Things about the US that I miss when I’m in France

Although when I’m in the US I’m generally counting the days until I can get back to France, there are definitely things about the US that I miss when I’m in the City of Light.

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Although when I’m in the US I’m generally counting the days until I can get back to France, there are definitely things about the US that I miss when I’m in the City of Light.

  • Soft towels.  You think I’m kidding?  Do this search on Google and you’ll find that this is a very common issue for Americans in France: “crunchy towels” france.
  • Big cups of coffee, with free refills.  I like to sit in a café with my little cup of espresso as much as the next guy, but I miss the big cups of coffee that we Americans are so used to.
  • Understanding little snatches of conversation in the street.  For me, understanding a discourse about the nature of happiness at a café philo is not nearly as satisfying as walking by people on the street and catching those little snatches of …and then she…so my brother said…no matter how hard you…next Tuesday…
  • Tortillas.  Paris is the New York of Europe, and you can buy anything there–except, for no reason that I can understand, corn tortillas.  When I get on the plane to France, there’s usually a bag of fresh tortillas in my luggage for my Mexican friend who lives there, and those are the last tortillas that I see until I get back to the US.
  • Knowing that no matter how late I stay in the lab, I’ll be able to find a store open on my way home from work.  Very few French stores are open past 7 PM.
  • The customer always being right.  If you’ve spent much time in France and the US, this needs no further explanation–if you haven’t, see here.
  • Casual interactions with strangers.  Americans will talk to anyone, anywhere.  Stand in line with an American at any tourist attraction at Paris, and by the time you get to where you’re going, you’ll know where they’re from, their favorite TV show, and where their kids go to college.  Sit next to any French person on a plane across the Atlantic for several hours, and by the time the plane lands, the extent of your conversation will have been excuse me, may I get up?  In contrast, I once sat next to an American woman on a much shorter flight, from Chicago to Denver, and the next thing I knew, we were married.
  • All of the plugs fitting my gadgets/not having to worry about forgetting that I need a transformer and destroying my gadgets.
  • My minuscule art collection.  I own very little, but do have a number of paintings.  I don’t know of any way to shlep them back and forth, so whatever is on the walls of the apartment that I rent in Paris is what I stare at until I go back to the US.
  • Being able to sound educated when I want to/being able to sound casual when I want to.  In an English-speaking environment, if I want to sound like a professor, I can–I am one.  If I want to sound like a sailor, I can do that, too–I was one, for many years.  In France, I can’t tell the difference between French as spoken by a college professor and French as spoken by the drunk who habitually sits slumped against a stanchion at the metro station by my house, and I know that I mix both kinds of French together all the time, not knowing the difference.
  • Knowing that if I lock myself out of the house, someone can come and let me in.  My biggest fear in France is not a terrorist attack, or a repeat of the 1871 revolution (20,000 Parisians were killed by the French army), or a repeat of the German invasions of 1870, 1914, and 1940, but locking myself out of my apartment in a city in which I know almost no one.  (Side note: I once spent a few days in Jena, the small town in east Germany where Napoleon crushed the German army.  The bridge that leads from the Trocadero to the Eiffel Tower is named after it.  I’ve heard that when the Germans entered Paris in 1940, the first thing that the occupying general wanted to do was blow it up, but they didn’t.  Today you will find at least one shell game scam artist on it pretty much every day of the year–tourists beware.  Jena itself is very nice, despite the fact that we bombed the shit out of it during World War II–there was a factory there that manufactured bomb sights.  The local schwartzbier has to be tasted to be believed, and I cannot say enough good things about the local sausages, which are somewhat comical in that the sausages themselves are quite long, but the bun that comes with them is just this little round thing.)
  • Back yards and front porches.  The stereotypical American life involves lots of sitting in back yards and on front porches, but in Paris, those things don’t exist–everyone lives in apartments, and if you want to sit outside with your friends, or a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper, or your dog, you go to a cafe.
  • 3×5 index cards.  Much of my life is spent sitting with a pile of index cards in my hand, memorizing the many vocabulary items that you read about on this blog.  However, if it’s possible to buy an index card in France, I’m not aware of it.
  • My judo bag.  Along with my paintings, this goes into the category of things that are too bulky to be shlepped back and forth between France and the US, so I usually carry my stuff to practice in a carry-on or something, and I feel silly.
  • Knowing where to buy things.  Need a tablecloth in the US?  I know exactly where to go to buy one, depending on whether you want a nice one, a crappy one, a weird size/shape, or whatever.  Contact lens solution?  Of course.  Socks?  A finger nail file?  I don’t know where to buy any of those in France.
  • Feeling like a competent adult because I understand the basics of how to do things.  If you’ve been following this blog for the past year and a half, you know that in France, I struggle constantly to get and keep phone service.  Trying to pick up my mail is unsuccessful more often than it isn’t.  Checking the balance on my French bank account?  Forget it.  At 54, I can negotiate much more difficult things than that in America without really giving it much thought.  In France?  I’m as helpless as a college freshman with helicopter parents.
  • Stars.  In the US, 4 AM typically finds me outside with one of those big cups of coffee in my hand, checking the position of the Big Dipper and looking for planets.  Everything is spread apart–there’s just more space on this very big continent.  In Paris, only a small patch of sky is visible between the apartment buildings on either side of my street, and in any case, it’s cloudy much of the year.

All of this notwithstanding, I do indeed spend much of my time in the US waiting impatiently to get back to France, and a lot of my energy goes into figuring out how to get back to France as soon as possible and stay there as long as possible.  Watch this space for things about France that I miss when I’m in the US.

  • la Grande Casserole: the Big Dipper.
  • la casserole: pan; stew, casserole; scandal, disgrace; out-of-tune instrument.
  • trimbaler: to shlep.



5 thoughts on “Things about the US that I miss when I’m in France”

  1. If you tend to end up married to people you talk to on planes, that would explain why many people (especially those who are already married) avoid talking to you on planes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Humans are strange creatures indeed: you miss all that in Paris and always pine to go back? Porches are one of the things I love about the US, as well as coffee you can actually enjoy drinking, and even in Italy they’ve deregulated store hours so you don’t have to starve after late office work. You can even buy pyjamas if the airline’s lost your luggage. Don’t know where Jena comes in, but I’ll keep it in mind.


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