La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences or adding your email to the sign-up box in this article.
Adjusting to life in a new country is always difficult – whether you have just moved to France, are planning to do so, or perhaps are just looking forward to your next holiday, there are bound to be things that surprise or confuse you as you navigate a different culture from your own.
For many native-English speakers, it can be discouraging (if not shocking) to have your French publicly corrected by a stranger.
The experience of having a boulangerie worker tell you that it is une baguette, not un baguette is not a pleasant one. But this interaction might be more emblematic of a cultural difference than the baker having a personal vendetta against you – in France, it is rarely considered rude or offensive to correct a foreigner speaking French.
There are several unwritten rules to life in France, just like in any country. Learning these implicit cultural rules can help your life in France move a bit more smoothly.
One of the six unwritten rules is about adjusting your expectations – particularly around how long things take.
You might be used to going into a restaurant or bar and being immediately served. Foreigners often complain about slower service in France and – while this depends on the restaurant or bar you are visiting – eating and drinking typically takes longer in France than it might in a place like the United States, for example.
But there is something very special about cafés in France: in any French city you can rest assured that there will always be one in walking distance.
You might get a little cosier with the people sitting next to you on a French terrace than at a drive-thru Starbucks, but there is a certain joy in sitting at a French café, sipping an espresso or Spritz, and reading a book or watching the people walk by.
30 people getting coffee.
Sprawl vs. urbanism pic.twitter.com/W5QRE7ugkB
— 21st Century City (@urbanthoughts11) September 25, 2022
Walkability is definitely one of the top benefits to life in France – in towns and cities you will likely be able to walk from your home to the grocery store, florist, bakery, and pharmacy.
If you are visiting Paris, walking is one of the best ways to see the sites. Foreigners are often pleasantly surprised by how walkable the city of light is – in fact, if you try to walk across the city from east to west, it would take less than three hours (depending on your speed, of course).
France’s capital is home to some really beautiful streets that are well worth a Sunday stroll.
And as you enjoy your weekend balade, you might notice that certain establishments on French streets always seem to be bustling.
This “cornerstone of French culture” is more than just a place to buy cigarettes (though you can do that here). In fact – even though the name might insinuate otherwise – you don’t even need to be a smoker to enjoy these shops.
Underneath the iconic red signs, tabacs are a place to socialise – buy a beer, have a coffee, and even pay your taxes.
There are several practical things you can do at a tabac, and you are sure to find at least one in every French town.
If you decide to stop in for a drink while passing by a tabac, and you have a little too-good of a time, you might find yourself looking for a specific set of French vocabulary words.
Oddly enough, the French have a very extensive drinking-related lexicon, and the direct translations into English can be quite funny. For example – if you drank quite a bit more than you meant to, you can use the phrase “se péter la gueule” which translates literally to ‘to break your face.’ It’s a rough, colloquial way of saying you got ‘plastered,’ though sometimes its funnier to imagine the exact word-for-word translation.
From getting just a little pompette to your gueule de bois the next morning, you’ll want to know these French expressions for the next time you have a few too many in France.
But are these phrases becoming less useful in France?
French drinking habits have been changing a lot over the last 70 years. These days, just one in 10 French people report drinking alcohol every day, which is a significant decrease from the days when an average French worker might consume a litre of wine per meal.
Did you know that at one point, wine was such an important part of French life that children under the age of 14 used to drink it at school?
While the French have not foregone their love for wine entirely, they certainly are drinking less of it than they used to. The Local spoke with experts to find out why that is, and what French drinking culture looks like today.