8 Major Differences Between Life in France & New York

Spending two months in France has been so incredibly fulfilling for me. I still can’t believe I can wake up in this beautiful country and spend my days here. Most of all, I’m so proud that I earned it. When I left New York at the end of April, it was raining. I remember walking down the wet sidewalk thinking that I couldn’t have been more happy to be leaving the city! For many people, New York is the dream. It was my dream. But after seven long years, I felt like New York was draining me. I needed a break from the constant traffic, hoards of people on the sidewalks, and the obscene prices!

I hopped a plane to France at my first chance and spent a lovely five weeks in south western basque country (in Biarritz to be exact!), before traveling through the Provence region for another four weeks.

Differences Between France and New York

After living in France for the last two months, I don’t miss the States just yet, but here are the most major differences I’ve noticed between my life in the south of France and my life in New York:

1. People Say Hello to You

In New York, you avoid eye contact with people on the street like it’s the plague, but in France, people say Bonjour to you even if they don’t know you! I’ve spent most of my adult life living in New York City and so I never felt that not saying hello to someone was rude. So, at first this was so strange to me, but after a while, I started to find it odd when someone didn’t say hello. There is something very civil and classy about saying hello on the street, and I love it. I can certainly understand why so many people feel that New Yorkers are rude, now!

Life in France Vs. Life in NY!

2. Great Food

These days, there is nothing I love more than having breakfast on my balcony overlooking the beautiful Carlton residence. Lately I’ve been buying baguettes almost every other day! They are so addicting and I can definitely understand why the French love them so much. They go with pretty much anything – fruit spread in the morning, ham for lunch, nutella for a snack, or cheese after dinner. The possibilities are endless, and the taste of a fresh baguette is simply delightful.

3. Cash Only!

It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows here in France. For some reason, with the exception of large box-retailers, the French just didn’t get the memo that consumers prefer the ease of paying via credit card, and many refuse to even own a card processor! Shops and restaurants generally don’t accept credit cards for purchases under ~20 euros, though I’ve taken taxis that have a 50 euro minimum. It’s no surprise that Uber has become so popular in Europe and taxi drivers have only themselves to blame because they refuse to accept credit cards!

4. Cars Stop for Pedestrians

I will never forget the time when I was almost hit by a car in Soho. I was crossing Prince Street on Broadway, and an SUV nearly body-slammed me! (I have a few more near-car-death experiences in New York, but that one is the most memorable.) I also won’t forget the first time I accidentally made a car stop for me in France. Yes, you read that right. I unknowingly stopped traffic in Biarritz! I had only stepped just near the edge of the sidewalk, when the car assumed I wanted to cross, and politely stopped for me! I was in shock, and even though I didn’t want to cross, I felt it would be rude to not accept this kind gesture! Lesson learned : if you approach the edge of the sidewalks, cars will assume you intend to cross. It’s so wonderful to no longer have to wait for traffic to slow down to cross a busy street!

5. Nothing is Open During Lunch, After Work, on Sundays, or in August

You know what they say: when in Rome, do as the Romans. The same applies here. This means absolutely no shopping outside of weekday working hours! Generally, you can expect stores to be open from 10am until Noon, and then again at 2pm until 6pm, give or take. On the flip side, restaurants are open for lunch – you guessed it – from 12 to 2pm. So don’t try to eat or shop outside of these hours! Saturdays are a bit more flexible, but they are crazy busy because pretty much everything is closed on Sundays. August is France’s national vacation-taking month, and many restaurants and shops shut down entirely during this month. The quintessential New York-style 24 hour convenience store is a rarity in this part of the world. This is just the way things are in France, and I certainly don’t see them changing any time soon, so it’s best to get used to it. :)

6. Cheap, Cheap Wine

What goes great with a baguette? Wine, bien sur! I’ll never forget when a friend of mine from Europe refused to purchase one glass of wine at a restaurant in New York. She said she’d rather buy a bottle. The glass was $12 and the bottle was around $30. I was so confused because a glass of wine would have been cheaper! She explained to me that she just couldn’t mentally comprehend how a restaurant could get away with charging over $10 for one glass of wine, so she would rather get her money’s worth and buy the bottle! Well, she was right. In France, wine is like water. A glass of wine at a bar or restaurant may set you back 3-5 euros, tops! You’d be hard-pressed to find a glass of wine for less than $10 in New York. Here, there are plenty of phenomenal bottles of wine for less than $8. You are, of course, at the source.

7. Google Maps is NOT Reliable

In New York, any business I needed to see the hours for was right at my fingertips. I open Google Maps, search the business, and boom: the hours, address, and telephone are readily available. When I do this in France, either the hours are wrong, or if I get particularly lucky, I show up to find the business has closed entirely. Joy! I actually ended up walking to the nearest grocery store two times before it was finally open on the third time I arrived during my first weekend in France.

8. Services are Slow or Non-Existent

Seamless? Unheard of. Uber? Only in the major cities. Wash-and-fold? Sure, but you better be prepared to wait. Many of the services I so dearly loved in New York like ordering lunch delivery online on a snowy day, are just non-existent here. Things like dry-cleaning and laundry service do exist of course, but turnaround time can be up to five times longer than in New York, meaning you could be waiting a full week just to get your laundry back! I never realized just how spoiled I was in New York. Things around here move at a much slower pace than across the Atlantic, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but certainly takes some adjusting!

