10 French culture shock moments | American living in France



Let’s talk about France culture shock! It’s real! Oxford languages describes culture shock as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” Every country around the world has its own way of doing things and France is no exception. These cultural differences in France might make you fall in love with France, laugh, cry, throw your hands up in exasperation or leave you scratching your head. It’s all part of the process as you discover a new culture and adapt. Many might also apply to other areas in Europe, not just France. Let’s get into the 10 biggest culture shocks I discovered after moving to France and living abroad for years now. Let me know if you’ve noticed any of them while traveling in France!

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Salut! I’m Diane, the American behind the living abroad lifestyle blog Oui In France. My channel’s focus is “Everyday French life and beyond,” so let me know what you want to see! I make videos on French culture topics, food, travel, language, and give you my thoughts about what it’s like living in France as an American in the Loire Valley. Thanks for being here and if you enjoy this sort of thing, please share with friends and subscribe!

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Pharmacy sign: Shutterstock.com/Lebendigger
Pharmacy exterior: Shutterstock.com/lexandros Michailidis
Pharmacy shelf: Shutterstock.com/Rachel Moon
US Pharmacy checkout: Shutterstock.com/o1pok12
French tabac: Shutterstock.com/Sibuet Benjamin
French cigarettes: Shutterstock.com/pixinoo
Man smoking: Shutterstock.com/Ekaterina Pokrovsky
Person with baguette: Shutterstock.com/timsimages.uk
Dessange: Shutterstock.com/sylv1rob1
Cheek kiss: Shutterstock.com/Undrey
Family eating: Shutterstock.com/Monkey Business Images
Public urination: Shutterstock.com/ Fabio Mayo Belligotti
Public urination 2: Shutterstock.com/Andrey_Popov
Vet sign: Shutterstock.com/gallofilm
Rabbit meat: Shutterstock.com/Philip Armitage
Cow tongue: Shutterstock.com/Studiobravo_kiev
Meat counter: Shutterstock.com/Pack-Shot
Airline credit cards: Shutterstock.com/Jeramey Lende
Card reader: Shutterstock.com/Don Pablo
Shopping couple: Shutterstock.com/ESB Professional
Checkbook with computer: Shutterstock.com/PKpix
French check: Shutterstock.com/GERARD BOTTINO

40 comments

  1. Salut, tout le monde! Greetings from lockdown. I hope you enjoy this video all about French culture shock. If so, let me know if you'd like a Part 2 and what parts about French culture shocked or surprised you upon visiting France! Merci. 😉

  2. This suddenly reminds me of the seeing meat for sale in Vietnam….lets just say it makes the meat counter in France look extremely tame. For one thing, I never even saw a meat counter in Vietnam (that's not to say they don't exist, just that I never saw one). All I saw was people setting out meat, uncovered, on dusty plastic tables, for sale on the sidewalk, when it was boiling hot out (how did this meat stay safe?) and then the actual meat markets, which, wow – I was warned they were graphic, and they were. I went, becuase why travel all the way there if not for new experiences?

    I was told not to wear sandals if I didn't want them covered in blood. That was the best advice I got for walking into the big meat markets. All the vendors had on rubber boots.

  3. I wonder if the USA has a high use of credit cards than here in Canada? I'd be so curious to know. I don't think it's common to use them for day-to-day purchases here. Maybe big ticket items, but not like at the grocery store.

    I have one, but I wouldn't have one if it wasn't necessary. I got it for traveling, because hotels – and even some hostels, to my surprise – require them.

  4. Here in Canada, you can consult with a Pharmacist like that, and Pharmacists can even write prescriptions themselves, although, of course, what they can write prescriptions for is limited. I remember seeing in the news a while back that they can now prescribe the morning-after pill, which makes sense, becuase it has to be taken within a certain amount of time after the incident, so delaying it by having to book a doctor's appointment makes no sense.

