What a lovely weekend we had. We celebrated Oscar’s 15th birthday. We attended a King Cake celebration. And we had friends over for a jam session. Then, Ralph and Maude caught the early train to Paris this morning so they could fly back to California — the next semester starts on Monday. I’m glad their last weekend was an especially good one. (I shared snippets from the weekend on Instagram stories — I believe you can still see them even if you don’t have an Instagram account.)
Time is flying! This week marks four and a half months of our family being back in France. So I thought it might be fun to share a few observations about French life that are different than our California life.
-As you get to know Europeans from lots of different countries, it’s interesting to learn there are some countries where English is spoken as a second language quite fluently, and others where it’s less common — even though everyone learns English in school. We were told that for countries where English isn’t spoken as fluently, one of the reasons is because movies and television are generally dubbed in the native language of the country.
This is true for France. No matter where the movie/television show is made, instead of subtitles, the original actor or actresses’ voice will be replaced with a French-speaking voice. The lip movements don’t line up perfectly, but they seem to prefer that to subtitles. It also means that when you think of famous Hollywood actors and actresses in movies, those voices that might be very familiar to you, aren’t used.
In bigger towns and cities, you’ll see some movies listed as Version Originale — this means they are in the original language and have French subtitles. So for example, when we saw Little Women, the theater had 3 showings that day dubbed in French, and 1 showing in Version Originale.
We’ve been told that in countries where English is spoken more fluently, the Hollywood TV shows and movies have subtitles instead of dubbing. (So if you’re wanting to learn a new language, watching lots of shows in the target language can’t hurt!)
-The strike has been going on for a month now. At first people were talking about it quite a bit, but I haven’t heard much chatter lately. This is probably because my French is still quite poor so I’m probably not hearing the discussions that are happening.
-Related, our French friends have told us everyone is unhappy with President Macron. But they are also quick to downplay the dissatisfaction and say that it’s tradition in France to hate the current president, no matter who it is, and to speak fondly of the most recent past president.
-Public bathroom stalls are significantly more private in France. The stall walls and door extend all the way to the ceiling and floor.
There’s no knocking on the stall next to yours to ask for TP in an emergency — they would have no way to hand it to you. : )
-The French drink far less water than Americans. This is true at meals, and throughout the day. At a restaurant you’ll need to ask for a glass of water (they’ll usually bring a small carafe of tap water), and you’ll have small water glass and the glass or carafe won’t be refilled unless you ask.
Related, schools, museums, and other public buildings have no drinking fountains. The only place I’ve seen a drinking fountains here is at the American Military Museum.
Also related, the French don’t carry water bottles or coffee cups. The drinks-to-go-culture just doesn’t exist in much of France. You’ll see some portable coffee cups in Paris (they have Starbucks of course), but I have seen them zero times here in Normandy. It’s just not a thing.
I mean, they do drink tea or coffee or water, but they do it at very specific designated meal/eating times. They sit down and enjoy whatever it is they are eating or drinking. And they don’t eat or drink at any other times.
-Automated car washes are plentiful in every French town I’ve seen, but you don’t stay in the car for the car wash. You park the car, get out, and wait by the side while the machine moves around your car.
-Even though we share an alphabet, our keyboards our set up a bit differently. Instead of QWERTY, they refer to AZERTY.
-Another thing that might not occur to you unless you live outside the U.S.: 911 is not a universal emergency number. In France the general one is 112 (it’s actually a pan-European emergency number), or there are specific ones you can use: Dial 15 for Ambulance. Dial 17 for Police. Dial 18 for Fire Department.
-This morning, a truck came by to refill our heating fuel tank with oil. The big tank sits in the unfinished basement. The oil heats the radiators — one in each room. After a tank refill, you have to leave the radiators off for three hours. This worked the same way when we lived in the countryside as well. In the house that we bought, it has radiators, but not a fuel tank. Instead it has what’s called gaz de ville — meaning it has access to the city gas lines. So we won’t need to order refills there and will just get a monthly gas bill instead.
Appointments to get the oil tank filled are usually several days out. So if you forget to order and run out of oil, you may be cold for a few days! As you would expect, we fill the oil about once a month in the cold months, and then hardly at all in the warm months.
-In France and throughout Europe, they use 220 volt electricity instead of the 110 volt electricity used in the U.S.. It’s fascinating to see which of our U.S. electrical products work, and which ones don’t. Anything tech-y works — laptops, iPad, Alexa, and TV all work. Our Dyson vacuum works. Zero kitchen appliances work — not the toaster, the blender, the electric kettle. The iron doesn’t work either. You know what else works? All of our plug in lamps.
-Though there are shops for getting your hair done everywhere, mani-pedi shops are much harder to find. And unless you’re in a big city, there are no drop-in options. You must make an appointment ahead of time. But so many women I know sport gorgeous nails, so I think they must be very good at doing at-home manicures.
-There are very few automatic cars in France. And that’s true even at car rental shops. If you are coming here for vacation, and plan to rent a car, it’s definitely best if you know how to drive a stick shift. (Happily, Ben Blair and I both learned to drive stick when we were teenagers, so it’s not a problem for us. In fact, I enjoy driving a stick shift — I feel like a more engaged driver when I do.)
I’m not totally sure what this is about and why automatic transmission cars have not become a common thing here. I know that when I ask French people about it, they seem to have a certain amount of pride in the fact that they drive stick and not automatic — like automatic cars are silly or something. So maybe it’s similar to how Americans resist using the metric system, even though it’s way easier than the imperial system.
-One of the tricky things about living in a smaller town is that if something breaks down on a Friday afternoon, you’re stuck for the weekend. Our hot water heater went out on a Friday and there was nothing we could do until Monday. We did attempt to call severals plumbers, but either we wouldn’t get an answer because they were closed for the weekend, or we did get an answer but they couldn’t come till Monday or Tuesday. To make due, we would heat water on the stove and in the kettle for washing dishes and taking sponge baths. Hah!
-One of my only negatives about living here in Normandy is the giant spiders. In Oakland, our house was surrounded by trees and there were constantly spiders and webs all over the place. But they were generally the daddy-long-leg types and they didn’t bother me. Here, they are huge and gross and terrifying to me. Happily, they aren’t around in the cold weather!
I think that’s it for now. I hope you enjoy these little tidbits. Is there anything on this list that would be a deal breaker for you? Anything you feel you would prefer compared to how it works where you live currently? And do you have any questions or topics I should consider for my next observation post? Feel free to comment!