If you know me well, then you probably know I am naturally curious, (sometimes, too) observant, and that my pockets are full of questions. I like knowing things about places and people, which explains this meaty list-of-a-blog post. Below are some observations I have made between the US and Paris in the full month that I have lived here. A month? Whhhaaah!
Disclaimer: The commentary below is in no way deemed ‘accurate’ or from any type of scholarly source. It is purely gathered from my experiences over the past 20 years of life and how they have shaped my perspectives. For the sake of comparing the entire United States to that of Paris, I have made generalizations that I hope aren’t offensive or taken too seriously!
1. “Time is money” vs. “Time is precious”
One of the first observations I quickly made after my arrival in Paris was the concept of time. In the States, my ears frequent upon the old saying “time is money”, mostly referring to transportation or waiting on the arrival of something (a meal, a package, etc.). The United States does an excellent job at feeding this addiction of instant gratification. It’s what makes us American. France, on the other hand, adheres to the saying, “le temps est précieux” (time is precious). Patience is an inherent trait that I so admire in the French. They don’t fuss when their meal takes an hour to make it from kitchen to table, but instead enjoy their company.
2. Wi-fi vs. Limited Wi-fi
Sure, there is usually wi-fi at most restaurants and public places. If there is wi-fi, the signal is usually very poor. In no way, however, is there even a dim comparison between technological advancement in the States and Paris. There may also be less demand for wi-fi because less people have smartphones in Paris.
3. I-phones vs. Non-smart phones
I have noticed that I-phones and smart phones are less common in Europe, which makes me feel (too) American when my I-phone is out. Even when I see large groups of friends out to eat, none of them have their phones on the table. The French seem so much less dependent on phones and sure as heck don’t walk around with their phones in their hands like we do in the States. At first everyone seemed so disconnected, but in reality they are very much connected – to each other. It’s pretty cool.
4. Done-up vs. Natural Beauty
When I think of Paris, I think of the origin of beauty and fashion. I anticipated people to be more consumed with appearance in Paris than in the United States, but it’s actually the other way around. Compared to the French, Americans appear to be more infatuated with hair and make-up. Here, I notice an emphasis on clothing and natural beauty. But mostly, I have a notion that people here dress for themselves and what they like, not for others. Paris really isn’t as vein as movies and magazines depict it to be. It’s the complete opposite.
5. Booze vs. Cigarettes
Our alcohol is their nicotine (in relation to age). Even though the drinking age is 18 in France, pre-adulthood life consists moreso of smoking than drinking. They go out to bars and drink, but not with the intent of getting drunk. It’s quite fascinating and confusing. None of my friends and I really get it. And sure enough by age 25, most of them butt out their cigarettes around the same time American collegians stop their religious drinking weekend routines.
6. Loud vs. Quiet
Americans are loud, loud, LOUD. I didn’t realize how loud we actually are until coming here. Eavesdropping is non-existent in Paris because no conversation is ever at a decibel higher than a borrower’s (ie. The Borrowers).
7. Nosey vs. Private
This one can probably apply to the comparison above. Everyone here minds their own business and does their best to stay in their own little bubbles without disruption. I am a very curious cat, but I try my best not to impose my interest in an obvious manner (ie. STARING). For being stereotyped as anxious and impulsive, we Americans sure know how to fix our eyes on something for extended amounts of time. I am guilty here and there. They also tend not to fidget (ex: fixing hair) as much as the average American. Seriously though, they want zero attention!
8. Stylish vs. Fashionable
The French do an impeccable job of dressing themselves in a way that flatters the body, which usually includes a wardrobe on the conservative side. I guess it depends on how one views the word “fashionable”. In general, I would say that Americans are more stylish than fashionable because of the tendency people have to latch onto new styles, trends, and brand names.
9. Convenient vs. Inconvenient
The world stops turning in Paris on Sundays and that is not a joke. Being in Paris on Sunday is what I imagine San Francisco would look like if there was a bomb threat. The closest thing to a convenient store (CVS, Walgreens, etc.) in Paris is a Pharmacy, usually accompanied by a bright green cross protruding off the building into the street. They are on almost every street, yet are closed on Sundays. But don’t get your panties in a twist, they have vending machines just in case you need an emergency Band-Aid. The US definitely caters to convenience better than France, but it’s just an adjustment that keeps me on my toes!
10. Smiles All-around vs. Avoiding Eye Contact
Americans are more outwardly friendly than the average person in Paris. At first, the lack of eye contact and cold energies are intimidating, but it makes me appreciate any sort of acknowledgment I may get, even if it’s barely pursed lips. They really aren’t as unhappy as they may look, which is what gets me the most. Clothing garments are the only things you will ever find on a Parisian’s sleeve. Americans have beautiful smiles and it’s not our fault we are such happy people. Still not over this one if you can’t tell.
11. Drip Coffee vs. Espresso
This one hits home. In SLO, my drink of choice is a double-shot iced américano at the one and only Blackhorse Café. In all of Paris, there are two cafés that serve full mugs of filtered drip coffee. That being said, I am convinced Parisians are espresso-bred warriors. I have a standard coffee maker in my dorm BUT will welcome an espresso any time of day. I enjoy waking up to a full mug of coffee even though I do appreciate the high concentration of espresso that really gets the job done. Espresso is a wonderful part of the Parisian culture… I just have to learn to sip slower.
