Idiosyncrasies of the French

Crucial differences the British need to understand before they move to France !  These are some of the shocks.  I hasten to add that I love France and have lots of French friends. Tomorrow some of the good points !


–          Everything is shut, Monday – Saturday inclusive, from 12.00 lunch-time till 2.30, perhaps even 3.30*

–          But some banks have twigged that it is a good idea to be OPEN if you want to trade

–          Except in tourist areas in peak season, everything is closed on a Monday

–          Everything is closed on a Sunday (*with a few peak season tourist area exceptions)

–          At the petrol station you get petrol, diesel, oil, paraffin, nothing else; there is no question of popping in for some milk, flowers or biscuits.

–          There are no off-licences or similar.  So if you want to take a bottle, flowers or chocs to a party you need to sort it in advance

–          In supermarkets the assistant would rather stare at the ceiling than help you load your bags

–          In supermarkets there is no question whatsoever of an assistant helping you take stuff to your car

–          Lunch-time is SACRED, truly SACRED

–          The French take their food incredibly seriously, even if it is rubbish. Some of the most plain, boring, tasteless meals I have ever had have been in France

–          The French must have a NAME for whatever they’re eating. I once made a cold chicken salad with a creamy dressing and kiwi; a French friend asked what it was called, to which I replied: it is called “cold chicken salad with creamy dressing and kiwi” – and she was perfectly satisfied with that

–          They only buy French wine and do not understand things like apple wine

–          They do not have animal rights issues like over foie gras – in fact, if you raise the subject they do not understand what you are on about

–          A picnic involves table, chairs, table cloth – sitting on a blanket is out of the question

–          During Indian summers, when autumn weather can remain hot, the French nonetheless kit up for the winter; only foreigners are seen in shorts

–          They will call “bon appetit!” out to you, even if you are a total stranger, if they see you eating – anywhere

–          They rarely eat in the street or anywhere other than at a table; food is far too serious a subject

–          If you want to get your signature witnessed, you have to go to the Town Hall: your signature will not necessarily be witnessed, but you will get a rubber stamp to say that it has

–          A small dog is a chien d’apartement. Other dogs are hunting dogs or guard dogs

–          The French do not understand coffee mornings or afternoon tea

–          They sincerely believe that Mad Cow disease was a British problem, not a French one

–          In France you have to be “immatriculé, numeroté, fiché” if you want to work, even at the simplest jobs (registered, numbered and on paper)

–          They think that their own film and pop stars are internationally known

–          They will expect to kiss you every time you meet and every time you part

–          They still do that dreadful music deal while they keep you waiting on the phone

–          The bus service is poor, if not non-existant

–          They truly, utterly and completely believe (and you have to love them for it) is that if it is French, whatever it is, it is THE BEST


Tomorrow’s blog: the great things about being in France.

Click here for article about bureaucracy

Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites.  Her sketches are on her web site .  Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores.

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Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  Her books are available as e-books on this site:-            “A Call from France”          “French Sand”         ”The Man with Green Fingers”        “Saying Nothing”

They are also available on Amazon & Kindle, or can be ordered as paperbacks from most leading book stores and libraries.


Posted on 08/10/2012 by Catherine
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  • Linda Lammin

    Oh this is so true! I have been in France 6 years now and cannot say that I have learned to love them, not really. They are incredibly narrow-minded about food, they honestly can’t cope with anything out of the norm and as you point out their food is often very boring. Your good points are also good (in the next blog) you obviously know them well !

  • Rosene Wye

    This really made me smile !! Well said !!

  • Brian

    Last week I drove
    past my old university town in southern France and stopped over at a popular
    bakery to pick up baguettes (French crusty bread). However there was none left
    in stock. So I left and told the store keeper I would return in about an hour,
    and asked that she have one in the oven ready for me. By the time I returned those
    were again finished.

    I told the woman that I was happy their
    baguettes were still as good as I remembered them to be, and that people still
    queued up to buy them. I told her I used to come there every day to buy a loaf
    while at school. She gave me a modest look, smiled, put on a wry expression and
    continued to attend to others. I walked away missing France. A friend who was
    just moved to France was with me at the time. He felt offended that the woman
    didn’t seem to welcome my appreciation. Then I told him that her behaviour was
    attribute no. 102 of Frenchship! What my friend didn’t know was that my
    positive comment could very well end up an hour-long discussion at dinner time
    in the lady’s home.

    These attitudes have been summarised in the
    book FRENCH ATTITUDE 101: One hundred and one behavioural attributes of

    A book by Brian C. Kelly

    • Lovely! Thanks so much for this – I shall go on to your link!

  • Stavraetina

    I could debunk most of the points that you have raised but I will only select a few or it would take too long! First of all, shops are open on Monday and for lunch time in large cities.. The same happens to many countries in Europe! Nowadays a lot of shops will actually be open on Sunday, even in my tiny hometown shops (including supermarkets) are open on Sunday morning. However I would like to point that this is nothing weird for shops to be closed on Sunday, you will find that this is the case in most Europe not exclusive to France! Furthermore what is weird about not being able to buy milk or flower at a petrol station?? Petrol stations on the motorway sell all sorts of stuff by the way.. I have lived in the UK for 10 years and not even once has an assistant in a supermarket EVER helped me pack or take the goods to the car!! I have not even seen old people being helped so not sure where this unfair comment is coming from!? Lunchtime is “sacred”?? In what century do you live? Most people nowadays will have lunch on the go (yes in the street!! can you believe it??) or take it to work.. Your comment about how we take food so seriously made me laugh as a) we don’t really take seriously in the sense you mean even though food is indeed important to us as we have a culinary tradition like other Southern European countries (as opposed to the UK) and there is nothing wrong with that, and b) seriously?? food is plain and rubbish? Food in England is so plain and so boring this is unbelievable even though there has been some progress.

    I could go on and on but I am bored now. I accept that there can be a lot of annoying things in France, it is far from perfect but when you list annoying things be at least fair and relate the truth.

  • CatherineBroughton

    Hello Stavraetina. Thank you for your comments! I don’t think I said these things were exclusive to France – they are just this way in France, and I have lived here almost 25 years. The article is aimed at English people moving to France. Clearly there will always be exceptions. As for the assistant in the supermarket in the UK – if you go along with a couple of small children, or a walking stick, or similar and you say “could somebody come to help me please?” you will find that you will receive a lot of help, right out to your car. In France this service is non-existant. But thank you for your reply – it was interesting to read.

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