10 cultural differences to bear in mind when trying into integrate fully in French society

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Everyday things like insisting on greeting complete strangers in the elevator, yet totally avoiding friendly banter afterwards, have left me scratching my head at times. Below I’ve compiled some examples of how these subtleties (that I never noticed before moving here) have sometimes impacted my full integration into the French culture.

1. “Les Anglo-Saxons”
The French seem to refer to all English-speakers as ‘les Anglo-Saxons’ (a Germanic people who inhabited Great Britain in the 5th century). Any English-speakers are catalogued under ‘Anglo-Saxon’ whether from the UK, the US, Australia, Canada… The name itself has never been an issue for me (belonging to a medieval-sounding group is kind of cool), but the assumption that we’re all the same does bother me a little. My love for Halloween has been referred to as «too American» and my children’s early bedtimes are often seen as “very Australian” even though plenty of countries do the same. These are just a few examples of blanket statements. So here are some examples where I totally generalise about the French; pot calling the kettle black…

2. Self-promotion could be seen as arrogant
I know right, arrogant, the irony … but saying things like ‘don’t worry, I’m a very good driver’ is not something you’d necessarily hear a Frenchman say. I didn’t know this until it was pointed out to me that patting yourself on the back might translate wrongly at times, and you may come off as a bit of a pompous ass. I don’t know how true this is, but I’m a big fan of positive psychology, so if you have something good to say about yourself, well you just go right ahead and say it!

3. Swearing
If there’s one thing both our cultures love it’s swearing! But where the French publicly tend to limit themselves to the daily use of “m*rde” or “p*tain”, Anglophones have created a natural place for profanity in their vocabulary and can be more colourful when expressing frustration, excitement and humor. That said, our swearing isn’t generally linked to aggression and doesn’t carry the same weight as proper swearing in French would.

4. Sense of humour
Paired with our love of swearing comes our willingness to use humour almost anywhere. Anglophones have no problem calling out an awkward situation with humour. I’ve actually said out loud, ‘Well this was awkward’ followed by a giggle and then moved on with the conversation. It’s not meant to be harsh, but rather a way to defuse any tension and uneasiness. Although the French have a beautiful dry and sarcastic sense of humor, which I love, I haven’t seen them use it as a shield for uncomfortable situations just yet.

5. The French can ‘dish it out’, but don’t always like to ‘take it’
Referring back to the French sense of humor, their wit and sarcasm go perfectly with making fun of pretty much anyone including themselves. However, they aren’t always good sports when someone else has had a go at them. This doesn’t mean they don’t know how to take a joke, but you’ll often find a hint of defensiveness when the quip is aimed directly at them.

6. The difference between being ‘laid back’ and ‘late’’
We Aussies are notorious for being laid back. Problems are often met with a comforting pat on the back and a “No worries, she’ll be alright, mate“, but people shouldn’t confuse our laid backness with being lazy or slow. Although the Australian lifestyle does move at a calmer pace (you’d move slower too with that heat!), we do remain on point and professional when push comes to shove. Arriving late to a meeting or dinner isn’t frowned upon here and is often even anticipated. For us, however, it is not always well received, and can be viewed as taking someone else’s time for granted.

7. Sticklers for rules
Although the French make more laws than some Anglo countries, there is a clear difference in the observance and enforcement of said laws. For a country where getting your driver’s license is an almost impossible feat, they are surprisingly bad drivers (at least in Paris). Anglophones view laws as being enforced to protect, whereas many French view them as restrictive and suffocating their right to be disobedient.

8. Complaining
Sorry, but I don’t buy it that the French are the only people who are known for complaining. People complain, no matter where they are from. Sure, the French might be better at actually following through with their complaints and going on strike, but I think the complaining aspect is something we all share.

9. Are we just too friendly?
Most English-speakers can strike up a conversation with anyone, but we also have a tendency to overshare and ask personal questions early on. This may be perceived as rude, trying to cross certain boundaries too soon. The French culture is a ‘coconut culture’; known for having a harder exterior and not easy to engage in conversation. Once you break through the outer shell, however, you can make extremely loyal and close friends. “Un Anglo-Saxon”, on the other hand, belongs to a ‘peach culture’. They are often friendly to people they first meet, readily sharing information or supplying help. Once you get past the initial friendliness though, you’ll find that their inner selves are often protected by a tough pit. Some view ‘peaches’ as fake, whereas others view ‘coconuts’ as cold and standoffish. I consider myself as belonging to an ‘avocado culture’: the protective pit inside, but with a slightly softer outer shell (maybe it’s because I think of myself as ‘healthy fat’?)

10. Pardon my French
The French’s love for their language is something I admire and the concept that they don’t speak any English is absolute rubbish if you ask me. There are situations where they will answer you in English upon hearing any accent. Although I am certain this comes from a desire to help us communicate better, it sometimes hinders us from fully integrating as we try to practice our French.

But remember…
It’s important to take all of these with a grain of salt though. While I wouldn’t say these differences are totally unfounded, I see little point in letting irritation get the better of us or letting it skew our view of the country we now call home. I mean, a dynamic mixing pot of cultural habits makes the whole ‘charme’ of Paris doesn’t it?

By Stefanie Selen ( www.lifesrecipebook.com) A qualified Psychologist who started with trauma survivors and later turned to private practice. As well as a health and wellness professional, I’m also a mother of two, wife of one, veteran expatriate and self proclaimed ‘foodie’ (which is just another way of saying my favorite hobby is eating). I’m a blogger who started to write about everyday situations, share research and experience and offer helpful advice

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About Stefanie Selen 10 Articles
A qualified Psychologist who started with trauma survivors and later turned to private practice. As well as a health and wellness professional, I’m also a mother of two, wife of one, veteran expatriate and self proclaimed ‘foodie’ (which is just another way of saying my favorite hobby is eating). I'm a blogger who started to write about everyday situations, share research and experience and offer helpful advice.