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?