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The 11 different Americans that you'll meet in France
Photos: AFP, Steve Webel, menard-mickael/Flickr

The 11 different Americans that you'll meet in France

The Local · 9 Feb 2016, 17:49

Published: 09 Feb 2016 17:49 GMT+01:00
Updated: 09 Feb 2016 17:49 GMT+01:00

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If you're an American in France, you'll know that it's nearly impossible to avoid running into your compatriots in this relatively small country. After all, France is one of the top destinations in the world for American expats.

But what kinds of expats are we, us Americans?

Here at The Local, we think there are 11 types - perhaps you recognize yourself?

1. The Elite

Probably an embassy official or some kind of upper-class professional, this American is often lucky enough to live in the ritzy 7th or 16th arrondissements of Paris. They rarely rub shoulders with expats from other tribes, but tend to only socialize with their own kind. If they’re only here for a few years, they usually don’t bother to learn French.

This group also includes the celebrities who have given up Hollywood life for a Haussmannian building, such as Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman (below), who can often be seen strolling through the Tuileries Gardens with her young son. (Not that we’re stalking her or anything. But she wears a navy-blue peacoat.)

2. The Gone-Native

This breed of American expats in France has completely integrated into French society. They refuse to hang out with anyone who isn’t French. If they must socialize with a fellow American, they insist on speaking French. If they didn’t smoke before, they’ve certainly started.

A meal without cheese is simply pas possible. Choosing to forget that they were once Yankees themselves, they freely criticize American values and habits and blush with embarrassment at any mention of Donald Trump or Sarah Palin. They will never understand the obsession with guns or going to the gym. And they’d rather be guillotined than be seen at McDonald's or Starbucks.

Photo: Flickr/Luca Vanzella

3. The Accidental Expat

This expat never planned to live in France long-term. They probably came here to study abroad, fell in love with a dashing Frenchie, and never left. They probably do teaching or translation work. Since they’re shacked up with a native, they most likely speak French pretty well. 

This expat is willing to mix with other tribes a bit, hanging out with French friends they know through their significant other but also befriending other Americans, as they're not quite in denial of their American-ness like the Gone-Native (see point 2).

4. The Converted

These Americans might’ve been staunchly pro-American Dream, pro-capitalism, and pro-fried food, but after spending some time in the Hexagon they're now undeniably converted. They’re convinced that socialism is the only way.

Health and education systems that won't leave you bankrupt, ticket restos, and the 13th month have won them over. They’re constantly saying things like, “You could never find this in the States” or “Can you believe I only paid €7 for an eye exam?! €7!” They think that France has it all figured out, and if they ever go back to the States they will have some seriously devastating reverse culture shock.

Photo: National Eye Institute/Flickr

The Eternal American

This expat will never quite shed their American-ness, nor do they seem to want to. They definitely don’t blend in and it doesn't bother them. You know the type - you’ll see them heading to the supermarket in yoga pants and brightly-coloured running shoes, a Starbucks pumpkin-spiced latte in hand.

They always speak just a little too loudly, and if they speak French at all, it’s with a proud American accent. They need to frequently stock up on peanut butter and Kraft’s mac ’n cheese at the American grocery store in the Marais, or from a package from their mother.

The Paris-Obsessed

City of Love. City of Lights. In the eyes of a Paris-Obsessed, Paris can do no wrong. They often spout wistful romanticisms such as “Paris is most beautiful in the rain,” or “This is the best city to get lost in”. Their view of the city is that kind of idealized “Sex and the City” version of Paris.

They happily ignore the city's flaws to live in the glamourized movie version of the city. They probably live in Montmartre and imagine themselves to be in a Woody Allen movie as they stroll the cobble-stoned streets listening to Françoise Hardy. Don’t expect them to ever venture into La France Profonde (“Deep France”).

Photo: Flickr/Moyan Brenn

The Complainer

The polar opposite of the Paris-Obsessed is the Complainer. You know, the American who can’t stop talking about how France is the worst. High taxes. Terrible customer service. Secondhand smoke. The dog poo. RER workers will go on strike the one day you absolutely can’t be late. Anything administrative will take up 5,000 hours of your time and will be stressful enough to drive you to start smoking.

The toilet paper is pink, for God’s sake. This American would probably enjoy a notorious France-bashing article by journalist Janine di Giovanni, which complained about the €4 half litre of milk. So why do they live here again?

Photo: Flickr/Tristan Legros

The Blogger

Often France's best and most loyal promoters. You’ll find this Yankee at one of the nearest hipster cafés that have popped up recently in Paris, Instagramming their €5 cappuccino. The title of their blog is something like “An American Girl in Paris”, “Ma Belle Vie”, or some clever wordplay of their name and a couple French words.

According to their blog posts, they spend their time getting lost in the streets of the Marais or the Latin Quarter, soaking in the sounds of the beautiful French language and the smell of freshly-baked croissants. But contrary to the Paris-Obsessed, they’ll probably also dedicate blog space to bemoaning French bureaucracy and recounting their daily expat mishaps and cultural clashes, which can be embarrassing (but cute and funny for the rest of us).

Photo: Flickr/menard-mickael

The Author

American writers have been drawn to France since the days when Hemingway and Fitzgerald frequented Parisian cafés such as Les Deux Magots and spent Saturday evenings at Gertrude Stein’s literary salon on the Left Bank.

The modern-day American novelist has probably lived in France for quite some time. They probably started out as a journalist or a blogger. Now they make a living on the seemingly endless American thirst to know the secrets to living, eating, cooking, dressing, loving, raising well-behaved kids who don't throw food, and how to stay thin like a French person.

The Second-Homers

These Americans aren’t quite willing to go all the way with France, but will have a regular holiday romance and will commit to spending a few months or up to half the year in the Hexagon, probably in Paris.

They’re can afford an apartment with a balcony in the Marais or across the street from the Bon Marché. (Their other home is probably a pre-war townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.) And they'll proudly speak French better than many of the other permanent expats here. 

The Student

And lastly, the student. Often in France on an exchange programme for about nine months, the American student tries to take full advantage of their time in Paris. Since there’s a good chance they’re under 21, they take advantage of France’s lower drinking age by spending the majority of their evenings in bars, or else sleeping on trains as they travel through Europe on the cheap.

They say they’re here to improve their French but somehow end up hanging out only with other international students. Studying comes in second place to visiting a new city every weekend, becoming cultured with visits to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, and drinking €2 bottles of wine on the banks of the Seine River.

Doesn't sound too bad, does it?

Photo: Flickr/The LEAF Project


By Katie Warren, An American in Paris

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