What I Miss From France… And What I Don’t!

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Weird Sign In Nantes

Weird Sign In Nantes

Each time I visit France, my friends all ask me if I miss it, and if I would ever go back there to live. In short, the answer is no. While I like the country, I must admit my life is much easier in Canada. I left right after high school and I never looked back, even though I enjoy visiting every once in a while.

Now, to each his own, and I’m happy to see expats and immigrants from all over the world (notably Barbara, Jennie, Lis, Emily, Sarah, Aimee, Princesse Écossaise and Tanya) having a great time in France!

There are things I miss, but there are also things I don’t miss. Let’s have a look…

First, what do I miss from my home country?

  • Not having to drive everywhere, for a start. I grew up in the city center of Nantes, where the movie theater is a two minutes walk, where I had hundreds of restaurants and bars another ten minutes walk from home, as well as two nearby supermarkets and all the shops you can think of. The transit system is also pretty good, with buses and several tramway lines. In Canada, I live in a close suburb (about 10 minutes drive from downtown), but we rely on the car a lot to get around. City planning (or lack of in my opinion) is very different in North America and driving is a must.
  • Having my family nearby, obviously. I have really good friends in Canada, but no family except for Feng and my in-laws.
  • The art of hanging out in cafés: Canadians are pretty straightforward: if they want caffeine, they grab a venti coffee at Starbucks, Second Cup, Bridgehead, Timothys or Tim Hortons — to go. If they want to get drunk, they go to a bar. French, on the other hand, can linger for ages around a tiny cup of espresso or a beer. Plus, you can still smoke on terraces.
  • French care about politics. Maybe a bit too much, considering demonstrating is almost a form of exercise. But I wish more Canadians care about national politics, which after all are important!
  • Tip and tax included in the price. In Canada, GST and PST are never included in the price, nor is the tip in restaurants. I can never ever prepare my change at the cashier because I don’t know the final price. And I’m still not natural at calculating tips!
  • The lack of political correctness: French are not too politically correct and I somehow like it. I feel that in North Anerica, there is always someone who is going to be offended by something!
  • Healthier food: even bad food is somewhat healthier than North American’s bad food. Portions are smaller, food is less salty, less fatty and there is no “triple cheeseburgers with a side of onion ring, bacon, ribs” nonsense, like in the “land of plenty“.
  • Historic cities: most cities are old and the heritage is preserved. There are tons of museums and everything is beautiful. Most cities in Canada are quite new and buildings are obviously not as pretty.

Now, what I don’t miss:

  • Life is very expensive in France. If I was working (which is not a given considering the high unemployment rate), I would probably make between 1000-1500 € a month. Enough to survive and rent a small place, but I wouldn’t travel or go out much. I don’t make much in Canada, but I feel I can afford more: there are always cheap clothes on sale, entertainment like concert tickets are okay, eating out in ethnic restaurants is cheap enough etc.
  • Renting a place can be a real headache: there is a housing crisis in bigger cities and finding a place can be tough. Plus, landlords are very picky and often demand a permanent job with a high salary.
  • The bureaucracy. I feel things are relatively more straightforward in Canada: first of all, most of the info we need is often online. Second, there are 1-800 numbers (free) for everything. France is a bit backwards in term of government info on the internet and most contact phone numbers are over-taxed, not free!
  • Stupid shop hours: in France, most places close at 7:00 pm (a bit later in Paris) and don’t open at all on Sunday. I never go to these 24 hours stores in Canada (well, I do, but not at 3:00 am!) but I must admit it’s very convenient to be able to go grocery shopping on Sunday and to have pharmacies open late.
  • The health system. No, there is nothing wrong with it (other than its deficit). But what a lot of Europeans don’t seem to know is that our health system in Canada is not that bad. My French friends always ask me how we do to pay our health bills: well, we don’t have any. Everything but dental, eye care and medicine is covered by our provincial health system — not bad! Plus, in France, you have to pay first and you are reimbursed later. In Canada, our health card is just swiped and we don’t pay anything! Sure, there is a doctor shortage in Canada, and waiting lists can be long. But France also has waiting list for some specialties after all (see my post about both health systems, Sicko(s)).
  • Lack of efficiency and no customer service: French are notorious for jumping queues, and it gets on my nerves. As for customer service… let’s just say it’s inexistent. Most people are very pleasant and polite, but this somehow change when they are serving you. I wanted to buy pens the other day in a store, but they were under lock and key. I asked the shop assistant, who sigh looking at me, and said: “can’t you get some other pens?“. Yep, that’s what I’m talking about…!
  • Drunk kids in the streets: call my old-fashioned, but I hate to see young kids (I’m talking early teens) drinking in the streets and happily ordering Vodka in bars. Not to mention when they buy tons of liquor at the supermarket… I’m not stupid, I’m sure kids in Canada get drunk as well. But at least, the state doesn’t make it easy for them! I know, I used to think Canada’s attitude towards alcohol was a bit too much. Well, I changed my mind. I think kids drink too much in France… especially in Brittany, where I’m from
  • Dirty cities: I find Canada amazingly clean compare to France. Dodging dog poo isn’t my favorite sports, and I hate seeing puke everywhere after the week end binge drinking!
  • Lack of public phone booth: everybody has a cell phone these days in France. Now, when you are visiting, you have to rely on phone booths, but unlike Canada, they don’t work with coins but with phone cards, which you have to buy beforehand. Calling a cell is amazingly expensive (a 3 € phone cards to call cell phones lasted about 5 minutes), and even calling local numbers can be pricey. I like it better in Canada: 50 cents unlimited local calls and local cells! Plus, phone booths in France are heading towards extinction, and they can be hard to find.

