Photo: Daniel M Ernst/Shutterstock

10 French Habits I Lost When I Moved to the USA

France United States
by Celine Lingelser Mar 9, 2015

1. Spending time with a guy without it officially being called a “date”

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, whatever.

So I need to admit that, for me, the complex American “dating” system is a bit of a drag. I still can’t get used to just how rigid it feels. For a French girl, “first date,” “second date,” “third date” and so on, just doesn’t make a lot of sense. I guess we need to keep it simple and natural, and just see how it goes from there.

2. Sweating

Gross, I know, but true. In the USA, the air conditioning is on all the time, everywhere. You get out of your air-conditioned house into your air-conditioned car and then into the air-conditioned mall. And temperatures are usually extremely cold. 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 seems to be a huge gap between what is considered an acceptable room temperature in France and in the USA. At my workplace, this results in a constant war over the air-conditioning remote control.

If you ever see people dressed in their ski outfits during a Texan summer, you’ll know they’re probably a bunch of French expats heading to the movies.

3. Using my feet for something other than pressing a gas pedal

After seven years in Texas, I have almost forgotten what “walking” even means. In France, I used to walk for miles every day, and it was my primary mode of transportation in the city. This has probably been the hardest habit to lose in the USA.

Here, if you do not have a car, it’s almost like you don’t even exist. And if you sometimes decide to leave your car in the parking lot and use your feet instead, people even pull over to ask you if you need assistance. They would never imagine that walking can be a deliberate choice.

4. Complaining all the time

Yes, French people complain all the time. We seem to love râler and it is almost a way of life. You don’t even realize it until you leave France and cross the Atlantic. Then, you discover the Americans. And at first, you wonder if you ended up directly in Disney World — it’s the first time that you’ve seen so many happy, shiny people in one place. And so much positivity just can’t be real.

But yes, it is! And this is probably my favorite new habit: switching from negative to positive thinking, and believing that anything is possible.

5. Using cash to pay anything

Back in France, most of the shops request a minimum purchase amount in order to use a debit or credit card, usually around €10. You don’t even dare taking your Visa out of your wallet to pay for your €1 baguette. So I was quite delighted to discover that in the USA, you can pay anything — from your chewing gum to a new car — using only a debit / credit card, and there is absolutely no need to carry cash, unless you plan on tipping strippers or using the air pump at the gas station.

6. Feeling like you are constantly judged on your appearance

As a French girl, you grow up with this pressure of always having to look good. 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 from head to toe. Young people especially enjoy this, and staring at strangers almost seems like a hobby for groups of bored teenagers.

In the USA, I have never ever witnessed that kind of behavior. Here, it is perfectly okay to buy your groceries in your pajamas and slippers, and no one will dare criticize you. People just don’t seem to care at all. In France, it would be almost inconceivable to enter a restaurant in your work-out clothes. You would need to get back home first and get changed if you didn’t want all the heads to turn toward you and to see people starting to whisper while staring at you.

7. Having a two-hour lunch break

Growing up in France, you learn that lunch is a very important meal and 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 time and 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.

8. Paying outrageous amounts of money to travel small distances

In France, you might need to consider selling a kidney just to get on a train to another city in the country. You can’t really get anywhere for less than €100. In the USA, you can hop on a Greyhound bus and basically cross the country for an even lower cost. Even plane tickets are way more affordable. It usually costs me less to fly from Dallas to Miami than to hop on a train from Strasbourg to Paris.

9. Having a quiet meal with friends at a restaurant

In French restaurants, the only music that plays is the soft, elevator kind of music, and generally people at the other tables are not very loud. 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 of the American restaurants, bars, and lounges. I got used to it, but now I often find myself talking extremely loudly in restaurants back in France, and my embarrassed friends have to ask that I keep it down a little because people in the room are staring at us.

10. Waiting a long time to place my order at the restaurant

In France, it is not uncommon to wait for up to 10 minutes between the moment you sit down at your table and the moment the waiter comes to take your order (or even just acknowledge your presence). It’s rare that you’ll get a smile. It seems that the concept of “Dick’s Last Resort” has been inspired by French waiting staff.

So it was quite a change when I moved here and got asked what I would like to drink before I even got a chance to take off my jacket or find the wine list. And it was a bit surprising to see the waiter come by the table every five minutes to ask if everything was okay with our meal. In France, once you get your dish, you are pretty much left alone unless you need something and call the waiter — even in that case, you may have to wait a little while. Waiters are not working for tips in France, so they don’t tend to rush to their clients to fulfill all of their needs like they do in the USA.

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