Of course there are many more differences between two places separated by an enormous ocean, but these are the first eight that came to mind! What other differences have you noticed?

October 01, 2016

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I’m an American photographer and writer based in Paris after living in New York for 7 years and then and spending a year and a half traveling. My work has been featured by the Paris and Nice Tourism Offices, Art Basel, and Refinery 29. Culture Passport is a place to share my travels and experiences in new places, with a focus on cultural attractions.

21 Comments Leave Yours

You are comparing a U.S. city to an entire country. That does not make sense!! Be more specific and maybe compare NYC to Paris!!

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This is my personal blog so it makes sense for me to document my life experiences. Comparing NYC to Paris is a great idea. Thanks for your feedback, Corey!

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Elisabeth Charonne
December 8, 2016 7:48 am

I’m not sure why you’d compare one city to a whole country? I think I’d faint if someone I didn’t know in Paris said hello to me while walking down the street! It’s never happened once in the 50+ years I’ve been going there. Of course people are friendlier outside of big cities. The pace of life is much more relaxed. Yes, even in America.

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Thank you!! She’s a little off with this article!

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Thanks Corey & Elizabeth. The reason I compared France to NYC is because I personally moved from NYC to a few smaller towns in France during the summer of 2016. This is my personal travel blog, not intended for the history books! :) Thanks for reading.

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Ouah you got it super super wrong Victoria ! For each and every point here

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Haha, well everyone has a different experience, this was just mine! Would love to hear where exactly your experience differs :)

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Must say, New York is rough! Glad you made it out alive ;)

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Haha it really is, Lauren! ;)

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This is all SO TRUE. Especially about stores closing on the weekends, holidays, etc. This past weekend I went up to Mont Saint Michel, and we got stranded for about 24 hours because we missed the last bus out on Saturday night. We got to explore Rennes a bit, but it was still an unnerving experience to be stuck somewhere!

Katie // thekatiebaker.com

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Oh my gosh, I don’t know what I would do if I was stranded somewhere! Things go wrong on trips so often, but when they do, they usually make incredible stories afterwards! :)

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Can’t quite compare as i’ve never been in NY, but everyone in Paris were indeed so nice and friendly! It just made me so happy to walk the streets there :)

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Yeah it’s completely another world there! :)

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I’ve never been to France, but I studied in Sevilla, Spain for 4 months and found many differences just like the ones you noted. At first it was so frustrating to walk all the way to a specific shop just to find it closed!! However, by the time I left, I wished I could take those quirks with me. I especially loved the kisses upon meeting anyone and everyone :)

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I know what you mean, the quirks make it so special in a way :) Double kisses are so lovely as well. I’m sure Sevilla has its own customs entirely different to France & New York too! Thanks for reading!

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Love this- dreams definitely change as we grow and evolve! Glad you are still chasing yours! And the fact you note that french are so friendly- I found the same- never understood why people think the french are rude!

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Of course! Well, I do think there are polite and rude people in every country. I think it’s more of a small-town gesture to say hello. :) Thanks for reading!

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Shopping carts (the kind you use to schlep your purchases home) are different! I had a wire one that came with me from NYC, and people looked askance at it. You’re not supposed to show what you bought! I ended up buying a French “caddie” with chic Little Marcel-style stripes. It has a drawstring at the top and a flap, to keep my fruits and veggies snug inside.
Shopping carts at the supermarket are different too. You get them in the parking lot, and you have to plug in a euro or a plastic “jeton,” which you get back when you’ve locked your cart back up in the designated corral in the parking lot. No carts to be found inside.
Good service in a NY restaurant: waiter comes quickly, introduces him/herself, gives you the menu and runs through the specials, asks you questions; food arrives quickly; check arrives quickly. Waiter stops by the table several times to see whether everything is OK. Emphasis is on speed, friendliness and turnover–if you linger too long you’ll be asked to leave.
French restaurant: usually you get your menu when seated, so the waiter will come by to get your aperitif order and may or may not discuss the specials. The waiter probably will not speak to you again. If you drop your napkin, a new one will appear magically next to your plate before you’ve even noticed you lost it. The water pitcher will be filled as soon as it’s empty. The wine may be poured while your head is turned. You’re supposed to ask for nothing, but to experience the meal as if everything runs smoothly. Nothing will be hurried. Courses may come very slowly if your table is in the midst of great conversation. You will have to ask for the check. Nobody will take the table after you. Your table is yours for the night.
Americans may find French service to be slow, but it isn’t, because the French can’t imagine eating in a hurry. The French find American service baffling.

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Totally agree with the service differences. It is a totally different experience eating at a French restaurant vs. an America one. In fact, I could probably write a whole new article on that topic alone! I actually thought of several more things to write after I published this post. Guess I’ll have to do a round two :) Thanks for reading!!

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It’s definitely an adjustment! I came to love the limited hours of shops and restaurants when I was living in the French Riviera. The French stubbornly defend their right to time off and I think they’re so much happier and healthier for it!

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Totally! It’s something I’ve gotten used to but at first it was definitely a shock… :) Thanks for reading, Brittany!

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