The title of my recent post about the solitude of freelancing may have (misleadingly) seemed a little negative, so I thought I’d clear up any confusion with a more cheerful topic to start to the almost spring-like month of March.
I’ve already touched on some of the big cultural differences between France and the UK, so after reading this article, I thought I’d take a look at some of the details that make la vie française different.
As the saying goes, it’s sometimes the little things that make a big difference!
So, here goes.
Milk, milk, glorious milk!
In fact, milk is far from glorious in France and usually comes in its most sterile UHT form. In smaller supermarkets it can be hard to come across real, live, fresh milk and, if there is any, it’s usually hidden in a distant corner of the refrigerator compartment.
Tea is officially drunk without milk and the very idea of adding a few creamy drops provokes disdainful “quelle horreur!” Having said that, I guess it is a slightly strange British habit and that do we tend to be rather set in our ways.
As well as shying away from milk, the French aren’t big teapot fans either. Tea, even in cafés, is often served as a cup or mug of boiling water with a teabag on the side for dunking.
I do, however, highly approve of the little biscuits that often accompany your steaming cuppa or coffee.
On rather distant terms
As a Brit I’m used to the omnipresent and unchanging “you” that can be used to be polite, informal, talk into one or more people. I’m also used to quickly getting onto first name terms with the people I meet.
Yet in France, there are numerous formality pitfalls and the “tu” (informal) and “vous” (formal) can get quite confusing. Luckily, as a foreigner you can usually get away with it for having insufficient linguistic talent or simply not being French. However, the français are very aware of the “right” moment for crossing the line from the formal to the informal. For example, I saw my builder every day for a month whilst he renovated my flat and we chatted about lots of different stuff. Yet, the “vous” remained a very firm “vous”.
The star of this formality obsession has to be the French equivalent of “Yours Sincerely”, that is to say, the preposterously long: “Je vous prie d’agréer, monsieur, madame, l’expression des mes sentiments distingués.”
A few more French details
- Clothes are usually sober with few clashing or no contrasting patterns – British colourfulness is considered wildly eccentric!
- Keyboards are almost the same, but have a couple of keys in different places including the all-important full stop that requires you to use shift – maybe that’s why written phrases are often so much longer than their English counterparts
- The French are obsessed with kissing, “la bise”
- You can’t buy aspirin in supermarkets or small shops – the pharmacy has a complete monopoly
- At work, no one lunches on a speedy sandwich at their computer
Are there any other details that you feel make France so French? I’d love hear from you!