March 18, 2009

Not So Subtle Differences Between America and France

If there's one thing that three and a half weeks in America taught me, it's that my way of looking at things has become much more "French" than I realized. I'm not sure when this all happened, but I noticed it the minute my plane touched down in New Orleans.

Here are a few of the not so subtle differences that I observed during my stay.

First, there's the smile.
Wow! I guess I've always been aware of how often Americans smile, but it had somehow slipped my mind. I mean, everyone smiles. At seemingly everything. (my native New Yorker husband says this isn't so in the City - I bow to his wisdom)
Not that it is bad to smile...I don't mean that at all. I'm just not used to strolling down the street, or walking into a shop or a café, and having people flash their pearly whites at me anymore. It doesn't mean that the French aren't lovely, kind, warm people - most of them are - it's just that facial expressions are more reserved here.

Another thing, the chattiness.
When you buy groceries or go shopping in the States, the salesperson often acts as if they are your best friend.
Hi! How are you today? Don't you just love this? That is the cutest purse!
Isn't it cold out there today? What are you going to cook with this? I love your hair, who cuts it? Are you doing anything special tonight? Oh, that is such a pretty color! Where did you get those earrings? Quick - give me a synopsis of your entire life while I ring up your purchases!
It's all so familiar. I don't know these people from Adam, and I find their probing questions far too personal.

Then there is the attentiveness.
I know that servers in American restaurants survive on tips, but stopping by to check on our drinks and food every 5-7 minutes? What the heck?
Every meal I had out with friends or family was interrupted dozens of times by servers stopping by to see "how we were doing." I had to resist the urge to tell them that I would "do just fine" if they would just leave us alone!

Instead I smiled warmly, answered personal questions from complete strangers and tipped generously. I was in America after all. And as they say, When in Rome...

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Anne in Oxfordshire said...

I like a smile and a bit of chattiness...but it is so annoying when having your meal interrupted it is a gripe of ours!! And they normally come when you have just taken a mouthful :-(

Celeste said...

Don't you just love New Orleanians? Most have never met a stranger; friendliness is the rule, not the exception. It's one of my favorite things about the city....

Lori said...

Really enjoyed these observations. We get so much attention with service in Brazil that we hadn't noticed the difference in the US, however, we do recognize bad service from a mile away now. What we do is dislike is them pushing you out the door to turn a table. Drives me nuts! :(

Wendl said...

Did you notice this in Spokane, too? I was wondering if it's more a southern thing. Or maybe we just have grumpy checkers and not-as-friendly people here in Portland, because I don't think of people being all that smiley or chatty here.

Loulou said...

The smiling is nice. I'm just not used to it anymore! :)

They are wonderful. Super friendly, but not in an overbearing way. And I love how the older women call you "baby."

I don't like when they rush you out the door either.

It was like this in both New Orleans and Spokane. The salespeople, servers and even TSA agents at the airport were over-the-top friendly in Spokane.

Anonymous said...

I'll be making my first trip back to the States since moving to France next June (a year and a half!) My husband, who's been back twice for work, tells me I will be shocked at how BIG and far apart everything is. Interesting to see your take on it!

Ken Broadhurst said...

In North Carolina, I was surprised to be called "sweetie" and "darling" and "honey" by waitresses and store clerks. It seemed more than slightly over the top.

Sandy said...

We also spend a lot of money on our teeth here in the states...I think that is pushed on us too. We better show off our pearly whites...after all that money. I have to say... I have seen some of those european grills and I wouldn't be smiling too much;)

Loulou said...

Yes, the parking spaces and roads all feel enormous!

Oh honey, they were just trying to let you know that you are such a darling, sweet man! :)

Have you ever noticed how over-the-top white the celebrities teeth all are? How do they do it?

Christoph said...

Where DID you get your earrings?

Loulou said...

None of your business!

Betty C. said...

Very interesting -- I've noticed these things too, and I miss them.

I smile less now than I used to. I learned when I started teaching French students that smiling too much made them take me for a fool. I think this is kind of sad.

I love the chattiness. I do agree it can get a bit personal though.

Well, I could go on and on, but may have to do my own follow-up post to this one. It certainly got me thinking.

Loulou said...

I smile less now too and I don't mind some chattiness, but there were several times where it bordered on ridiculous!

I'll look forward to reading what observations/opinions you have about the differences.

Betty C. said...

I posted my reaction but only dealt with the smiling part:

Donna said...

LouLou! Have you forgotten? They MAKE us do that! :)

Loulou said...

I enjoyed reading your take on it. I agree that sometimes it is difficult to "control" one's smiling.

I think I remember seeing that memo...

L Vanel said...

It is not a southern thing - I get called "honey" up near the Canadian border, which I love. When I went back I was also struck by the chattiness and willingness of people to talk about personal details to strangers. This is a great post. Thanks.

Loulou said...

Thanks honey, glad you enjoyed it.

(I don't mind those terms of endearment either. The probing questions from strangers are a bit weird though!)

polyvios said...

I agree, people in the US are more friendly than Europeans, on average. Compared to people in the US, most of the French seem unhappy and cold, at least with respect to how they treat strangers.

On the other hand, there's also a factor of big city vs. country behavior. Parisian behavior is much less friendly compared to rural USA, or even New Orleans. But compare it with a healthy dose of "New York City attitude", and then the friendliness difference is not that obvious anymore. Also, Europe doesn't have as many rural places as the US, so you get more of the big-city effect on smiles.

There has to be a golden ratio somewhere in the middle of the atlantic...

Loulou said...


Sara said...

I am an American who resides in Southwest France. I am visiting my family in the U.S. for the summer.
I agree with all these not so subtle differences you mentioned. I have a few too. One thing I always get a kick out of is the newest badwagon my friends are on; from homeschooling to the latest fad diet. They never cease to amaze me.

Chez Loulou said...

I always notice the new "fads" too!
Thanks for commenting and hope you've had a great summer.