We all have our own ideas of what is ‘normal’ to us. We noticed big differences or even subtle ones during our year abroad that we either find endearing or frustrating and I thought I would share some.
In France, whenever you see someone (that you know) for the first time during the day or when you leave, you touch/kiss cheeks better known as ‘la bise’. In Canada, if we haven’t seen someone for a long time, we’ll hug but we tend to enjoy our own bubble. Jonathan had difficultly getting used to this and I’m not sure that he ever would.
Speaking of bubble, there is no personal space in France, especially if you’re in a place where there are a lot of people. Maybe it’s because we’re used to having a lot of space in Canada but even in a line, people tend to be a tad bit too close. If you’re not close enough though, people will try to cut in line.
Getting back to la bise. We watched the soccer games during the World Cup at the same bar/restaurant and we met this lovely older lady (probably in her 70s) who chatted with us after the second game. She was going on vacation but came back especially for the final and when she came to say hi, she did la bise. Caught Jonathan by surprise but it was sweet of her to come by just to say hi and chat.
Stores tend to be more specialized in what they sell. There are bakeries on every corner street (although you can still buy bread at the super market but it’s never that great), pâtissiers specialize in only pastries, there are still many cordonnier shops (shoe repair shops) but when you’re looking for something very specific, it’s not always an easy task. We were looking for a fan when we were in Nantes so we decided to take a trip to the mall. We didn’t find one and ended up finding one at Monoprix (my favourite super market…think Loblaws/Superstore in Canada). It is getting ‘better’ as bigger stores are starting to carry more variety but that leaves smaller stores that just carry specific things out of business a lot of the time.
Every store has their own hours and google is no help! Restaurants usually close for a couple hours in the afternoon and only open at 7pm for the dinner service (although touristy restaurant may have ‘service continue’). Bakeries have their own made up schedules as they see fit; some are open all week, some are closed on weekends or just closed Sundays, and like our neighbourhood bakery that we frequented in Nantes, they closed for the month of August.
Some banks are closed Sunday and Monday, some are closed Monday and Tuesday and others Sunday and Tuesday. It’s hard to keep track!
Pharmacies only carry drugs, nothing else although parapharmacies sell beauty products as well. You won’t find any Lawton’s or Shoppers. I also find their drugs a bit on the weak side. We had bought allergy medication for Jonathan but it did nothing for him. He joked that maybe they just substituted them for candy.
From my understanding and observations, most people have their neighbourhood stores where they shop and they know their hours by heart. We, as a car driving population in Canada, drive wherever we may need/want to go to find the item we’re looking for, not necessarily in our own neighbourhood. I find Nantes to be very pedestrian friendly and inconvenient for cars which I enjoy.
One of my biggest shock coming back to Canada (Halifax specifically) was once we were past the hello, people asked how you are. I forgot about that or maybe I just hadn’t noticed it before.
The best part about France is their food and wine. We have noticed that there are less varieties of fruit and vegetables but that isn’t such a bad thing. Their fruits and veggies are from not so far away so they are usually fresh. Things are a lot less sweet and we had gotten accustomed to it and enjoy it.
And the wine, I can’t forget the wine! It’s cheap and so good. We have had a couple misses but for the most part, we have enjoyed the wine selection at around 5 euros. I guess selection could be another point. There are so many different vineyards that you could likely drink a different wine for a year.
French people often eat their foods with fork and knives. If you’re in a restaurant, you’ll see them eat a burger with a fork and knife, which seems a bit odd to us but I’m sure we look odd to them! Portions are smaller and that’s also a good thing.
France in general seems to have transportation down path. In most cities we’ve gone, they have busses and either trams or metros (subway). Even with it being old cities, they’ve managed to make it work and help their people get around.
The train system is also great to travel from city to city (or town). You can travel by TGV (very fast trains), TER or intercité. All of these are viable options, the difference is mostly where the financing comes.
It’s pretty amazing that you can go from the north of France to southern France in less than day and at a pretty reasonably price.
Odds and ends
This is definitely a frustrating part for me; every place we’ve stayed, not one window has a screen and mosquitoes love me! I had bites on my hands, on my face, on my legs and arms.
I love that the sun sets so late in the summer. Nantes is more northern than Halifax or even Cheticamp at 47.21 N. Halifax is at 44.64 N and Cheticamp at 46.62 N but on June 21st, it wasn’t dark until almost 11pm. And if Nantes is more northern than most of Nova Scotia, why doesn’t it get the cold climate in the winter? Regardless of it all, we enjoyed the late evenings with plenty of sun and warmth.
All of this to say that we may see or perceive many differences but that’s why we wanted to live in France for a year, to get another perspective and live another culture. Although sometimes we may have been frustrated, most of the time we’d go with the flow and see that we’re the ones that have to adapt. We made the most of our stay and we are thankful that we got to see many parts of France.