I’ve been here for about a month and a half now, and I’ve learned a few things about French culture and French people that seem important enough to pass along.
1). Personal space. There is none. And by none, I mean, personal space is limited to your person (and even that is sometimes questionable). Everything else is fair game. The metro is an excuse to get awkwardly close to people you’ve never seen, and will never see again.
2). Smoking is not an option, it’s a way of life. Don’t be surprised if someone lights up in the middle of their meal (and yours as well). Nowhere and nothing will stop a Frenchman from smoking a cigarette (not even in the rather confined quarters of the metro).
3). Even though the little green man says it’s okay to cross the street, it really means beware. Crossing the street is like survival of the fittest. Cars will run you over, even if you have “the right of way.” Oh, and if you get hit, it’s your fault. No questions asked.
4). Smiling. What’s that? Don’t smile at a French person, especially on the metro. And especially if they are of the opposite sex (this goes mainly for girls). That is an open invitation for undesired attention and possibly harassment.
5). Walk like you know where you’re going, even if your surroundings look as familiar as Mars. People will run you over if you’re too slow, and you will get yelled at for being in the way (in French, which adds even more drama to the situation).
6). The street is the world’s largest toilet. Don’t be surprised if you walk by someone who decided to take a “restroom break” on the corner. This goes for dogs, birds, and yes, even humans.
7). Coffee is never served before or during dinner. Do not ask for that espresso that you’ve been craving all day to be served with your meal. You will get funny looks, the waiter will mutter something under his breath, and even when you’ve insisted that you’re not crazy and want it with your meal, he still won’t bring you your coffee until after dinner.
8). It’s still mooing. Meat is served and eaten raw. That nice filet mignon you ordered for 30 Euros might as well still be alive, and if you ask for it “bien cuit” (well cooked), you might as well whip out your passport and proclaim: “I’m American!”
9). Where’s the ketchup? Because apparently Americans love ketchup with everything, it will be brought out to your table, no matter what you’re eating. And if you happen to be living with an 18-year-old French boy, he’ll show you how much he loves ketchup by pouring it all over his spaghetti.
10). Don’t wash all of your jeans at the same time. If you happen to be doing laundry and need clean jeans, don’t put them all in the same load. Space out laundry over a few days, because dryers don’t exist. Au natural air drying is the only way, and nothing is more uncomfortable than walking around in 40 degree weather with wet jeans. Trust me on this one.
…a few things I’d wish I’d known … mainly to reduce culture shock.