I’m a promiscuous alcoholic in France
You would think that for a country that is so geographically close to the UK, and that has had an enormous amount of influence on the Brits over the last thousand or so years, France would be pretty similar to Britain. But not so.
I am a Francophile. I studied French A level. Then I did a degree in French. Over my 38 years I have lived in France for 12 years and 6 months in 3 different time frames. I have only had French boyfriends since 1998, including a nearly 3 year relationship, and then Hubs, who I’ve been with now for 12 and a half years.
So I know France and the French pretty well.
Yet in the last few months I have discovered several surprising cultural differences between the French and us Brits, which I thought I’d share with you.
When I was a student in my early 20s – at university in Liverpool, with a year out in Nice, France and Murcia, Spain – my going out “uniform”, along with a lot of my friends, was a mini skirt (despite totally not having the legs for it!). On a Saturday night 90% of the 20 year old females you could see out in Liverpool were in mini skirts, and this didn’t shock anyone. And still doesn’t I believe.
However in France only prostitutes wear mini skirts. And when I say prostitutes I don’t mean woman with loose values that might be called such names, I mean actual prostitutes.
I’ve known this for a while, thought not at the time when I was wearing prostitute clothes in France on a night out and getting harassed, but later on, when I met Hubs and we talked about cultural differences.
However, still on the subject of sex and promiscuity, what I didn’t realise was the attitude to sex in France. I would say, in the UK, that if a woman is single and she meets a man, who is single, on a night out and has sex with him, that this wouldn’t shock most people I know. As long as they are safe, and it’s not too common an occurrence.
In France, though, this makes her promiscuous, and the French find this kind of behaviour very shocking. Fine. I’m sure there are plenty of people who find this wrong in the UK too.
BUT, the French do not seem to find the following shocking: a woman is married/in a serious relationship and has children, whilst she is still married she conducts an affair with a colleague/friend of her husband’s/neighbour who is also married with children. Simultaneously sleeping with her husband/partner and her lover. In general she then leaves her husband, breaks up the family home and starts a relationship with her lover, who also leaves his wife and breaks up his family home. (I’m not citing anyone in particular here – I know of about half a dozen friends/acquaintances in France who have been in this situation.)
Call me strange but I find that behaviour far more shocking than two single, consenting adults having safe sex on a Saturday night!
Moving on to alcohol now. Most Brits tend to assume that the French spend their time swilling wine. Not so.
The French don’t go to bars.
I discovered this very early on and got myself a bad name in the process. I was 22, living in Nice and had just started my first office job since graduating. On the first Friday, towards the end of the day, I asked if anyone wanted to go for after work drinks.
You should have seen the look I got from everyone. I could see them saying to themselves “who is this raging alcoholic?”. The French don’t do this. It’s just not in their culture. I could not have shocked them more by suggesting this. Not only do the French not go to bars, but they rarely socialise without their partners, and almost never with their colleagues.
You can imagine my delight when we moved back to the UK and after work drinks on a Friday was commonplace 🙂
Whilst I worked in bars in Nice, and frequented expat bars in Nice and on the French Riviera, I discovered recently that this is not representative of France at all. The French either go to restaurants, to each other’s houses, or the 20 somethings go out to nightclubs (but only really when they’re single as this is where they go on the pull, and the French would struggle to trust a boyfriend/girlfriend going to a nightclub without them).
One last point on alcohol – the French drink a lot less of it than us Brits. A typical meal in France (in a restaurant or at someone’s house) might include an apéritif such as a Pastis or a Kir before the meal, then one bottle of wine for 4-6 adults. Compare this to a meal in the UK where you may have a couple of pre-dinner drinks, and it would be more like a bottle of wine for 1-2 adults. Not to mention nights out in pubs or bars where the Brits really drink like it’s a competitive sport!
So despite being the lightweight when I’m with my friends in the UK, I’m the alcoholic in France!
There are so many cultural differences that I have started to write a book on them, but I thought I’d share these ones with you for now.
Are you a Frog in the UK? Are you a Rosbif in France? What are the main cultural differences you’ve noticed? Or for those of you who’ve travelled to France, what struck you the most culturally whilst there?
Very interesting. There goes my thoughts of them drinking wine heavily from a young age.
However, they do have many bars open. Are these just for local alcoholics and tourists then?
They do have bars but they tend to be frequented by local alcoholics or tourists, as you say. Although not usually both at the same time in the same bar 😉
Very interesting ! I’m a French living in the UK and I was prepared to disagree with you but I have to say I observed the same things. When go for drinks with French (women, I guess it’s different with men), we usually have something (OK a lot) to eat and we share a bottle of wine. When we have a mums night out at school with English friends, nobody eats anything but everyone orders a bottle in turn.
And yes the dress codes are different.
About sex I wouldn’t be so
sure but yes it might still be frowned upon to have sex on the first date. Second is fine 🙂
Regarding the last part of your comment, we are not talking about a date here. There is no courting involved! Lol. It is purely meeting a complete stranger in a bar or a nightclub during a night out, have sex with him on the same night and never see him again (and possibly never even bothering with asking his name! Lol). There is even a name for it: a one-night stand. There is no equivalent expression/word in French…
I would agree with Sophie that it is not quite so accepted in France whether there is nothing taboo about it here (generally speaking of course).
