Differences Between French and American Culture from a First Time Traveler’s Perspective

Differences Between French and American Culture from a First Time Traveler’s Perspective

It’s a beautiful summer evening in the small city of Tarbes, France, where I’ve been living with my host family for the past two weeks. I’m a music teacher from Washington, D.C, and decided to use my summer to stay with a family for a month and teach them English. Despite the late hour, there’s still a good deal of sun left as enjoy our apperitif outside. Good friends come in through the gate, and we exchange kisses and greetings before gathering at the table. Though I’ve only lived here a short while, I’m more comfortable with the way of life and customs that are different from back home.

Before arriving, we search for the best flight deals, brush up on some key phrases on Duolingo, and maybe pack a suitcase with enough room for some delicacies. But what is everyday life in France REALLY like? Here are a couple of things to expect during your stay in this beautiful country!

What I was worried about the most before coming to France was how to greet people. The number of kisses usually depends on where you are in the country – my region did one on each cheek. It went something like this: say “Bonjour”, kiss one cheek, say your name, kiss the other, and ask “ça va?” or, “How’s it going?”. My host family would do this at the beginning of the day upon waking up, and again in the evening returning home. It’s impolite not to greet someone you don’t know, no matter what the social setting. Don’t forget to say goodbye when you leave, too.

To me, the biggest difference between France and America is the speed of everyday life. Stores open late in the morning, close usually about 2 hours for lunch, and close in the early evening, between 6:00 – 8:00 pm. Plan your shopping for the day accordingly! Meals are eaten much later, too. At my homestay, the earliest we ate was around 8:30 pm, some meals going until 11:00! The relaxed atmosphere of meals in France made them some of my favorite parts of the day.

Enjoying an apéritif with my host parents and some new friends!

Meals in France are an experience to be savored; they go with the French pace of life! Lunch and dinner might start off with a beverage (flavored syrup mixed with water, juice, or an adult beverage). Look around in the middle of the day and you’ll see most people carrying a baguette for lunch (the only sandwiches worth getting are those on baguettes).

If eating out or dining at home, you’ll usually start with an apéritif. At my homestay, this looked like selections of meat paired with chips or crackers on a charcuterie board, anywhere between 20-60 minutes before the main meal. Afterward, the French love their desserts with a coffee or tea. Besides the delicious food, something else I liked about meals with my host family was that every family member was present. I looked forward to that daily time together.

On the whole, everyone I met or interacted with in many parts of France were friendly and helpful. While maybe having a more serious demeanor, the French are accepting of and eager to help travelers. Most schools teach English for a small part of the week, so many people I met could say a few things to me in English. Many clothing lines, songs, TV shows, and movies from the US are popular in France, so will always be something to talk about.

The people of Tarbes gather at City Hall for it’s Bastille Day celebration

I was surprised to find that, in comparison, Americans are very animated people who tend to exaggerate in conversation. Once at lunch, I explained to my host mom that while I wasn’t in a romantic relationship with it, it made sense in English that I “loved” my salad.

I’m grateful to Greenheart Travel and my homestay family for this incredible experience. I know that when I will return to France, it will feel like coming home. Soak up all you can and enjoy yourself on this amazing journey. Bon voyage!

Emmie Dohse, from Washington D.C., is a Greenheart Travel First Time Traveler Scholarship recipientLearn more about Greenheart Travel’s scholarship opportunities to help you travel for a change!

Have your own adventure in France!

Teach in a Homestay in France

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