I studied abroad in France for the Spring 2016 semester, and there were a lot of things I learned about France while I was abroad. However, there were also a lot of things I learned about America while I was abroad. It’s not that I learned things about America that I didn’t already know, but being abroad made me notice things about America that I had never thought much about before I left. Here are a few of the little differences that I found myself noticing between France and America while I was abroad. These are of course based on my own personal experiences living in a medium sized town in Southern France.
Cars in America are huge. This is what most people notice right away about transportation in Europe. European cars are much smaller than American cars, which makes since because the roads in Europe are generally smaller than the roads in America. Not only are the cars smaller in France, they are also all stick shift. I never once saw an automatic transmission vehicle while I was in France, including the trucks and buses.
No one walks in America. Once I got to France, I really noticed how dependent on a car I had been in America. I never had a car in France, but I never needed one. Not only was the public transportation great, but the walking culture in France was very alive and well. In most places in America, there is no walking culture and in order to get anywhere you need a car.
Public transportation in America is terrible. Speaking of public transportation, in most places in America public transportation either doesn’t exist or is very inefficient. I loved the public transportation in France because it was efficient, affordable, and easily accessible.
Fresh food is expensive and hard to get in America. In France, there seemed to be a lot more importance put on eating healthy and making food easy to get. In America, I was used to grocery stores being far away and fresh food being really expensive if it was offered at all. But in France, there was always a grocery store within walking distance, and most towns had an outdoor market at least once a week where you could buy cheap fresh fruits and vegetables. The town I lived in had an outdoor market every day.
Americans smile a lot. In America, it’s seen as polite to smile in most social situations, like when you go to stores or order food or introduce yourself to strangers. I think one of the reasons many Americans perceive French people as being rude is because there isn’t the same culture of smiling at every person you have to interact with during the day. After living in France for five months, even I was a little thrown off by how many people smiled at me in the Atlanta airport on my way back home. It does seem a bit excessive once you’re not used to it anymore.
Taxes/tipping aren’t included in prices in America. One of my favorite things about France is that the prices listed on everything already has the tax included in the price. This meant that I had to do very little math while I was shopping and since I had to pay for most things in cash, I could go ahead and get my cash ready before checking out instead of having to awkwardly fumble for the correct change at the register while a line was waiting behind me. America really needs to adopt this tradition.
Caitlin Smith is a senior at the University of Kentucky studying French and Sociology. She studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France during the Spring 2016 semester.