That’s right – one night stands, not dating.
Thanks! That makes me think that my observation is accurate then 😉 I was thinking more about one night stands rather than sex on the first date, as I’d say that’s pretty frowned upon in France;
Such an interesting post and to read about the cultural differences. I had a lot of French friends when at Uni but I suppose they just adapted to crazy uni life so the differences weren’t apparent. Ooh well done on the book, I’d buy it! x
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Those who are abroad often adapt, especially to the craziness of uni in the UK 🙂 But in France it’s a very different world! x
3 thoughts came to me whilst reading this:
1. In France, you definitely don’t go drinking straight after work! When I was in my early twenties and I went back home to France for holidays, it always surprised me that my friends would organise an evening out that would start at 11 pm.; no going to the pub before clubbing or anything like that. I would just be at home getting myself ready and thinking what the f#@* do I do until 11pm? I lived in the UK since 18 so I literally had no clue. Then you go clubbing or to a bar, and you drink but only to have something in your hand whilst you either dance or solve the world’s problems. And you get home around 4 am the next day.
2. To me it was wonderfully freeing in the UK to be able to dress like a girl without standing out. Dresses, girly outfits, accessories and makeup. In France, even when you go out, people tend to be quite understated and stick to black, grey and white conservative clothing. I loved owning lots of pretty things and wearing them as my normal clothes instead of just jeans and t-shirt all the time.
3. My husband looked very suspect with his beer drinking ‘habit’ in France. We were at my parents this one time and came home from the supermarket with all this Leffe beer. He drank about 4 one evening and you should have seen the raised eyebrows! The bottles were tiny, about half the size of the UK ones so he wasn’t drinking that much but I could see ‘alcoholic’ written all over my sister’s face. Yet I went to a house party with my brother this one time with all his mates and they were drinking vodka and tequila in the middle of the day so I don’t know what to tell you…
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That all sounds so true/familiar – when I moved to France I really struggled with the whole going out when the UK pubs were shutting! The two countries really are so different, aren’t they?
There are so many cultural differences between England and France, definitely plenty enough to write a book about them! 🙂
What you have listed in your blog are the most obvious ones that I have myself noticed when I first arrived in England as a student (I am French and I have now lived in the UK for 16 years). And then, it is only after living here for a few years that one really notices all the other cultural differences that are not so obvious only after a short stay or as a tourist.
On the top of my head, I can think of a few:
– the obsession of the Brits with properties and most specifically owning a property; one the very common questions that will come up when meeting new people is whether you own your house or you rent;
– the weird English tradition of the Christmas card which actually says nothing more than “To, from, Love xx”. French people do not see the point of that. In France, if you send a card out, you make an effort to actually write something in it! Also, in France you would not give a card out to someone you see before Christmas, or someone you see often enough to wish them a happy Christmas face to face. That also goes for birthdays. You would normally only send a birthday card to someone you are not going see on their birthday;
– the very importance of social classes in England, even though English people would never admit to that;
– the way people in England don’t care so much about their appearance, compared to France. While it is not completely unusual to see people do the school run or their weekly shopping in pyjamas in England, it is never heard of in France. This is an extreme case but I would say that generally, French people are much obsessed with the way they dress;
– generally, Brits are so much more courteous than French (especially when it comes to driving);
There is so much more I could say about cultural differences but there are just too many without spending hours listing them! Lol
One interesting read if you haven’t already read it is a book called “Watching the English, the hidden rules of English behaviour” by Kate Fox.
Just thought of another 2:
– the love of English people have for old houses with property features and character, while the French much prefer everything new with all modern conveniences.
I come from Normandy where quite a few English people have bought (and still buy) derelict old farms, these are properties that the French would never dream of buying (too old, too much work). Even if a French person would buy the property, they would demolish it all and start again from scratch, while the Brits will try to save as much of the property and its character as possible;
– this brings me to my second observation: the never ending optimism of the Brits vs the total pessimism of the French. No projects scare the Brits and they manage to complete amazing things, while the French would not even contemplate the idea and would have given up even before starting. Lol
I totally agree with you on the optimism vs pessimism, I also believe that the Brits tend to be more upbeat and happier than the French. Well in my own experience anyway. I can remember living on the French Riviera, with the sunshine, the beaches, the mountains, the views etc, and all people would do is moan, it really shocked me!
I have only just come across your blog and as a French mum living in London, I couldn’t agree more with the comment above: my fellow countrymen/women are really miserable! I put it down to the constant dieting and lack of drinking. Despite missing France terribly, I have never been happier than in the 13 years I have lived in the UK! I am a total Franglaise now, though, and have thoroughly adapted to he UK way of life as well as conveniently ‘forgotten’ the aspects of either culture I don’t want to pursue…!
That sounds so familiar! I tend to love the parts of the country that I’m living in and conveniently forget the bits that don’t suit me 😉 I do miss France but I do feel more myself in the UK. Welcome to the blog by the way 🙂
This is all so true, so my observations are obviously not wrong if you, coming from it in the opposite direction, agree with me 🙂 Thanks for sharing all of these!