1. Hours of operation
Most of anything you want in the US is available 24/7: Pharmacies, gas, supermarkets, restaurants, large stores such as Walmart or CVS, coffee joints, food delivery, and more. And although few of us probably go grocery shopping at 3am, it is handy to know that you can purchase a pint of milk at the last minute when you’ve run out. In France you get used to the hours of operation (few things open on Sunday, relatively early closing hours during the week; sometimes locations closed at lunchtime).
2. Stranger friendliness
On any given day, you are most likely greeted by perfect strangers, whether in a shop, on the street, or while running an errand. I’ve always noticed that as soon as I fly back into the United States, even as soon as I’m in the airport, some total stranger will have something nice to say about something I might be wearing, or about one of the children, or even something generic like the weather. Americans dish out compliments easily. This ease in being polite with strangers fosters a connection amongst each other. And it is not commonplace elsewhere. In fact, it’s usually the first thing out-of-towners notice about our culture.
Thanksgiving is an amazing holiday that I wish would catch on globally: an elaborate meal with extended family and friends to give thanks for what we have and be thankful for what is. No presents, no expectations, no rigid traditions, just simple time spent sitting together in front of well-prepared food. On top of which, as it is not a religious holiday, everyone celebrates together across the country.
4. Community involvement
There is a real sense of neighborhoods and community involvement in the US that is not always present elsewhere. For example at the school level, administrators, teachers, parents, and members of the community are often brought together for fundraisers, community updates, charitable events, new project ideas, and obviously, student-led presentations or activities. Meeting neighbors, community leaders and others within your neck of the woods is relatively simple, the opportunities are often plentiful, bringing a real sense of belonging and contribution.
Space is a biggie for Americans moving to France. Space encompasses so many aspects of life: space to live in (you’re unlikely to have the same indoor and outdoor space in France that you enjoy in the US), space to move in, space to park, and personal space when out in public (on the street, on public transportation, in playgrounds or parks). There seems to be no end to the space in the United States, most easily noted when you take a road trip in the US and drive for hours through seemingly uninhabited space (and you’ve only crossed one of the fifty states). Space is a major luxury and scarce resource when you live in any European country (let’s not forget France is 10% smaller than the state of Texas).
Many people speak English in France these days, and you may even speak some level of French, but as with any relocation, you miss hearing your native language, especially when it comes to television or radio. There is something comforting about turning on a television and seeing your local newscaster dishing out details about your neck of the woods. Sure, the internet and on demand television have made it all possible to tune into your favorite television shows and the latest gossip around the world, but it’s not the same.
7. Prices and Promotions
When you live in the United States you are used to shopping on a whole different level than what you can experience in France. It is pretty much a given that you are never going to pay full price for mostly anything (unless you are desperate for something or need it last minute). Just wait long enough and everything you need and want will be reduced, on promotion, sale price, 2-for-1, clearance, or 40% off, on top of which you are likely to get some type of loyalty points, rewards or special status from the retailer for your purchase. Get to France and enjoy between 2 and 3 legal sale periods in one year. Otherwise, get ready to pay full price.
8. Variety of easy shopping
Sure it’s nice to go to specialty shops for cheese, wine, chocolates, bread, fish, meat and even foie gras. And the outdoor markets full of flowers, fresh produce, clothes and more are amazing, enjoyable, and dare I say, a highlight of life in France. However, sometimes when time is short and you want to get everything done, the large parking lots and shops such as Whole Foods, Costco, Walmart, and Target really come in handy. The same goes for clothing, shoes, children’s apparel–shopping on great shopping streets in France is fun, inspiring, and chic, but sometimes a great big Mall with Gap, Banana Republic, and Footlocker is all you really want–especially if the kids are tagging along and you need to be ultra-efficient.