When I’m in France, I don’t make any effort to look or to act French, other than common courtesies like saying bon jour when I walk into a shop, not talking loudly on the train, and of course speaking French. I figure that it’s useless to try to “pass,” and it doesn’t really seem worth trying.
However, there are definitely things that I do routinely in America, but would never do in France. Here are some examples.
Wear a beret
This is the big one. In Paris, no one, no one, NO ONE wears a beret. OK: once in a rare while, a girl, but only if it accessorizes her outfit perfectly. Otherwise: it just doesn’t happen. In a year and a half of hanging out in France off and on, I have seen exactly one man wearing a beret. Just don’t do it.
On the other hand, in America, I feel free to do so. It’s a little weird, but at my age, you’ve long since stopped worrying about looking normal. For someone who, like me, is completely bald, in certain weather it’s the perfect way to keep my head warm. As my baby brother would say: in the winter, I rock my beret.
Say hello to strangers on the street
I read somewhere that walking down the street in France smiling and nodding at people you don’t know will be taken as a sign of either insanity or senility. However, saying hello to strangers is something that is difficult for us Americans not to do. True, the whole thing is complicated by an interaction between race, gender, age, and social class, and it works differently in different parts of the country–but, yes: there are definitely situations in which you would say hello to a stranger while walking down the street in a typical American city. I counted: three people said hello to me on my way to work today. (I’m in America at the moment.) I probably couldn’t tell you what internal calculations went into the largely unconscious decision about which strangers I greeted myself and which I didn’t, but it’s definitely a thing here.
Eating a hamburger in France just seems wrong. There are so many other great things to eat that we can’t get in America, and besides, why would you think that a French restaurant would do a good job with a hamburger? Plus, there are strong cultural reasons not to do so. As one French person said to me: I don’t ever walk into a McDonald’s–it’s against my beliefs. In America, on the other hand, I will allow myself a Whopper every couple months. Not healthy, but sooo good…
At the end of my first stay in France, my host had a little pot for me–a small party with drinks. When it was time for me to say my last goodbyes, Brigitte leaned towards me, and I towards her–her to give me a bise, and me to hug her. We both jumped just a bit backward, in only partially hidden shock. My host was watching, and observed, with a laugh: of course–he’s American, and he does what Americans do, and she’s French, and she does what French people do. The people with whom you would hug in France are quite limited. I didn’t even know that there was a verb for hugging in French (étreindre) until I was writing this–I’d only ever heard the expression prendre dans ses bras, to take someone in your arms.
In contrast, in America, I hug people all the time. I haven’t seen my grad student for a while? He gets a hug. First time back in my lab after a few weeks in France? Hugs from all of the administrative staff. Judo tournament? Hugs for all of my friends, then trying to kill each other, then hugs again. Kisses, on the other hand, are only for family–my father, my son, my brother, my cousins, my aunt.
So: by the time I go back to France, I will have worn a beret, I will have said hello to strangers on the street, I will have eaten a hamburger, and I will have hugged people. If I were going to admit to these behaviors which will be completed at some point in the future, what grammatical construction would I use? In French, it’s the futur antérieur, or future perfect. Remember that “perfect” refers to things that are completed–the future perfect tense is used to refer to things that will have been completed in the future. (See, that’s a future perfect right there–will have been completed.)
The formula for the futur antérieur is quite simple:
future + past participle
The verb in the future can only be one of avoir or être, so the number of verbs for which we have to know the future tense in order to form the futur antérieur is not at all daunting. Whether it will be avoir or être is determined by the usual rule(s). Here are some straightforward examples–we’ll get into negation, reflexives, etc., in the future.
By the time you read this, I will have spent, like, ages responding to emails. I hate email!
4 thoughts on “Things I do in America that I would never do in France”
Hugging is so much more laid-back – specially as the kisses tend to be air-kisses. Not eating at McDonald’s because of beliefs (?) is pretty biased. But I did use to see berets worn down in Pays Basque 🙂
I’ll have to go to the Pays Basque! Speaking of which: during my first stay in France, I looked all over Paris (and, indeed, Montpellier) for a good beret. I went to hat store after hat store: nothing. Finally, after about a month of looking, I went to a place where the clerk dug under some counters and pulled out a béret basque–a beautiful wool thing, lined, 45-50 euros. Well worth the search.