Cultural Differences in Paris!

Kevin Reyes
October 12, 2019

A few days ago, I officially made it one month in the City of Light! In this first month, I have learned about numerous cultural differences from discussions in my French class, with my host family, and my new Parisian friends and from my own experiences.

On my first day of orientation as I joyfully walked through Paris’s narrow streets, I smiled and said “Bonjour” to every person I made eye contact with, just as I would if I were back home. Through my realization, some Parisians looked at me strangely and did not seem to like that I greeted them. I learned that Parisians keep very much to themselves and do not like to talk with strangers. You do not really greet random people in the streets of Paris unless you are entering a shop, have a reason to talk to them or you are being introduced to them. 

Another difference I have noticed is the way people greet each other. In my culture (Mexican/Latino), the way men and women greet one another is by kissing one another’s cheek and briefly hugging, but here in Paris people greet each other by kissing each cheek once. It was a little awkward for me at first because I would attempt to pull away after only one kiss. In other parts of France, it could even be up to three or four kisses!!!! (Parisians think 3 or 4  is weird/too much.)

When shopping in Paris, you may come to a rude awakening when you go out on Sunday and find that numerous of your favorite stores are closed. The reason for that is because the French government has regulated the number of hours people can work. They are only allowed to work up to 35 hours per week and need to petition and justify their reasoning for wanting to be open for more than 35 hours. On the topic of businesses, the grocery stores of Paris, such as Monoprix and Franprix, work a little different than the ones back in the States. In order to purchase fruit and vegetables, you must weigh them yourself and print a sticker so the cashier can scan them. Trust me, you do not want to be THAT person who is getting helped by the cashier only to find out you do not have the sticker for the fruits. The people behind you in line will not like that at all and neither will the cashiers! (It happened to me, and let me tell you, I will never forget again.) One thing I love about France are the boulangeries & the patisseries! Boulangeries are known for their baguettes, and there are numerous in the city. So, try them all and see which one makes the best baguette! At patisseries, you can find all your pastries: soft, flakey croissants, warm classic pain au chocolats, delicious tartes des framboises!

You may have heard that in Europe, it is very common for people to smoke cigarettes, but I was surprised to see that many Parisians do in fact smoke. In the States, it is not common for people to smoke cigarettes and it’s even considered taboo. What I found even more shocking is that in France, people can purchase cigarettes at 18 years old (but you will even see younger teens using cigarettes.) In Paris, I also took courses at PSB, and one day when I was signing up for clubs I was surprised to see them handing out cigarette lighters with their club name on them. In Paris, there are specific “Tabac” shops where people may buy cigarettes. My Parisian friend pointed out to me how ironic and strange it was for him when he visited the States and saw that we sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in pharmacies (Walgreens, CVS, etc.) In Paris, the pharmacies are strictly for pharmaceutical products. 

Living with a French family has also given me the opportunity to experience and notice cultural differences. Back home, my family and I eat breakfast together all the time! I was surprised when I arrived in Paris that no one normally eats breakfast together, and their meals are very small (coffee and bread with butter, pain au chocolat, croissants, etc.) During lunch, everyone is either at work or school, so you either pack a lunch or eat out. If you want to eat out during lunch, cafes and restaurants are generally open from 12pm-2pm so plan accordingly! Unless you're in a touristy part of Paris, those are open all day (I DO NOT recommend eating in these places at all!) Generally, with my family back in the states we eat dinner around 6pm, but here in Paris my host family always eats at 8pm which In my opinion is suppper late to have dinner. In my host family's house, we always turn the lights off if we are not using them and close the doors between all the rooms. In the shower, they have a squeegee that you use after you take a shower to wipe all the water away. If you’re someone who likes to take long showers, you’ll be in for a rude awakening if you come to Paris. For men, you’re expected to take 3-5 minutes in the shower and for women it is 10 minutes. This is because households in Paris only have a certain amount of hot water. 

My advice if you decide to stay with a host family is, don’t be afraid to ask questions about things you’re unsure about doing. Your family knows you’re not from Paris/France and they will be happy to teach you about their culture!! In public areas, also try your best to speak French! I promise they appreciate it and like you more when you’re at least attempting to speak French.

Kevin Reyes

<p>I am 19 years old and a Junior at the University of Redlands. I am in a program at my school where I am able to create and design my own major where I am combining Japanese, French, Marketing and Photography. I will be studying abroad for the full 2019-2020 academic school year! I will going to Paris and Tokyo.</p>

2019 Fall
Home University:
University of Redlands
San Bernardino
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