Life with French People

Experiencing a new culture, language and way of life is something we should all strive to do at least once in our individual lives. It brings perspective to every part of your existence and provides you with an invaluable education about our ever-evolving world. We, Emily and Dorothy, have both had incredible experiences with French culture in particular - experiences that has allowed us to gain insight into the world around us, and even into ourselves. 


I — Emily — would consider my lifestyle fairly nomadic. I’ve lived in countless cities, three different countries, and somehow seem to find myself a piece of french culture everywhere I go. Even living in California (where you would least expect Francophone culture), my roommate was a french girl from Toulouse! Needless to say, when I made the decision to move to Paris back in August 2018, I didn’t expect the culture shock I received when I got there. 


I — Dorothy— have done a French language exchange in rural Québec and lived in Montreal for the better part of two years. While there, I met a ton of French people from France, and also a ton of Québécois (which make up an entirely different category and could be its own article!). I’ve also visited the stunning Côte d’Azur region in the south of France. I’m so appreciative of the cultural interaction and exchange I’ve been able to take part in throughout my life. It’s been an eye-opening experience like no other! 


Here are some observations we’ve made while living among  (and maybe sometimes vicariously through) the French:

  1. 1. French people are obsessed with carbohydrates in every shape and form

    They are incredibly, unabashedly in love with carbs. It’s not too far-fetched to estimate that there’s at least a couple locally-owned bakeries that grace every single quartier>>  (neighborhood). Pâtisseries and boulangeries abound, and the French have spent centuries crafting the recipes to make them as irresistible as possible. The ways they have perfected the combination of a few simple ingredients like water, flour, and yeast have yielded magical results: from brioche to chocolate croissants, and from macarons to viennoiseries, the options are as endless as they are decadent. 


    There’s probably something in the water too, while we’re at it, that explains how they eat all these carbs and stay incredibly in-shape and clear-skinned as well. The more hipster-heavy the area, the higher bakery-to-café ratio gets! If you’re ever walking around and the buttery scent of a croissant hits you, you can be fairly certain a caffè latté won’t be too far off either. 

  2. 2. On that note: French people are passionate about food and love to talk about it

    I once had a French man initiate a rather long and impassioned debate about Ontarian peaches in an underground supermarket attached to the Métro. He went on about how these peaches were at their prime (les plus mûr et les plus juteux!) during the late summer season, and how best to pair them — amazing with brie and walnuts, apparently, over multigrain crackers or slices of toasted baguette. French people have it culturally ingrained in them to speak about food as if it were a close, intimate friend of theirs. They can wax poetic for hours about brined cheeses or the superiority of  French oak-barrel wine over the Italian variant. This is not to say every French person is obsessed with cuisine and the art of good eating, but for many, it might as well run in their blood. 

  3. 3. French people are naturally “cool”

    French people have an air about them that just makes them different from other Europeans. They’re self-assured about their country, about their cuisine, about their lifestyles, and — quite frankly — about themselves. This gives them a certain “je ne sais quoi” quality. To a great extent, they know who they are and are proud of it.They have a natural confidence about the way that they are and would never change it for the world around them. Just as a point of comparison, it might be said that Spanish people are a bit more relaxed and fun-loving; the English are more generally reserved but love a good drink and party when it comes down to it; and the Italians are laid back and into the ‘dolce’ of doing nothing in the most beautiful way possible. The French are certainly the “coolest” of the bunch, if we’re speaking in generalizations. You can see this radiate off of them in the way they speak, dress, and generally live life. 

  4. 4. French people are highly opinionated and love being right 

    If you’ve ever visited a city or country rooted in French culture,this one doesn’t need much of an explanation. In most English-speaking cultures, arguments are associated with opposition, contempt and generally disliking the opposing side. My God, just look at the political debates happening right now. We avoid conflict like the plague, and only express our opinions if we feel confident there will be limited pushback. 


    The French are not like that. They see arguing as a hobby, and they don’t do it out of spite; they do it out of respect. While these arguments often end up monotonous, and seem to go on forever, the initiating of an argument generally means “I respect your intelligence and mind enough that I know you’ll be able to look at our disagreement from other perspectives, and it won’t hurt our relationship. Instead, it will better the both of us.” 


    This cultural passion for arguing has earned the French the wonderful stereotypes of being snobby and always needing to be right. It often ends up making outsiders feel bombarded by hatred and contempt. However, if you look a little deeper, you’ll realize that for the French, arguing is simply a culturally-ingrained hobby and represents an understanding of mutual respect. Next time you’re in Paris trying to enjoy your café au lait and your waiter starts up an argument with you, take it as a compliment, and get ready to fight back!

With all this being said, perhaps the most consistent and redeeming quality found across all Francophone cultures is that French people love being French. To be honest, who’s to blame them? If you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself living in France, Québec, or any other Francophone region, I strongly encourage you to dive into it as deep as you can. As cliché as it sounds, the French understand and embrace la vie en rose mentality. They have the cultural wisdom to understand that life is short, and we must embrace every second we are alive with quality and energy — whether that consists of dressing in the finest silk, eating the richest pain au chocolat, or arguing passionately over a cause close to their heart. If anything, this is what our lives with French people have taught us: to grasp life with both hands, put on  rosey glasses, and experience la joie de vivre. French or otherwise, we encourage you all to do the same.