Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Things I Miss About the States, Things I Love About France

I’m breaking this post up into several installments because the list is long. Today, I'm focusing on random stuff I miss about the States. 

After living in the States for almost 20 years I moved to France and realized, not only is the US the land of the free, it's also the land of the convenient

There are many things I enjoy about living in France, but after almost 9 years, I still miss little things about living in the States. With the exception of my Dad and a few close friends, most of the things I miss are everyday conveniences. 


Mailboxes  

For the most part, mailing a letter in the States is as simple as slapping a stamp on the envelope, walking out to the end of your driveway, putting the letter in the tunnel shaped box and raising the flag.

In France, to mail a letter you have to go to a post office or drop it inside a large yellow post box, usually located outside grocery stores or outside the post office. What you have in front of your house looks like this:


Yes, this is my actual mailbox on top of my electric meter. 
Yes, there is a big honking rock on it, don't ask.
And yes, I did photoshop "Wonder Woman" on the name plate (: 

Notice, there is no flag on my mailbox because mail carriers (see how PC I am) only deliver mail, they do not take it. Why? Because that would require working over 35 hours/week, and that is a "no, no."  Also, each mailbox comes with a lock and key in case the neighbor wants to steel your bills and books you ordered from Amazon.

Public Water Fountains
  
In the States, public water fountains are pretty common. You find them in schools and in public places like shopping malls, museums, parks etc. No big deal. You walk over, push the button and water comes out. It’s free.

In France, finding a public water fountain is difficult and I’ve never seen one indoors. The few I’ve seen outside tend to be beautiful ornate stone fountains that look 300 years old. And oddly enough, most French people never drink out of these fountains; they prefer their bottled sparkling water.  

Parking

In the States, there's usually room to park your car. You find an open spot, drive in, park.

In France, there is a shortage of parking. Period. So what do people do when there's no parking left? Park on the sidewalk of course!

Now, do I park on the sidewalk? Absolutely. When in Rome...

Hugs

I didn't realize how much I miss hugs until I got back State side a few weeks ago. I was introduced to several people in my Dad's writers group. I shook hands with them until I got in front of a colossal man. I looked up, stuck my hand out and this huge southern gentlemen looked down at me (I'm 5'2 for 120lbs) and he says with a smile, "I hug my women." And I got this great big bear hug from a barrel of a man. Needless to say, it put a big smile on my face. In the States greeting someone with a hug is normal. Women hug each other all the time. You hug your family, close friends, etc. For everyone else, you shake hands. No big deal.

In France people don't hug. It's weird. Oddly, what isn't weird is what's called "la bise" or kiss. It's common to kiss someone you know on alternating cheeks. The problem is, the number of times you kiss depends on what region you live in. In the south, some exchange 3 kisses, in other regions it's 2 and for some it's 4. I can't tell you how stressful it was for me not knowing how many times to do "la bise." Also, if you're meeting someone for the first time you shake hands. Sounds easy right? Except that's not always the case and some people will do "la bise" right off the bat. A lot depends on your age, the age of the person you are meeting, and if you're being introduced by a mutual friend. Confused yet? Me too. I remember meeting someone for the first time, leaning in the do "la bise" and have them stick their hand out. Awkward. Can't we all just hug and call it a day? Apparently, "Non."

41 comments:

  1. Welcome back :) Looking forward to hearing more about your adventures.

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  2. So fascinating, Elise. I love when you share things about your country... it's so fun for us! What an adventure!

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  3. You are so right about the conveniences in the US. Three years ago I went back to Portugal for the 1st time after almost 20 years ( I was 14 when I left) and OH MY GOD! it was definitely a little hard to get used to with, especially with a one year old. The hardest part for me was the lack of heat in most of my families' homes... I'm so used to having heat in the winter.... ugh... it sucked. I wont' be going back unless it's warm there, LOL

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  4. LOL Elise, your post put a HUGE smile on my face ! So true !

    Being French and having lived in the US, it's always fun to read ! I miss the hugs too ! La bise is too...I dunno...Personal I guess ?
    I wish I could hug people and not look like a total weirdo ! lol

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  5. Oh and my host family in Colorado bought me a US mailbox for the house we just built and I'm just beyond frustrated that I can't use it !

    Stupid La Poste !

