Around France

10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned About French People

Cook’n with Class Uzes gives me the opportunity to explore my personal feelings about living in France in their monthly blog. You may be surprised what I’ve learned about French life. 

When I came to France to live four years ago, I knew very little about French people. I’d heard tales about how the French were distant and unfriendly. I’d read about French men and their romances. I knew how much the French love their dogs.

 Now that I’m experiencing France myself, I’m finding that many things I heard about the French are not true at all. Here are the 10 things that surprise me the most.

1 The French are friendly.

French peopleWhen I hear that the French are unfriendly, I can’t believe it. From my experience, that just isn’t so. Everyday when I leave my apartment in Uzes and meet people on the streets, almost everyone smiles and says: “Bonjour.” It only takes a moment’s eye contact for them to utter the friendly word.It’s the same when I go shopping. “Bonjour” is the first word out of a sales person’s mouth. On leaving, they never fail to say a polite “Bonne journée” or “have a good day.”

2 The French are quiet.

Being an American I know “loud.” The French, on the other hand, are reserved, or quiet. There isn’t a time that I can remember when I’ve been in a restaurant, cafe or on the street and I’ve been disturbed by a loud French person. It’s just not in their nature. Even children are comparatively quite. Siting beside a French family with two or more children in tow, you’d never know they weren’t all adults. Children are well-mattered and … well …quiet.

French people

This is a common sight in an airport in France when you see French parents and children together.

3 The French love family.

French peoplePerhaps it’s because the French “work to live” instead of “live to work,” that they spend so much time with their families. When I see French people in the market or at a festival, they are mostly in couples or in family groups. I seldom see French people hanging out with a gang of same-sex friends. They’re with their families. It’s a beautiful thing.

4 The French love to sit outdoors.

You know the weather has changed when you see a crowded sidewalk cafe in Uzes. Yet it doesn’t have to be a perfect day for the French to be outside. Parks are filled with joggers, walkers and families. On school days there are classes of children at the parks, sitting on the lawn with a teacher. Perhaps they’re outdoors because there are not a lot of homes with gardens. Whatever the reason, the French get lots of fresh air.

French people

5 The French love cats.

Everyone knows French people have a great affection for dogs. They take them everywhere — restaurants, trains, planes and all. The surprise to me is how much they love cats. I’ve made a point to take photos of cats that I see on my journeys. They’re lazying around on sidewalks, on pillars and on windowsills. There are lots of cats that roam around the streets of town, too. They all seem to be in good shape. If you look carefully, you’ll see bowls of food and water sitting beside the door of many houses. The cats are cared for even if they are on their own.

French people

6 The French don’t snack

French peopleThe fact that there are not many overweight people in France is a testament to their good eating habits. I’ve observed the French simply don’t snack between meals. At least not to the extent that it’s noticeable. They eat a small breakfast, a big lunch and a small dinner. In between they might have a cup of expresso. Sometimes the expresso comes with a tiny cookie. When they have guests for a drink before dinner, they serve something light to munch on— like olives and chips. In very small serving bowls. French people enjoy their meals and nothing else interferes.

7 The French have good, low cost health care

I’ve been to a doctor in France a few times and I’’m amazed at the effectiveness and low cost. When I’ve gone for each visit, the first thing the doctor does is prescribe a blood test. That done, I leave the doctor’s office, go to the nearby public laboratory for tests, and return to the doctor the next day, lab tests in hand. After everything’s sorted out, I get a prescription, if needed, and I’m done. With all of the above, my cost is less than $100. That’s with no insurance.

French people

8 The French drive too fast.

Going out on the roadway in France is risky business. I’m convinced the same person that I walk behind on the streets of Uzes —the one who’s meandering down the sidewalk — could be the same person that’s tailgating me on the highway. The fast drivers’ favorite places seem to be on roundabouts and on narrow roads that are bordered on both sides by large plane trees. You don’t want to be in the passing lane of a super highway when someone comes barreling towards you, either. You’ll be mowed down.

