gamer! There is no Danish version of Call of Duty, so he would play the English version, and chat online with his fellow gamers in English! He spoke very well, could follow fast-paced conversations effortlessly, and had a great handle on slang and colloquialisms!
So interesting! When there’s true motivation, anything seems easier to learn. : )
The whole water thing from a european perspective: the custom of offering free (tap) water to customers is a very american thing. And to be frank, it is considered rude to expect to get more than a small glass of tap water for free. Thats certainly why you don’t get a automatic refill.
That’s so neat! It reminds me (very vaguely, admittedly) of when my family first got internet access in the late 90’s, and my brother and I were constantly on AOL instant messenger chatting with friends. She has said it used to worry her, wondering if she should make us limit it a bit, but then realized we’d effortlessly learned to type at a crazy-fast pace, and so she laid off and just let us do our thing!
I love these! Your town seems to have a very ‘reusable’ culture – food shopping at farmer’s markets, bringing your own containers for things, etc. Places in the States are going to have to shift that way if we ever want to cut down on the amount of plastic we use! Do you feel like you’re creating much less waste? Your thoughts on this and maybe some tips would be fun to hear.
I second this. Would love to hear more about this aspect of your life in France.
Great idea for a future topic.
I would like to know how your children who don’t speak much French are faring in school. We lived in Ireland for two years and our eldest began to learn Irish, but of course everybody speaks English there. We’re contemplating a move to France but wondering how kids adapt when they have zero French. Our eldest would be entering high school there, tricky time wherever you live.
Noted. I’ll be sure to report.
PS When we lived in Ireland we had our heaters filled with oil, and the bill was astronomical! We finally wised up and started burning peat in our fireplace like everyone else. Much more affordable. Sometimes you have to live in a place to figure out your systems.
I was going to ask about the cost of heat! Gabrielle, is it similar in cost to a forced air system? Or, is it a lot more? What else is significantly different cost-wise?
Good questions. Let me see if I can make a proper comparison. It’s a bit tricky, because weather in Oakland is so mild — I would really need to compare with someone in Minneapolis or something. : )
Minneapolis resident here! CenterPoint has a home energy calculator that could help in creating a comparison.
Speaking of water…when I have travelled in Europe, I just don’t understand how people don’t get severely dehydrated with the lack of water fountains and having to request (and sometimes pay for flat) water in restaurants. I mean, I can see how you’d get by 8 months of the year, but I was in Rome when it was 100 degrees out and got heat exhaustion. I’d see people buying single use plastic liters of water which also seems like a not great option. Maybe the water is so treated that people don’t want to drink it from the tap, but I would think if you grew up there you’d be used to it. And your body would need it.
I live in the pacific northwest, and I don’t generally carry a water bottle with me, but it’s because I know there will be water fountains in every public building and on street corners in the city center.
Rome has ancient fountains all over the old city that locals drink out of/fill cups and bottles. To turn the trickling fountain into a drinking fountain, you hold your finger over a hole that directs the stream upwards. The water is quite good.
Paris has a few of those types of fountains too! I remember when I first learned about them.
Rome has one of the best tap-water systems in the world and beautiful drinking fountains all over.
The spider comment had me let out a little scream! I would have to learn to deal with those.
Also, the water thing is tough. When we traveled through Korea, water is not really a thing to drink unless at a meal, and then it is similar with just one small cup, and it is not refilled. I am a HUGE water drinker, and I always carry around my refillable water jug, so I am sight whenever I go to foreign countries.
Yeah. The spider thing is hard for me.
It’s so funny that you mention the spiders! We stayed at a family cottage in Normandy for 2 weeks this summer and my teenaged daughter still talks about all the spiders and how much they creeped her out (whereas I barely noticed them!).
I’m more curious to hear how you FEEL. I love France and the french, but I feel it would be hard for me to assimilate long term. Do you feel you have an American identity that you can’t fully shake (or perhaps don’t want to) and does that keep you from feeling like you fit in? Do you have any deep friendships there? Do you absolutely love it and are thrilled to be there every day? What are you thinking about your living situation long term? I’m just so curious to hear about your thoughts and how they’ve evolved – as well as others in your family.
I had forgotten that when we bought our place in Brooklyn, it was also oil heated! We had a huge tank that was incredibly expensive (and dirty) to fill. We had it removed and put a new bathroom in its place!
