French vs. American Culture: 7 Surprising Differences

differences french and american culture
The view from the Sacré-Cœur, Paris

Before going to France, I mentally prepared myself for la bise (standard kissing greeting), the later dinner times, and the copious amounts of bread I would undoubtedly consume.  Other than that, it wouldn't be so different there, right?

It's funny how our cultural traditions are so engrained in our lives--sometimes, we don't even consider the possibility of other ways.

Here are the things that threw me off during my semester in France. Some, I still don't understand. Others, I learned to love.

1. The standard coffee is an espresso.

If you order un café at a restaurant, don't expect a steaming, milky 8 oz. mug. "Coffee" for the French normally means a shot of espresso--sometimes with sugar, sometimes without. While I wasn't a coffee-drinker before study abroad, I now love the deep, earthy taste. I'll even occasionally order espressos in the US, just for the nostalgia.

Fun fact: it's not uncommon for people to drink coffee at every meal--even during 8pm dinners.

Tip: if you want the standard coffee with milk, ask for un café crème--not un café au lait !

2. Bakeries grace nearly every corner.

Given French stereotypes, I guess I should've expected it. Still, it seemed too nice to be able to buy fresh bread and pastries every morning, with less than a five-minute walk! You would find boulangeries even near very residential areas. 

3. Shower heads sometimes don't stay put.

Most shower heads I encountered were removable, which is normally quite convenient. Some showers, however, didn't come with a wall fixture to keep the shower heads in place--which is not quite convenient. Sure, I could've turned the water off while I lathered my shampoo, but my host family's shower so temperamental that finding the right temperature once was hassle enough. I eventually DIY-ed my own shower head holder with two Command hooks and a rubber band (cue crying-laughing emoji).

4. The lined paper might give you anxiety.

The standard notebook paper in France (top left) has a LOT of lines. I knew that I wouldn't be able to focus if I took notes on said paper, so I scrounged around for alternatives. Unfortunately, most stores only offer graph paper or super-lined paper. I was able to find a pack of good old college-ruled in HEMA, however.

Tip: HEMA is a great store for more American-style school supplies, like college-ruled notebooks. It's a Dutch company that sells the most eye-catching things for very reasonable prices!

5. Some university students (and even profs!) take "smoke breaks".

Despite the horrid photos on cigarette packs, smoking still feels rather chic in France. During class breaks, a handful of students (and sometimes even the prof) would head out for a smoke. If you're sensitive to cigarette smoke, definitely be prepared--you'll notice it in places where it's uncommon in America, like campuses, restaurant terraces, etc. 

6. Drying racks are used more frequently than dryers. 

Since energy is crazy expensive in Europe (and since Europeans tend to be more environmentally conscious), most families will use drying racks for their laundry--even if most of them have a dryer, and even if it's winter! 

7. The wifi passwords are like nuclear codes.

The above photo is actually of a real wifi password--and it's not even the worst I've seen. Some of the ones I encountered seemed to go on for paragraphs. It was incredibly frustrating at the time, but quite amusing now.


Have you ever lived in France? What were the cultural differences you noticed?

Much love,
post signature

Briefly in Brooklyn: Maroon Blazer + Dog Print Button-down

New York, NY
maroon blazer outfit
maroon blazer outfit
maroon blazer outfit
maroon blazer outfit
Blazer, LC Lauren Conrad | Button-down, thrifted Primark | Skirt, Forever 21 | Boots, Amazon

Fact or fiction?

I walked him to the bus stop, heart heavy. The long-anticipated weekend had kindled (tentative embraces, familiar voices sounding different) and burned (moonlight walks, bedtime cuddling). The flames danced, reaching for the sky. Then they grew quiet, retreating to ash, wisps of smoke, stillness.

We were quiet, shoulder to shoulder, brooding on the steps before the station. 

The bus came. We stood and folded into each other's arms. 

"I'll see you soon?"


An older couple embraced beside us. The woman tucked a wisp of silver hair behind her ear, then waved goodbye to a man with wrinkled skin and warm eyes. 

The man and I stood together as we watched the bus pull away. We waved to tinted windows and silhouettes. 

We looked at each other, and smiled--sadly and knowingly. 

We turned in opposite directions, and walked away. 

I've been wanting to write this scene for a couple months now. Is it a memory, still as fresh as the day I lived it, or traces of a melancholy dream? I'll let you decide.

For the past year, I've been absent from this blog more than I like. I used to share quirky stories and minute details. Now I feel as if even the monumental goes unmentioned. 

A few weeks ago, my blog domain actually expired for 9 days before I noticed. This little space of my own has been forgotten and neglected. With schoolwork and other obligations, I'm not sure I'll be more present anytime soon. But I hope to return often--to leave a little tale, a small snippet, some lingering thoughts.

With much love,
post signature

Delayed Gratification: Hartford Marathon 2017

hartford marathon 2017
Running has shown me that I conquer intimidating of tasks. That consistent perspiration, effort, and tenacity culminate in immense growth. In running, my dreams are elusive, yes, but also limitless--and I am ever-determined to chase them down."
quoted above in the Hartford Marathon Insider's Guide 2017. written in 2015, before I finally ran my first marathon in 2016  (after two years of injuries and unsuccessful training cycles) }

For three years, I've dreamt of running the Hartford Marathon.

As a freshman in college, I actually signed up--but sustained a knee injury about a month before the race.

During my sophomore fall, I had recently recovered from a serious overuse injury, so I was only able to run the half marathon. I ran a significant personal best, and the race remains my very favorite thus far. In Spring 2016, I finally conquered my goal of running a full marathon, but the Hartford race still eluded me.

As a junior, I studied abroad in Bordeaux and Oxford, so Hartford wasn't even an option.

I'm a senior now. And two weeks ago, I chased down freshman year dream.

Before the race, I wasn't sure I would even be able to finish. My thesis work and fellowship applications felt like marathon enough, and my training had been going so poorly. I made three unsuccessful attempts to complete my final 3.5 hour training run. I stopped at 3 hours on my first try, having only run 17 miles. I stopped at 1 hour on try two, feeling simply too heavy and drained. I stopped at 3 hours on try three, having only completed 15 miles. I was perplexed at my inexplicable fatigue. I suspected an iron deficiency, got a blood test--and received negative results. I was bamboozled.

I debated whether or not to enter the race for weeks--I pegged my chances of having a positive experience at a measly 15%. I made a pros and cons list. I flipped a coin. I decided not to go. I flipped the coin again. I changed my mind.

I wanted to go.

Less than a week before the race, I signed up, booked bus tickets, and found a place to stay. I had originally hoped to run a personal best at Hartford, but instead refocused my main goal to just enjoy myself. For the first time, I would enter a race solely to have fun. 

I couldn't sleep the three nights leading up to the race. Worries of schoolwork and fellowship application outcomes and potential race disappointment consumed my thoughts and pounded through my body. The night before the race, I dreamt that I had overslept and missed the start. In my dreams, I groaned and grumbled about missing the day I'd anticipated for months.

In reality, I groaned and grumbled myself awake at 5 am.

After a quick breakfast and brisk warmup, I joined the 4:25 pace group in the bustling race corrals. Were 10 minute miles even feasible for me? I wasn't sure. I smiled mutely at the rest of the group as we hopped and stretched our restless energy out. I wouldn't try to make small talk; it would be less embarrassing that way if I had had to fall behind.

I promptly forgot my rule and made a friend just after the race start. She had just run a marathon two weeks before and was at Hartford to qualify for the Marathon Maniacs club. If you run two marathons within two weeks, you can pay to get a Maniacs shirt! she explained. We giggled at the absurdity of it--subjecting yourself to immense physical pain for the gracious opportunity of paying to join a club.

We lost our pacing group within the first mile, clocking sub-9:30's and the occasional sub-9:00. I began to feel slightly breathless and considered telling her to go on without me, if she wanted. I wasn't sure if that sounded too falsely magnanimous. So I said nothing. She sped ahead, and I lost her at mile 10.

I was on my own now, but I felt strong. I clocked 2:04:09 at the half marathon mark. If you keep this pace up, you can PR! Grandiose visions danced through my head. I grinned at the spectators and the musicians lining the course. My steps felt light and intentional. Energy coursed through my limbs. Even the thick, pasty energy gels didn't taste so bad.

The fatigue seeped in slowly. Just a few more miles, I told myself, just a few more now, then a few more after. I cut the race into slices; three 3-mile runs sounded much more appealing than one 9-mile run. Still, my mile splits dropped off. By mile 20, I was struggling to run a 10 minute mile.

Yet it was the strongest I'd felt felt in over a month. I was running a marathon. My legs were working. I was going to finish.

At mile 23, I dropped the energy gel I'd been clenching in my fist. Searing pain shot through my back when I bent to pick it up. Three more 1-mile runs...only three more.

The final mile seemed to stretch across town. I anticipated the finish at each turn between the towering buildings, only to be disappointed. But this was it. This was my three-year dream. Even if my performance wouldn't conform to my fantasies, I would see it through. 

At 4:16:26, I stumbled across the finish. It was almost exactly 8 minutes slower than my first marathon time. But I was elated.

My race was perhaps not the most competitive, but it was one of my happiest yet. Since I hadn't forced a goal time upon myself, I ran based on the feeling, and challenged myself accordingly. And I surprised myself.

Since it was such a long-elusive desire, running Hartford was almost symbolic for me. By finishing the race, I was leaving behind those years of injury and doubt. I was finding the courage to dash after my goals despite seemingly-dim odds. Perhaps it was reckless, but isn't all idealism a bit reckless?

With my second marathon captured, I could rest for a spell--though not for long. There are always more dreams to chase and limits to push--boldly and recklessly.

post signature


© imperfect idealist. Design by Fearne.