3 tips for French tourists visiting the U.S.

After my post, last week on three simple tips on how not to be the annoying American tourist in Paris, Stéphany over at La Grenadine Acidulée asked me to do a similar post for French tourists visiting the U.S.

I could probably come up with a lot, and I will ask others to participate, but here are three off the top of my head.

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Tip #1: Be prepared to make small talk.

Small talk is a natural skill that we Americans are ingrained with, it is in our DNA. We can have a five-minute conversation with someone in an elevator, stand in a grocery line, wait for a light to change at a pedestrian cross, and walk away without it meaning anything. Some French people I know call this superficial. To me, it is just a cultural difference.

I lived in my condo complex in France for three years and not once did anyone say hello in the elevator, in the lobby where I collected my mail, or in the garbage area. People can live next to each other for years and not know each other.

Privacy is very important to French people, including the government's intrusion on a French person's daily life, which they are completely paranoid about!

So for French people visiting the U.S., you may be a little put off by people trying to make small talk. They may ask you where you are from, and what you do for a living, and introduce themselves with their names. If you are not comfortable with giving out this information, be nice and just make something up. It is much nicer than (a) ignoring the person or (b) saying a rude comment.

I promise the situation will be over in 5 minutes, 10 max and you can go on with your life. Just accept that it is going to happen to you.


Tip #2: Leave a tip in restaurants.

Unlike in France where being a waiter is a respected profession with a good salary, in the U.S. it is just not the case. Waiters and restaurant staff like busboys, etc. are usually paid less than minimum wage which is currently $7.25/hour. No one can live on that, and they don't even make that. They rely on tips to earn a living. You should start at 20% of the bill, if the service was exceptional, move up to 25%, if it was bad, you should still leave something.

I have posted on tipping in France before for those interested.

Tip #3: Be prepared to see a lot of homeless people in large cities.

In France, homeless people (known as SDF sans-domicile-fixe) are of course present in larger cities, but not in the numbers that are seen in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, etc. There are very good services for homeless people in France which just aren't at the same level as in the U.S. You will be shocked at the number of homeless people and the lack of proper funding for services to assist them. Be prepared.

Those are my quick off-the-top-of-my-head tips. I have some readers who are Frenchies living in the U.S. and I have readers who are Americans living in France, do you guys have additional tips to give to French tourists coming to visit the U.S.?

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  1. They better make sure they’re covered by their mutuelle in case they get sick or hurt during their travels!

  2. I am fascinated by cultural differences between countries. It’s always interested when something is so routine here and completely unheard of in another country. Good post.

  3. Ooooh ! Thanks a lot Andy !!! =)

    So, for the number 1 : that’s a good thing I think ! I always say good morning when I see someone in the elevator, but I hate when people don’t answer !
    But of course, we never talk more than that… that could be great to have a small talk, sometimes. ^^

    Number 2 : Oh, I though it was 10 % ! So that’s a good thing to say to French tourists. =)

    Number 3 : Hmm… no comment about that. That’s very sad to see homeless people… =(

  4. Whenever I am in France, I try to speak French. Granted my French is lousy and after dissolving in laughter, people are kind enough to speak English to me. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of Americans who can converse in even elementary French, so French visitors should be prepared to speak English.

  5. Pia Blunt says:

    Although I am an American, but like the French, I love to talk, and not necessarily just with friends. My second hobby is traveling by car. That’s why this time, when I flew to Paris, I rented a car to relax as I like.