Complaining more: How foreigners in France become 'more French' to fit in

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
Complaining more: How foreigners in France become 'more French' to fit in
Customers enjoy the good weather on the terrace of a cafe Paris, on the Ile Saint Louis island, central Paris, on February 15, 2024. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

When in France, do as the French do? For many readers of The Local, this is the approach they have taken to assimilating into French life - from taking up skiing to speaking softly, upping their fashion game to complaining more.


Moving to a new country often means assimilating to life in some manner - whether that be related to language, dress codes or culinary habits.

In a survey by The Local, out of the 74 respondents, the overwhelming majority (82 percent, or 61 people) marked 'yes' when asked if they had tried to make themselves 'more French' to fit into life in here.

Even among those who initially responded 'no', the majority (10 out of 13) still had anecdotes about becoming 'more French' - either by choice or accident.

Among those who have tried to appear more French, several saw it as more of an obligation and a conscious decision.

Bedwyr in the Haute-Savoie département said: "It's just polite to try and fit in, and learn the language. [It's a] matter of respect and appreciation."

One reader in Paris said: "I feel there’s a certain peer pressure to fit in here". Meanwhile, Robert Amato in Finistère said that "the social pressure to conform in France is tremendous. Not something I experienced in any of the other three countries I have lived in."

Speaking French (like the French)

For most people, language was the most palpable way they have tried to assimilate, both for practical reasons as well as trying to not stand out.

Almost a third of respondents mentioned learning French or attempting to speak the language when out in public as one way they have consciously tried to appear 'more French'.

Eddie Mallison in Dordogne said: "I tried to speak French, understand local customs" and explained that this was because he was "conscious that we need to be respectful."

Ely in Paris said: "I never speak English or my other languages in public unless someone asks for help or directions and clearly doesn’t speak French."


But learning a new language does not boil down to just memorising verbs and nouns. One reader mentioned adding linguistic tics like 'hop' and 'voilà'. Another said they now shrug with a 'pff', like the French.

Being sure to remember the obligatory bonjour or bonsoir before chatting with someone was a popular response, with six respondents noting that they consciously think about greetings to better fit in.

READ MORE: 11 everyday moments in France when you really need to say 'bonjour'

Another reader went so far as to say that her conversation topics have changed.

 Louise Moupinga said she tries to be more French by "complaining more! And talking less about my personal life."

"I realised people were uncomfortable with 'over sharing' and no one was really sharing much in return! And no one is interested in talking about the weather so we complain."

Meanwhile, several readers mentioned they had changed the volume of their speech.


Erin Martin in Paris said: "I'm more mindful about speaking softer and also listening more without needing to interject a comment."

As for Kimberly Ligotti in Lyon, she said that she "[tries] not to stand out 'in the crowd. I asked my boys to not be loud or yell in public when playing (...) I absolutely don’t want to be a stereotypical 'ugly American'."

Robert also mentioned that he tried to make himself 'more French' by "being quieter" and "not speaking loudly (as an Italian this does not come easily)."

A new dress code

Both Robert and Kimberly added that their style of dress has changed too. This was the second most common response from readers, after language. 

From adding more accessories - like "never leaving the house 'unscarfed'" as Mary Cameron put it - to opting for more neutral tones and avoiding athleisure, several respondents had noticed ways they changed their clothing preferences since moving to France.


For many Americans, this involved dressing up a bit more. 

READ MORE: French history myths: It was illegal for women in France to wear trousers until 2013

One reader said: "I dress better than I do in the US (...) I don't want to be an obvious American, and the fashion is much better here. I like the idea that people dress well for any occasion as a way of respecting others."

Katherine Watt in Saint Malo said that she tries to "not stick out like a Californian!"

"I lived in Paris for five years and upped my game, wardrobe wise. That included wearing some gorgeous hats," she said.

Nevertheless, when Watt moved to a different part of France, her style changed again.

"In year six, I moved to Saint Malo and things pretty much reverted to California style. My hats don’t stay on my head in this wind! And frankly I wouldn’t really fit in. Beach time, hiking, cycling…it’s back to athletic wear and baseball caps!"

The controversial topic of athleisure came up for a few readers - Beth in the Paris suburbs said she "does not wear [it] out of the house", while Andrew said he wears "shirts rather than T-Shirts."

Generally people mentioned dressing "more conservatively" or with more neutral tones.

Katelyn in Paris said "I had a favourite red coat that I don’t wear anymore just because I know it doesn’t fit the French mould. It’s all in my head, I know but it still has an effective to fit in." 

Wearing less makeup came up a few times too. "I dress simply. I wear very little make up," said Frances Charteris. 

Another reader said they wear "less makeup and try put on more 'effortless' looks."

Eating and drinking
Many people also changed their approach to food, especially when it comes to buying fresh and local or partaking in the 'French' steps of a meal like the apéro or cheese portion.

READ MORE: 6 reasons to retire to France

Richard Romain in the Aude département said he tries to be more French by "shopping daily for fresh foods in markets and buying daily bread."

He explained that this was conscious: "I wanted to fit in better and not stand out as a typical Brit."

Peter and Janice May in the Lot département said: "We eat our main meal at midi. We support the local butcher and baker rather than buying in supermarkets."

Others mentioned eating smaller portions and remembering that cheese goes before dessert.


Charles Stuart Keir in Burgundy said he changed his approach to food and drink "initially to adapt to the French lifestyle, for more sensible eating habits, ergo better for health.

"I genuinely now feel more comfortable, eating like this," he concluded.

For Beth Vetter, she even changed her approach to pizza: "I eat [it] with a knife and fork when I am not at home."

READ MORE: Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

Slowing down and changing hobbies

A common reason people move to France is to change their pace of life, and this rang true for several readers when reflecting on the ways they tried to be more French.

"I always take my time eating, walking, preparing," Frances said. 

Carolyn Cohagan in Montpellier said "I have changed my expectations of service.

"As an American I used to get impatient with the slow service at restaurants and cafés and now I appreciate the slower pace of life and idea of slowing down to enjoy your dining experience."

She said this was intentional: "I decided I needed to 'slow my roll' if I was going to enjoy France."

For some people, like Elizabeth in Paris, slowing down meant changing their perspective on timeliness. She said she "runs more late than I am comfortable being usually" since moving to France.

And aside from a less hectic lifestyle, some respondents actively took up new hobbies and activities to fit in - and skiing was a popular one, with two respondents mentioning they'd started the sport.

Katherine Martyn in Sète said she "took up skiing at the age of 44. EVERYBODY we met here skied - whereas it never crossed my mind in the UK (...) so my partner said that we'd better do it too!"


Comments (3)

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Condra 2024/03/05 17:34
I live in a small village in the SW. I am an American from California and have been excepted for who I am. I have never been loud (all Americans are not) and have learned enough French to joke in French. The locals find it refreshing. Very few people speak English so it was the perfect impetus to jump right in. Neighbors on both sides are French and don’t speak English and I asked them to correct me when I make mistakes. Some things I have adopted are always bringing something with me to someone’s home, and always a bonjour, merci, and au revoir.
JamesP 2024/03/05 17:21
I don’t even live in France, I just visit once or twice per year - and I always try to be “more French.” No T-shirts, stick to muted colors, speak French, general Métro etiquette, etc.
Michael 2024/03/05 13:46
I bought a stripy blue and white shirt and wore a beret. The waiters still welcome me in English!! We always speak as much French as we can, until we get stuck. Never starting in English or Franglais. Also, I never reply to emails and drive 3 feet from the car in front

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