Franco-American Cultural Differences: An Insider’s Perspective

For the last ten years, my wife Val and I have split our time between California and France. And we’ve observed a great many cultural differences between the two countries…

I recently gave two talks on the subject – one to a French group and one to an American one. Four of these cultural differences generated a lot of discussion.

You can read my article on the subject at My French Life.

Vive la différence !

French People Are Like Coconuts

Imagine this: The PTSA meeting hasn’t started yet and two parents in the audience are chatting away—about their kids, their vacations, the hot new movie in theatres. After a few minutes, one puts out her hand and says, “Oh, by the way, my name’s Jessica.”

In the US, a scene like this—two strangers talking like old friends—wouldn’t be surprising. But would it happen in France? Pas du tout! In France, it’s considered weird to just start talking with someone you don’t know. And if a stranger tried to chat with them, a French person’s first thought would be a suspicious “What do they want from me?”

Learn how to bridge the cultural gap between French and Americans at Frenchly.

Book Review: My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh

On a cold, wet day about ten years ago, Londoner Janine Marsh went with her husband and father on a day trip to France. They didn’t have big plans – it was just a quick jaunt to have lunch and buy some wine.

But sometimes life has other plans, and she ended up not only buying wine but also…a house. How that happened is the beginning of Marsh’s charming and funny memoir.

Nestled in a tiny town in France’s Seven Valleys area, near Calais, the house was a bit of a fixer-upper. No, it was more than that – it was a total wreck. And as you can imagine. everything went wrong, including an overflowing septic tank that earned Marsh the nickname Madame Merde. As she says, you have to be “a bit mad” to buy a house like this.

For the next few years, Marsh and her husband visited the house on weekends, beginning the monumental task of making it livable. But this split life proved unsatisfactory and eventually the big question had to be faced: do we move to France? Marsh, who had worked for years to rise from secretary to bank vice president – with another promotion imminent – agonized over the decision.

The couple decided to seize the day, and off to France they went. The more they repaired the house, the more they discovered problems, but their energy and optimism eventually carried them through.

Not only do they build a comfortable home, they build a wonderful new life for themselves in France. Marsh does a brilliant job of sharing with us what makes life in the Seven Valleys so charming. This isn’t Paris or Provence, but la France profonde, an area that tourists seldom visit.

We learn how neighbors help one another, like the time the Marshes nearly ran out of firewood in the middle of winter. With disaster looming, a neighbor showed up with his tractor, carrying several tons of firewood – and no payment expected.

We learn about the nearby town that is normally silent as a tomb, but that comes to life when Madame Magniez decides to bake some of her famous bread to sell. People see smoke coming out of her chimney, word spreads, and soon there is a traffic jam in the tiny downtown.

Marsh shares with us the local legends and the local celebrations. She describes the ins and outs of the French bureaucracy, French driving customs, and the proper way to kiss a person in greeting.   And she tells us about the food, one of the glories of France.

My favorite line in the book is when Marsh writes about the huge meals to celebrate Christmas and New Years. As she says, “At this time of year in France, you can quite easily eat yourself to a standstill.”

If you’ve ever dreamed of discovering “the real France,” you won’t want to miss this delightful book.

Janine Marsh is the creator of The Good Life France, an excellent website with information on all things French.

You can buy the book at Amazon:

Price: $11.61
Was: $14.95

Book Review – But you are in France, Madame

Catherine Berry has a dream, to live in France with her family. And it is no small endeavor, as this family of 5 start out half way around the world, in Australia.

It is inspiring to share their story as she and her husband put work on hold and organize the family move. We feel part of the adventure and of overcoming many obstacles, such as finding a place to live, getting proper driving permits, and dealing with the French school system for the 3 children. And, somehow, the one-year stay turns into four.

Berry provides a realistic view of the ups and downs of daily life and trying to navigate in a foreign culture. And while sharing these difficulties, she does so with a healthy perspective and an eye for appreciating cultural differences.

Berry and her family exude a joy for life and for trying new things. They hike many trails in mountains of the Haute-Savoie region where they live. They learn to water ski on the lake and become good friends with the instructor. They come to appreciate the joy of cooking and eating local specialties, and they use the school holidays to explore the many, diverse regions of France.

From participating in local festivals and shopping in nearby “garage” sales, the family demonstrates how one can have meaningful experiences without them being expensive.

They come to appreciate their lifestyle in France and are enriched by it. And so are we, by reading this book.