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    1. We should start a hug movement! :D
      That is frustrating about your mailbox, but I'm not surprised. La Poste, bande de fainéants...don't get me started on them! (:

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  6. I love visiting France and have spent many a holiday there and has a dream of moving to France to live (one day) BUT I would miss my family far too much and the reality of living in a different country is totally different to holiday in a foreign country. You are very brave.

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  7. Well, you just switched a light on for me. I never realised that you could use US mailboxes to POST letters as well as receive them (I always thought it sounded inconvenient to walk to the end of the driveway to get the mail, instead of through the front door like in the UK).

    Some of those public water fountains would be good too, especially with a thirsty 3-year-old, instead of buying bottled water. I like the old stone fountains you get in France like in village squares, but I can't remember ever seeing one with water coming out!

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  8. Aww! Those are definitely things to miss, especially the mailboxes and parking!

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  9. But surely what you lack in convenience you make up for in great food? Just remember, you're now living in history, as in, everything is old! Makes you realise how 'fresh and new' America is, eh?

    Parking though, yes, I need parking space. Water, water is good - my only concern with the old water fountains in France would be the pipe work - any of it still contain lead? But, pretty as a picture :)

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    1. I'd call America 'young' as opposed to 'fresh and new,' but you're right, everything around me is OLD. Even my house is OLD. As far as the water thing goes, just don't drink anything next to a sign that reads "Non potable." (:

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  10. It's so funny how I wouldn't think of these things when visiting a foreign country. It's always the smallest stuff, huh?

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    1. It really is the small stuff that can drive you nuts when you live as an expat. (:

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  11. Hey Elise,

    I only spent a yerar in France (1992 for the opening of then-EuroDisney, but I remember it with fondness (for the most part!!!)
    I've lived in the States since '96, so here is home, but this is a great series... reminds me there are many other ways to live :)

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  12. Hey Elise. Just had a read of your sample writing as promised. I really like the first one and am dying to find out what happens next. Have you done anymore on it? It's very immediate and I was able to build a picture in my head really quickly. I hope you don't mind me saying, but it made me think of CSI or a similar police procedural TV show.

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    1. LOL, no not at all. I had another fellow blogger say it reminded him of Bones. I haven't written more to the scene, but it has been marinating in my brain since I wrote it. One of these days however, I'm going to write the next scene and see where it leads. The thought scares me a bit because I know as soon as I start writing this, it will be hard to stop, which means less time on my wip.

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  13. Loved this post, Elise! I was in France for about a month a while and remeber being very confused by "la bise". I'm a hugger so I would really miss those too. *Hugs* One thing I miss about France... pastries. yummy.

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  14. I would like to work only 35 hours a week. I think the French have got that right. Slaving away at 40-hours a week for a paycheck til the day you are old and dead is stupid.

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  15. SO interesting. I guess I need to come visit and experience this stuff for myself. But I can guarantee you that I'd hug you many times while I was there. ;-)

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    1. Yes! You have to come visit. (:
      Hugs!

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  16. Awardage awaits you over at my place :)

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  17. Very interesting. It's funny, the things you miss. I remember when my parents lived in Spain for a few years one of the thing my mom missed the most was a garbage disposal in the sink.

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    1. YES! I was going to talk about that in my next post! (: We don't have them here either and it is a pain at times.

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  18. Wow. The things I think are normal would be viewed as odd there.

    I can't wait to hear about the garbage disposal next week. I think it's because I love the pictures you share!

    I will say that in Houston mailboxes look much like yours (without the electric meter). We have lock boxes at the end of streets (much like walking to your apartment mailrooms). If you want to send something out going it MUST be the size of a small envelope. It's irritating.

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  19. Hi,to your blog via Nick Wolford's. It really is such an eye-opener to go to other countries, isn't it! I'm envious, though, that you have spent so much time in France. My husband and I travel to Galicia, Spain, and love it when we are there. (Well, we love home, too, here in the states, but it's always such an experience to get outside your usual frame of reference.) I would imagine after 9 years that your French is pretty good by now, non?

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  20. Great post. Seriously, things are so different depending on the culture. I remember when I lived in Taiwan, it was an absolute no no to drink water straight from the tap. It HAD to be filtered. No exception to the rule unless if you wanted to get disgusting tap worms or something in your stomach. I wouldn't have minded losing the weight but that was would have been seriously terrible. I totted around bottled water everywhere. Even when I was at home, I used my filtered water in the kitchen to brush my teeth.

