What was your biggest cultural shock going to France?

I visited France a few months ago for three weeks on a school trip for my History class. I mention it was for history class because it means that we visited all over France, not just Paris, though certainly many touristy places - La Puy, Vichy, Versailles, many crusades spots, ect.

I was travelling from my home country New Zealand, and aside from many holidays to Fiji, the only other time I've been extremely out of the country was to England when I was very young - so I haven't exactly had much experience in other cultures and France was very, very different. Here are some of the big things I noticed that were hugely surprising:

  • So many patisseries! Like, this was hugely surprising because my country literally has none! Well, No, That's wrong - but patisseries similar to the ones In France are hugely expensive, rare, And certainly don't live up to the quality of those over in France. We have bakeries and dairies on every corner - France has almost a patisserie for every person, I swear. It's amazing and definitely one of the things I miss the most - oh, the tarts.
  • Live music being played on public transport and the adversity towards them. I'll never understand it. I know they're obviously only there to get money off of you, but is it really that bad? To have a talented musician play you music on a trumpet or guitar to liven up your train experience and only ask for a couple of euros in return for their time and effort? I would - and did so every time - gladly toss in a couple of euros for that. Each performance was a blast and I wish it was something we had on our trains - trips probably aren't long enough, though, Nor the train carriages wide enough.
  • I have a very strong mindset to not believe a word of any stereotypes I ever hear about countries. I don't ever want to go to a country assuming in one thing and discovering I've been thinking wrong this whole time and being horribly embarrassed. However, when I got to France we stayed with a host family for the first week - and I learnt that...wow. So much bread. Like, holy shit so much bread. We ate baguettes with breakfast, dinner, pasta at dinner, toast in the mornings or this little dry, sort of brittle biscuit thing - Which I can't remember the name of for the life of me - we often visited the patisseries for lunch which meant croissants or similar...I remember aching for a fresh vegetable of any kind. We ate hardly any salads and practically no cold vegetables while visiting, it was all hot food, carbs, or both. First thing I ate when I got back home was a raw carrot - got a couple of strange looks, though.
  • It should have been as much of a surprise as it was given it's fairly obvious, With how old and history-rich France is compared to New Zealand, but it really was so weird being able to walk somewhere and find at least one thing that has historical significance. A big golden clock hanging above a set of winding streets, a now closed down entrance to a prison that housed some famous general, another famous church, you couldn't tie your shoelaces without stepping on a cobblestone some famous queen once tripped over. Meanwhile back in good ole nz, you have to drive hours and hours to find...giant versions of fruit or some famous store made of tin to look like a dog. Ah, new Zealand. You never let me down.
  • Public toilets. Where are they. France, what are you doing, what have you done with all of your toilets where are you hiding them and why are you like this.
  • It was most noticeable in Paris, obviously, but just how short all of your buildings are. That's because of the building ban or something that stops them being above a certain height, right? It was something I never expected entering France but it was actually really interesting and I'm rather glad for it - the views were spectacular and the cities in France are ridiculously pretty, far too pretty to be blocked off by sky scrapers or smog. I find it kind of funny thinking about it, actually - I live in a country that suffers frequent earthquakes yet the cities are full of immensely tall glass buildings, but France? Where earthquakes are a thing you only see on tv? No, best not. No skyscrapers for us thank you very much. We like it down here.
  • The little book and art stores along the rivers And bridges! They were the most wonderful things I've ever seen and I could have spent hours browsing through them all. Again, I wish we had those here.
  • One very strong stereotype i hear is that French people are often very haughty, snooty, and very distasteful of foreigners that attempt to speak their language - and I was absolutely delighted to discover the polar opposite while visiting. Everyone I met was consistently polite and wonderful, ready to help and very patient with us when we tried to speak French to them, and we got many positive reactions when we told them we were from New Zealand - one of which lead to one of my travel mates performing the Haka for someone in the middle of a men's clothing store. My host family was absolutely wonderful and incredibly eager to learn all about my life and tell me all about hers, she took me to cabaret dancing and out to dinner and encouraged me to try all sorts of foods, specially got escargot for me when I asked, and was in general an all round delight to be around. In fact the only sort of bad interaction I had was ordering some drinks in a restaurant - however, my French was absolutely terrible ( I got numbers mixed up and asked for fourty instead of four drinks ) and another one of my traveling mates said he was polite to him, so maybe that was just me.

These for the few little things that stood out to me the most, though there were surely a lot more I'm not remembering. France has a lot of steep streets. And a lot of churches, cathedrals, or chateaus - like, a ridiculous amount of them. I'm definitely not complaining, though - France is an absolute beautiful country filled with wonderful people, history, art And architecture, And I'm definitely going to go back there.


It's hard for me to put myself in the shoes of somebody visiting France because I grew up there (I am now a US citizen and I've lived in the US for as long as I have in France.)

