Some Things to Know Before Coming to France

Katherine Baldwin
February 24, 2014

I know I searched the internet tirelessly for little cultural differences before arriving in France, but there are a few things that I’ve picked up on here that you should know if you’re thinking of visiting France.

The Sidewalks of Paris

Look down when you walk. I know that the architecture is amazing and everyone wants to look around while they walk in a new city, but dog poop on the sidewalks is an issue here. Apparently around 600 people per year break a limb slipping on dog poop or trying to get it off their shoes! The city of Paris has had a big problem with this and even though there is a hefty fine for not picking up after your dog, people don’t seem to care.


I’ve read that there are self-cleaning public bathrooms, but they are very hard to find. I’m used to everyplace that sells food or drinks having a public bathroom. Here it’s necessary to know how to ask where they are because they can be hard to find. I highly recommend buying a little booklet of maps that includes where all the public bathrooms are, especially if you’re going to be in Paris for a while.

Also, showers are also very different. I was fairly prepared for this one before going abroad because you’ll occasionally get a glimpse of a shower in a French movie, so I knew they weren’t the same. The shower at my homestay is basically a tub with a detachable showerhead. There is no shower curtain, and because you have to hold the shower head anytime the waters on, you a) you have to turn the shower head on/off while you soap up and b) cannot really enjoy a shower the same. Needless to say, I now take much shorter showers.

Also if you don’t know what a bidet is, please look it up so you don’t embarrass yourself.

Living in a Host Family

I love living with my host family. It is a unique way to get to know French culture and experience what daily life for a Parisian is like. My host family has already taught me so much even in the month or so I’ve been living with them. They are very helpful and welcoming, plus my host mom makes dinner 3 times a week for me and it’s always so good!

Some traditions are a bit different than in the states though, so it was hard to adapt those first two weeks. I got scolded my first morning here because I didn’t close my shutters the night before. In America, shutters are generally only for decorative purposes, but in France, it is almost a ritual to close your shutters every night and open them every morning. For our family, it is essentially that we close our windows every night because we live on the ground floor; the shutters act as not only privacy but also security against burglars. For others, it’s important because most buildings do not have circulation so it’s important to get some fresh air every day.

The Metro

Besides the occasional strike, the metro is great. One of the best things is that because trains come every five minutes or so, you don’t have to worry about missing one. And also, with a metro pass (Pass Navigo) you can hop on and off where ever you’d like and explore the city very easily.

If you live in a big city, you already know that riding the subway/metro requires following some basic etiquette. In the states that etiquette generally is to pick a spot on the wall and don’t look at anything else (unless you have something to read). In Paris, the metro works almost the same way, but people look around more. People will often look you up and down, check out your purse, your shoes, etc. But one thing they will never do is make eye contact for longer than 5 seconds. In French culture, steady eye contact is a sign of attraction, so make sure you don’t stare at someone for too long unless you want a reaction!

Also like America, the metro is filled with musicians and homeless people begging for money, but they generally won’t harass you. One thing I’d like to warn you about if you ever come to Paris is that the metro does stop running! It depends on the day of the week, but it is generally sometime between 12-2am. Also, the metro can get scarier at night, so if you feel nervous, take the first car as the conductor can generally help you out if you have a problem. Check out this video for the positive side of the metro late at night…

Dancing in the Paris Metro

À bientôt,


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Katherine Baldwin

<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hi! My name is Katie Baldwin. I am a junior International Business Major at Saint Joseph&#39;s University. I am a member of my school&#39;s Gaelic football team and a sister of Alpha Omicron Pi. I also work as a technician and a brand ambassador at SJU&#39;s Technology Service Center. I love travelling, painting, and dancing with my friends. I have always dreamed of studying abroad in Paris and that dream is finally coming true!</span></div>

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