I used to write a lot more about French culture when I started Misadventures with Andi. I was still in the early years of being married to a Frenchman and living in France. There was constant tension brought on by cultural differences that any multi-cultural relationship experience exacerbated by adulting in a foreign country for the first time.
All my other experiences of living abroad were with my family as a child and teenager. In fact, that’s how MWA was conceived. I use to write email missives to my friends and family about all the cultural faux pas I was experiencing.
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Watching Emily in Paris brought me back to all this. Yes, there are a ton of stereotypes in the series but also the truth! I thought I would share this essay on French cultural tips or cultural differences and quirks you learn from Emily in Paris.
Lights in the Hallway/Floor “0”
When I first arrived in France I came alone with my cat Jessica. Mr. Misadventures had traveled ahead of time and was actually in Marseille coordinating our household goods coming by container ship. A colleague from my office picked me up at the airport and dropped me off in front of my temporary apartment and bid me adieu (it was the weekend and my co-worker was anxious to get back to his home for family dinner). It was March and already dark.
Once I figured out the door code on the outside and got into the lobby, I was in pitch black. This was 2003 before there were iPhones with flashlights!
As I hunted around for 10 minutes looking for some source of light, a light appeared from above. It was not a divine signal from the heavens, although it felt like it but rather a resident coming down the stairs! I instantly went into action. I grabbed Jessica’s case and headed up to the 3rd floor.
Or at least what I thought was the third floor.
I put my key in the lock and nothing happened.
And the light went out.
Then the door I had been trying to get into, opened. Unlike Emily, there was no gorgeous Gabriel to have witty banter with. No. Just an annoyed Mamie. In 2003 my French wasn’t great but I somehow managed to communicate my problem and Mamie reached over and turned the light on for me and directed me to the next level up.
I eventually made it to the apartment. But every time Mr. Misadventures and I rent an Airbnb we have to do the “light search.”
And by the way, that first apartment I described above when I was desperately searching for the light? I was moving to Europe, so besides Jessica’s cage, I had 2 massive suitcases and zero elevators! I had to get everything up to the third (and then 4th…) floor via the stairs. Curved stairs.
About 50% of the time we rent an apartment in Paris we don’t get an elevator. I am no longer surprised by this. I cheer when we get one. A little bonus!
Remember when Emily made reservations for the Grand Vefour? Everyone was surprised that she was able to snag a high-demand table (tip: try lunch, I’ve always been able to get in, and still had a wonderful experience!). The reason? When Emily made the reservation online she used the American style date system so she thought she was making a reservation for Aug. 11th (8/11) but in reality, she made it for November 8th (11/8) because in France (and the rest of Europe) the date is written with a day/month format.
Your birth date follows this format as well, so be careful if you are filling out official paperwork!
Also while I was working in Europe my work calendar was done on a 24-hour clock à la military-style (1:00 pm is 13:00, 2:00 pm is 14:00, and so on). Growing up an Army brat that wasn’t a problem for me, but you might be thrown off.
Getting to the office before 10:30
I have often said that the French aren’t very matinale (morning people). Of course, that is a generalization but Mr. Misadventures and I spend many, many mornings out and about in Paris and we practically have the city to ourselves! Granted, I did work in Switzerland and not France, but truth be told I was always in the office first and usually alone for a good hour to 90 minutes before any of my Swiss, French, Spanish, or Italian (I worked in my company’s European headquarters) colleagues.
I cannot speak to 10:30 as a start time but it isn’t hard to imagine. Mainly because when dealing with client events and social media there are a lot of late nights so to balance that out, no one is showing up to work at 8!
Seasoning a cast-iron pan
Gabriel’s ritual of not washing his omelet pan is not just a French thing. It’s a cooking thing. Growing up, my grandma and mom didn’t wash their cast iron skillets. I am not sure how many Americans these days use cast iron, so maybe that’s why Emily was unfamiliar. She doesn’t really cook so it’s probably why she doesn’t know.
When guests come to American homes they often get a tour of the house. That is definitely not something that is done in France. If you visit a French home don’t expect this!
Women don’t touch wine bottle
Maybe a bit archaic but women don’t generally pour wine. But I think it’s more often the case that you aren’t supposed to pour wine for yourself. I have experienced this with tea as well from Asian friends and colleagues.
No work talk at social events
You don’t discuss work at social events even when they are work events. This was my experience working with European colleagues in Switzerland. We did discuss work at team lunches unless it was a celebration, but not at dinners or holiday events. The only exception was when our American boss came to town. When we went to dinner with him, we discussed work!
It’s illegal to work on the weekend.
Kind of funny and sort of true. It started with a law in Germany and other countries like France adopted it. There is a “right to disconnect” which is part of a greater set of employee labor laws that forbid businesses (of 50 or more employees) from requiring their employees to be available for calls, emails, or texts, outside of regular work hours. (Read more about here.)
It’s all about work-life balance and it’s not a bad thing! Although I now work in the US, the American company I work for very much respects these boundaries, even if it isn’t an official policy!
What other cultural differences did you notice while watching Emily in Paris? Have any questions? Do tell!
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