6 Need to Know French Cultural Differences

I have been in a position of being the only American in a group of French people and with that I have seen French cultural differences. French people from France. Quebec culture is a bit different, but they are more similar to France than America. I have also been in a position of being the only American in a group of Quebecois as well.

Through these, I have seen a few cultural differences that I don’t think I will ever get used to or submit to. Somethings are too ridiculous (in my opinion) to compromise. (It is a pet peeve of mine that I am always the one to compromise, sometimes the other person can compromise too).

Aperitifs

This is not a merienda or a snack before dinner. This is like an appetizer. Not only do French people have a snack around 3 or 4 pm, they also have this around 5 or 6. The snack consists of a sweet and coffee while aperitifs consists of alcohol and more salty heavy treats like cheese and meats.

This tradition has to be honored. You can’t skip it. I think this can be compromised sometimes. Like, when you are super hungry and just want dinner.

In theory and most cases, this is a nice thing to have during a dinner party. I like it. But, there is a time and a place. Not ALL the time.

Dinner Time

Just like the Spanish and Italians, the French eat dinner around 7, 8, 9, or 10. Could be later, but “early” is at 7 pm. I have to argue with D all the time about when we eat dinner. As an American, I like eating dinner around 5 to 6 pm. 7 pm would be on the “late” side.

Yes, my time in Argentina was not very fun for eating haha. But, this can be compromised on my side for sure. This is one of the French cultural differences that really bug me! I love food!

Saying Hello/Good Bye

Like many European countries, saying hello and good bye is a process. In American culture, it is a simple hello, maybe a hug or handshake and that is it. In French culture, you need to ask about how they are and actually care (unlike Americans asking and not caring) and talk about the family.

The same is similar to the good bye. You have to talk about the next time you see each other etc etc. With modern technology of texting, I think this can be shortened.

The compromise for me is more on the fact that perhaps French people should remind THEMSELVES that I am American and don’t mean to be “rude” by just saying, “OK bye.” Just as I don’t tell myself that French people are being obnoxious with all the questions and say that is just their culture.

This is one of those French cultural differences that is a touchy subject.

Kisses as one of French Cultural Differences

The cheek kisses! I do have to admit, I don’t mind this. Due to COVID, this has taken a backseat, which is fine for my American love of personal space, but I had gotten used to cheek kisses when I was in Argentina. However, in France, they don’t have a specific number of kisses.

Depending on the region it can be as low as 1 and as most as 4. Also, Quebecois don’t really do cheek kisses and are more handshakes. So it is confusing when to do it and for how much.

Luckily, I am a woman so the rule of thumb is do it for everyone. Men are more complicated. I won’t even bother TRYING to explain it. Because, I am not sure myself.

Drinking Alcohol

This is one of the annoying things I think needs to go away in the French culture. It is French culture that YOU have to drink alcohol is others are drinking it. Definitely a French cultural difference that is unhealthy!

I grew up with the idea of peer pressure is bad and if you don’t want to drink, you don’t have to.

This whole idea of feeling, I don’t even know, inadequate?, because you aren’t drinking alcohol is ridiculous.

Sorry, if I don’t want a beer or glass of wine, I am going to drink water. Sorry not sorry.

Not rocking the boat

This goes along with the alcohol, but more than that. If you are a guest, you can’t do or ask anything that is in your interest. Not in a bad way, but like – can you use the bathroom?

OK, that example is a bit extreme, but when we went to Baie-Saint-Paul, D told me to not assume we can use the bathroom since we were guests.

“So I will assume I will just poop in their backyard then right by the tent.” I roll my eyes. So, actually, my example isn’t as extreme as first thought.

Then when we were there, we couldn’t ask to take a shower. It had to be OFFERED.

It’s a shower and a basic human right in modern day North America.

So, no rocking the boat. We couldn’t even ask for Wifi. I finally had to because I had to teach English via Zoom on my computer, which needs Wifi.

This attitude, can go in my opinion.

Summary of French Cultural Differences

Reading through this, I sound very complain-y. I don’t mean to. These are just some of the major cultural differences I have seen between my American culture and their French one.

There are some other differences, but they don’t seem that big to me or that different.

One thing I would like to point out, knowing French has definitely helped me understand why they do things a certain way. The way they speak and convey themselves really aligns with these “rules” and norms. I say “rules” because they feel like they have to follow it or they will be judged.

Many French people have told me that French people from France are very judgmental and France holds this culture of making fun of people. This is why D came to Canada, albeit Quebec. Even though Quebec holds some similar norms, it still isn’t as judgmental as France.

Quebec has their own concerns in my American eyes.

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