Your experience of culture shock in France


Living in a foreign country implies to discover its culture, to learn and master the cultural codes.

How did you deal with that? Share with us your culture shock stories where you experienced a funny or awkward moment in France.

What is your advice regarding the don’ts and what would you recommend to avoid any mistake?

Thank you in advance for sharing your stories,


Hello Christine,

I think for me, transition into the French Family life was easy because before moving here, I dated and then married my French wife. I was exposed to the wonders of French life pretty early on in my relationship with her as I learnt the Dos and Donts of a bourgeoisie family. I really enjoy with and adore my Belle Famille.
BUT, I have to say, it was and will never be a cake walk. The first thing I had to quickly learn after coming from India was "You do everything yourself...No help." I am sorry to say this but as an Indian from an affluent family, I had rarely ever done anything besides study and travel. All the household chores, all the cleaning, cooking, driving, grocery et al, was done for me. But, after painting my first wall and plastering-tiling my first floor, I have to say, it is oddly liberating although back breaking.
The second thing I learnt was that French is not the most romantic language in the world when you hear it all day long and you don't understand scratch. I am surrounded by a lot of English speaking people but a third language, especially a language you are not very fluent in, makes for a perfect headache. I have lived in the UK but it was just the same for me as English alongwith Hindi is my native language, but throw in French and I am lost for words. I quickly tuned myself to convert French into white noise as a defense against Migraine !!! But my perfect wife helps as much as possible by translating for me when she sees me in "hibernation" mode.
The third and one of the easiest yet the hardest has been the food. I love food, I love French food and I love all food. But, I get bored of eating salads, bread, Quinelle and Pate. I crave for spices, chilly, hot, tangy food...Food that gives you sensations !!! Although, my amazing Father in Law has made me an absolute fan of le Vin...
I am yet to start working in France and I am sure that would make up for some great epic writing. But, I have to say, it is absolutely bizzare for me to understand how an entire nation can just stop working for one whole month !!! I was not prepared to encounter the August in France. No one is available, nothing is open, the city of Lyon looks more like a Chinese city as all the French people run off to exotic locations leaving the city to the tourists. The ministers are on holidays, the shops are closed, the Autoroute is backed up !!! Its madness...But I think coming from a country like India where you only get 35 holidays a year and work for 6 days a week, it is the hardest thing I have had to learn - the concept of relaxing !!!
I am in such a daze since I have come here that I barely have the time or energy to reflect upon the vast change I have gone through. But thanks to you, I just took time to reflect.

The french are so nationalist (also they are not able to speak English well) that whenever you try to speak them in English whether they wont understand you or they will not be eager enough to help. However, when they hear your broken French and see your effort on speaking French, they turn into very helpful people. When I lived there first two months, I couldnt be able to speak anything at all and this situation put me into depression little bit as well. However when I tried to speak them in Tarzanish French, positive attitudes of the French encouraged me a lot! I had also French company as my friends and I learnt most of the things in very short while. If you are able to speak English that means you are able to speak French, too! Sur et certain!

We've lived and worked in France for 16 years - Burgundy, The Alps and latterly by the Med. in the Herault. Even after all this time, a few things grate and vex us. Why, oh why do so many shops still close for a two hour lunch ??? Major cities have huge amounts of people around and the employees don't have time to go home for lunch so why close ?? Why do drivers feel the need to get their front bumper into your back seat ?? French roads are relatively uncrowded yet a following driver will make no attempt to overtake but will follow so closely that you can see the spinach in his/her teeth ! Customer service in the retail environment is non existent. The best you can hope for is the Gallic shrug - you're on your own! But our biggest bugbear is..........the dogshit. We have long since given up challenging dog owners for their generosity in donating a neat pile of crotins in the centre of the pavement. They just don't understand and never will. But when balancing the foregoing against the great weather, wonderful scenery and history, empty rural roads, sense of community and ownership and the ribald jokes about "les rostbiffs" - we we think we'll stay,

Adapting to different cultures is not difficult, when we travel we tend to do this for the period we are on holiday and we get by. Making mistakes is not too much of an issue because we are foreigners on holiday.

