Cultural differences…

February 25, 2010

Each time I visit the states I discover more ways in which I’ve been Francophiled.  This time it was a trip to my favorite haunt, Wal-Mart (Sadly, it’s become a bit of an addiction.)  On this visit, as usual, I noticed the largeness of everything.  Yes, it’s been documented that Americans are slightly fuller than the French (And if I continue to escape my household for the States each time the girls have a school vacation, I will begin to look more American and less French.  Okay, so I don’t really have the French women’s physique, I look more like those half-naked women artists loved to paint lounging around in gardens, you know, the kind with plump cheeks (butt) and thick legs.).  And being 6 months pregnant doesn’t help.

I made a detour to the McDonald’s conveniently placed at the exit for my Coke.  It was three o’clock in the afternoon, a non eating hour for the French as it was after lunch and before the gouter, afternoon snack. I got in line behind three people all ordering large meals and the fact that I noticed this and thought to myself that it’s not time to eat already makes me more French.  Then it was my turn.  I asked the guy for a large Coke and he pulled out what had to be a two liter sized cup.  My eyes bulged and I asked if it was too late to downsize.  “No problem,” he said with a laugh then pulled out the medium, the large size in France.

My male French friends have remarked on the size of American cars.  This is definitely a plus for me, not the car size but the fact that large cars equal large parking spaces.  In France, there are certain parking spaces in which I find it impossible to park – and I have an average sized car.  My town renovated the main parking lot a year and a half ago.  The first thing everyone noticed when it finally reopened was that in certain portions of the lot, if there is another car parked in the facing space, it’s impossible to pull directly out.  A three-point back up is needed to get out.  Chalk that one up to poor design.  They also decided an overhead rail was needed above the entrance which they made so low most buses can’t enter.  I don’t think it was their intention to discourage tourism.  The tourist office is located at the far end of the parking lot. 

Parking in France really becomes and issue when you have children.  I’ve found myself in a spot, the car perfectly centered between the two lines and the cars on either side equally well parked and yet it is impossible to open the car door wide enough to get Angeline out of her car seat.  I have to unhook her belt from the front seat then stand at the edge of her cracked car door, reach in and hoist her out (And she one heavy hoist!) shimmying her through the thin space and over the top of the car door.  My other two, being skinny French girls, can climb out on their own and squeeze through the small opening.  In another month, it’s going to be interesting for me to squeeze my pregnant belly out.  I’m going to have to consider this before I park. 

Raphael’s favorite store in the states is the super sized grocery store.  It’s the only place he can find decently strong and stinky cheese.  But his forays into American grocery shopping often leave him confused.  First of all the apples.  They must be waxed and buffed because even though they are the same kind that we have in France, they are twice as shiny.  And he wonders, since they are the most treated fruit in France, how much insecticide is on our over treated American apples.  Then there are the potatoes.  Why are they not marked ‘good for baking’, ‘good for french fries’, ‘good for mashing’ as they are in France?  How do you know which bag to buy, he asked me?  How should I know?  My mom always bought the big brown ones in the 10 pound bag.

In France, no grocery store worker will voluntarily ask if you need help.  Raphael, wandering around the produce department in my hometown store, where he probably spent 45 minutes of the two hours he was in the store, was amazed that two people actually asked if he needed help.  The problem, when he replied yes and asked each one what he deemed a simple question (I believe it was the potato question), no one knew the answer.  In France, all the workers know the answers, they just don’t want you to ask.  (Can you imagine going into your local grocery store and asking the produce worker what potatoes are best to mash, or as Raphael probably said ‘puree’, what potatoes are best for french fries and so on?  And with Raphael’s accent!  He might as well have just asked in French.



  1. If you want strong and sticky cheese while staying in the States you should check out Giant Eagle Market Place they supposedly have 400+ types of cheeses.

  2. Stopping by to say hi. I might not live too far from you in Provence. I work in a tourist office, but not the one you decribed in the parking lot. After many years in France, I’ve been Frenchified, too.

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