French Culture Lesson 101

Caroline Clarke is a student at Furman University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Caroline is currently studying abroad with ISA in Paris, France.

Laura Bassel and margaret Hill and Me on Normand/Omaha beach
Laura Bassel and margaret Hill and Me on Normand/Omaha beach

I have come to the obvious conclusion, that Americans and Parisians have more points of difference than points of parity. Points of Parity is a marketing term my teacher here uses to make a similarities and differences chart. Since I am more than half way finished with my program, I figured I have spent enough time immersed in this culture to figure out at least ten reasons why I stick out like an American more than a Texas fan at an A&M game. So here it goes:

1. White jeans: it doesn’t matter if it’s after Memorial Day or before Labor Day, the French do not wear white jeans.

2. My teacher opening class with, “Who smokes? You will be my time keeper now”: classroom breaks are taken according to the necessity of a smoke break, and the Americans get a coke.

3. Fromage (cheese): it’s eaten at the end of the meal as a dessert, as opposed the Texan way, “Would you like a medium or large queso to start with”.

Fromage tasting at Fil O'Fromage provided by ISA! so yummy! Start with the first tray and work your way towards the end. The cheeses are best appreciated fro mild to bitter.
Fromage tasting at Fil O’Fromage provided by ISA! so yummy! Start with the first tray and work your way towards the end. The cheeses are best appreciated fro mild to bitter.

4.”Toilet? 1 euro.”: I learned very quickly, not to leave an establishment without going to the bathroom, even if you don’t need to. In France, and most of Europe, running in to a store or restaurant just for the restroom is definitely frowned upon.

5. Pokerface: No matter how good the song is on your iPod, do not crack a smile or make eye contact on the morning metro. Once the doors close, Parisians put on their best pokerface which seems to say “Why am I awake right now and why is the girl in white jeans smiling and singing ‘Happy’ at 8:30am? She must be American”.

6. The only time you run is for a metro that is about to close. One of my first days in Paris I decided to go for a run, I quickly realized:
Lululemon leggings: no
Nike shirt/shorts: no
Tennis shoes: no
Sitting in a cafe and watching the American pant her way up the hill as you eat a baguette: yes

7. Shrimp and grits are not a thing here. Going to school in the South, and having two roommates from Alabama, it was only a matter of time before the easy grits surfaced. Although French food is amazing, it is pretty rich. Therefore, we decided to tell our host-mom dinner was on us, and made cheesy shrimp and grits for dinner. We hung an American banner from the window, and served some grits, and  chocolate cake for dessert. When the meal concluded, all she could say was, “Grits are Great! Grits are Great!”

Libby and Allison making shrimp and grits in the kitchen.

8-“Une Grande (gr-ah-nd) Cafe au lait, s’il vous plait”: When I ordered coffee for the first time, I was shocked to see the cup was just a little bigger than a shot glass. “This is the grande? I can only imagine the small!” I thought. Then I began to worry, as an avid coffee drinker it was going to take a lot of “grande s’il vous plait” to equal the normal “vente latte with two raw sugars”. Little did I know, French coffee, though small, is very powerful, and one Cafe au lait was all I needed for the morning.

Allison, Libby and I happy to get some coffee.
Allison, Libby and I happy to get some coffee.

9. Stripes: Always a good idea, when in doubt put on a striped shirt, preferably Petit Bateau. At least until I start speaking I might be French.

10. Pedestrians have the right of way: The French approach the crosswalk as though the checkered flag is about to start the Indy 500 and the people are in the way. Don’t think about crossing the street without the right of way either, there will be a few choice French words, and you are flirting with fate.

As of right now, on my walk to school, these are all I can think of. Mostly because I am wearing white jeans, I was listening to “Happy,” I ordered a cafe au lait, crossed the street at the wrong time, bumped into a girl from another class on her smoke break. Whew. I think I addressed at least half the things on that list in the few hours I’ve been awake. Just a day in the life as a Texan transplant living in Paris!

7 thoughts

  1. very interesting post, maybe in the future you would like to post similarities, and differences between western and east culture especially Asian. Really want to know your point of views. thank you.

  2. This is so interesting and fun! I’d love to spend time in Paris, and if I ever get to, I will keep these tips in mind. As it is, it’s fun to be there vicariously. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply