French men and women can spend some casual time together without any precise and complex rules. If you appreciate each other’s company, you can go for a walk, to the movies, to the museum, try tree climbing or wine tasting, just whatever you feel like doing, and in no specific order! So for us, the complex American “dating” system is a bit of a drag. It can be hard to get used to how rigid it feels. For a French girl, “first date”, “second date”, “third date” just don’t make a lot of sense.
As a French girl, you grow up with the pressure of having to look great in all circumstances. You learn how to dress in a fashionable way, and you know that everybody will look at you and talk about the way you are dressed. It is common to be on a bus and see people looking at you head to toe. In the USA, this kind of behavior is very rarely witnessed. People buy groceries in pajamas and slippers. Nobody cares. In France it would be inconceivable to enter a restaurant in your fitness outfit. All heads would turn and people would stare insistently at you.
In the USA air conditioning is on all the time, everywhere. You get out of your air-conditioned house to get into your air-conditioned car and then into the air-conditioned mall… In France, not all public places are air-conditioned, and when they are, it is usually to maintain temperatures that are comfortable yet warm, not just slightly above freezing. There seem to be a huge gap between what is considered an acceptable room temperature in France and in the USA. At my work place, this results in a constant war over the air conditioning remote control!
Growing up in France, you learn that lunch is a very important meal. It should never be skipped. Actually, the whole country seems to stop any activity between 12 pm and 2 pm, in order to allow people to take the time to have a decent lunch. There is no school during those hours, and a lot of shops and services close their doors for the lunch break as well. When I first arrived in the USA and discovered that my schedule only included a 30-minute lunch break, I was really shocked. How are you supposed to eat a three-course meal and get a little bit of rest in that time frame? Then I observed my American colleagues and quickly understood: if lunch consists of swallowing a coke and a bag of chips while working on some paperwork, 30 minutes is probably enough time after all.
In French restaurants, there is only soft music (the kind you hear in elevators), and generally people at the other tables are quiet. You even find yourself whispering sometimes. In the USA, in the middle of a room filled with loud music and animated group discussions, talking is not an option. Yelling seems like the only way to have a conversation in most American restaurants, bars, and lounges. I got used to it… but now I often find myself talking extremely loud in restaurants back in France, and being reminded by my embarrassed friends that I should keep it down a little because people in the room are staring at us.
Cupcakes for dogs at your favorite Sprinkles location, spa for dogs, cookies for dogs in any type of store or boutique, even a “puppy latte” (or “Puppicinno”) at Starbucks… It seems that in the typical American home, dogs are treated just like any other members of the family. Actually, for Americans, dogs don’t have an “owner” or a master (“un maître”), like they would in France, instead they have a “human”! When you pass by people in the street, it is not uncommon to hear them talk on behalf of their dog: “Say Hi, Baxter!”, “Max, say bye bye to Bailey!” While most Americans will probably kindly reply to your dog, just don’t expect the French to do the same! In France, people love their dogs too, and we do think that dogs are humans’ best friends, but we still consider them like animals, not like some new type of tiny hairy human being.
For us it seems that Americans learn to drive shortly after they learn to walk. You can have a license at sixteen, after a half day of training and an exam that seems like a joke to French aspiring drivers who need to go through long hours of driving lessons and generally fail the test at least once or twice! And once you get your license, you tend to use wheels more than feet! After seven years in Texas, I have almost forgotten what “walking” even means. In France, I used to walk several miles every day, and it was my way of getting around in the city.
In France, you might sometimes need to consider selling a kidney just to get on a train to another city within the country. You don’t really get anywhere for a fare below 100 Euros. In the USA, you can hop on a Greyhound bus and basically cross the country for a ridiculously low price! Even plane tickets are way more affordable. It usually costs me less to fly from Dallas to Miami than to take a train from Strasbourg to Paris.
We French complain all the time! We seem to love “râler”. It’s almost a way of life. You don’t even realize it until you leave France and cross the Atlantic Ocean. Then, you discover the Americans. And at first, you wonder if you ended up directly in Disney World, because it is the first time that you see so many happy, shiny people in one place. So much positivity just can’t be real! And this is probably my favorite new habit: switching from negative to positive thinking, and believing that anything is possible. This is why I love the USA so much!