A few months back I started a series that my readers seemed to like, so I came back with more.
I write about the taken-for-granted things that I got accustomed to in the US, but are not the norm or even known where I’m from. It’s good for me to remember them — of course, I’ve already lost some of my frenchness, but maybe there is hope; what if I could boost my memory!?
If you’ve missed the previous episodes, go here, or here.
So… when I lived in France, and before I came to America…
1) I was able to vote. I have been in the US for nearly 8 years and… I am barely a resident. Not a vote-worthy citizen yet. But I pay all my taxes and everything. Being a legal alien is hard work!!
2) I thought my business school was expensive… Looking back, even though I ended up paying back most of it at the worst of the Euro/Dollar exchange rate, I still got a bargain vs. US schools. OK, so the prestige is not exactly the same. But guess what, I am managing just fine! (And now student-loan free!)
3) I never really celebrated the 14th of July – what people in the US call Bastille Day – and most French don’t beside watching some fireworks. It’s nothing like the 4th of July in the US! We do not have patriotic cakes, flags and Old Navy shirts with the French flags on them for the whole fam’! [For the record: don't look for the Bastille if you set foot in Paris. It happens to be the most famous monument that actually no longer exists!]
6) Oh, one more on the music theme: Christian music? Had never heard of that — outside the religious hymns inside a church. No, in the US Christian music is a genre that resembles pop music only celebrating Jesus’ love, etc. But the best albums are sold through infomercial as far as I can tell! (If you don’t know what an infomercial is… I will write a post about that, leave a comment!)
7) I had never eaten warm corn. In France we only eat it cold, usually in salads. And most French have never had corn on the cob — I did a long time ago, but that’s only because I was raised on a farm!
8 ) I had never tailgated, but you probably knew that since I’ve said it before.
9) I did not know “standard” paper size (as in, what you feed your printer for example) is NOT the same standard in the US as it is in Europe. US calls their paper “Letter” (8-1/2 x 11 inches); Europe (and possibly the rest of the world actually?) uses A4, also fondly called 21 x 29.7 (in cm)
2) Lance Armstrong (did he dope or did he dope not? I know this debate gets very heated. At the end of the day, I think most of France don’t buy “it”. Personally, I’m on the fence. But I hope he’s legit cause that makes him a hero, and he inspired a lot of people.)
4) Angelina Jolie (by the way, when you aren’t jolie, you should not be wearing the name! So, yes, she might be a sex bomb, but tell me: where is her genuine beauty? And don’t come and tell me a peanut allergy did that to her mouth)
I selected this clip over the trailer for the movie because it highlighted perfectly some of the key differences that other populations may see between them and others (community rules, personal space, etc.), but at greater levels. It also shows how preconceived notions are formed and can hurt people’s feeling.
Finally it shows the distress and apprehension of these young men as they prepare for their new life — can you adapt when you are so different?
Makes my “cultural hiccups” look silly in comparison!
To find out how they made out, I ordered the movie on Ebay; and we just got it in!!
Can’t wait to watch it and report back!
Tell me: When it comes to cultural differences, what is your go-to movie? (If you answer “Lost in Translation”, please explain to me why this movie was such a hit; I really, really did NOT get it at all. Bummer!)
I hurried to find 9 things the French don’t do, just for fun and in less than 5 minutes… GOOOooo!
1) The French don’t have proms or yearbooks. So sad.
2) The French don’t shop at Target nor Walmart. They don’t even have Target or Walmart, how is that even remotely possible?
3) The French don’t say hello to strangers in the street. That’s one of the reasons why I like my life in Maryland.
4) The French don’t save in a 401(k). They still believe they will hit a jackpot called Social Security. I think the US government makes it far more obvious that it just ain’t gonna happen, baby!
5) The French don’t have cable boxes that can record their shows — also fondly referred to as DVRs over here. Now, that’s silly. Surely, that can’t be right. If it’s changed since last time I checked, I’m sure someone will tell me. Raise a hand!
6) The French don’t have “personal days”. They have enough vacation and RTTs… If you don’t know what a RTT is then, you’re missing out on the secret: The French only work 35 hours per week. If they happen to work over time, they get comp days called RTT.
7) The French don’t pick up after their dogs. Nope.
The French don’t buy fresh milk, only the brick kind (Parmalat style)
9) The French don’t play Lacrosse. Bet you they don’t know what it is. Though it sounds French, right? Don’t get fooled. Not French.