So, what do you guys miss from home? What don’t you miss? I tag the French ladies mentioned above, plus:

Have fun!

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

27 Comments

  1. This was a very interesting post. No one could write this but you. What do I like, not like about where I live? I like Tulsa. I grew up and lived in a small town 50 minutes from Tulsa for a long time. I liked that because it was laid back and I knew everybody. Small towns are friendly but everybody knows your business. What I didn’t like was how in-grown it was and how narrowly people saw the world.

    I commuted to work in Tulsa for 20+ years then moved to Tulsa after my first marriage came apart about 16 years ago. I really like Tulsa. It is big enough (400,000) to have a good symphony, opera, ballet, baseball team, lots of free or cheap music performances, plenty of decent restaurants, etc. But it is small enough to be friendly and get around conveniently. As you said about where you live in Canada, you have to have a car to get around. It is not generally convenient to walk anywhere.

    What I don’t care much for is the political and religious conservatism of the majority of people. Being a liberal Democrat and an Anglican puts me in the minority. Oh well, if I ever found the perfect place to live they probably wouldn’t have me.

  2. Oh those are great comparisons… I’m originally from California actually then lived in Switzerland and fell in love with it as my home. I’d gladly say the pro’s and con’s from Canada to Switzerland. I still find there are many… 🙂 Now for the time. I leave for vacation in 1.5 days and I’m sick.. yuck…

  3. I agree with all of your points! These are the exact same things I miss/don’t miss about France. But to the “things I miss” list I would definitely add beautiful buildings. Paris might be dirty, but it is also architecturally appealing. Oh, and I don’t miss the lack of clothes dryers.

  4. I don’t know if I could do a comparison – I’ve been in Las Vegas for 6 years now and I am so over it. When my husband and I visited New England last fall I realized exactly how much I miss it there. Everything is less expensive, people are friendlier, they know how to drive, the food is better – plus it’s easier to get fresh food because everything in Vegas needs to be flown or trucked in. And water. I miss water. In New England it’s at the ocean, lakes, streams, and even falls from the sky. I miss water.

  5. Do shops open half-day on Saturdays?

    I first experienced European shop hours when I went for training in Sweden years ago. There, the only shops opened after 7pm were 7-Eleven and restaurants. My training, in Kista, ended at 5pm and I rushed to the souvenir stores in Stockholm immediately before they closed.

    If I were to live in Europe, I can’t imagine having to take half-day off from work just to do shopping.

  6. So interesting Zhu and yes there’s bound to be something we miss or not at all in places that we visited too.

    Now, having visited France & Canada I can see the comparison between this two countries still I love them all 😀 Maybe it was a short visit so it has it’s pride and it’s flaws 😀

  7. What a great list! The likes you mentioned about France, somewhat reflects a bit of Denmark (Ex.: driving, opening hours, politics, healthy food, drunk kids, lack of public phones and historic sites). There are always good and bad sides in every country and I must agree that we Canadians don’t care about politics. We feel so indifferent about it…

    I shall make a list of my own when I move.

