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,
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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,
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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.

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Fall Foliage: Maroon Turtleneck + Black Open Back Sweater

maroon turtleneck outfit
maroon turtleneck outfit
maroon turtleneck outfit
Turtleneck, thrifted L.L. Bean | Shorts, sponsored by Tobi ($54) | Necklace, Love Nail Tree
open back sweater outfit
open back sweater outfit
Sweater, sponsored by Tobi ($35) | Shorts, Kohl's | Boots, Amazon ($30)

To see more of Tobi's edgy selection, check out

More thesis writing:

..I grew up with two linguistic mothers, but Mandarin and I had drifted. English, after all, was my primary language, the language I used most. It was the mother who gently rocked me throughout the day; she was the language of my everyday rhythm at school, the language of my teachers and classmates. At night, I would curl up into her warm embrace, devouring countless anglophone novels. Her lullabies were the hum of the radio and the murmuring of my favorite TV shows. And so I clung onto the first thing I could hold, the mother who was most familiar...

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Classic Colors: Wine Red Button-down + Black Cross-Back Dress

dress over button down outfit
backless dress outfit modest
subtle ombre wavy medium hair asian
dress over button down outfit
dress over button down outfit
gemstone necklace
Dress, sponsored by Tobi ($88) | Button-down, thrifted Primark | Shoes, Target ($17)| Necklace, street stand in Oxford, UK

"Have you been writing lately?" 

"Yeah, for my applications and thesis," I chuckled wryly.

Things have been beyond hectic lately as I tackle two theses (one in math and the other in French), fellowship applications, marathon training difficulties, a part-time job with a startup, and other unexpected challenges. I've been writing quite a bit lately, but not for leisure.

My French thesis, however, is one part creative writing and one part analytical. The creative writing will focus on my quest for the French language and my identity questions as a Chinese-American. 

Here's a little excerpt for now, until I get back to normal life blogging.


“What do you want to eat?” My grandfather prompted me.

I felt panicky. We were at a neighborhood noodle bar in Hangzhou, my mother’s hometown. I was a high school sophomore, and it was my first trip to China in seven years. What do you want to eat? I would normally respond to such a question with unabashed eagerness, but deciding what to eat here meant reading the menu—a menu written uniquely in Chinese. The enigmatic characters danced dizzily across the pages. I frantically searched for familiar words, preferably “vegetable” and “vermicelli.” My grandfather couldn’t know that I was essentially illiterate in Mandarin. He would surely be more ashamed than I already felt. Mandarin was one of my mother tongues, yet it felt so foreign.

I found my vegetable vermicelli, and my grandfather barely raised an eyebrow. But I was solemn during the meal, and pensive during most of my three-week family trip. I had assumed that our stay would mean scrumptious street food, misty landscapes, and an inordinate number of mosquito bites. Instead, I found culture shock and uncertainty...

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"Welcome to America": Maroon Blazer + Black Criss Cross Top

Cleveland, OH, USA
maroon blazer outfit, black criss cross shirt outift
maroon blazer outfit, black criss cross shirt outift
maroon blazer outfit, black criss cross shirt outift
navy tie knot shorts outfit
Blazer, LC Lauren Conrad | T-shirt, sponsored by ZAN.STYLE ($27); also on Amazon ($14) | Shorts, thrifted Mango | Shoes, Target
Photos by my brother

I received this t-shirt from ZAN.STYLE in exchange for an honest review. I wrote a more detailed post on ZAN.STYLE a couple weeks ago, but didn't get a chance to feature the second piece they sent me. I'm incredibly happy with the t-shirt--the material is so soft, and the cut is versatile and edgy. If you haven't already, take a gander at my previous OOTD with my thoughts on the site!

It's been awhile since I've written my life here. Since launching Thank You for the Tragedy, an online collection of romantic tragedy memoirs, I allot my free time to skype essay editing sessions instead of photoshoots and daydreaming. 

I've been writing, but elsewhere; I've penned my personal love tragedy, a reflection on my year abroad, postgrad fellowship essays. I've been writing, but it's been awhile since I've let myself write aimlessly. My thoughts yearn to waltz across this blog again--unrehearsed, clumsy, and free.

So I'll take these 10 minutes for myself and write.


"Welcome to America," says the man passing by.

"Thanks, but I was born here..." I reply, bewildered.

The witty response always comes too late. Dang, I should've said "You, too."

