Home » Commentary » Three Things You’ll Never See in France
Commentary French Culture

Three Things You’ll Never See in France

After 15 years of living in France, I realized that there are a few sights, quite common back in my home country (that would be the USA), that I’ve never seen here. Some old stereotypes die hard, but believe me when I tell you that there are obese French people (I’ve seen at least two), jeans and sneakers (even in the most fashionable districts of Paris), and even peanut butter at the French supermarket (Oreos, too). But these are three things I have yet to see on the streets of France:

1 Bumper Stickers

Aside from the occasional bébé à bord sticker on the back windshield, I’ve never seen a French car (owned by a French person, that is), covered in bumper stickers. The French obviously feel no need to broadcast their politics, their religion, or their children’s honor roll status on the back of their vehicle.  



2 People Walking with Beverages

Not only do the French not carry around Big Gulps, last I checked they don’t even *have* them. The only place to get a carbonated drink “to go” is at McDonald’s (or Quick, the Belgian version) , and I’ve never seen anyone drinking one while walking down the street (ditto for canned softdrinks, which are also slightly smaller in France than the US). As for coffee, Starbucks has indeed come to Paris, but I still haven’t seen anyone (but a loud American tourist) drinking one on the go. For the French, the most important part of the phrase Pause Café (or “Coffee Break”) is the Pause. You’re supposed to sit down and relax with your coffee here.



3 A French Flag on the Porch

In France, and most European countries like Germany (for more obvious reasons), the national flag is only flown in front of government buildings, libraries, schools, museums, memorials and monuments. Sometimes sports fans can be seen running through the streets wearing their flag after a victory, but you’d never see a private home with a flagpole out front. Some would consider it nationalistic (and yes, there’s a fine line between nationalism and patriotism), and perhaps for anyone not raised like myself in a culture of flag-waving fervor, it would just seem odd. Maybe French expats in America fly their country’s flag on their home because it’s a “normal” thing to do in the US.

There may be a few I missed…anyone?


Click here to post a comment

Have something to say? Join the conversation!

  • Well said. Unfortunately there is a very fine line between patriotism and jingoism. Unfortunately, too many Americans cross that line. Benjamin Franklin called patriotism the last refuge of a scoundrel. And it certainly can be.I've spent enough time in France to know how right you are about the French respecting their military heritage, along with the sacrifices soldiers from other nations have made on their behalf. My own father was killed in Normandy in 1944 some five weeks after the invasion. He is buried at the Normandy-American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. Some years ago, returning to my hotel after visiting his grave, I had my pocket picked in the Metro. The next day I was lunching in a Left Bank bistro and mentioned what had happened to a young friend who worked there. She, in turn, told some friends of hers who were also lunching there. They were horrified (and mad as bloody hell), and after many apologies, paid for my lunch. And people wonder why I love Paris.About those God-awful bumper stickers, particularly those extolling the virtues of "honor students", I got one that said, "My Boxer is smarter than your honor student!" And in Coco's case, it was true.

  • Okay folks, this article is to point out things you never see in France, and my opinion on WHY you don't see them. It's not supposed to imply that these things *shouldn't* exist in the US, or that they *should* exist in France, or to say one country is "right" and another "wrong". The point I was trying to make here is that even though in the past 15 years Parisians are starting to look more like Americans and more American products are available in Parisian shops, these are three things that I realized I've never seen. That's my job as a journalist, to spot what stands out and shed some light on it. And to Diana: the French are VERY proud of their country and respectful of their military sacrifices (there's a monument to those who died in the past two World Wars on almost every street corner in the country), but they show it in different ways than displaying the flag on their home. Again, not saying either is right or wrong, it's just different.

  • Why should the French do non French things, or Americans do non American things? If you dont like a specific country, simply dont visit or live there.

  • The reason Americans proudly display their flag on their front porch for a couple of reasons. Veterans display the flag because they risked their lives fighting for what it stands for. Relatives of veterans who have lost their lives fly the flag in memory of their loved ones. I have ancestors who fought in every war since the American Revolution and I am proud to honor their memory. Then there are some of us who just really love our country and we are not afraid to show it. Truly, when it is all said and done I cannot fault them for their consuming their soft drinks, coffee, and food on the run, posting their opinions on their car bumpers (we love our first amendment rights!), and flying "Old Glory" on their front porch. The brave souls who settled this country were amazingly brave, strong, and had a firm belief in being free and with hard work and a strong back could make your dreams come true. Being strong, opinionated and patriotic is in our genes.