  8. Hi, Zhu! Thanks for tagging me, it’s an honour. I think I might have written about this in the past, but I will try to come up with a new list and then see if it matches whatever I might have written before…

    Things I miss from Argentina:
    * The toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and by extension, the ‘sandwiches de miga’. Sure, you can make them here too, but the bread just doesn’t taste the same (and where do you buy ‘pebetes’?)
    * That there are over 400 bus lines in the Great Buenos Aires, and I still always knew which one to take.
    * Soccer conversations at the office on Monday morning.
    * Not having to think for four minutes before telling a joke, and then not telling it, because you don’t know who might take offense or feel discriminated against.
    * Going out with your friend to play two hours of indoor soccer at midnight on a Wednesday… and the place is packed.
    * Dinners at 9:30 PM.
    * Being able to tell a girl -respectfully- that she’s very pretty, without being thrown to jail. 🙂
    * The smell of pasta stores (like the one my wife used to have) on a Sunday morning.
    * Sitting anxiously in front of the TV at 9:55 PM on a Sunday, to watch the soccer recap show.
    * That you can become ‘lifetime friends’ with somebody you have just met, just because you are fans of the same soccer team or like the same rock band.
    * Being able to just show up at your friend’s place, without having to check your respective agendas three months in advance.
    * Being able to go to the movies at 1:30 AM on a Sunday night! (We loved doing this with my wife).

    Things that I don’t miss from Argentina:
    * The sadness in the eyes of almost everybody I saw on the streets
    * That my kids couldn’t just ‘go out to play’.
    * The feeling that the government is coming to get you and the police is more dangerous than the criminals.
    * The corruption, everywhere; from those who bribe a police officer to the guy at the movies who won’t give you good seats unless you give them a ‘diego’ ($10) to the politicians. All of them.
    * The TV. Sure, they have excellent fictions, but the rest… agh.
    * That feeling that no matter how hard I work and how honest I am, in the end I will be screwed and I won’t be able to leave anything to my children.
    * What people might think about the way I live, dress, go to bed, profess my faith or conduct myself. Nobody really cares here.
    * That constant sensation that everything was going to blow up tomorrow.

  9. Amazing post Zhu…
    I always loved France 🙂 No idea why
    All of us defntly miss lot of thngs abt home.. I miss my family, culture, food, friends in India.

  10. Salut Zhu
    OK; tu me mets dans la catégories des Françaises; c’est flattant.
    Disons, “la plus Française des Américaines” he he.

    Lets say that we traded places; I got those bad reasons that you mentioned. Yes; she didn’t forget the dog poop ! Most people remember that. All that above you stated are true.
    A one of the good things includes the food & drink. Can you believe it; I’m only very rarely fast food ( no bugers; that’s over !).

    I shall attack your challenge soon. 🙂
    Bises

  11. I agree with you on all of these things! Now that I’ve been in France for 2.5 years, I really need to think about what I miss and what’s better. After I get back from the US in August, I’ll write out my feelings. I can definitely add heat and furnaces to the North America list. The heating system there is so much better. I’m always freezing in France!

  12. Very informative post. But what amazes me is that you said France is cheaper. Having stayed in Switzerland for quite sometime, we used to go to France for our regular and special shopping because we found Swiss very expensive.
    In France everything from milk and milk products to grocery to clothes is cheaper comparatively. Looks like Canada is much cheaper.

  13. Ah, good topic. I suppose I have lived in plenty of different places in the past: Manila, Denver, Honolulu, Osaka, Guam, and now, Buffalo. But to make things simple, let me just pick Manila, since after all, that is the place in which I have spent a cumulative 13 years of existence.

    I miss plenty of things in Manila, such as my friends from the past. I miss the hectic city-life, the metropolis, the cheap food, and the things that come together with the Asian urban city. I also miss the fact that I don’t have to pay big bucks for my heating bill, and that my weekly groceries could easily be done in under ten dollars.

    However, there are also things that I do not miss, such as the extreme humidity, the corruption and inefficiency of the government, and what I perceive as the lack of progress compared to other countries in the region. I also do not miss the academic setting there, since research there is mostly a few years behind due to lack of funds and other resources. I also do not miss the long commute that I used to do to go to school, simply because there are too many cars on the road.

    I am embarrassed to say that I have been to other countries and explored their mountains, and yet I haven’t done the same thing to the Philippines. Perhaps when I get the time to visit back, I’ll probably pack a bag and go mountain climbing on my own turf.

  14. @Inmates – De Quebec… o de Ontario! Vivo en Ontario 😉 Gracias por tu comment!

    @Agnes – I’m not sure myself! 😆 Yes, I think it was a two-way round about. French like to make things difficult!

