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The little things that make France so different

The Local · 24 Feb 2015, 13:49

Published: 24 Feb 2015 13:49 GMT+01:00

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Briton Christopher Cooley has been in France for over a year, currently working in a Bordeaux bar and "dancing dangerously close to alcoholism".
And like many expats he has spotted a few of the more quirky differences between France and his home country. Here are his top picks. 
The French sense of humour

(French mimes. Photo: Jan Lewandowski/Flickr)
First off, as a disclaimer, I'd like to say I know French people who are funny and I've watched French films that are funny too. What I would like to draw your attention to, however, is a type of French joke in which the humour, if there is any, completely escapes me.

Example: Recently, I was on the terrace of a bar and asked somebody if I could take one of the empty chairs from their table in order for me to be able to sit with my friends. The interaction went something like this:
Me - “Can I take this empty chair.”
French person - “No, somebody is sitting there, sorry.”
Me (while moving away to look elsewhere) - “OK no worries.”
French person - “It was a joke... you can take the chair.”
Me - “Oh right, thanks.”
Was it a joke though? Really? And could you explain the difference between that joke and an unhelpful lie that has done nothing but added an air of confusion to the night? Fortunately my language is not yet at a level where I'd feel confident enough to follow up the interaction with these types of questions. So I fake a laugh and move on.
Police on Segways

(Police on the roll in Nice, southern France. Photo: Spencer Wright/Flickr)
On the other hand, it turns out that some powerful people in France have a wonderful sense of humour. Personally I just can't seem to get my head around this concept. Surely the police find it hard enough to be taken seriously without having to ride "douche-mobiles". The only reasons I can think of for the existence of police Segways is that the company donated the 'vehicles' to the police department in an attempt to sway the public to view Segways as more bad-ass. Chasing down criminals. No wait a minute, scratch that, there are police on roller-blades here as well. So that can't explain it.
So whoever commissioned them must have been a joker or must have pictured a Segway police chase taking place down a long straight road where the police would follow the fleeing criminal until eventually they'd run out of breath. The arresting officer would then calmly step down from his Segway and cuff the suspect. In reality in Bordeaux there are steps and walls and curbs... and coming soon obese police.

Cheques are still used

(Time to bin the cheque book? Not in France. Photo: David Goehring/flickr)

Cheques still seem to be used for reasons other than securely sending monetary birthday presents within a birthday card. Although the French do seem to be phasing cheques out – a common sight is signs saying 'We do not accept cheques' whereas in England the thought of paying with a cheque would rarely cross anybody's mind.

Bin bag strings

(Keep the rubbish in the bin. Photo: James/Flickr)
It is hard to find a French floor that is void of a long thin strip of plastic. This has come from the bottom of bin bag. Every bin bag in France seems to have one. It is, I suppose meant for tying around the top to seal the bag more than a regular know created by grabbing two points at the top and tying them together. I rarely use them though, and nor does anyone else I know. These somewhat superfluous bits of plastic string always just seem to get stood on and come off, becoming the only bit of rubbish lying on an otherwise newly cleaned floor.
Showers with no wall bracket

(Oh, for an attached shower head. Photo: Steven Depolo/Flickr)
I keep encountering showers that aren't hands-free. Yes you can wash with them, although even this requires developing certain 'tricks'. You can't stand under it and relax though.
Toilets in their own little room
Story continues below…

(Another toilet-only bathroom. Photo: Malin156/Flickr)
Bathrooms in the UK often include the toilet, shower, sink, everything. Whereas here the toilet is usually in a separate little room of its own. This I kinda agree with... the French system means it's possible for someone to have a pee if someone else is using the shower. Although in my opinion the wash basin should really be in with the toilet. I'm sure this is a debate that runs to the foundation of most reputable architecture schools.
Man scarves are normal

(Scarves. Should they be practical or is fashionable fine? Photo: Markus Bollingmo/Flickr)
A lot of men wear foulards: a kind of light scarf. This doesn't happen on such a large scale in England, if at all, other than in cosmopolitan cities. In my educated opinion an Englishman will wear a scarf (a real scarf) if it is cold. He never really feels the need to wear a light scarf just because it looks nice, especially if it isn't even wrapped around tightly to keep out the cold, just draped around the neck like tinsel on a Christmas tree.

I think this has something to do with the view of masculinity being different in France and England, a construct undoubtedly influenced by mass media. In England a foulard screams femininity. Maybe it does in France too, in which case the French aren't scared to show their feminine side.

Christopher Cooley blogs at Drinking It All In. Follow him on Twitter here.
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