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Reverse culture shock - what surprises are in store when you leave France?

The Local France
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Reverse culture shock - what surprises are in store when you leave France?
How bloody much?? The price of wine may come as a shock when leaving France. Photo: AFP

So moving to France from another country exposes you to all sorts of different cultural norms that can take a bit of getting used to. But what happens when you've become so habituated to the French way of life that it's returning home that gives you the culture shock?


Whether it's just a brief trip to visit relatives or a more long term move, it can still be a culture shock heading home. Here are some of things that the British residents in France can get a little too used to.
1. Formal greetings
You will say bonjour/bonsoir a lot in France, but the opportunities to say good morning are rather more limited in the UK.
It's not regarded as necessary and will often make you appear stiff and overly formal. Starting any kind of casual exchange (paying for items in a shop, picking up a parcel from the post office etc) without a bonjour is regarded as rude in France, whereas in Anglophone countries it's perfectly normal to just launch straight into your business.
And greeting everyone in the lift or the doctor's waiting room with a cheery 'hello' is likely to get you some very odd looks. Stick to the traditional British greeting of awkwardly avoiding eye contact.
Haute cusine, British style. Photo: AFP
2. The food
Remember when you first came to France and you went into raptures over the taste of a tomato, chicken, a fresh fig or a still-warm baguette? Well after a while you got used to them and now you think that's normal, so your palate could be due a rude awakening.
A few organic or locally-grown exceptions aside (as well as proper pies and fish and chips), yours likely to find food in the UK tasteless, rubbery and drowning in additives. You'll also notice people eating all over the place - on the train, at the bus stop, in shops - which may come as a surprise after France's rather stricter snacking culture.
3. The spice
But there is one aspect of British food that many France dwellers miss - spices. 
Getting a good curry is difficult to impossible in many parts of France, so returning home to a spice hit can be great. Although once you've been away long enough you may find that you tastebuds are a little more delicate than they once were. Go easy on the rogan josh.
You may need to put in some training before you can keep up with British drinkers. Photo: AFP
4. The drunks
It's a bit of a myth that the French are all moderate drinkers, any big city on a Friday or Saturday night will have its share of over-refreshed French youths, and there's even a Facebook page dedicated to headlines from local French media about drunken exploits.
But that said, the average British high street on a Friday night can still come as a bit of a shock after you've been away. As can the traditional slicks of vomit along the streets the following morning.
You won't find many people enjoying something to eat on a night out either. While for the French food is central to a nice evening out, in many parts of the UK the mantra 'eating is cheating' still holds true.
5. The price of wine
Not that we're averse to a drink, especially a nice glass of wine.
But after several years of enjoying drinkable local vins de table for under a fiver, the money you have to spend to get a halfway decent bottle of wine in Britain can make you wince.
6. The noisy kids
Contrary to what the books claim, French children do throw food. And temper tantrums.
But going to restaurants as a family is far more common in France and most times you won't even realise there are children in the establishment until you pass them on the way out. British parents, on the whole, seem to take a rather more laissez faire attitude to sitting up nicely at the table, meaning you are a lot more likely to be aware of little Johnny's presence in the restaurant or café where you are eating.
7. The noise in general
But don't blame the kids, they get it from their parents.
British people in general are noisier than the French, especially when we get together in a pub, when the noise levels can be really quite something.
Be prepared for some rage if you drive in France. Arena Creative/Depositphotos
8. Drivers
In a shocking development, drivers in the UK may give way and allow you to pull in from a side street. They may also thank you with a gracious wave if you do the same for them, while the horn is generally only used in emergencies (which not include waiting for a fraction of a millisecond before driving off once the traffic lights turn green).
This can be discombobulating after a few years of driving in France - particularly Paris.
Oh, and those flashing lights on the side of cars? They're called indicators and are quite widely used in the UK.
9. All the work
At first you'll find it very handy to be able to do your errands with no lunchtime closures or Sundays off. But if you head back to the UK to work you will soon be appalled by how many weeks you've been working with no bank holidays in sight.
And there's probably little chance you will get to go on strike, either. It's frankly exhausting.
This article was written by a Brit so only refers to the UK, but what do our readers of other nationalities find is a shock when they go home? Is it the portion sizes in the US, the odd phrases in Canadian French or the different manners in India? Send your experiences to [email protected]


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Anonymous 2019/11/11 17:27
oops, I meant "waist" of course.
Anonymous 2019/11/11 17:25
The first thing that hits you when you arrive in the US is the dominance of Marketing to the culture. Every empty space, every building, every street, every road is dominated by an advertising panel. Unlike the wonderful roads of france (another major difference in that roads in the US are in terrible shape) where you actually can see the views and the towns and countryside along the way, in the US an empty space with a view is considered perfect for placing the biggest billboard possible. Of course if you are driving in a regular car, your view will already be blocked by the pick up trucks and SUVs which make up over 50% of vehicle sales, the bigger the better. The other big surprise outside of major cities or along the coasts, will be going into a store, or walking along the street, and seeing men(mostly) with a gun strapped to their waste. <br />
Anonymous 2019/10/29 17:50
I forgot another big difference, the French actually read books. A LOT of books, all the time. That is amazing to me. Reading a book is such a pleasure.
Anonymous 2019/10/29 17:48
The main difference I notice is that Americans are very loud, really loud. All the time. And we tend to snack or graze all the time. Americans eat at all the time. And HUGE HUGE portions. Another big difference is that the French actually do know about their history, and the history of Europe. And appreciate the freedoms they have. And they start with the Merovingians in the early 400's. Americans hardly remember the 1960's.
Anonymous 2019/10/22 13:34
Pretty much applies to the US also. In some places in the US, you're lucky if the person working in a shop or restaurant actually acknowledges you, so never mind anyone saying hello.<br /><br />And the food. Yes, sorry, I've avoided going to the UK and Ireland simply because of the food.
Anonymous 2019/10/22 00:52
What is wrong with being friendly? In the US, tips are normal and the staff depend on them. In France, the tip and VAT are included whether or not good service was given. Because of this, they only have to turn the table twice instead of four times. No comparison.
Anonymous 2019/10/21 18:40
When I go back to the States, much of what you wrote for Btits is also true for me. What else I notice: people are very large and have very poor posture, air conditioning is frigid, waiters are overly friendly and very anxious to get rid of you at the end of a meal. And they expect tips. (Sizable tips)

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