Moving permanently to another country requires a different mindset and as we know living in one part of a country can be different to living in another.

So learning to adapt needs to become a way of life especially in the early days. The willingness to accept the ways things are done is part of the battle because if this is to become a permanent new destination then adapting, accepting and living according to the new culture is imperative.

One of the first things that struck me living in rural France was the attitude in the shops and even the local supermarket which is part of a huge chain. In the UK for example its all go, go, go get in shop, get through the check out quickly.
Now come to France and stand in a queue and the cashier meets a friend and they have a chat apparently ignoring the queue. The blood begins to boil and one becomes agitated and start looking for another checkout, muttering and mumbling. After a few months one has to ask why, why get agitated thats the way its done here, in the UK its done their way over here the same rule applies. Its a small thing but once one has adapted, its great, no stress everyone has the same approach and it all works well.

I also remember in Portugal when first going to the post office, standing in the queue and when it was my turn i stood at the counter the girl looked up and said "digger" which means "speak." No can I help you, etc. but thats the normal thats how they are and thats the culture.

For me the one imperative is to learn the language as fast as possible, that commands a whole different respect and one is looked upon as part of the fold and not as an "etranger." So if nothing else my advice is learn the language, don't worry that it takes time your subconscious is learning all the time. The more one can expose oneself to trying to speak the language the better. Do not worry about mistakes, it does not matter, it will come eventually but if you do not try you will always be a foreigner.

So since I moved to France and Lyon I experience the French lifestyle each day...there are things I love and there are things....that surprised me and still making it difficult to adapt. Having said so...I love France and Lyon for many things like the way they appreciate life and food, for the food they have, for the way they spend time out actively and not in the supermarkets on Sunday, I love them for the amazing French language and for being funny and relaxed, for loving their country very much and I could go on with the list...but there is always other side of really the things that shocked me (which does not mean i dislike all of them) are:

*French way of driving
*late dinners, no snacking
*long eating!!!
*too 'creative' food - meat types...they eat snails, frog legs ...great experience!
*everything closed on Sundays
*no supermarkets on Sunday
*shops closed at the lunch time
*paying for each doctor visit (it will be reinbursed by the carte vitale but still you need to pay each time)


I think i could find a few  more....

Always say Bonjour once you get in to a shop or a restaurant.As much as possible do your best to speak french because french people doesn't like to make an effort to comprehend your language😀You will get an answer right away  Dèsolè Je ne comprends pas / J'ai rien compris.

After thirty odd years mainly in rural France I still cannot completely absorb the rhythm of stopping EVERYTHING at twelve noon, prompt, to have lunch. Even if you are driving somewhere. Closing down the whole  country for the month of a holiday and the whole population disappearing on a Monday. All the rest is different but very agreeable, especially having a French wife.

Don't forget to say 'bonjour' before anything else.
Don't expect volunteerism. It happens, but not often.
Don't forget to ask for advice, as it will not be offered without a specific request. Then it will be generously provided.
Don't expect zebra crossings to be respected by drivers. Or speed limits.
Don't expect drivers to signal lane changes or turns. You are supposed to guess what they will do.
Don't expect village police to be very active.
Don't give/offer your opinion (unless asked.) It won't be appreciated or understood as neutral.
Don't forget to enjoy the best food and drink in the world.

Hello Arjun,
I went through your written experience of french culture and it was really interesting. It so true. When I go through your editing it even let me remind of the delicious food of India. Ofcourse the french language part also. It's really hard to learn the language also. So looking forward to see your experiences soon.
With warm regards

They say the French are the most unfriendly in the world - untrue, speak broken French and they will be very nice to you.