10) The French don’t rely much on credit card debt. Good for them.
It took me an extra 3 minutes. Oh wait, I found 10 things, that must be why I went overtime!!!
How did I do?
Tell me you learned something new about the French!
My blog has not suffered from lack of posts as much as I have suffered from reverse culture shock.
Today is the 3-week mark in my latest visit to France. It’s also the longest in… ever, actually. Never have I spent more than 2 weeks in France since I moved to the States.
This trip is different though.
It’s for work, you see. And I was fortunate enough to take Poisson with me so he can enjoy some time with my family while I am touring the country with groups of US guests visiting the company’s factories.
Only a few days left before I get back home. I cannot wait!
Every trip I make back home is a new revelation.
It wasn’t until last Christmas, when we came home with our son to spend the Holidays with my family, that I realized home truly is in the US now.
And it took me just over 7 years abroad to start losing my Frenchness. And that reality? Hurts a little bit.
I no longer speak French like I used to; I make up words and I am told I have an accent; people now ask me if I am French. And because my English is surprisingly good most people don’t suspect I can be French — it’s all my fault!
And then there are all the things I could not longer get used to…
I had forgotten most French people don’t look at you in the eye to say hello or simply nod, or wave. No, they just avoid eye contact at all cost. Why?
I didn’t remember that most small shops and stores close on Mondays. Yes, I understand retailers deserves a day off. But do they all need to close on the same stinkin’ day?? How convenient is that?
I didn’t remember they don’t bag for you at the grocery store and don’t offer to help you load your car when they see a young child in the shopping cart. They just want you to move out of there quickly so the register can resume its activity with the next underserved customer…
I had forgotten banks are only open from 9:30 to 11:30 and from 2:30 until 4:30. Sadly, I’m hardly exagerating. I want to quit my French bank so badly! Just to show them they lost a customer they had made unhappy; but the reality is they couldn’t care less. And I cannot even imagine how long of a process that would be, so instead I let it be. Oh well.
I am tired of people waiting to get old enough to receive their state-funded retirement, or for the unemployed to maintain a certain “status” so they can collect unemployment — they find it’s less tiring and almost pays as much as a job. Ouch.
I can’t believe there is really a law that limits work to 35 hours per week. Why?
There is so much more…
I need to point out one area I can still keep up with because, regrettably, it has not improved much: French politics. The left parties still pretend to unite and then swiftly shoot at each other in their quest for power, therefore diluting their voice. The right is under much scrutiny, covering for one crook after another all the while making “special” arrangements with the largest French business men and women; meanwhile the far right is still allowed somehow (but how in the world, really?) to spread the same words of hate as they have for at least 40 years.
All jokes aside, I don’t relate to my native country that much any more. It irritates me.
Over the past few weeks, I have found myself in so many situations where I am the tourist, a foreigner who does not understand how things work anymore. That makes me feel both stupid and a bit angry.
It’s a new process of acceptance, being an alien in my home country.
1- The lettuce I ate was always green, not white. I despise hollow-core “lettuce” that restaurants or grocery store try to sell you in their Cesar salad. Plain awful to me.
2- The largest container of soda I knew was 1 liter, maybe 1.5 liter. In the US, the individual-size packs are bottles of .75 liter. Ouch.
3- By the way, I used to use commas for my decimals points for 23 years. Not periods like here, in the US. How confusing. In French, Pi is 3,14… not 3.14… you get it? In the US, the comma is used as a thousands’ marker as in 3,000 = 3 thousand. The French use a space as a delimiter, like this: 3 000.
4- I used to write dates in a different format. And since we’re talking about annoying things that can really goof you up in Excel when you work across different anglophone & francophone teams… DATES! In France, we write July 14 1789 as 14/07/89. In the US, that would be 7/14/89. With “14″ it kind of make sense, but then in email conversations, are you talking 8/9 for August 9th or September 8th?
5- I used to pay retail for everything. The tag was it. Now, I can’t shop online before visiting retailmenot.com and I will always bargain at a store to have them look for coupons in their cash register, help a gal in need, yo!
6- Nobody ever told me I was “skinny mini”. It’s nice to hear!
7- I never had to specify “water no ice” at restaurants. There was no ice in France, ever.
