7 Things about foreigners that confuse the French

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While I would say that French people are generally open to the world and curious about other cultures and ways of life, we also tend to feel strongly about ours. This can lead to some … confusion with people from countries that do things differently, and to somewhat of a culture shock. Here are 8 things about expats in France that confuse the French!

1. Lunch and dinner are not necessarily a sacred time

While this tends to be less true for younger generation and people with a fast-paced life, a meal is somewhat of a sacred event in everyday life for French people. At least in the evenings and the week-ends, a “repas” is a time and place where families get together and enjoy a long 4-courses meal, complete with entrée, main course, cheese and dessert, while talking and sharing thoughts. The fact that some people can go with a takeout ramen while watching Friends on their couch is bewildering to some of us. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

This general idea also includes the fact that French people barely snack between meals.

2. Universal healthcare is not a given for everyone

We’re kind of spoiled on that one. Any given French person in France can break their ankles, need urgent surgery or catch a cold, and be guaranteed to pay little to no fees in medical care and drugs. It’s very confusing for us to see that some people actually have to go in debt to be cured and are just used to it.

3. Shops don’t have to close at 7pm

“Wat? Wat dou you mine?” is usually what you will get if you tell a French person that almost every French store closes pretty early in the evening, while some countries including, but not limited to, the US have shops that close later during the night or not at all. 7-11 or 24/7 kind of shops or gyms are very rare in France. This is arguably something we could improve on.

In the same vein, don’t expect that you’ll go shopping between noon and 2pm: most stores will be closed. Again, meal time!

4. Public transportation can be a very bad alternative to cars in other countries

A French person wouldn’t drive from Lille to Toulouse, even under threat of death. “Let’s take the TGV”, he’d first say. As an expat would likely answer “Why not just drive there?”, said French person would look at them with a half-bemused, half-horrified stare.  Again, we’re spoiled : railways are often a cheaper and more shorter alternative to car trips in France, and we forget it’s not like that everywhere else, including neighboring countries.

5. Nice customer service is a thing!

“Wat dou mine baï this waiter is an asshole?”. To put it mildly, French people are not the greatest at customer service. You won’t get any “Hi, my name is Jean and I’ll be your waiter tonight” in France nor any smiles or displays of good mood, which is something that might come from a quasi-nonexistent tipping culture. This leads to some confusion with foreigners, on what to expect from customer service.

Not only are we French completely used to the cold waiter trope, but we also usually don’t like the alternative. In either the few places in France that have more proactive customer service, or foreign countries like the US, customer service can be perceived as very aggressive and superficially nice by French people.

6. Other countries have a different way of seeing dating

Compared to, for instance, Americans, French people have a very different view of relationships and/or casual sex. In France, it’s generally either one of two things: you’re ‘friends with benefits’ or you’re in a serious committed relationship. There is no real middle ground like “American dating” would be, with non-exclusive romantic interest. There is no three-dates-rule either: French people can have sex on the first date … or wait for two months! This can lead to some profound confusion when a French and a non-French person start a relationship of any kind.

7. It’s possible to dress very casually and not be a slob

Like many other things, this is not true of all Frenchmen. But, in general, a French person will straight up tremble at the idea of doing groceries wearing sweater pants and flip flops. French people dress up even for the most menial outdoors tasks. This is definitely a source of confusion and culture shock between the French and people from many other countries who don’t pay attention to that.


Disclaimer: Any views or opinions stated in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the publication.


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