I’ve been living in France for a year now. I adopted a new lifestyle and routine over the past 12 months, and I had to adapt to a few situations that I still find baffling, no matter how hard I try to understand French logic.
So I’ve decided to share with you what I still don’t get about France and French people. Warning, unpopular opinions ahead. Also, if you’re reading this as a French, don’t take this too seriously—like, don’t start sighing, shrugging and getting confrontational like you guys usually do! (Just kidding, just kidding—not…)
Speculoos are these famous spiced shortcrust biscuits originally from Belgium and very popular in France. I love them too, no issue here.
That said, if I order tiramisu in a restaurant, I do expect it to taste like coffee.
Except that in northern France and Belgium, everything is speculoos-flavoured. They put these damn biscuits in everything. Why?? Again, I love speculoos, but for me, tiramisu just has to have this strong hint of coffee. You should write “speculoos tiramisu” on the menu to avoid any bad surprises.
On second thought, maybe we do the same thing in Canada with maple syrup…
Picon beer cocktails
Never heard of Picon? It’s an orange bitter liquor and it’s very popular in northern France. In fact, it’s so popular they put it in beer.
I’m sorry but I love beer, and I don’t want to ruin it by adding a citrus taste. I’ve often been told that “only boomers do that!” Well, no. People my age drink Picon-beer too. I guess it’s one of these northern traditions the French are very proud of.
Meringue cake from Aux merveilleux de Fred
Aux merveilleux de Fred is a super trendy bakery chain that only sells “merveilleux,” i.e. basically big, individual meringue cakes. My roommate told me I just had to taste them but I didn’t really get what the craze was all about.
Eventually, I tried one of their cakes. And I still don’t get it. This dessert isn’t that “merveilleux,” sorry, Fred.
I have a background in advertising, so I like to watch and analyze commercials.
In university, we were taught to be hyper-creative and to think outside the box to create captivating ads. Apparently, French marketing classes are quite different because I find commercials very conventional, lacking in creativity and even taste. I have to admit that I miss Quebec commercials, because they’re original and fun, and they really make you think twice sometimes.
Recruiters who ask for years of experience right out of school
Much to my dismay, I’ve experienced the challenges fresh graduates are facing, and I don’t understand French recruiters. Don’t they know what it is to be young and trying to start a career? Probably not because in France, it apparently makes complete sense to be a 23-year-old graduate and already have 3 to 5 years’ work experience (excluding internships).
Ironically, hiring managers will eventually state that you “don’t have enough experience” as if this were a big surprise, as if young graduates didn’t already know this. But that’s how things work in France—employers really value both experience and formal education.
Pharmacies with weird, random and nonsensical opening hours
In Quebec, pharmacies are generally reliably open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., every day (yes, even on Sundays).
This is probably why I don’t understand why some French pharmacies around here close in the middle of a perfectly normal Thursday afternoon. Not to mention that most of them are also closed on Sundays, like most other shops. You have to carefully plan when to pick up your medication.
French people who complain they don’t have “enough” paid time off
I think this is the most common statement I hear from French people: “Je n’ai pas assez de vacances” (“I don’t have enough paid time off”).
Even those who can take eight weeks off (that’s two months, people!) somehow feel cheated. In Quebec, the legal minimum is two paid weeks off, so it’s hard for me to understand why they complain about having “only” eight weeks off.
Now, I have to admit that I’m starting to enjoy long weekends—“faire le pont,” like the French say when they take Friday and Monday off (because of a holiday or just because). Maybe eventually, I’ll start complaining about time off as well, who knows.
The French definition of “personal space”
Especially when queuing! I’ll never get used to those French people (not all of them, but many) who literally stand inches from my back as if it was going make the line move faster.
In Canada, we’re used to wide open spaces. It’s cultural. We like to keep our distance and we respect people’s “personal bubble,” which isn’t necessarily the case in France. However, I have to admit that I really like the fact that society is less individualistic in France. There are pros and cons, I suppose…
French people who use Quebec swear words but have no idea they are profanities
Ever since I landed in France, people have been telling me that I’m Canadian and I have an accent—well, duh.
Now, I don’t understand why some French people use random Quebec swear words—we call them “sacres” in Quebec—just for fun. I mean, these are actual profanities—words have meaning! It’s a bit like if you were punctuating sentences with the F-word when meeting an American.
Once, I was in an interview when the recruiter suddenly shouted “tabarnak” (she actually pronounced it “tabernacle”) out of nowhere. I was surprised and burst out laughing, saying: “But it’s frowned upon to say that in Quebec, it’s a dirty word.” She felt bad, but more than that, she was amazed that it wasn’t just an innocuous word Québécois are known to use.
In short, I don’t understand French people who try so hard to swear like us—they just have no idea what they’re saying, because they just don’t get it (sorry).
The weird rivalry between Belgium and France
This is actually more of a one-sided rivalry since the Belgians don’t pay too much attention to what the French say about them.
Go ahead, try it—tell French people, especially proud northerners, that you like Belgium as a country. They’ll immediately take offence and reply: “they’re stupid in that country.” Belgians, on the other hand, don’t have much of an opinion about their neighbours. Especially since French Flanders is just like Belgium, isn’t it? In any case, I love both countries.
French government employees who just don’t know anything
I’d love to know what government employees learn during training because the sentence you hear them say the most is “I don’t know.” They literally know nothing. Sometimes you can even teach them something.
How many times have I heard “I don’t know, you’ll find out the day of your appointment.” And then when you show up, the officer, advisor or manager isn’t more helpful and doesn’t know either. Honestly, I think I could fake my way into the CPAM, the French health insurance system…