The stereotype about French women proved to be true and so much more. I was shocked to see how elegant the women are here in simplistic fashion and minimal makeup. They wear most of all , confidence and show it in their posture and strut. I have truly learnt the art of understated beauty and loving what you got here and playing up your qualities. In other countries I've lived in (Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany) there was always a norm you have to adhere to, not in France, especially not in Paris.

The thing that has destroyed me (or upgraded me) after living in Paris: All the pastry elsewhere in the world can close shop - French pastry - texture, taste, sound, smell, color and attention to detail - win by a milestone. Eating a croissant in Germany or Asia is never going to be the same. I am officially an arrogant pastry connoisseur now.

Being "Rude-Polite" ! Every mistake or bump or misbehavior is allowed, as long as you say the magic words "Pardon". Be it cramming into the metro and annoying everyone, or peein on someone's door in the wee hours of the morning causing pedestrains to walk into your pee stream. It's okay, just say "Pardon".

Time stops in Paris. Yes, it does. Sit down by the Seine, open a wine, enjoy the view, watch the sun set. Time stops for you and it is a play you can repeat over and over again.

Organisation: French CANNOT for the life of me be organised be it in administration or any public service.... BUT where they fail in organisation they make up for in extreme patience and heart - they are not as cold as compared to German official bodies.

Racism is real in France and many French people I have met are not afraid to openly voice their racist opinions, especially about tourists*. This was a shock for me coming from a multicultural background. **** They really should get a grip and enjoy the $ and talent pouring in to France.

Lastly, the biggest culture shock of all, in Paris: a 20 euro salad, and 10 euro beer, and the 1500 Euro monthly rent... The injustice of it all!!!

Moderated by Maximilien 3 years ago
Reason : avoid making a generalization pls

Apart from no doubt Paris, the face that everything is shut between 12-2 and Sundays takes getting used to.
Simple things like popping to the Post-Office, going to the bank, trying to purhcase a car at a garage are not possible.

It  can be very frustrating to someone who has lived in a country where these things are taken for granted

First of all to the moderator Max, you have too much time to go around claiming people's experiences are generalizations. It's the salt and pepper of the stories here that makes reading them so interesting.
To be less generalised and talk about salient facts such as how cheap a baguette is in France are things people can extract themselves from TripAdvisor.

Reading the question again: "Share with us your culture shock stories where you experienced a funny or awkward moment in France.", if it's a story she asked for, a story she shall get.

Have fun trolling the forums and demeaning the experiences of others.

What I dislike about the French system are the high taxes, especially the tax on my savings. Savings are the substitute for non-existent pensions in the USA. This alone
Has made 40,000+ people move out of France.

French bakeries use baking soda and baking power with aluminium added to both products. In the USA, you can easily buy both products without aluminium.
Why is this important? France’s world rank is (13th) for their population who have Alzheimers/Dementia. Research shows that a suspected cause is aluminium. The top 20 causes of death in France includes Alzheimers ranked 3rd of all diseases in France.
See … ile/france

Many times when I meet a French person, they ask me why I live in France.
They ask me because they say they are very depressed. Their wish is to escape the country. I discovered that the French take the most depression medication of any country on earth. Conformity is a killer yet that is what is required in France in order for their system to work. I was not surprised to find that France’s world rank for depression is number (1) one! So be kind to the French. They are rarely helpful, but then again, they have a reason. They are depressed.

There is no customer service in France as everyone now knows. This is because the tax man demands that no refunds be made. The state is required to collect every cent of yours to redistribute to itself. Very few freedoms here and it will only become worse and worse when labor has no work anymore or any rights.

What I also learned is that men strive to kiss you on the mouth.
Here that act means something.
If they do that, they expect certain things in return. Be aware!

As an English with a French familly i hear you !! Very true,but you forgot that the French are experts at everything and if they"re not,well the system is wrong! I love the French,honest,loyal and great arguers! And i feel for the French because every thing is just shoved on them by pen pushing gov BOYS. Yet they never complain,a part from their language is being stolen by the English!! NOT the Americans? J"aime !!

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