In my limited experience, Americans’ opinions of France and the French tend to fall into two categories. Either France and French culture are regarded as golden beacons of civilization, to which one can aspire but never truly reach, or France and French culture are in all ways inferior to the United States and American culture and can only be tolerated for as long as it takes to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower then back to the airport.
Of course, as with many things in life, this dichotomous worldview is completely inadequate. French and American cultures are different in many fascinating and complex ways that I could spend the rest of my life studying if I wanted to. However, since I decided a long time ago to leave cultural thoughtfulness to the big kids, I will instead use this time to discuss all minor ways in which la vie quotidienne in France differs from daily life in the United States.
The most important way that my life in France differs from my life in the US is, obviously, food related. Ever since I was an infant and eating too much squash turned me orange, I have regarded vegetables with suspicion. I enjoy an occasional piece of fruit, but in general I stick to the carbs and dead animals steps of the food pyramid. At home, there have always been people (my parents, BU Dining Services, concerned roommates) to make sure that I eat something green once a month or so, but in France, not only is a diet consisting wholly of bread, meat, and cheese encouraged, it is practically required.
Fresh baguettes can be purchased for less than one Euro. Enough cheese and meat for a week’s worth of sandwiches cost less than five Euros. Pastries call my name from bakery windows. Furthermore, the only way I can truly enjoy vegetables is when they are cooked in bacon fat. And there is no bacon in Europe.
For the first two weeks, my new diet seemed like it could have no possible negative side effects. Then I looked up the cause of scurvy on the internet, realized I was a prime candidate for coming down with a nineteenth century disease, and bought some carrots.
There are, of course, other differences in the way the citizens of these great countries live their lives. Americans have snacks built into their diet; the French government puts a label on snack food warning against eating in-between meals. Americans do not pick their noses in public, the French do. Americans eat peanut butter; the French eat Nutella. In the US, getting home at two or three in the morning is a late night. In France, I was recently accused of leaving a club early even though it was 4 AM. Americans think there is nothing more disgusting than walking down a street having to dodge dog poo; the French think that there is nothing more disgusting than walking around carrying your pet’s feces in a plastic bag. It’s the little things.