15 Things in France that are Weird for Expats.

It’s been four years now since I moved to France and although I would say I’ve almost entirely adjusted to the culture , there are things that still surprise me. As I’m British this post will mostly focus on things that us Brits struggle to understand when we move across the pond.

1. Plug sockets in the bathroom. Electricity + water = what the heck were you thinking France??
In the UK plug sockets in the bathroom are banned and for good reason. The bathroom is possibly the most dangerous room in the house when it comes to electrical safety. Plugs in the bathroom are literally a recipe for disaster. Why does France still have them??


2. When you buy your cinema ticket you don’t get to choose your seat.

At home when I buy my cinema ticket I simultaneously choose if I want to sit in the front, middle or back and if I want to pay extra to have the more comfortable seats. Here you have no choice of seats and all the seats are the same. In general if the movie just came out you get there an hour before and wait in line to make sure you get a seat together. When the doors open you experience a sort of stampede to get a decent seat. Total madness.

3. Someone cut their head open? Call The Firemen!!! ………sorry what?

In France the firemen double up as paramedics so often when you need help you don’t call for an ambluance, you call the fire brigade. If it is really really bad you call an ambulance but generally it’s the firemen dealing with most issues. Not that us girls are complaining…


4. Medicine isn’t sold in the supermarkets. Not even Paracetamol.
I remember the first few months of living in France. I kept walking around supermarkets convinced I had missed the aisle or maybe it was sold behind the counter. I walked around and around until eventually I caught the attention of the security guard who thought I was ‘acting suspiciously.’ When I got home, confused and now a ‘suspicious character’ my host mum at the time explained that medicine was in fact, not sold in supermarkets in France. Lesson learnt.

5. Supermarkets and shops are closed on Sundays.
Most English people want to go to the supermarket on Sunday for a) hangover food b) headache tablets to cure the hangover and c) cheap cheesy movies to survive the hangover. So when supermarkets here are all closed Sundays can become extraordinarily long. It’s also inconvenient if you work on Saturdays because you don’t have the possibility to do any kind of shopping on Sundays. However it does show that the French value the concept of family time more than we do in the UK.

Saturday rush in Paris
Saturday rush in Paris

6. Supermarkets don’t do cashback.
I remember when I tried to ask for cashback, I’m pretty certain they thought I was trying to rob the supermarket. “You are paying by card but you want me to give you money??”

7. Speculoos (which is actually imported from Belgium!) 

Speculoos is a type of spiced biscuit that tastes like a mix of cinammon and ginger. In England we get them with our coffee in restaurants, it’s the free biscuit on the side of your coffee saucer. In France they sell it in a spread which is very popular! It sounds weird but it’s actually kind of delicious.

mmm speculoos
mmm speculoos

8. The concept of letting people get out of the train, RER, bus or metro before trying to get on
Spend a bit of time in Paris and you will quickly see that 90% of the time this ‘concept’ doesn’t exist. I’m not speaking for the whole of France here, but here in the city it is a massive issue. People can be really illogical. It’s pure mathematics:

“If there are 10 people trying to get off the train and 10 people trying to get in at the same time, what will happen?” NOTHING. NADA. STALEMATE.

9. You can’t buy bacon.
You can buy something called poitrine fumée but it is not and never will be bacon. It doesn’t even taste the same.

Top - bacon, bottom - fake bacon
Top:bacon, bottom:fake bacon

10. Crisp flavours we know and love aren’t available. 
At home we have an unnatural amount of crisp flavours – pickled onion, prawn cocktail, cheese and onion, smoky bacon, chicken and so much more. In France you have two choices: plain or BBQ.

11. There is no Bisto gravy.
Imagine a world without Bisto gravy, it’s France. It isn’t sold here in supermarkets and when you’re trying to explain what it is to French people they don’t understand because there is no translation for it. It’s a very confusing situation.

12. There is also no jelly.
Jelly is easier to explain. However the French don’t really understand why we like it so much and they definitely wouldn’t give it to their children. You can find it in the odd Expat shop but the price compared to 60p in the UK will make you silently weep.

13. No school on Wednesdays.
Kids here get Wednesdays off, either half the day or the whole day. Why? Who knows? Apparently it’s to make children less tired.

14. Spreading nutella with a spoon.
I thought it might just be my other half’s family but it turns out it’s most French people. When I asked my boyfriend why he used a spoon he said it’s the perfect way to get the right amount of nutella on a piece of bread/brioche. I have to admit, he was right and I have now converted to the spoon. NutellaSpoon

15. 2 is not 2.
In England when you want to say two using your fingers you put them facing forward. In France when you want to say two using your fingers you put them facing backwards. Unfortunately in English backwards means something a lot worse, a lot more aggressive. I remember the first time a guy asked me for 2 beers in a bar using his fingers, if my colleague hadn’t very quickly intervened I probably would have done something I would now regret.


There are many more I could write about but these were my favourite.

Happy blogging.


2 thoughts on “15 Things in France that are Weird for Expats.

  1. Good post!
    Agreed with most points, but disagree with the following:

    1. Medicine isn’t sold in the supermarkets. Not even Paracetamol.

    In a store like Auchan or the BIG Carrefour, its quite easy to find over the counter medicines.

    2. Crisp flavours we know and love aren’t available

    They do have cheese and onion!

    3. The concept of letting people get out of the train, RER, bus or metro before trying to get on

    For the bus it won’t really make sense because the doors to board and deboard the bus are different. In the Metro and RER, people are usually polite enough to follow this ‘rule’, except for when you are by the Gre du Nord or saint Denis are, then you have to fight for it 🙂

    Source: Lived for 7 years in Paris

    1. Thank you for your feedback 🙂

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