1. Cheese is not what you think it is.
In the US, when one offers you some cheese, as a newly-arrived French expat, you start daydreaming about mouthwatering brie, goat cheese, or camembert, only to find yourself in front of a plate of little orange cubes. And don’t even look for the bread to eat with those cubes…all you’ll get is a handful of crackers!
2. You can buy anything, at any time.
In France, you don’t expect to do your shopping on a Sunday or passed 6pm during the week. A lot of shops still close during lunch break (between noon and 2pm). So if, on a Sunday night, you realize that you are missing an ingredient for your cake, you will have to wait until the next day or knock at your neighbor’s door to ask for eggs! You just never encounter this problem in the US. You’re craving waffles at 2am but don’t have milk or a waffle maker? No worries! Just head to your local Wal-Mart — in your slippers and pajamas if you wish…nobody cares here.
3. Your health is now a luxury.
In France, you are used to paying very little or nothing for a medical consultation of any kind. When you are sick, all you have to worry about is to get the treatment and get better, not how you will manage to pay for your medical bills.
In the US though, a single trip to the doctor’s office could quickly cost you more than a Tiffany’s ring… and don’t even think about getting a CT scan! French people tend to complain about medical expenses getting higher, but, once they arrive in the US, they realize just how cheap it is in their country. That’s when you start thinking twice before heading to the doctor’s just for a runny nose!
4. The label “French baguette” is nothing but a lure.
Growing up in France, I can’t remember one single meal served without bread. As a French expat just arriving in the US, one of the first things I looked for was a decent place to buy bread. The term “French baguette” is used in America, but ready yourself for disappointment. Your heart will break at the sight of one of those soft, tasteless breads that fold in two when you grab them. I almost feel ashamed to see the word “French” associated with them.
5. You tip for everything, everywhere, all the time!
In France, service is already included in the price you see on the bill, so there is no need to tip and people only leave a few euros as a bonus when they are satisfied. For a French expat, the first weeks in the US are spent doing a lot of maths, struggling with the 15% to 25% that they should or should not leave to the staff. The concept of tipping is so foreign to us that we quickly become paranoid: should we tip the plane crew? The dentist’s assistant? The cashier at 7-Eleven? The bus driver?
6. You need to learn how to drive again.
Driving for the first time in the US can be quite overwhelming. In France, you drive a manual car, on roads that usually have one or two lanes, and passing is only allowed on the left side. So, when you end up on an American highway for the first time, it feels a little bit like entering the jungle! You end up on a six-lane road, with cars launched at different speeds, and passing you on both sides… At first you curse and want to insult the crazy drivers who break the rules, before realizing that it is perfectly legal and totally normal.
7. Don’t drink tap water.
Just don’t! In France it may be perfectly fine in most cities to drink water directly from tap, and it will taste just fine. But in the US, unless you don’t mind the swimming pool kind of taste, you need to filter tap water first, and then preferably add some lemon flavor that will help you forget about the huge amount of chlorine in it. Nothing close to Volvic or Evian!
8. You can drink as much soda as you want!
So, tap water is bad. Bottled water is expensive. That might be why in the US, soda is the national beverage. Don’t be surprised to see the waiter constantly filling your glass of coke. The first time I got a refill was rather puzzling: “Sorry, Sir, this must be a mistake, I did not order another coke!” And then, I got used to it and started carrying my huge cup of iced soda everywhere just like everybody else.