Great topics for a future post. Thank you!
Lots of homes in New England, including the house I grew up in in Connecticut and the two homes I have owend in Massachusetts, have oil tanks in the basement! You can get put on an auto-fill schedule (they keep track of how cold it has been and estimate when you will need oil), or you can call when you want a delivery. I have never been asked to wait 3 hours to use, but I imagine it has something to do with letting any sediment that has been disturbed settle to the bottom of the tank instead of being sent to the boiler.
I love reading these tidbits!
Oh my goodness. The keyboard! Of course it would be different. That would be a major adjustment for me. I’m old enough to have had a typing class in high school with real typewriters. I don’t think about typing when I type at all. My fingers fly. Now I have to look up a French keyboard. It is so fun to hear your observations. Thanks for sharing them, Gabrielle.
I learned on typewriters too!
My husband and I brought our water bottles on a trip two years ago (Switzerland, Austria, France and Italy) and had a hard time finding public drinking fountains and free public bathrooms. When I told a British friend (who’s lived in the States for years) that sometimes we filled our bottles from tap water in our hotel rooms she was horrified.
I always wonder what Europeans think about our free, icy cold water and free drink refills. I had my share of lovely wine on my trip, but our first stop back in Texas was for iced tea :).
Ice in drinks is another difference — it’s very uncommon here. Drinks might be served chilled but rarely with ice. And if there is ice, it’s typically one cube.
I’m British and I don’t understand why Americans seem to love so much ice – doesn’t anyone have sensitive teeth? If it’s really hot I might put one ice cube in a drink but in the US I had to keep on asking for no ice – the drinks were so cold that you couldn’t taste anything. In Italy (where I now live) people are also wary of drinking ice cold drinks when it is very hot as supposedly they are not good for you as you can get “congestione” which is very dangerous – although I have never heard it mentioned in the UK!
Also I wonder how many people use free refills. We have just got a KFC restaurant where I live and nobody uses the free refills on sodas because who wants to drink another one when you’ve just had one?
Im Chinese American, and ice isn’t really a part of Chinese culture. In fact moms teach kids from childhood to drink room temperature or hot drinks – never cold. Even in Hong Kong where I grew up where it’s subtropical and HOT during spring, summer and fall, no one drinks iced drinks. Cold drinks are chilled but not icy and you might get one cube if you asked for ice.
When we went to Switzerland several years ago, we found that there were tons of fountains to fill water bottles up at- they just don’t always look like drinking fountains. We were told that all fountains (even ones used for cows’ water troughs!) were excellent drinking water/safe to drink. The water is mostly glacial water- and tasted really good!
Visited Paris in December and immediately noticed how private the public bathrooms were — loved this!
Water comsumption was definitely down while traveling and our family drinks a lot of water at meals.
Also, found it interesting that you weren’t rushed at restaurants and had to pro-actively ask for the bill. Loved how bills were paid at the table vs. them taking your credit card.
Yes. Never rushed at dinner! Many restaurants don’t even plan for a second seating. (With exceptions for big city restaurants and tourist areas.)
Restaurants in our town are open for dinner from 7:00 to 9:30 (and closed once or twice each week). The table fills once, and that’s it.
Re : dubbed movie
In Quebec, even though we are surrounded by English speakers, all of the English movies are also dubbed (with actors from Quebec, so a French version from France and a Quebec version of the same movie usually exist, although we only get to see the Quebec version here). In theater, you can usually choose between the dubbed version and the original one, which won’t be subtitled (unless it’s a movie in another language). When movies show up on television, there are always dubbed.
Recently, I rewatched The Secret Garden on DVD with my son and I was very surprised with the dubbing, which was the version from France. The voices are not the same and the words are not exactly the same either. Sometimes, even the titles change between the French version and the Quebecer version!
So interesting! I would have thought it’s more like the differences in English between England and the U.S. — I would have assumed there would only be one French version.
I like reading your observations! In a future post, I’d be interested in hearing more about how your kids feel about school. Aside from the language difference, my understanding is that the structure of schooling is more strict and becomes more quickly more focused on just core academic subjects. I’d be interested if you’ve found that to be the case and if so how your kids feel about school in France vs. in California (where we also live)? Did they feel like they came in at the same level as their peers (other than maybe in French, of course)? Do they like school there?
