You are here Home page > Explorer l’international > European section > 2013-2014 Interviews, Neknomination, frog eater, UAV, Hulk.... > What happens when French people are lost in the USA?
Published 19 March 2014

What happens when French people are lost in the USA?

Social differences in everyday life in the USA and France

  • What happens when French people are lost in the USA?

France and the USA are often considered as a similar part of the occidental world, but their peoples have sometimes dissimilar behaviors in their everyday life. The way they live and the feelings they give to the others are very different and specific to the country.

The American society is the self-made-man society, and this shows that it is more important for American people to develop their lives instead of just living it as in France. American people take from France what they most desire and in return, French people take what they need from the USA. Those beneficial exchanges are the basis for a productive relationship between France and the USA. Nevertheless, if each country is interested in the other, it is true that there are differences between them. People feel those differences without having them in mind, because they have grown up in two different societies and past and recent histories and societies make French and American people think differently.
An example of the back and forth exchanges is that hip-hop music was born in America and then transmitted to France, where the first show only made for hip-hop was created in the 80s. And yet French hip-hop artists do not copy American artists but have created their own hip-hop music, which is now a part of the French culture. Even if people mark cultural practices as French or American, this shows only the concerns of a given moment. One of the differences between French and American people you can easily see is the way to say hello. In France, the most common way with friends is to greet them with a “bise”, which involves alternately pecking the friend on each cheek up to four times, in the USA the most common way is a handshake. American natives recognize quickly foreigners, and as part of them, the French by what they call the French je-ne-sais-quoi.

I made a trip with my family from New York to Chicago last year. Everywhere we met people who were ready to help us or just to chat with us.
In big cities like New York and Chicago, each time we stood on the street looking for a shop or a road sign someone came to us asking if we needed help. Once we were standing in the stairs of a subway exit, and a man thought we needed help whereas my father was just taking a photo. Another time, a man helped us find a fast food restaurant while he had just arrived in the city for his job and did not know it. Last, one evening as we were coming back home late, we went out of the subway by an exit we did not know and did not recognize the neighborhood. A black man saw us and explained how to go home without passing though a park, which was not recommended for white people at 11:00 pm in Brooklyn.
In a small shopping center lost in the middle of nowhere, we had breakfast in a fast food. Two grannies and two grandpas were drinking coffees. One of the grannies came towards us to chat and learn more about the strangers she had not met before. The most incredible was that she had not suspected that we were not American.

All the people who helped us or with whom we chatted were American. Actually, they naturally came towards us at any time and anywhere. I thing it is the major difference we can see between France and the USA when standing in the street : in the USA people are more open, receptive and attentive to others than in France, where people sometimes give help only if someone asks them for it.