    @Bill Miller – Thank you for your input! I find US small towns quite fascinating. It’s just a different world… I like driving in NY state in the summer and passing all these towns, with one main street and US flags everywhere. Looks like the time stopped.

    I lived in “big” cities all my life and can’t imagine life in a town. Must be comfortable in a way because you know everybody… yet creepy too at times I guess.

    @expatraveler – Get better! And enjoy your holidays… 🙂

    @Tanya – You are right, France is quite beautiful. Well, and I guess I’m lucky to live in Ontario which is still “old” (Canadian “old”!), it would be even more modern in Calgary for example.

    @Kirsten – I would miss water too! I already miss the sea so much…

    @Khengsiong – No, shops are open all day on Saturday, typically from 10 am to 7 pm.

    @shionge – Yes, when you travel you get the best of both world. Living in a place spoils it a bit I guess.

    @Bluefish – Great! I hadn’d added you because you are still in Canada 😉

    @Gabriel – I love it! You know what, I miss almost the same things from Argentina… even though I was only a traveler there!

    The sandwich de miga are my favorite. Tastes great! I also like eating late (even though in BA it was sometimes a bit too late, like midnight!) and enjoying life without thinking too much about the consequences. I like the latino way of life…

    You made me laugh with your “sexual harassment” thing. I heard some tourists complaining about it, but I have never felt threaten by latin men 😆 It’s cultural… yes, they look at women, but it’s pretty respectful after all. I don’t mind it 😆

    Yet, I can understand why you left Argentina. The future can look so uncertain, especially after what happened in 2002… I can tell a lot of Argentinian still resent it (and I would too!).

    Thank you so much for your input!

    @CM-Chap – India has a strong culture, I’m sure you miss a lot of daily stuffs from there!

    @barbara – Mais tu es plus Française que moi maintenant! 😉 The grass is alays greener on the other side like they say. I like the fact you found your paradise in France, and mine in North America!

    @Jennie – You are so right about the heating system — it sucks! I always tell people that even though Canada is much colder, I never feel cold there… unlike in France!

    @alexander – I bet you do! Feel free to do the meme if you want, I will add you to the list 😉

    @Cuckoo – Food is very cheap in North America, that’s true. But France used to be affordable… prices really went up the last few years.

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – Asian cities have a very distinct favor I found. Love it or hate it, but you can miss it.

  15. Hmm…Interesting perspective. Having lived in the US for a while, I can agree with your perspective. As an Indian, the only two things that din’t stand out in Paris are ‘dirty’ and ‘lack of efficiency’. Indian cities aren’t very clean and most people would jump queues here too. 🙂

  16. Hey Zhu,

    So true, in North America people depend a lot on their car; whereas in Europe we don’t.
    Ah, yes…the “café” at the esplanades…delicious, isn’t it? You can stay there for hours, talking and laughing…I like that too.

    LOL LOL I think no Latin-European is politically correct (look at the Spanish, Italian and the Portuguese…they are like the French LOL)…but you know what? I prefer us that way. PC drives me mad!
    When I lived in France, I was listening to a show on the radio (the French radio rocks) and there was a lady who called the show saying that she worked in the NY, she had come home [France] for holidays, and that French men were too forward and practiced sexual harrassment; the radio host told her “No, we don’t…the thing is, French men are real men who love women. If you don’t like it go back to NY” just like that! LOL…I loved it!

    “(…) and there is no “triple cheeseburgers with a side of onion ring, bacon, ribs” nonsense, like in the “land of plenty“.” – LOL LOL LOL….

    I think landlords are picky everywhere. But here in Portugal they are less picky now, because of the crisis and because of the new laws for renting flats (plus, now you can rent a flat or a house for a two days, a week or a month only – before you had to sign a 6 month contract to rent a place, can you imagine?).

    Oh France is like Portugal when it comes to bureaucracy: however, things are getting better here (now you can find all the info you need online; but in Portuguese only – which is so backward…I mean, if you are a foreigner who just got here…how are you suppose to know how things work?).

    In France stores do not open on Sunday? Wow…our stores open 7/7 and close at 21:00. Our “hipermarchés” open on Sundays until 13:00 (except for November and December where they are opened 7/7, until 24:00); but on the other days they are opened up to 23:00.

    LOL France has a health system deficit again? They had fixed two years ago (even Pres. Obama, when running for President, used France as an example)…ai, ai, ai *nodding*…

    “can’t you get some other pens?“. Yep, that’s what I’m talking about…!” – LOL LOL my mother loves that kind of shop employee…she’d just look at that girl and say “open the God damned cabinet and give me the God damned pens before you feel sorry for having been misfortuned enough to have sighed on my face” LOL *nodding*. I have been through some situations with shop clerks who do not understand that the client is actually paying their salary. That is why I love shopping in London: they are so polite, God bless them!