12. Tips vs. No Tip
In the States we add a tip to our discretion and in Paris the tip is included in the price listed on the menu. I am somewhat indifferent. That is until we have a terribly rude waiter that doesn’t give an ass and a crack because he knows he’s already getting something out of it. Even if it’s something as trivial as a tip, I value having some power as a paying customer. That’s right.
13. Ice vs. No Ice
Ice is a luxury in Paris. I don’t know why the idea of water molecules turning into a solid is such a stretch of the imagination. Even a global company like Starbucks giving me three ice cubes in my drink. Like, what if I wanted ‘light ice’?
14. Spacious vs. Compact
I have definitely taken for granted the amount of space I have had the privilege of living in throughout my life, which makes adjusting that much more difficult. It’s hard for me to compare the standards of living because I have never lived in a metropolitan city in the States. With that being said, my body is still adapting to the sardine it has to be on the metro and the bed that is too short for my wee height of 5 feet and 3 inches.
15. Monolingual vs. Bilingual
Most people and almost every student I have met know English in addition to their native language. After chatting with some local French students, they mentioned a common stereotype of the States being that we are monolingual English speakers. As a proud American, I was a bit embarrassed and defensive at first. The more I thought about it, the more it rang true that I don’t know many other people who are completely fluent in two languages. Does that make the United States self-righteous? I don’t know. In Europe, it is expected, especially with lower-paid jobs because they encounter the most foreigners.
16. American Music vs. American Music
Let’s just say I encounter more of I-Tunes’ Top 40 in Paris than I would ever choose to hear back in California. Just when I thought I had escaped Carly Rae Jepsen and Beiber (sp?)… I think their popularity in Europe is a sign our teeny-bopper Disney singers should be exiled to France. Thoughts?
17. Type AAA vs. Laid-back
Parisians are the definition of “chill”. Something doesn’t go their way? Dommage. C’est tout. No pouting here.
18. “Live to work” vs. “Work to live”
From what I have observed, the French do an admirable job at separating work from personal life. This comparison is more subjective to an individual, but I think it’s pretty evident how easy it is easy to get caught in the under-toe that is the American workforce.
19. 4:00 pm vs. 16h00
Pretty self-explanatory, yet more difficult than you would think.
20. Overweight vs. Slender
Why does the US have a reputation of being such an overindulgent nation? Is it just because we are a fast food capital that caters to convenience? I think that it also has a large part to do with different customs of eating. It’s not rare to see people eating on-the-go in the United States. We will eat just about anywhere and everywhere. When we’re hungry, we mean it! In France, eating is a private part of your life that is not generally exposed to strangers, unless eating out. Even on the metro water bottles are tucked away in purses and briefcases…waiting to be sipped in a private place.
21. Perfectly White Straight Teeth vs. Crooked Yellow
Is orthodontics even a profession over here? All you have to do is look at a person’s teeth and you’ll know if they are European. It makes me wonder if they ridicule our straight pearly whites. Hmmm.
22. Nutrition Labels vs. Don’t Even Try
The title of this comparison says it all. Calories are the equivalent of Kcals, but past that you have nothing going for ya. A good chunk of foods don’t even include labels.
23. Flip Flops vs. Not flip flops
There really is no equivalent to the flip flop. Maybe sandals? Point being they don’t have them. In fact, I probably possess the only pair of flip-flops that exist in this city. And they stay in my room, haha.
24. Britta vs. Tap Water
In the States, there is usually some type of filter used for water (fridge, Britta). Here, a filter is unnecessary. Tap water is good to drink throughout the city! Paris has two water pipes, unlike most cities – one for sewage and the other intended for drinking. Revolutionary.
25. $1.33 vs. 1 €
This is a sensitive subject.
26. Netflix vs. There is NO Comparison
This is a sensitive subject too.
27. How the French view the United States vs. How Americans view Paris
To the French, there are San Francisco and New York and nothing in between. That being said, I am thankful to be from the Bay Area because it spares confusion when explaining where I’m from. On the other hand, Americans tend to recognize everyone who lives in Paris as Parisian. Not the case. Parisians are those who have been born and raised in Paris. Today, only 19.3% of people living in Paris are actually true Parisians.
28. Peach vs. Coconut
The week before classes began, our program director lead us in a cultural awareness seminar and used Pascal Baudry’s analogy to explain the difference between Americans and the French. Americans are viewed as peaches: fuzzy and soft on the outside with a harder center. The French are viewed as coconuts: hard as a rock on the outside but creamy and milky on the inside. When it comes to friendship, peaches tend to have a lot of friends; it’s not very hard to permeate that soft shell, but no one will ever know if they make it all the way to the center or where they stand. Coconuts tend to have fewer friends, but once someone drills a hole in the hard nutty outside and makes his or her way to the center, they are in for life. I am going to take the seminar for what is was worth, awareness. As for my personal fruit identity, I think I’m in peach/coconut limbo…a peanut?