I”ll be sure to make a school report post.
Loved the comment on the bathrooms. As a French living in NYC, I can tell you that French people don’t understand why bathroom aren’t more private here!
I can also relate to the electric problem. My European lamps work here.
Arriving here, I was surprised of how much plastic and packaging is used in stores and orders. Really something that makes me uncomfortable
Yes. I see a big difference in the amount of packaging.
I never would have guessed that there were huge spiders there! That would terrify me too.
Maybe it’s just the region we live in. I don’t like spiders so it freaks me out.
Take it as a good sign – those big spiders are harmless and would come to your house if you used a lot of chemicals. So let them stay with you for a while, they will take care of mosquitos and tell you that you live in a healthy environment. But I agree, they can scare you!
Sorry, I meant to say – they wouldn’t come to you house if you used a lot of chemicals…
I love hearing your updates from France. I’m curious how shopping goes. Do you miss a quick Target run?! Do you use amazon? Do you find the items you need easily in France?
The pictures and descriptions seem really lovely, does that match the day to day living?
Great questions. I’ll add them to my list for a future post.
We just came back from a trip to France and the Netherlands over winter break. One thing we noticed in all of the apartment rentals was the lack of paper towels. I don’t use them too much in my house either but I still have a roll on my kitchen counter at all times.
Yeah. I don’t see paper towels here much at all. I haven’t bought them since we lived in New York (unless we need them for an art project or something), so I don’t miss them.
Hi Gabrielle, I loved reading your observations. It reminded me of when I first moved to France. ;-)
Since this is the second time we’ve moved to France, sometimes I worry I’ve already written about these topics, but so far, it seems to still be interesting for people to read.
Hi, I’m French, I live in Provence. It’s funny to read your observations.
Thanks for reading!
Re: dubbed movies
I heard that movies are generally not dubbed in certain countries is because the market is too small. Look at Denmark or Sweden – they just have to watch the movies in their original version…and hence improve their language skills accordingly.
France or Germany has enough people living there, so dubbing is more profitable.
Re: drink and go culture
My French friends have told me many times how much they detest consuming food or drinks on the street – you sit down for everything, enjoy it and appreciate it. Maybe that’s why you don’t see it that much in France, maybe in places tourists visit a lot
Yes. Totally. I love the culture of sitting still to eat — and not constantly trying to multi-task during meals.
We are coming to France in June with my 2 year old and 8 year old for a family wedding! Really excited to visit and experience it. Love hearing your experiences so we know a bit of what to expect!
France in June is so lovely!
I’d be interested to hear your observations on the pace of life. I spent a semester in Belgium during college and was immediately struck by how ~slow~ life seemed, but then got quite used to the different pace of things. When I retuned home, everything seemed like a whirlwind and nobody took time for people or the quality, human parts of life. I still miss that a lot, but have taken those lessons to heart.
Great suggestion for a future post — and yes, I agree the pace of life is different.
Wonderful posts! My French husband spent most if his career in Brest, Brittany. We met in Paris, married and he moved to be with me in California.
He really wants to return to Brittany upon retiring. I’ve been told the locals in some regions of Brittany are very unwelcoming to outsiders. Have you experienced this? Can you tell me why you chose your French town?
Thanks for sharing your adventure!!
Ps: our daughter lives in Alameda! We ❤️ Oakland!
I would definitely be interested in knowing this as well. I am researching living in France after we retire. It would only be a year but still I would like to live in a place where I am not resented.
I remember reading years ago about VW being perplexed about the VW Passat. The car was a huge success in Germany but was slow to take off in the US. All studies indicated that the US would love this car — but something wasn’t working. Then, they added CUPHOLDERS to the car — and the sales skyrocketed in the US. It’s just not a need in Germany. We’ve noticed the same in Spain. They would never take a drink/water with them on the go!
I wonder whether the water thing is more Norman, or perhaps Parisian, than generally French? We have travelled through France (probably every département by now) on holiday for decades, and – although we don’t dine out on a daily basis – in our experience, a carafe of water, a basket of bread, and a couple of menus appear on our table as soon as we seat ourselves. Maybe it’s because we gravitate to little café-restaurants or brasseries, or maybe we’ve just been lucky! 😊
Curious if you have adjusted to not carrying a water bottle? Have you noticed a change in your health or skin? I attribute a lot of my past migraines to being dehydrated before carrying a water bottle was a thing.
