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10 Random Observations About the French

Mark in Nantes

In the service industry (in stores, restaurants, etc.), employees tend to be über-formal and use fancy language… but they are rarely genuinely helpful and nice. I can’t explain it. As a customer, you always feel like you bother them even though it’s their damn job to hand you a baguette or to process your items at the supermarket! On the other side, employee-customer interactions in North America can be rather informal (“How are you doing today?”, “No worries!” etc.) but customer service is usually very good.

Money is still a taboo. Both of my parents are checking job offers online regularly and salaries are rarely mentioned. Even during interviews, it is almost a faux pas to bring it out apparently.

French behave like unruly twelve-year-old kids in public transportation. In Nantes, we often had to wait for the next tramway when we had Mark in the stroller because as soon as the doors open, people rush in and don’t let you get in. Reserved seating is apparently just a suggestion as well: most of the time, I had to fight my way in and stand in the middle of the tramway instead of “parking” the stroller on the side, which would have been easier for everyone.

French people love fries. I had never realized that before but apparently it is the side to pick for pretty much every kind of meal at the restaurant. Just check out people’s plates during lunch hour and you will notice most people have fries on their plate! It is also considered “baby food” since people wanted me to feed Mark fries.

The legal drinking age is just a suggestion. Any kind of law about drinking is just a suggestion actually, including being drunk in public places. Mais oui, c’est culturel!

What I call “masturbation intellectuelle” is a national sport. French love to argue about politics, ethical matters, etc., and they take these discussions rather seriously. They tend to consider the big picture and these arguments are purely intellectual, they often don’t solve anything or do anything to improve people’s lives.

French define themselves by their political beliefs, mostly “à gauche” (left wing) et “à droite” (right wing) (few people admit voting for far right wing parties). This political divide is a prelude to every argument, which often ends with “whatever, you voted for (insert name of candidate of the ‘bad’ party)”.

Air con in public places isn’t common, and it is tough to find a place to cool off during heat waves. However, using historical fountains as splash pads is fine (just watch out for drunks, broken glass and cigarette butts).

French love magazines and newspapers and they are pretty cheap. Bureaux de tabac display an impressive selection of magazines catering to every demographic and dedicated to just about every hobby you can imagine.

Dog poop in France—it is not a myth, there is dog poop everywhere. It stinks, it’s messy and it’s gross. I have yet to see a French person picking after a dog. Merde alors!

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