They’re crazy. But so are we.

We have enjoyed a year of discovering life in France, the good, the bad and the ugly, which there hasn’t been much of.  But we have so many funny conversations about some of the things they do here that are just crazy.  So we, prompted by a similar list put together by a friend-of-a-friend in Southern France, decided to write down all the things we think the French do well and all the things they don’t “get”.  And, to be fair, we decided to do the same for the United States.  It’s all in good fun so, Americans, don’t be offended by any of our opinions.  Some goes for any of you Francophones.

Here goes.

Things the French get:

The cafe scene, a long lunch and dinner around a table.  Food is the connector here and you are expected to take the time to enjoy it.

Shopping almost daily.  Fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh cheese…every meal.  And the year-round markets in every neighborhood.  I love walking home with fresh veggies almost every day when we walk home from school.  And Julian is going to have a long walk next year when he heads out to get a fresh baguette right before dinner is set on the table.

The ability to be honest and disagree in a conversation without any offense taken.  Americans are way too passive-aggressive.

Some simple formalities:  cursive writing, proper greetings when you see a friend or go to their home (yes, kisses) including kids individually kissing each person in the room they enter, fountain pens, respect for elders.

Measurements.  Enough with the cups and spoons.  Get a scale and get on with it!  Seriously, baking is so much more simple over here.  And the dish washing?  Considerably minimized.  If only I had known all this, first hand, when I had that darn Williams-Sonoma discount.  I could always go back…

Dressing up, even to school.  You rarely see a t-shirt, even on kids.  And unless you are running, you aren’t wearing running shoes.  Better get yourself some ballet flats or cute boots before you visit.  Boys?  Get colored converse or dress shoes.

Vacations/Holidays.  Whether it’s a part of your benefits package or the way the school year is structured, there is value placed on time off.  And the school holidays are dictated by the country so all schools in particular areas of the country have the same holidays.  Makes sense and sure gives families time together.

Things the French don’t get:

Bearing to the right.  Seriously, the French take over the sidewalks and it wouldn’t matter if you were on crutches.  They aren’t moving.  In fact, they saunter and weave.  At this point, we all just roll our eyes and then jet past them because, well, if I’m being honest, we are the fastest walking family ever.  And proud of it.  These kids can move!  But that’s a story for another time.

A travel mug.  The French would never consider walking around with a drink on their way from one place to another.  If you need a cup of coffee (or anything else, for that matter), you go in, order it, and sit for a spell to enjoy it.  Usually in the company of others.

Cleaning up after their dogs.  Do I need to explain this?

Things Americans get:

Greeting others, whether they know them or not.  I can’t go for a walk or run anywhere in the States without saying ‘hi’ to almost everyone I pass.  In fact, if you don’t get even a smile or a nod, it’s a big deal.  No one really even looks at you here.

Teaching our kids to be kind.  There is a lot of bullying here and not a lot of support in the schools for it to stop.  In America sometimes we go to the extreme of coddling our kids (Everyone gets a trophy!  We’re all winners!), but we do teach them the importance of caring.

Community.  In America people belong to communities.  We are Packer fans, Cardinals fan, part of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, we live in Middleton Hills, you serve on a board, we go to St. Bernard’s church, I’m in a Bunco group, others are on soccer teams, I’m in a book club, we run with Fleet Feet, we act with Verona Area Community Theatre.  It all makes you feel a part of something and that is important.  I mentioned t-shirts before and I do like that people here aren’t running around in sweats and casual dress hasn’t become a chance to be as sloppy as possible, especially in a work place.  But the funny thing about t-shirts?  They can be community builders.  And even in our travels here, if we see someone in a logo we are familiar with, like the young man in Barcelona wearing the Iowa Hawkeye shirt, we’re going to reach out and have an automatic connection.

Larger convenience stores.  Yes, the specialty stores here are nice and quaint.  But sometimes you just really want the convenience of Target.  Or Costco.

Girls can play sports, too.

Things Americans don’t get:

The importance of learning a foreign language.  By 6th grade in almost every other country in the world, most kids can speak two languages, if not more.  At most US schools, you don’t even begin thinking about a foreign language until 6th grade.  Take it from someone that is struggling, at age 45, to learn new tricks: we need to start earlier.  And watching “Dora the Explorer” is not enough.

The idea that bigger isn’t necessarily better.  Bigger house.  Bigger car.  Bigger yard.  More, more, more.

Public transportation.  I don’t want to start a debate here but even in smaller cities, like Madison, it’s hard for people to even embrace taking the bus.  Even the public bikes are used year-round and by just about everyone.  Cars are one of the last options considered here.

Things we all have in common:

People are proud of where they are from and most have good humor when it comes to poking fun of themselves and their homeland.

Politics and religion divide people everywhere.

For the most part, we are all just trying to be the best parents, spouses, kids and friends we can be.  Life is hard and we need each other.  Friends and family are more important than anything else.

Well?  Anything we missed?  Let us know what you think and if you have something to add…

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Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “They’re crazy. But so are we.

  1. Hey, I’ve been enjoying your blog which Jessica B recommended to me quite recently. How amazing that you have managed to have this time in Paris. I yearn to go back.

  2. Linda

    Hi Kelley,

    I agree with your observations about the French and Americans. When I was in Paris, I didn’t feel that the French were friendly. When I run in America, I definitely, smile or wave to every runner or walker. My dad taught me this when I was around 10. I love the things that you found in common between both cultures. Thanks for writing. Have fun with Jenny & Mike. Your writing makes me want to dig out my journals from traveling in Europe & living in Ireland.

  3. Megan

    Loved reading the observations. So true about the foreign languages. Bugs me so much that this is not part of the core courses.

  4. Karen Hoffmeier

    Lots of things to think about. Certainly wish I had had a second language other than Latin!!! I will try very hard not to wear my workout shoes when I’m visiting. Your kids are very fortunate that you two put so much effort into creating a wonderful year for them. Enjoy your up coming trip to Africa!! 🙂

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