17 French culture shocks when visiting America

Find out what French people notice when visiting America. From food to social quirks, discover the fun culture shocks on this traveling adventure.
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You may have heard of tourists experiencing a culture shock when they visit France, but have you ever wondered about the reverse? How do French people feel when they visit the United States?

As a North American who is married to a Frenchman and has their foot in both cultures, there’s quite a bit to awe and amaze. So let’s get to the top French culture shocks, shall we? Allons-y!

1. Amounts of choice

Choice paralysis is real. The French are usually completely in awe and in love with the amount of choice there is in American shops.

For example, going to a grocery store in the U.S. and seeing the 100 different varieties of chips (we get terrible chip flavors in France), and you just really don’t know what to get!

2. 24-Hour shops

As accustomed as I am to living in France, I was in Los Angeles a while ago, and I stopped inside a Walgreens to ask up to what time they were open. I wanted to stock up on some items later, and couldn’t see a sign for the hours of operation.

I think the store attendant looked at me like I was an alien, and noted that it was, of course, open 24 hours. This would definitely not be the case in France, where shops close exactly on time, and you better enter at least half an hour beforehand.

3. Being able to get medicines and bread in the same store

Speaking of grocery stores, one thing the French always notice in America is one-stop shopping.

It is quite interesting that one can buy everything, including medicines, in one place in North America. No need for a stop at the local boulangerie (bakery), pharmacy, boucherie (meat shop), etc.

4. Sports and Pop culture

Another fun item to note when French people visit the U.S. is the amount of channels and entertainment options available

While you can easily get English TV shows and movies in France, there simply isn’t the same amount of choice.

And sports is yet another story. While football (soccer) is very big in France, it is quite difficult to watch the NBA, NFL, NHL, baseball, golf, etc on a regular basis. Nobody wants to watch basketball on tape-delay in French.

And it gets worse with pop culture. While there are plenty of celebrity interviews and late night shows to keep North Americans up to date on random pop culture, it is not as all-encompassing in France. There is no popular French version of Entertainment Tonight.

5. The number of commercials on American TV

But while there may be a lot of choice on American TV, there are also a lot of commercials. It is useful if you need to go to the toilet often, but if not, it is just annoying.

In France, state television doesn’t have commercials after 8pm, and private channels have commercials every 15-20 minutes or so.

6. Garbage Disposal Carburetor

The garbage disposal may have been invented in 1927, but it still has to make it’s way over to France. Every time the French are in the presence of one, they are struck by what an excellent invention it is.

7. Air-conditioning

One thing that the French love to outwardly despise (while inwardly appreciating) is air-conditioning. For ecological reasons, it is simply not the norm to have air-conditioning in buildings in France.

However, while the French may appreciate air-conditioning during the heat wave, they are always amazed that it is set to freezing in most malls and offices in North America. Surely one doesn’t have to carry around a sweater in the middle of July!

8. Portion sizes of food

After living in France for a few years, I went to Vegas once with a girlfriend, and we ordered one appetizer and one main for the two of us. The resulting amount of food was impressive. Portion sizes in North America are quite a shock.

9. Driving everywhere

In France, my kids used to get car sick even on short car trips, because it was so rare that we were in an automobile. I asked an American friend if she had the same issue, and she said of course not, because her kids were used to being driven everywhere since they were born.

In cities like Paris, the schools, restaurants, grocery stores, sports activities, pharmacies, etc are all within walking distance. Plus parking is a hassle, so we simply avoid taking the car.

☞ READ MORE: What to know before driving in France

10. Giant cars and the size of parking spaces

And since North Americans do drive everywhere, the French always a bit shocked at how big car sizes are. And parking spaces are huge and so easy to park in!

My OH noticed that cars in North America don’t have side mirrors that automatically open and close. Our little French car does this to protect itself since parking spots, especially in Paris, are so narrow. And driving in Paris in general? Ooh la la!

11. McMansions

With that big car, of course you need a big house. I’m always amused watching House Hunters on HGTV when people complain that a 400 square foot kitchen is too small. That would be a decent size 1 bedroom apartment in Paris!

☞ READ MORE: 8 Differences between French and American homes

12. Bed sizes

The size of a crib mattress in accordance with US standards is 28×52 inches (71 x 132 cm). In France, it is 23×47 inches (60 x 120 cm). Are babies just bigger in the U.S.?

17 French culture shocks when visiting America 1
U.S. vs French baby crib size

Adult size beds are bigger too in North America. You won’t find king-size beds at your French Ikea, you would probably have to special order it. In addition to width, French standard bed length is 74 inches (190cm), not 80 inches (200cm).

Another fun fact, French pillows are square although I have yet to find a reason why.

13. Chatty and smiley people

Parisians are not known for their chattiness. Not in the metro, not while waiting in a queue, or anywhere else for that matter. The politeness and chattiness of North Americans is legendary, but it still sometimes catches me off guard, when I’m expecting a snarky French remark instead.

But more than that is the French culture shock that hits when there are 10 people there to greet you in every store and restaurant you go to in North America. No, I don’t need help, but maybe?

☞ READ MORE: Living in Paris: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

14. Tipping

Part of this continuous “smiling” is the bonus and tipping system North Americans are so used to. In France, wages are not dependent on customer experience, so there simply isn’t the same motivation to approach the customer.

15. Prices of everything

I did major in accounting, but there is no accounting for sticker shock. Part of it is that the Euro is approx 1.1 the US Dollar, but then once you start adding taxes and tips, the bill really starts to add up.

I went to a concert in the U.S. where the price of a Bud light was USD$15 plus tip! To the French, this sounds rather crazy. At a concert in Paris, it would be about Eur €6-9, which certainly on first instinct sounds like a lot less.

☞ READ MORE: The real cost of living in Paris

16. Immediate delivery

In the U.S., I am always amazed by how delivery from places like Amazon is within a few hours. In France, we can easily wait a few days or weeks, and even if the delivery guy shows up, he claims that “no one was home”.

17. Not taking vacations

We may have 6-8 weeks vacation in France, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that a couple of American friends had unlimited vacations (because they work in IT).

Except that it wasn’t unlimited, because they were quite stressed about even taking off a week at a time. But I suppose you can’t have everything!

☞ READ MORE: Do French People only work 35 hours a week?


So take your holidays, you North Americans! And come visit us in France for a bit of culture shock the other way 😉 If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about living in Paris. A bientôt!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Erin

    I lived in France for 8 years and can relate to everything on your site! I also had a reverse culture shock (many of the same things you said plus a few others – like the sweetness of the food). I’ve been back in the States for about 3 years and am just now feeling comfortable with pop culture references – I still have a few years to catch up on but it does come back. I have a French friend coming to visit in a few weeks and am realizing how rusty my French is! I type it often and still listen to movies or music in French but don’t really have many opportunities to speak.

    anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I just found this site and appreciated it! I’m donated a “French dinner” for an auction – but made sure they knew it was a French dining experience and not just the food. I’m going to teach them French dinner manners and make them eat like the French. I’m looking for some of the ‘reasoning behind’ some of the rules which is how I found your page!
    Thanks! Salut!

    1. Nassie

      I am glad you found it interesting! Enjoy your French dinner! :))

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