On my walks and runs, I almost always greet any passersby with a smile and "Hello!"

This time, I wish I hadn't.

"Hello!" I smile at the older trio strolling through campus.

"Ni Hao," one of the men replies.

I'm too dazed to respond.

Perhaps these words are meant to be well-meaning and compassionate. Instead, they feel malicious.

If I'm greeted with "Ni Hao" before I speak, then that person has assumed my identity from my appearance. It's ignorance at best--they're not wrong, but there's much more to my identity than my ethnicity. If I'm greeted with "Ni Hao" after I speak--in English just like theirs--then they are refusing to accept me as a fellow American. That's a step beyond ignorance, and is far from well-intentioned.

The witty response never comes. Sorry, I don't speak Chinese? That would be a lie. Bonjour? Well, that would sure confuse them. But I already said hello. Have a good night? Too polite. You, too? Even more confusing, but all the better. Not you too.

"Welcome home," says the immigration officer when I clear customs in Boston.

"Thank you," I smile and tuck my navy passport back in my coat pocket, "Have a good night."

Funny how one word makes all the difference.

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Mountains and Flower Fields: OOTD + ZAN.STYLE Review

choker neck top outfit
choker neck top outfit
choker neck dress outfit
choker neck top outfit
book and plow farm amherst
collar v neck top outfit
book and plow farm amherst

collar v neck top outfit
book and plow farm amherst flowers
Dress (worn as shirt), sponsored by ZAN.STYLE ($78) | Skirt, Forever 21 | Shoes, Target
Photos by Md

I received this dress from ZAN.STYLE in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

ZAN.STYLE is a China-based clothing company offering simple, hip, and confident pieces. When I first visited ZAN.STYLE's website, I was immediately taken by the boxy dresses and edgy solid tees. The site itself is also clean and navigable, and each item description provides details about clothing care and fit. Some decriptions even link to Amazon, where you may find the item at a cheaper price. For instance, the criss-cross black t-shirt I also picked (to be featured in a future post) is nearly 50% cheaper on Amazon at $13.99. The v-neck collar dress in this post isn't on Amazon US, but it's also over 50% cheaper on Amazon UK and Amazon FR (as well as the Spanish and German sites). 

I was also impressed by the prompt and polite communications I received from the ZAN.STYLE team, especially since a lot of blog sponsorship proposals can feel incredibly impersonal and disingenuous. The representative I spoke with even told me a bit about the company culture--each afternoon, the employees gather for a tea break, and every month, they do an outdoor teambuilding challenge. 

Here's the rundown in numbers of what I thought:

As I mentioned, this is probably ZAN.STYLE's strongest point. The polished pieces remind me a bit of tlnique's aesthetic: crisp and confident. 

ZAN.STYLE does have a distinctive aesthetic, so there may not be something for a more whimsical or colorful dresser. That being said, I do like how the pieces fit a general feel. The selection, however, did feel a bit sparse, especially seeing as there are only 4-5 options for women's pants and tank tops. This made picking pieces much easier for indecisive me, but I would've liked to see a few more options. It would also be cool to one day see ZAN.STYLE expand to offer shoes and accessories.

Unlike some Asian retailers, ZAN.STYLE doesn't run small--I ordered both my pieces in size S, and they fit just right. The product descriptions also offer size charts with model stats as a gauge and precise measurements for each option. 

Despite being posted internationally, the items came within a week. They were well-packaged in a padded envelope, which each piece carefully-folded in separate reusable clothing bags. 

The material feels sturdy and the pieces are well-made, with no loose threads in sight. I especially liked how soft the material of my t-shirt was. It's been through the wash and dryer a few times already, and is still holding up well.

ZAN.STYLE does run on the more expensive side for a thrifty shopper like me (my dress is listed as $78 on the site). But I do appreciate how they offer several pieces on Amazon at a much cheaper price. At $14, for instance, my the price of my black t-shirt is pretty reasonable. And at £24 on Amazon UKmy choker neck dress is also worth the price. 

Basically, ZAN.STYLE is far from your typical online Asian retailer--I was incredibly impressed with their aesthetics, quality, and professionality. I was happy with the pieces I received and definitely recommend taking a gander at their site. Let me know if you have any questions about my experience!

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** ZAN.STYLE currently has some promotions, including up to 75% off on select pieces. You can also get this flowy tank top for $6 and free shipping with the code 209236104 **


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