I live in Pennsylvania with the same oil tank system in my basement :) Transitioning to gas is an option but an initial expensive one.
Wondering also how restaurant owners are able to make enough to cover costs if they have such limited customers. In the states, it’s very hard to make money from a restaurant even if you are filling the same tables multiple times per evening.
Because I work at home, I’ve never been a big water-bottle carrier — I’ve always had my kitchen sink right there if I needed water. So honestly, it hasn’t been a big adjustment for me (plus, I already knew about this from living here before).
When I was in Paris and Normandy last summer, I noticed two things in partricular. The duvet covers are so think and hot? I know Europeans typically don’t have top sheets so that could explain the thick duvet. But it was quite warm and most places don’t have A/C. Also, there are no free pens in French hotel rooms, just pencils. My expat friend says its because pencils are cheaper. But there’s no pencil sharpener. It’s so fun to talk about these little cultural differences.
Unfortunately, France has had their credit rating downgraded for the last five years. Not a good sign. France also has serious social issues with more people taking to the streets in Paris due to the government spending more on refugee benefits than to its own citizens struggling to make ends meet. I’m sure the experience you are having is quite different living outside of Paris. But the economy is not in healthy shape by any stretch of the imagination.
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Hello Lisa Smith, There are social issues in France, for sure and there is a governement who was elected saying that it would be a “center governement” and all it’s politics are right politics – which is one of the many reasons so many people are in the streets also (fighting to maintain their rights, because no right may be taken for granted in a democracy). Nevertheless refugee benefits have absolutely NOTHING to do with this. Migrants bring more economic wealth to France (even te illegals who work much harder than many French people at jobs French people think they are too good to do) than whatever investment France governement gives in return.
I recall reading a really good post from a young woman who moved to Paris and had to wean herself off of water consumption. Her number one reason was lack of access to restrooms as she shopped etc. Her new friends looked at her crazy when she requested water in restaurants or bars. She also found that America stresses 10-12 glasses of water a day, They had not heard that at all in France.
Kids in US today have refillable water bottles on their desks all day. When I asked about it – it is to encourage attention span since they are hydrated!
It’s true! It can be tricky to find accessible bathrooms.
About drinking water, cafés are obliged to give you a glass of water if you ask for one (even if you don’t sit on the café, you can walk in and ask for water), and there is this hilarious and useful guidebook about where to pee in Paris (Où faire pipi à Paris), café or restaurant will not let you use their bathroom if you’re not a customer, even if you’re desperate. I find it so cruel.
I just returned from a quick four-day trip to Paris. I drink a loooooot of water normally, so I kept refilling my plastic water bottle whenever I could and draining it. We also walked everywhere (in part because of the strike, in part because we wanted to see everything). Can you see where this is going? A major issue was finding public restrooms for when I needed to pee, which was frequently! They are not obviously available, and this led to a few close calls.
We were walking in Montmartre on Thursday the 9th, and encountered the Paris protest march on our way back to our hotel. The protesters had overturned a car! I couldn’t believe it, in part because the part of the march we saw seemed peaceful (although I understand there was some violence later that night near Gare du Lyon). A French colleague of mine said that overturning cars is a French protest standard. Who knew??
I haven’t heard that about overturning cars. So interesting!
When I lived in the north of France nearly twenty years ago (Pas de Calais region), I noticed that at the end of a visit to a person’s home, they walk with you to the door and watch as you leave and do not close the door until you are out of sight. I don’t know if that’s still done in the north (I hope so!) or elsewhere in France, but I found it to be such a lovely, respectful gesture.
I was at a restaurant in Texas over the holidays. The toilet stall walls were just ABOVE the level of the toilet seat. While an adult standing MAY not be able to see you sitting, in fairly sure a child would see your entire legs and rear end sitting on the toilet. Thankfully it was just my family and I in the bathroom!
OMG that’s hilarious.
