Now that I have been living in France for a while, I have started to notice some interesting facts about France that make the French so… French. Want to know what I found out? Read on.
1. No tipping
Service is included in all restaurant bills. While it does feel weird to leave nothing on the table at first, it’s amazing how quick you get used to knowing exactly how much your meal has costed. You can exceptionally leave a euro or two on the table if you received outstanding customer service, but that’s highly unlikely…
2. Le client est roi… right?
Customers are kings. That’s a saying we have in Quebec. And somehow, I have the very strong impression it is yet another thing that wasn’t brought to us from France! Their customer service, to be completely blunt, is awful in most places. Considering how complicated it is to fire an employee in France, why would they bother being kind and smily? It doesn’t come as a surprise either to know that the opening hours of a store may vary according to the employees moods. Even if the official hours are, say, 9 to 7, well don’t expect to come in for a baguette at 6:50. Oh no. The store is actually closed so the employees can be gone by 7. Funny way to run a business, isn’t it?
3. Drugstores are actually… drugstores
Don’t expect to buy toilet paper, mascara or candy over here – they only sell drugs, high-end creams and special toothpaste (although when you think of it, it is kind of weird to sell candies at the drugstore – how are they better than cigarettes for our health?). You can easily recognize them with the flashing green neon cross over the door and you don’t usually have to walk very far to find one. French people are serious about their drugstores!
4. Methods of payment slightly differ
Most high street stores and groceries still accept cheques as a method of payment, as long as you have ID to prove your identity. Cheques, in America, are so archaic – needless to say how surprised I was when I saw a woman get out her checkbook to pay for her groceries! Another thing that mesmerizes me is that they only have one card: la carte bleue. It’s a debit card with a Visa sign on it. Why so? How does it sort credit and debit? I have absolutely no idea. (Thank God Wiki is there to inform me on what my banker missed out on! Now that I’ve figured out how it works I must say, it is quite brillant.)
5. Ice is EVIL!
Another little known fact is that no proper restaurant in France will serve ice in your water. Most of the time, the water will be either room-temperature or slightly chilly, but never cold. That’s when I miss my self-serve McDonald’s soda bar, where I can decide just how much ice I want in my drink. Which is a lot.
6. La bise
That’s my least favorite thing about France. La bise. What a chore! It isn’t so bad when there are only 3-4 people, but when you arrive at a party of 20+ people, it’s just an awfully long exercise that’s keeping you away from your drink. Everybody has to stand up to greet you with a kiss on both cheeks, with very specific rules. Without exception. And I actually have to make huge efforts to do that – my North American standards do not force awkward contact between strangers, and I have to say that I really prefer it that way. And once you finally do get your hands on a drink, doesn’t mean you can enjoy it right away…
Cheering in France is no simple happening. Why go simple when you can go complicated? There are specific rules to follow to cheer as per the French rules: you have to look every single person you cheers with in the eye, say “Santé!” or “Tchin Tchin!”, without crossing your glass with someone else’s – otherwise you will be entitled to seven years of bad sex. You’ve been warned!
8. Shopping carts
No one is getting away with a shopping cart theft without a price – to actually use a cart, you have to insert a €1 coin on a special coin-operated mechanism on the handle. No kidding! What happens most of the time is that you forget to take your coin back and pay an extra euro for your grocery.
9. Sunday is the Day of Rest
What most tourists don’t know about France is that if you happen to be traveling on a Sunday, you should know this: most stores will be closed for the day. Some groceries will open for a few hours in the morning, but that’s about it – and some family-owned businesses (such as bakeries) will be closed on Mondays as well. Coming from a large city like Montreal where you can find pretty much anything you want at any hour, that required a bit of getting used to.
10. Les soldes
Unfortunately for the fashionista in me, France doesn’t have regular sales. In fact, there are only two authorized periods per year: July and January. It has some good and some bad: yes, the prices are higher year-round but when the sales do come around, you can expect 50%+ discounts, whether in luxury stores or high street chains. I recently bought two striped t-shirts (essential French items, right?) that were initially tagged at €30 each, and I ended up paying only €20 for both. We rarely get these kinds of sale in Canada, so needless to say I was extremely happy with this particular French tradition!
Have you experienced weird traditions? Did you also notice some interesting facts about France? Awkward situations? Things you would love to import to your home country?