1. Strikes and demonstrations
While French strikes and demonstrations are generally not as fierce or as heated as in other parts of the world, they are extremely dependable. The French do them well, and, more importantly, they do them regularly. The hard-earned right to strike is protected by France’s constitution (unlike in the UK or Canada) and the French don’t hesitate to use it. According to the European Commission, France is one of the top two European countries with the most days spent on strike from 1999-2007.
Going on strike is so common that even students go on strike. Anyone who’s studied in France will remember seeing their university entrance piled high with desks and chairs so that no one could go in (a sight rarely seen in places where university fees are in the tens of thousands of pounds or dollars). And when it comes to demonstrations, high school and university students of all generations have gone on at least five or six during their academic careers (whether they felt strongly about the matter at hand or not).
France’s healthy respect for collective action is so much a part of the French psyche that even the popular kids cartoon character Titeuf had a whole episode dedicated to going on strike.
Pastries tend to be delicious no matter where you buy them, but there’s something particularly light and refined about French pâtisseries. The key is to not feel like you’ve just had a three-course meal after eating one and the French have got légèreté down to a fine art.
A mille-feuille — literally a “custard slice” — isn’t just a wedge of cream and pastry, as the English name would suggest. It’s thousands of “leaves” of flaky puff pastry interspersed with light vanilla-flavoured cream and topped with exquisitely executed icing.
French bakeries don’t just slap their name on the side of the box; they imprint their logos in gold leaf onto little chocolate disks that they insert into your two-tiered framboisier.
Remember that mouth-watering pastry you saw in The Grand Budapest Hotel (Mendl’s “courtesan au chocolat”)? That’s actually a religieuse and they’re available in most bakeries in France.
3. Popular electro
The French have got a flare for electro and house, and an impressive number of French producers and DJs have become international stars: Daft Punk. David Guetta. Justice. Air. Kavinsky. Bob Sinclair. Martin Solveig. Mr. Oizo. Need I say more?
4. Polite interactions
The French are famous for being rude, and while I’ve definitely been at the receiving end of some sharp tongues, there’s also the other side of the coin. Whether you’re walking into a hairdresser’s salon or into a small restaurant, it’s common to greet everyone inside with a warm “Bonjour” — even the clients.
It might seem like nothing, but simply acknowledging someone’s presence can change the entire dynamic. How many times have you been completely ignored by someone in customer service? It feels terrible. And for those of us who have become hardened by city living, coming out of our protective shell for a while to briefly connect with others can feel like a relief.
With a handful of polite expressions like, Merci à vous, Passez une bonne journée and Je vous en prie, the French make everyday interactions a real pleasure.
I know, it’s a cliché, but while parmesan and really mature cheddar are the bomb, France boasts somewhere between 400 and 1,000 distinct cheese varieties. That’s a lot of savoir-faire.
Most people are only familiar with Camembert and the French blue cheese, Roquefort, but if you ever get a chance, you have to try Comté, Saint-Nectaire, Morbier, and Crottin de chèvre (which translates as “goat’s droppings,” but don’t let the name put you off).
The French complain. It’s part of their cultural identity. Even if you and your French travel buddy find yourselves seated at a gorgeous restaurant table in Rome, she still won’t be able to stop herself from saying that “Even my high school canteen made better chips than” the oven-baked potatoes with rosemary and a lick of olive oil that the waiter just brought out.
“And this isn’t the way my mother cooks pasta!”
No, I’m sure it isn’t…
The French are so good at complaining that they have even had to invent a word for the ultra-complainer: un tasmaloù (roughly translated as “a where-does-it-hurt”). The word is generally reserved for the old and ailing, but there’s nothing standing in the way of a sprightly young French person from becoming un tasmaloù ahead of time. They’ve even made a hashtag out of it (#TasMalOu)!
The French Youtube scene is really vibrant and while Flula Borg and My Drunk Kitchen are loads of fun to watch, French Youtubers have a knack for delivering polished and consistently funny videos. The only problem with the Youtube scene in France is its distinct lack of female frontrunners.
Some great channels to look out for are Norman fait des vidéos, Barney Gold, Jhon Rachid and the outrageous 10 minutes à perdre (which officially shut its site a while ago, but you can still find some of their videos online). And check out the hilarious Luigi Clash Mario music video for loads of French internet-famous faces.