9 The French smoke too much.french people

I’m amazed how many French people smoke cigarettes. I’m beginning to see a few more with electronic cigarettes, yet most who smoke go for the real thing. There are restrictions for smoking indoors but outdoor cafes are fair game. Smoking is an equal opportunity event here. The habit belongs to those of all ages and both sexes, despite the horrific warning labels on every carton and pack of cigarettes. It’s costing the people and the country a pretty penny for their heavy smoking habits.

10 The French embrace expats.

There’s never a day in my town that I don’t feel welcomed by the French.  If I had a better use of the language, I’m certain I would have more French friends. Fortunately there are those who speak English and those who are patient with me. We communicate with a little sign language and lots of laughs.

I’m learning more about France and the people everyday. It’s one of the best things about living outside of my own country. I’m convinced that if more people traveled or lived abroad, there would be peace in the world. Basically, aside from some of our lifestyle differences, we’re all pretty much the same.

French people

30 replies »

  1. I love all your observations but I think you have missed one important and charming one …
    French people always say ‘bonjour’…
    They start every conversation with bonjour’ and they even say it to strangers when their paths cross, on the bus,
    walking into a room. Etc Etc

    • Agree! “Bonjour” is a French habit I love. The bises are pretty endearing, too. Thanks for reminding me.

  2. The French CAN be loud. I’ve experienced it a number of times. But it generally depends on the setting. A local restaurant I visit frequently can get VERY loud, and as the only American they can’t blame it on me! But I think generally, they are much more soft spoken than Americans.

    I had an experience in Paris several years ago while dining with a friend. Across the room from us – a good 30 feet or more – a Frenchman was loudly telling his friends how loud Americans are!

    • There are definitely exceptions to everything. Generally, however, I find when there are French mixed with English-speaking persons in a restaurant, for example, you more often hear the English. In fact, friends and I often “shush” each other when we realize we’re getting boisterous.

  3. Yes the quiteness of the French is refreshing. It gives everyone a chance to enjoy the company of each other and the surroundings. Great round up of ideas Debbie.

    • I’m on a Christmas market trip and n Alsace and I’ll double-down on my respect for French habits and customs. I can say I never saw rude or noisy behavior from anyone, any time. So wonderful to experience such gentility even among large crowds.

  4. Hello Barefoot Blogger. Thanks for your nice blog about the French people. I have been living 20 years in the US, and I am looking to re-locate in Uzes, as I found it to be a nice little town. I know it is my country but I cut my roots long time ago. So any advice coming from you will be welcome. How is the life in Uzes.

    • Oh, I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask but I like be Uzès. It has been a welcoming place for me as an expat. All I know who have settled here as expats love it too. Not sure if the French like our “invasion.” If not, they’re being very polite about it. If you have French roots and obviously know the language and culture, you should like it. As for anyone who asks, I’d recommend a long visit beforehand. There are a lot of wonderful places you can choose to love in France. It’s up to what you fancy about a lifestyle.

  5. I agree with you on all of those pionts, Deborah! I really want to emphasize how friendly the French are down here in the South. We have many French friends now and will make many in the future, I am sure!

    • You have done an excellent job integrating into the community and the language. It’s all up from here!

  6. Life as I know it in California is becoming unbearable. I would so like to take up life somewhere “dans le sud de France.” I’m pleased to have found your blog.

  7. Deborah – You mentioned that you don’t have Fr. health insurance yet you seem to be able to get medical attention. I’m planning/hoping to live in France regularly for a part (say, 6 mos.) of every year. The health insurance issue is definitely a concern. Would love to hear how you’re manoeuvering that. Also, are you insured in France from a US carrier?
    Thanks, Linda, NYC

    • I have travelers insurance from a US company for catastrophic health emergencies. Everything else is cash.

      • Hi Deb, Is there a specific reason you don’t apply for PUMA? My wife and I are moving to France in June. She is French/American so no issue. For me I’m coming over on a 1 year visa and will be applying for a 10 year once there. Any advice with the health insurance issue would be much appreciated.

