Life in Paris

10 Things in France that are Weird for a British Expat

It’s been nearly 8 years now since I became an expat and although I would say I’ve almost entirely adjusted to France’s culture, there are things that never cease to 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. They still have plug sockets in the bathroom

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? We all remember what happened to Mel Gibson in What Women Want! 

Click here to see the trailer for What Women Want.

Image result for mel gibson what women want bathroom

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 I can even choose if I want to pay extra to have a more comfortable seat. Here, you have no choice of seats. In general, if the movie just came out you have to get there a lot in advance and wait in line to make sure you can then get a seat with your friend or partner. When the doors open you experience a sort of stampede to get a decent seat. It’s total madness.

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

In France the firemen double up as paramedics so often when you need help you don’t call for an ambulance, you call the fire brigade. If it’s really bad, you call an ambulance but 90% of the time it’s the firemen dealing with most issues. Not that us girls are complaining mind…

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4. Medicine isn’t sold in the supermarkets

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 a security guard who thought I was “acting suspiciously.” When I got home, confused and now a suspicious character in my local supermarket, my host mum at the time explained that medicine was in fact, not sold in supermarkets in France. Lesson learnt.

5. Supermarkets don’t do cashback

When I think about the first time I tried to ask for cashback, I’m pretty certain that they thought I was trying to rob the supermarket.

“You are paying by card but you want me to give you money back, c’est quoi ce bordel??”

6. They sell Speculoos as a spread

Speculoos is a type of spiced biscuit that tastes like a mix of cinammon and ginger. In England you get them with your 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.

Click here to shop for Speculoos!

Image result for speculoos

7. The concept of letting people get off public transport (before you get on) doesn’t exist

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’s 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 on at the same time, what will happen?” NOTHING. NADA. STALEMATE.

8. You can’t buy bacon in French supermarkets

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

9. 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”.

I have to admit, he was right and I have now converted to using a spoon. It also makes eating it from the jar easier!

10. 2 is not 2.

When you want to say two using your fingers in England, you put them facing forward. Here, when you want to say two using your fingers, you put them facing backwards. Unfortunately in English backwards means something a lot worse AND a lot more aggressive. I remember the first time a guy asked me for 2 beers in a bar using his fingers, the music was loud so I couldn’t hear anything and if my colleague hadn’t very quickly intervened I probably would have ended up in a shouting match.

There are so many more things that I could write about but these are my favourites! I hope you enjoy discovering all of France’s quirks as much as I have over the years.


  • Diane

    Hey Chloe! Love this and sharing on FB. A few apply to the US as well, #4 & 5. I’ve actually found American-style bacon at supermarkets out here in the Maine-Et-Loire, but not sure if it’s the same as what you have in the UK. Comes in nature or fume, nice, long strips.

    One question though, do you not have any plug sockets in the bathroom in the UK at all, so if you want to blow dry your hair, you have to do it in the bedroom? I believe in the US, for electricity to be to code, you can’t have a plug within a certain distance of the bathtub but I know there are sockets in US bathrooms. In my bathroom in france, there’s a socket right next to the sink, but that’s the only one.

    Have a great week! 😉

    • My Life Living Abroad

      HI dIANE! Yes in fact in england it is totally forbidden so we always dry our hair in the bedroom. i have never thought it was weird haha but perhaps it is!

  • Melissa

    Didn’t know the thing about the 2 finger communication in the UK. will definitely keep in mind next time I visit haha! Funny article. Most USA theatres also don’t have assigned seats and when I went to a movie somewhere else that had them, I thought it was such a revolutionary idea.

    • My Life Living Abroad

      haha yes the two finger thing causes a lot of issues! I agree about the seats, I don’t understand why they don’t do that here!

  • L. Coleman

    # 10: Dumb question, but which way is “forward” and which is “backward”?
    From US so don’t understand. I spend time in Paris.

    • My Life Living Abroad

      haha I’ve never realised there were any discrepancies between the UK and the US! Forward for us is when you nails are facing you and backwards is when your nails are facing away from you. That’s the only way I can think of explaining it.

  • joyce rousselot

    The two finger thing nails forward in UK here in Paris has been replaced by the american middle finger sign!

    Upper case is stuck, don’t understand why…….

  • James

    Great post! Really weird to read about this since everything you’ve described is done in the usa too. I never imagined things to be otherwise, haha!

  • Clive Jones

    UK is an exception when it comes to sockets on bathrooms, most other countries do permit them, which is why they are now allowed in UK bathrooms under certain, strict conditions and must be installed by a qualified sparky. However, I still would not recommend them.

    Yes, I have been wondering about medicines in supermarkets but never dared ask.

    • My Life Living Abroad

      We have plug sockets in our bathroom and I don’t like it, I think it’s so dangerous! I suppose I will always find it strange because we never had them at home…

  • Clive Jones

    I too have never seen what we would call bacon in the shops and also the French don’t seem to do golden syrup, yet they do sell porridge oats. Obviously it has never occurred to them that the too go together very well.

    • My Life Living Abroad

      I think the French don’t like anything too sugary so syrup isn’t really popular here, but I do agree that they go spectacularly well together!

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