    A pharmacist was a huge help to me once. I thought I had a rash on my lower back, so went in to ask for some Cortisone Cream (here, there are a number of items that you don't need a prescrption for, but which are not just sitting out on the shelves – you have to ask for them, and talk to the Pharmacist about it). Anyway…

    …the Pharmacist asked why I wanted it (that's normal for them to ask), and when I described the 'rash', she asked to see it, and said she thought it was not a rash, but Shingles. She was very careful to say she couldn't offically diagnose that, but she was still sure. So I went to the doctor, and it was shingles. And…

    …it was a super-crazy-rare case that went all the way across my back (it is normally only ever on one side), and it was risky and needed treatment (long story), and I would not have gotten that treatment if not for that Pharmacist.

  5. If France is known for something, then it has to be the bakery (food). It is a great
    attraction and african-american people enjoy this. You need to also need to check out the cafe and the French people are so outgoing.

  6. American here, not French. About the public urination thing … well, define "public." Out on a long cycle ride, sure, I'll relieve myself without recourse to a restroom, but I will seek out a stand of trees or large bushes, so I'm not showing anything to any ladies that they really don't want to see. Not sure if that qualifies as "public" or not. The true male privilege: the world is your restroom!

  7. peeing in public is not normal, even in france, there is lots of places to do that, any restrant any fast food has rooms for that for free, there is just no excuses

  8. Hello.
    It is illegal in France to write a cheque without sufficient funds in your bank account to back it up and there can be quite serious consequences for doing so.

  9. it took me 3 days of head scratching before I realize you remind of bojack horseman’s Diane 😅 ( I hope you’re not offended by the comparison, great videos 🙂)

  10. funny video but :
    1) we do not say pissoire or pissoir but pissotière (une pissotière)
    2) we do not use checks very often, I really wonder where have you been in France ? Most shops don't accept checks, only cash and debit cards. Checks are accepted at the doctor, hospital etc ….
    Of course it's still used but it represents only 12% of payments in France today. I'm 59 and I have never waited for a person to write its check … you give your check to the cashier and it will be filled automatically in a second with the relative printing device …
    Everybody has a debit card today but there are a lot of bank rules (trigger amounts) and then shop rules (minimum amount) that cause people to pay with cash or checks …

  11. M e r c i I want to go to France I hope the people are nice I need to learn French I like the pharmacy system and that they use checks. My parents still use checks and they were born in the 50s. France might make me a vegetarian. I love French bakeries. The ones in the US aren't the good though. I would like to able to kiss me on the cheek but I'm worried about coronavirus. All the Latin cultures kiss on the cheek. I like the late dinner time. It is Done in Latin America Europe. Just like the cheek kisses. I don't like that they smoke. It's bad for your health. My mom has COPD and is . sick because of smoking . I am really worried about her. I love good vet care. I love my orange cat tiger. I don't understand why the men pee in public.. it's gross.

  12. A new trend in the US is for checks to be electronically 'cashed/cleared' at point of sale, so the money DOES come right out, making check-writing no different than using a debit card. It's not a trend I appreciate!
    Wow! I AM a vegetarian, and seeing those kinds of things in the store would absolutely sicken me… 🙁
    Ohmigosh, I'm shocked at the smoking stats! The French are not stupid: surely they know the consequences of the habit…but, since it is so prevalent, I guess there is no relief for non-smokers? No prohibitions about smoking indoors, or after a restaurant meal? That always made it hard for me to enjoy a meal out, having to deal with someone's after-dinner smoke fest….I was so happy when it was prohibited here in the US.