        • Hi Rick. Good question. I’m working on my application for PUMA now. It was total ignorance on my part I didn’t do it earlier. I thought I had to pay taxes for 5 years first. Now I know that’s not the case. A friend who’s been here less than a year has her card. Sounds like you’re heading in the right direction. I’m excited for you and your wife about your new life in France.

  8. I just moved to Paris and I’ve been surprised by how friendly people are more in Paris. I was here some years ago and I had the same experience and I was told that it was a fluke, however I’m so far loving France! I’m looking forward to meeting some French cats! This was a nice read!

  9. I completely agree about the misconception of French people being aloof. I live part of the year in Provence and have lots of wonderful French friends.

    And you nailed it about French drivers! I think tailgating is the national sport. You could be setting a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats and if you looked in your rearview mirror there would be a French driver just inches from your tailpipe.

    • So funny, Keith! Driving in France is an adventure. Looking forward to your coming this way someday. Maybe by train! Thanks for the note.

  10. Hey Debby! I remember when we were in Paris, the waiters chastised us for eating too fast as well as NOT having coffee after our meal. I also noticed they wear mostly black. I loved it there and I want to go back so bad!

    • You’re right. I forgot about black in Paris. Much like NYC. And isn’t it lovely to be able to take your time at a dinner table and not worrying about being rushed away. Come on back! France is waiting for you.

  11. Deborah,

    I really enjoyed your blog! I found myself nodding as I read, about the misconceptions many have about the French. I used to tell my students that the French are as most of us….friendly and. courteous, when encountering the same qualities from their millions of annual visitors.

    I have been blessed to travel France numerous times ….both with my students when I was a French teacher, and, most recently with my grandson, in 2015, for the October Fashion Week in Paris. Each time I went to France ( and other parts of Europe), I was struck with how much there is to see and that we will never see it all….even in one city! I learn something new with each trip.

    My mantra as a foreign language teacher was “Learn and appreciate other cultures. This knowledge will serve you in life way better than the conjugation of a verb!” Maybe that sounds a bit lofty, but I knew that once college requirement for taking French was satisfied, 98% of my students would NOT remember how to conjugate verbs or care about asking “Comment allez-vous?”

    Among my travels, I I have sat in a hut made of cow dung and straw with a Masai family on the Masai Mara:, enjoyed the thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik; climbed the step Pyramids in Giza; visited the “Forbidden City” in Beijing; had an ephiphany on the top of Manchu Picchu; and marveled at the numerous wonders of European cities and villages.
    In each venue, I was able to interact with the people….though I did not speak their language, in many instances.

    What I took away ( and will continue to do so, as long as I am able ….going to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 28 days!) is how similar many of the world’s people are.
    Yes, we have our cultural nuances…..but home, nourishing food, love of family, and some form of spirituality are common threads.

    So while there is more discord in the U.S. right now than I recall since the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam War….the core of what has sustained the U.S. for the few centuries we have existed, remains. Good, decent people still exist.

    The Neo-Nazis, Antifa, White Supremacists, and all the other extremists on both sides of the issues grab the spotlight and the media shines that spotlight on them …good news is not news! But in my everyday life, I see random acts of kindness among all the diverse people in my city. I am so thankful to continue to learn from this amazing diversity, right here in little old Charlotte, N.C.!

    Yes, we have problems and my head is not in the sand.
    But I am an old chick and I have lived long enough to know that you just keep working on them. You never give up or give in.

    I look forward to your next blog! Amuse-toi bien! J’adore La France!

    Carole ( Griffin) Bradley

    • Thanks, Michelle. I really appreciate your note and your following the blog. Glad you’re heading back this way. I just can’t say enough about how I love it here. And I’m learning more about the French every day.

  12. Hi Deborah- great insight, comme d’habitude. You must add the following to your section on fast driving. The french are the worst tailgaters (coller au pare choc) that I have ever seen. It is quite disconcerting for us Americans that whenever you go somewhere, someone will always be behind you, right on your bumper, wanting to go faster. PS- don’t forget about the speed cameras also!

    • I’ll have to remember that..Coller au pare choe …and you’re right. Those speed cameras have caught me 3 times already. Good to hear from you!

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