    The same thing used to happen here in Portugal: kids drunk in the streets (it is so sad!). But now the government has made it hard for them to buy booze.

    LOL LOL LOL LOL now you reminded me of my mom who always says “but why aren’t the Portuguese like the Americans?” (she is referring to dog poop on the floor)

    We still have public phone booths, but you can use either credit cards, ATM cards or phone cards…there are some for coins (I think, if they haven’t changed it).

    Excellent article, Zhu…:D

    Cheers

  17. Interesting post and I can’t comment on everything. One thing caught my eye especially though; the availability of phone booth and price for calling with your mobile phone. The lack of them is due to that everyone has a mobile phone (yea, I know you call them cell phones 😆 ) The price within the country is not expensive in Europe, but in between countries, there might be for some. The EU Comity have been looking into that however, and there will be set a limit for roaming prices – I think – this summer.

    A strange thing about North America and the rest of the world however, is that you use another band standard than the rest of the world. When we go to US or Canada, we need a triple band phone and I noticed when my MIL was here in Norway, two years ago, she could not use her mobile phone at all.

  18. Pingback: 5 Things My Mum Observed in Canada | Correr Es Mi Destino

  19. encore une fois, je ne suis pas d’accord avec tous les points de ton analyse: pour le coût de la vie et le système de santé, on en reparle quand tu auras 50 ans et que tu seras malade, là tu comprendras que les mesures vont bien plus loin en France (je parle des mi-temps térapeuthique, du soins à domicile, etc…) et que les deficits et le fait que les “jeunes beaux et en bonne santé” payent effectivement pour que les autres soient vraiment pris en charge.
    Et en ce qui concerne les heures d’ouverture des commerces, on voit que tu n’as jamais travaillé dans la distribution!! Cela est fait pour protéger les travailleurs, comme ça, ils n’ont pas à faire les trois huits!! Déjà que les salaires de ce genre de jobs précaires sont bas (même dans ton super nouveau pays!), on va en plus travailler la nuit et ne plus avoir de vie pour que tu puisses aller t’acheter tes trucs quand bon te semble… C’est un choix que j’apprécie de la part des français. Mais bon.
    Et pour les jeunes qui se bourrent la ruche, encore une fois, question de philosophie, mais il faut bien que jeunesse se fasse… ça fait moins de crise de la quarantaines qui brise les familles!

    • Je ne suis pas non plus tout à fait d’accord avec ton analyse. D’abord, mes articles ne sont pas manichéens, d’un côté les bons Canadiens et de l’autre les méchants Français. J’ai répété maintes fois que je n’avais rien contre la France.

      Maintenant, j’espère bien avoir un jour 50 ans et ne pas être malade, merci bien! Il y a aussi des mesures pour accompagner les personnes souffrant de maladie au Canada.

      Oui, j’ai travaillé dans la distribution et dans le service à la clientèle quand j’étais étudiante en France et quand je suis arrivée au Canada. J’ai travaillé dans des emplois précaires et à des heures pas possibles, je sais ce que c’est. Je ne suis pas non plus une grande consommatrice et en général je ne fais pas mes courses à 2 h du mat’ (et la plupart des gens ici non plus d’ailleurs). Avoir des magasins ouverts le dimanche, par contre, je suis pour.

      En ce qui concerne les jeunes et l’alcool, je suis désolée mais je trouve que c’est un vrai problème en France. Qui ne dérange pas grand monde parce que, comme toi, beaucoup de gens mettent ça sur le compte de la jeunesse…

  20. Overall this blog is really good! I have lived both in France and Canada. Yes les Français … de ce que j’ai vu et vécu le système de santé canadien est beaucoup meilleur pour l’utilisateur que cellui des Français! Le système français n’est pas nul but you NEVER-EVER PAY IN CANADA FOR HEALTH CARE! En France, vous avez besoin pour payer le médecin directement et apres etre rembourser par le SECU public et de votre mutuelle. Sounds realitively easy but it can be an casse-tête énorme!

    • Thank you for your input! I tend to agree with you. I haven’t used the French health care system as an adult because I left France in my early twenties but all these mutuelles and taux de remboursement sound awfully complicated. I like being able to show my health card and not pay upfront.

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