    Well, when I arrived back home to the states and saw a drinking fountain in the San Fransisco airport, I had to ask my parents multiple times if it REALLY was okay to drink from it. Even with their saying yes, I still was apprehensive. I had culture shock in my own conutry. Crazy, huh?

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  21. ...if I were to ever visit France, and find myself thirsting for sustenance, when faced with the option of either staying dry-mouthed, or sucking face from the dude in that photo, well...parched it is ;) It makes for a nice picture in a calendar, but locking lips with that guy? Sorry, no can do!

    Great post, Elise ;)

    El

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  22. I really enjoyed this post.

    "I remember meeting someone for the first time, leaning in the do "la bise" and have them stick their hand out."

    Uh-oh. :). But it makes a good story!

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    1. Uh-oh is right, and yes, now that you mention it, there very well could be a story in there... (:

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  23. Love this. These are things I never knew. The hugs vs kisses is the best. I prefer hugs. :)

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    1. I prefer hugs too, plus they're easy to give. (:

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  24. What an interesting post, Elise! My daughter has traveled extensively overseas, including France, and is always telling us how easy we have it here in the U.S. We tend to take so much for granted here, like all the wide open spaces.

    One of the things that we love most when traveling overseas (we loved France) is the majesty and history--all the centuries-old monuments and architecture, the age-old traditions and culture. We just don't have anything like that here in our young country.

    I'm a hugger, so I'd definitely miss that--and I'd get nervous trying to remember how many kisses to bestow when I met someone new! :)

    --Susan

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    1. Thanks Super Earthling! You're daughter is right, we do have it easy in the States. I enjoy the history here too. Thanks for stopping by! (:

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  25. Hugging is an integral part of our culture!
    I learned lots of new things about mailboxes and public water fountains.
    When there's a shortage of parking, our drivers also park on the sidewalk, as well as on the very wide centre kerbs (raised ones that 4x4 vehicles can climb...)

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    1. Good! When we meet I won't feel weird hugging you!!! (:

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  26. Wow! These differences are shocking. Being from a multicultural background, I don't go through culture shock very much.

    Ew! Public water fountains? We have a lot of ancient ones in England but they're all turned off. Germ transmission? And people here don't drink them. We all tend to carry water with us and are usually in close distance from a shop. When I go out, I always carry a bottle of water or two with me. Just in case!

    I didn't know you could post your letter through your own letterbox! That's so convenient! But we have postboxes everywhere here.

    French people don't hug? I thought it was the opposite. I dunno. They're very kissy touchy in my opinion.

    I think the shortage of parking is because people drive less in France. And in cities, they're all built so that you can easily walk to the other side. My French tutor says that's a part of why French people tend to have really low obesity rates. Meanwhile in the UK, we drive a car to the shop one road away. :/

    I would still rather take the 30 hour working weeks, longer holidays, cheaper university education, better social security, higher life expectancy rates and better health care in France than the opposite in America. But I guess that's just my European-ness.

    Super Earthling, you may not have those great buildings but you have some stunning geography in the US and forests.

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    1. Hi Kamille and thanks for stopping by.

      I think most old fountains may be turned off not so much because of a risk of germ transmission but more due to the old lead piping that may still be in use, but I'm no expert! (:

      People do drive less in France but I think a lot of it is due high gas prices and all the toll roads over here. Driving is practically a luxury in France. And the old cities and towns were built to accommodate the local bakery and butcher shop (among others), all within walking distance of most inhabitants, a tradition that has not died out yet. Plus, when you walk into town to buy your bread, you meet people, talk to friends, get some fresh air, and a little exercise to boot. (:

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    2. Ah right that's probably why. I know we have in our local park. It's older than I dare to think and was turned off for a long time. I don't actually remember if it's there but I don't go near it since I once saw vomit in the basin. Yeah, very disgusting, I know!

      I dunno. Apparently it costs more in the UK but people still drive way too much here. I know public transport is poor in the rural areas. Our public transport here is good but unless you're an OAP, you won't be able to afford it. I spent over $1200 in less than a year on train tickets to a town which is half an hour away by car.

      I think I might go to the US one day just to see what it's like. Sounds like a very convenient country!

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