  13. French here. I remember when I was like 14, I used to ask the parents to put the tent in the garden and escape at night to meet my best friend who was doing the same. One night we were arrested by the police while urinating against a wall lol

  14. I just discover your channel and I love the fact that you explain how things work in France and how things work in USA for us French viewers as well

  15. cheek kisses: I HATE! not all french people do kiss to say hello. I never do and I am not the only one. how is it possible to kiss some one you don't know and you xill never meet again??? juste because that person is entering the office with another you know. How is it possible to kiss someone in the office that you don't apreciate? Juda's kiss, may be? When a very young boy, all the adults we met, with my parents, wanred absolutely to kiss me and I got yelled at when I refused.. even if an horrible smell of dirty cattle, even if they sting like hedgehogs… The Covid had only one good result: no kisses!

  16. Credit crds: Yes, it's really part of the culture. We learn and we feel deeply in our blood that credit is slavery. To be rich is to have no debt. Its absolutely forgotten to any seller to offer you credit without checking with your bank if the payment will be sure.

  17. pharmacies: if you look behind the mirror, y ou will learn that pharma buisness is organised regionally. the regional wealth agency tells which medecines must be on stock in the regional warehouses and the individual pharmas have to order from this warehouse. As, in France everything is becoming more/less privatised, now exist private chains who contract with individuals. Those individuals have to follow the commercial policy of the chain and they receive medecines from the warehouse of these chains. But, regarding the medecines, authorised or no, they have to follow the rules of public system. What happens? very often, the chain pushes the individual to invest and, as the commercial margins are lower for them, they need help. The pharmacy finaly goes in the hands of the chain. But you will not see it because, on the door is always a person's name.

  18. How is the vegan scene in France? I’m hoping that I would avoid seeing the skinned dead rabbits if I just didn’t go to the butcher or meat section in the grocery store.

  19. Great videos. Thank you.
    Btw, if I was shown a pic of you and had to guess your nationality, French would probably be on top of the list. Funny

  20. I'm French and the cheek kiss is a big no for me. ( even when we're not in a pandemic lol ) like, idk, don't touch me ?

  21. There is no such thing as a "free public restroom" in France for at least 15 years now… But yeah even if they were free we would still pee in the wild… Because we can, I guess 🙂

  22. Diane, Back in 1938 pissoires were available on sidewalks all over Paris. They were a little oval structure with a wall / roof and an entrance. The wall covered a person from about the knees to the shoulders, so you could see if someone was using it or it was empty. I think they were removed, one by one, in about 1963 / 64 when I was living in Le Vesinet and working in our office at the corner of Blvd George V and Pierre Premier de Serbie. I never saw anyone urinating against a wall when I lived there. Maybe this is a new millennial habit.
    Most restaurants had Prix fix lunches that included a pichet of wine in the price. In 1965 I had a boat on the Seine and had to go to Le Havre to cancel a Carnet de Passage for the boat. French nautical navigation was one problem, but nobody had ever told me about nautical + gastronomic navigation that I had to master on the Seine. It was 110:30, where do we stop for lunch? Our Guide Michelin was consulted; a decision made, and then we sat under a PERNOD umbrella, enjoying our lunch with wine, of course. Followed by more wine to go with the cheese course. The trouble with that is if the propeller isn't turning you aren't going anywhere…. Thanks for the memories!

  23. As a french guy, I only pee outside in the nature, not inside a city against a wall or something, it's mostly tolerated by almost everyone as long as it's in grass or against a bush or something

  24. I used to have a credit card. It wasn't even a big amount. But I maxed it out. Took me a crazy amount of time to clear it. It left me paying interest. I'd get my salary, clear part of my credit card, but then I'd be forced to max it out again. When I paid it in full, first thing I did was get rid of the damn thing. If you have money, buy it. If not, forget it, save for it.

  25. So French pharmacies don't sell cigarettes, cheap cigars or mass market pipe tobacco. When I started pipe smoking, low end pipe tobacco was so commonly seen in pharmacies, that it was commonly known as "drug store pipe tobacco."

  26. Surprised to hear the French are still smoking like chimneys. I picked it up when I went to univ there (also in Loire Valley Diane:-)) then it took me 15 years to quit. We are so impressionable when young.

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