LOL. I was loving your writing about France, as I always do, and fantasizing how I’d be with whatever it is you’re describing. I’ve been fantasizing about moving to Normandy for a couple of months maybe next summer or the summer after, and then your last point. About the spiders! The scary, big, spiders. Yikes. That could possibly be a deal breaker. I am terrified of big scary spiders. Shoot!! Also, on a less LOL & hysterical note, as a non-practic ing, but still, Jewish person, I have heard there is increasing anti-semitism in France. I know that you are a person who believes in equality of ALL people and people being treated with respect, no matter their gender, ethnicity, race, sexual preference, religion, etc. I love this about you. So, I’ve been wondering since you’ve been there, if you’ve noticed or heard anything about this. Thx.
They are seriously terrifying to me. Happily I only have to think about them a few months of the year. And since we’re not in the countryside, we’ll hopefully see less of them (or none at all!).
so… which exactly are the spider months I should avoid being there? Also, have you been aware of any incidents of anti-semitism? or just a general anti-semitism in the atmosphere?
I haven’t personally seen or heard anything antisemitic — though I have certainly seen news stories about the increase in anti-semitism here and am aware it’s happening. Honestly, I see more reports of increased anti-semitism coming out the U.S. right now. I don’t know how the two compare.
I’m sure you’ve already thought of this, but checking with the experts — like the Anti-Defamation League — would give you a much better sense of what’s happening than I could give you.
Yeah, it’s not great in America, for sure. I know there’s statistics I could see and compare. Was just wondering how it might feel “on the ground”, in a French community? Sounds like it’s not an issue where you’re living, or at least not a blatant one. I really appreciate all you post! This was a particularly interesting post, comparing France and the US for cultural differences.
Yes, we have been here six months and have many similar observations. I love that France has weaned me off my coffee take-out habit! We always get offered a carafe d’eau in restaurantes, but I don’t like the lack of water in the school day (if the kids forget their water bottle they only get one small glass at lunchtime – that’s it). Here in the Pyrénées lots of the old village lavoir (washing fountains) now have eau potable, so you can fill your bottle with fresh mountain water in most villages.
Wow what about all the kids playing soccer at recess/lunch? Aren’t they dying of thirst?! This is when all the sweaty kids in our school chug from their water bottles!
Christine, your kids must ask for water at school and they can bring a plastic cup and leave it at the school. No teacher is allowed to not give water as a kid’s request. And normally they drink water either before or after every break and sports they have at school.
In the UK we have an app (Refill) that shows you all the locations nearby offering free water refills – cafes, hotels, etc. I love being able to pop in, even if I’m not a customer, hand them my water bottle and know they are happy to fill it – and depending on location often offer me ice! I think the initiative started in 2018 with concern about plastic bottle use. We do see many people carrying reusable bottles here, too.
What a cool app!
Thank you! Heading to Normandy for the summer by myself with 4 kids ages 2-10 for the first time. I need all the tidbits you can give!
About automatic versus stick shift cars: my knowledge is from Britain and rather dated, but I suspect the reasons may be the same. Historically you could get better gas mileage from stick shift cars and gas was so highly taxed that people wanted any advantage they could get. Also in Britain back when I got my driver’s license (a long time ago) you didn’t get a full license unless you could drive a stick shift. So everyone learned to drive stick and once you know how I think you do tend to feel more in control, like Gabby said, so it remained a preference. And of course since you aren’t taking all those drinks with you in the car both hands are free to drive!
I hadn’t thought about the connection between an automatic car and being able to eat while you drive. I think there’s something to that.
I’m surprised you haven’t heard of the French tradition of “torching cars” (not turning over cars; but setting fire to cars.). There are You tube videos and hundreds of articles on this “tradition.” The following is from a French website:
31 December 2019
Burning cars is something of a tradition in France, albeit a much hated one by authorities and car owners, and it appears to be on the rise again. Every New Year’s Eve nervous car owners across France cross their fingers in the hope they can start the New Year with their vehicle intact.
That’s because of a longstanding French tradition that sees youths in certain parts of cities torching scores of cars.
The number of vehicles set alight on the night of December 31st 2018 climbed to 1,031 compared to 935 the previous New Year’s Eve, while arrests rose from 456 to 510, the interior ministry said on Monday.
Nevertheless stats released last year by France’s official crime data agency ONDRP reveal that the number of cars burned each year has fallen by 20 percent since 2010.
That was the good news for car owners and insurance firms.
The bad news is that tens of thousands of vehicles are still burned across the country…