The reason why I'm answering this Quora question is because over the last 30 years, I've been on many business trips to France with American-born colleagues. Here are some of some of their reactions related to "culture shock" the first time they visited France:

  • "The French are rude." Part of the reason is because most of the few French people able to speak basic English do it the same way they speak French, i.e., they mentally translate into English whatever they would say in French. Because French is a much more condensed and less nuanced language than English, what they say in English may come across as rude to a native English speaker.
  • "The French never say ‘thank you'." This observation is generally made by Americans who say ‘thank you' very easily even when it may not be necessary. For example, a French person may say ‘thank you' if you do something they specifically asked you for ("can you pass the salt?" notice, no "please"!) but they may or may not say ‘thank you' if they did not asked for anything from you in return for what you did (this is particularly true when you have to deal with French bureaucrats.) Typically, a French person may not feel obligated to say ‘thank you' when you hold the door for them.
  • "The French are not politically correct." A Frenchman may compliment a woman on her appearance in a much more direct way than an American would without thinking about the threat of a possible law suit. Also, for the French, a garbage collector is a garbage collector, not a sanitation engineer (for example.)
  • "The French are racist." Yes, some of them are, of course (particularly towards North-Africans.) However, at heart, the French are more xenophobic than racist (although the current political climate in France may indicate otherwise.) I've seen xenophobic attitudes towards Dutch people littering a rest area on the freeway although these Dutch visitors were not "caucasian."
  • "The French are never on time." This one is not a myth, it's the sad reality 90% of the time. Whether it's a business meeting or an invitation to dinner, you can bet your French connections will rarely show up on time. The problem is that they never think it is a problem.

There are probably many other (and better) examples!


The French actually pay everything with Checks.

No, it's not 1995! It's modern-day France and your eyes are not deceiving you. That IS a checkbook and check you see that lady whipping out in front of you at the grocery store.

French Pharmacy Culture Is Insane.

The French love their pharmacies and so do I. The flashing green signs light up just about every town center with even the smallest towns having a pharmacy or two to call their own.

Dinner Is Late.

In France? 7:30 p.m. at the earliest. Most restaurants in France aren't even open for dinner before 7 p.m, so plan accordingly. Oh, and if you have a dinner party, don't invite French people and tell them dinner is at 6. They will look at you like you're nuts

People Will Faire La Bise To Say Hi, Or Give You Cheek Kisses.

When it comes to culture shock in France, this is one of the big ones. Bisous for everyone! Let me say this upfront - NEVER hug a French person to say hi. They don't hug, they'll just lean in and give you a cheek tap on either side to greet you, say hi and bye. Normal. Get it.

The French Are Always On Vacation.

Or so it seems. When the law requires five weeks of vacation for employees (plus more if you work 39 hours/week), taking 2-3 weeks off all at once during the summer is normal. Use it or lose it, right? The healthy French vacation culture is a happy culture shock moment - when the work/life balance is actually healthy for most people. The world could learn a few things.

French Politeness Might Catch You Off Guard.

Right away you'll notice that the French are polite. This was one of the biggest culture shock examples in France if you come from or unfriendly cities. There's always a merci or s'il vous plait tacked on to any interaction at a store and people are addressed as madame or monsieur.

Everyone Smokes

That was a slight exaggeration but it may surprise you to see that more people smoke here (especially teenagers) than what you are used to from back home. The smoking in in France culture shock is one that still surprises.

Stores Have Different Hours Than What You're Used To.

In many smaller French towns, stores will be closed between 12 and 2 for lunch and then close for good for the day sometimes as early as 5 or 6 p.m. Barely anything is open on Sunday

Strikes Are A Way To Get What You Want.

Strikes in France are pretty common among teachers and those in the transport industry. So expect to hear about strikes often. They can be a major pain when traveling if all the pilots or railway workers are on strike. But if strikes work in France, so be it.

Baguettes Really Are A Dietary Staple.

Americans like their bread but the French LOVE bread. It's not just a stereotype you hear about the French - they really do buy baguettes daily and they taste great!

Wine And Cheese Are Cheap.

Five euros will get you a bottle of wine and some Brie and you might even have enough left over for a demi-baguette.

Check this to find out Why should I visit France?

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I spent a year in Paris as an older student and I travelled all over the country. I'd already learned a lot about French culture in the many French classes I took before actually making it over there.

So I was pretty well prepared. I can't say there was much culture shock in general.

There were a couple of things, though. They both involved sidewalks.

Smoking was way more popular in France than in the US when I was there. That didn't surprise me, but it drove me nuts that everyone just tossed their still burning cigarette butts on the ground. That was just the thing to do. Why? Don't get it.

And ... dog poop. On the sidewalks. No one had to pick it up in a little bag. Their dogs did their thing, and the brown piles just sat there until the poop sweeper truck passed by. And, by the way, there are a lot of dogs in Paris.

Oh, here's a third thing. In Paris it was a daily occurrence, practically, that a scruffy man would fondle himself in front of me and make lewd remarks. That actually wasn't what shocked me. What shocked me is that when I told these men off, *I* got dirty looks from passers-by.

I asked my French roommate about this. He said, "Oh yes. You're supposed to just ignore it. It's vulgar to say anything."

Okay. Whatever. Apparently I was very vulgar in France, because I really enjoyed telling those men to go fuck themselves.

Edit: l had a wonderful time in France. I didn't want to come back to the US. If I were answering the question, "What did you love about France?", I'd write a whole lot of good things.

As it is, this question intrigued me. I'd meant this answer to be funny. I'd sort of forgotten about the harassment until I was writing this.


I spent a summer traveling around France by moped, and soon learned that the best, cheapest option for lunch were the Restaurants des Routiers, family eateries run by the bonne de famille for the local truck drivers.

You stopped by at noon exactly, you paid before you sat down, you ate what was put before you, and you left when you were done. And the food was always marvelous and plentiful.

But my god, how those truck divers could put away the wine!

Each one of them got a half litre of the local red when they sat down, and called for at least one more during the meal. I swear, the truck drivers tucked away a couple litres apiece before they stood up, and walked out of the room without even swaying.

I always waited around for an hour before getting back on the road.


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