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 Adapting Between French and American Culture



By Jimmy Kilcomons

Culture; the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a group of people. 


Cultures often vary because they are a set of beliefs and attitudes that different people hold based on how they were taught.  Certain groups of people want to believe one thing and a different group want to believe another.  In France, their culture has been passed on for hundreds and hundreds of years.  The culture in America is a combination of the many cultures that moved to America.   





You already know that American culture and French culture are different, sometimes very different. I am here to tell you in what aspects they differ and how much. This will help for adapting between the two cultures in instances of traveling or even moving. I will compare French and American cultures, and show exactly what is different. 


In America, a simple hello will do for greeting anyone. Whether it is your boss or your best friend it does not make a difference. In France,  that is not the case. If you first meet someone or you are talking to a superior (speaking to your boss or teacher) you use bonjour. When greeting friends you use salut. If you greet with the wrong word you will be found too friendly and creepy or you will be found distant and unfriendly. When you are talking to someone of importance in France you use the plural form of you, vous. It would be considered very disrespectful if you slip up and use tu, the regular form of you. You use tu for everyone else. When you are speaking with friends the ne is dropped when saying not. If you are being formal you should keep the ne. In French culture it is important to master being formal or informal in your language, something that you don't need to worry much about in America.


Formality vs Informality





In America, people often say compliments to strangers and share personal information with new friends. Then they close up before being really close friends and sharing their really personal information. You can sit on a plane and chat and share stories with someone for a couple hours then get up and never see them again. In France they  don't open up to people they don't know, but once they know someone they become very close friends. In the U.S. people are quicker to be friends but in France relationships are deeper.

 Americans and French actually have lots of similar holidays. Though often they are celebrated differently. Both celebrate the day of the dead or All Souls Day. In America, little kids go around on the eve, dressed up asking for candy. French celebrate by putting crysanthemums on graves. To celebrate Christmas in the U.S., Santa Claus brings presents. In France, Pere Noel brings presents on Christmas eve as well, but it is also common for Black Pete to bring presents on the Epiphany. In America, the Epiphany is not celebrated as much.  In both America and France they have a holiday to celebrate their nation. They are both celebrated with parades and fireworks. Another holiday that is celebrated in France and America is Easter.  In France, like America they have eggs and chocolate, but in France they celebrate with chocolate fish.  Even though the Americans and French celebrate many of the same holidays, they celebrate with very different traditions.  

Holiday Traditions

Time at School

In the U.S.,  schools start an hour and a half earlier than they do in France. A common time to start school in France is 9:00AM. However french schools go until 4:00PM.  In America a lunch break is only about 30 minutes long. In France they get an hour lunch break or longer. In France, Wednesdays are only halfdays but they go to school on Saturday mornings. In France, the school week is longer, but the days are shorter.  

French Educational system

School Experience

In America there are all kinds of extra curricular activites and clubs like art clubs and basketball teams.  In France there are few extracurricular activities if any. In France, there is more homework. In France there is more focus on school than there is in the U.S.

The main meal in France is lunch.  The lunches in France are large and gourmet. They often consist of multiple courses, very similar to the American dinner. Later at dinner, a light meal of soup or salad is common in France. Food is savored in France. The meals take longer, the portions are smaller and taste valued much more than price. In America meals are fast, large and cheap. Dinner is the biggest meal. In the U.S. people often focus more on value than taste. Fast food is common. Snacks through out the day is the norm in America. Snacking just isn't something French do usually. Overall in France food is more valued than it is in America. 


In France the school lunches are not even comparable to the ones in the U.S. At school the meals in France do not repeat in the same month. In America the same foods are served over and over again. In France the lunches are gourmet and have multiple courses. That is not the case in America. In France students have over an hour to eat their meals in America you get 30 minutes. The French lunch at school is better than the one in America.

Food at School


Where is Food Purchased?

In France there are supermarkets, but there are lots of smaller stores that specialize in one food such as a pastery shop or butcher. Much more food in France is purchased from one of the specialty shops. In America almost everything is purchased at a big supermarket or just a quick run in to a convienent store. In France it is common to take more time picking out food. In America you are in and out as quick as possible. French take more time and effort to get quality food by going to multiple stores on shopping trips. 

Food Culture

In France there are metros or subways just like in America. But in France there are more sources of public trnsportation than in America. They are very common with lots of buses and taxis. In the U.S. the vast majority of people have private cars due to the lack of public transportation. Transportation varies with France having more public and U.S. having more private transportation.


Paris is divided into districts. There are residential areas on the southwest side and the factories are on the northeast side. The Seine cuts Paris in half. The left bank is much smaller and cheaper. The right bank is where the richer familes live. French cities are organized by sections that often include monetary divisions. There are also divisions by purpose like all the factories are together. In the U.S. it is also common to see poorer and richer sections grouped and also to see buisness, skyscrapers grouped into one portion of the city. In New York city it is split into 5 burrows and is also split by a river. City organization is similar between America and France.


City Organization

In France the expectations are higher. There is more discipline and saying no than in America where there is a looser and quicker to forgive style. In France there are more chores and exposure to new things like languages and food. This lends itself to more disiplined children later. Most French children are polite.

French homes have grand entrances compared to the modest ones in America. In France spiral staircases are much more common than the stait ones that we are used to in America. In America bedrooms and bathrooms tend to be bigger. In France houses are built more to impress compared to in America where they are built more for comfort.

Family expectations



Home Life


1.  Do you mostly travel with your own car or with public transportation? (Excluding big cities)

A. I mostly travel in my own car.

B. I mostly travel using public transportation like trams or buses.


2. Do you greet your friends and teachers with the same word?

A. Yes, I usually use the same word.

B. No, I usually use different words.


3. Does your family buy all your food at supermarkets or do they go to many different shops that specialize is different kinds of food?

A. I buy most of my food from the supermarket.

B. I go to many different stores that specialize in one certain kind of food. 


4. What is your biggest meal of the day?

A. Dinner

B. Lunch


5. How long is your lunch break?

A. 30 minutes or less

B. Longer than 30 minutes usually 1-2 hours.


French/American Quiz

Mostly As  You act very American.

Mostly Bs  You act French.


6. Do you prefer value or taste more when buying food?

A. I buy food based on value.

B. I buy food based on taste.


7. What time does school start at? (Middle school)

A. Between 7 and 8 o'clock

B. Usually around 9 o'clock


8. Where is more of the space in your house used?

A. In bedrooms and bathrooms

B. In a grand entrance


9. Are there extra curricular activities in your school?

A. Yes, lots of them.

B. No, very few if any.


10. Do you eat snacks between meals?

A. Yes, all the time.

B. No, almost never.

French/American Quiz continued