8- I thought Florida was a paradise, a dream vacation destination. It kinda is, as long as you’re in the air conditioning. The humidity is unbearable, be warned, travelers!
9- I never went to church. Now I go once in a while to get some peace and quiet. After the singing, you know. It gives me a good excuse to leave the little one with daddy. The sermon rocks me to a blissful state, not that I listen much. But I respect the faith, and that church does not hold my lack of consistency against me. Or my lack of faith, as a matter of fact. Not my fault, I just was not raised that way. A little too late now, to make me believe in Santa Claus.
10- I did not know what Thanksgiving was all about. I like it because it’s the only non-commercial holiday. No unnecessary-stuff-buying, only a turkey if you go the traditional route, and a long day of cooking. My husband and I, we found a loophole, we enjoy it as much as everyone else without the cleaning part — we get our Thanksgiving dinner from Boston Market, improve it just a tad, and voilà! No mess, no crankiness. We still serve it with my grandma’s silverware, beautiful!
Shelf life can vary greatly by product type, but what’s even more surprising is the choice in showing this information (or not) to the consumer.
Let’s play a little game; what’s missing on these products…
Sample Beauty Products (batch 1) - Front
Sample Beauty Products (batch 1) - Back
That is clearly marked on these beauty products:
Sample Beauty Products (batch 2) - Front
Sample Beauty Products (batch 2) - Back
See that little icon that looks like the cap of a bottle on the back of the containers? The one on the white bottle of shampoo indicates 18M, the hair product in the yellow container shows 12M and the last product by Aveda reads 24M.
This icon tells you how long this product will last (in months) from the day you open it. This is a “best before” date; after that, use your judgement.
I’ve also found this list to be particularly useful.
I find it rather interesting that the European products (i.e. products developed for the European market, not necessarily made there) will generally carry this icon to indicate shelf life. It’s not so common in the products you find almost exclusively in the US (though The Body Shop certainly sells their merchandise worldwide; wondering if the icon is there in other countries! Anyone?).
My preliminary research online did not provide much information on the matter. I’d be interested to know why there is a discrepancy!
That’s it for this week: keeping up the momentum, decluttering the bathroom a day at a time…
1- I had never returned a product I had already used or consumed to get a full refund. Customer service in France? Is far from charitable, understanding, and generally speaking helpful. Rated F for Failed. The US however get on the Dean’s List. No comparison.
2- I had never purchased bagged ice. No lies. I don’t even think you can buy bagged ice in France.
When I think of what will always differentiate me from most Americans, many things come to mind.
Let’s talk about money and expression of wealth.
It is now tradition in the US — thanks to genius marketing tactics from De Beers over more than 100 years — for a man to give his fiancée a diamond engagement ring. The bigger, the better. Of course, remember, this is the US. Many men and women put a lot of faith and money into owning the largest diamond ring they can possibly afford.
French people don’t do that. As far as I know, most Europeans don’t do that. A ring yes, though not always mandatory, but any style will do.
Once upon a time, my now husband took me shopping to look at engagement rings, to see how big a diamond he would have to pay for which style I was leaning towards.
Truthfully? I would have rather been totally surprised with good taste while I expected it the least… “Really, you’re taking me shopping for my engagement ring?”
But looking back at it now, I would have gotten much more than was necessary, so I’m glad we approached that choice together!
We actually sat down with his sister who is a jeweler and looked at a few rings from the display case. I never was the typical ring seeker, and for that reason I have seen many jewelers roll their eyes or betray their lack of confidence with an uneasy smile.
To me, a huge rock on a finger is not more a testimonial of forever love that a tiny ring; it’s often a public display of wealth. In most cases, of debt.
Back to 8 years ago and finding THE ring…
My husband, studying each stone with his experienced right eye attached to a small magnifying device: “What about this one?”
“And this one?”
“That one is definitely much too big”.
Be honest, have you ever heard this before?
At the end of the day, we left without a ring but my husband had already made up his mind. He purchased the ring later on, according to my wishes for the most part. For me, it was still a compromise.
How big a ring? I don’t know, and that gives it away, doesn’t!? Size really does not matter to me.
Ask any married woman in the States and she will tell you the size of her rock(s) with at least 2 decimals.
I think my stone might be 2/3 of a carat. If even that. And I would have settled for less, but it was more important to my husband to get me a good-looking ring. So I approved the size of the ring while keeping his feelings in mind.