  • I've been to France so many times, and yet I have never ever seen anybody wearing flip flops more than a few yards from the beach or a pool. I come from America but have lived in Australia for many years, so it's really strange to me… Maybe they do wear them, just not in Paris where I spend most of my time.

  • True that people don't use flags in France like in America. However, in Denmark, there are quite a bit more flags than in the US.

  • Only thing I've seen in the US that you don't see in Paris is a McDonalds on every single corner. I love that!!! You see people eating it in parks and you see the bags and wrappers in the trash but you never see the McDonalds itself.

  • I disagree with you Robyn – we do have plenty of cafes to eat outside, relax and chat. I was just at one last night, this last weekend and many times before. But even if we sit outside, it's hard to find anyone interested in discussing theories, ideas, etc. Even while studying art history, my other art history classmates were not interested in discussing it outside of the classroom while I was. We do care about health care for everyone we just haven't agreed upon a system that will work for our country and our social security system is under attack because when it was originally set up it didn't consider what would happen when a baby boom would become the community reliant on its purpose.

  • I'm so glad you have seen so few "obese" people in Paris. I'm curious to know what your definition of "obese" is: over 150 lbs. or over 180 or 200 lbs. Are you referring to "obese" or "overweight"? After the war French mothers were encouraged to keep their children on low-calorie meals for their health. Unfortunately it appears that such small portions had another effect: keeping French people shorter than other "nationalities". I have been amazed at the number of tiny women I see in Paris, around 5 feet tall, and they don't look very strong. In the US, we have a larger ethnic mix than in France and so we have a bigger range in body types. Yet I have seen larger French women, maybe not in the wealthy areas but where working people live. You can even find clothes for larger sizes in Paris. In the hinterlands of the US there is very little to do beyond going to cheap restaurants, but we can blame that on the educational system in the US, which denigrates intellectual pursuits. Most Americans are bored but they don't know it — they don't know the alternatives to boredom. We don't have the cafes to sit in or outside of where we can discuss history and philosophy (while smoking, like the French do). We just have shopping malls. Our politics are cut-throat and not very civilized. We don't even care about having health care for everyone, and our very limited social security is constantly under attack. What the US needs is not diets, but nutrition for our minds.

  • Actually I have a friend who once had an anti-racist sticker on the rear window (not the bumper) of her tiny red car, but someone smashed her window so she didn't replace the sticker with the windshield. Back in the days of "Touche pas à mon pote" one did see them a bit in France. They are relatively uncommon here in Québec too. One exception to the no-flag rule is during the World Cup, no? Not so much on dwellings as on cars, and sometimes small businesses. I saw a lot in Germany when the Cup was held there in 2006, which was, as Heather says, rather a surprise, but had absolutely nothing to do with the far-right, fascism or racism. In Italy as well, flags indicate government offices.

  • It's rare to see a fresh baguette en-route with the end still intact….much too tempting!Never have been one to sticker my car…I even hate the required ones.Nothing more beautiful to me than the American flag flying…but I don't label those who prefer not to display it…just don't label me either.Clothing: I'm sorry, but I'm not a fan of the Euro-trash look, just as I'm not big on the "draggy-pants" look in USA. But as a whole, the French, young old rich poor, can pull it together with such style!I say Vive le Difference!!

  • We fly our flag on our chateau in France but it is our family standard not the national flag. Also what your won't see in New York but do in Paris: the ends nibbled off the baguette by les femmes on their way home!

  • I see Parisians walking around with Starbucks every morning on the way to work! My French colleagues come in with their Starbucks coffee. So some things are changing.Also, Germans (I lived in Germany for almost ten years) walk around with water bottles or coke and in Munich they walk around with their beer bottles.How about an article on things you see in France or Europe, that you would never see in the USA? Like a mullet ? The last time I saw a mullet in the USA was 1987 but I see them frequently in Germany and just saw a French child sporting a long mullet. 🙂

  • No watercooler chats about TV sitcoms. Not much in the way watercooler chats, period, as there is proportionally less time for the French to socialize at work.No gun shows or expos to be found in France, as far as I know, and I live in a rather wild and woolly part of the country.No marketing of cheese using the dairy product's ability to squeak as a selling point, as in the celebrated cheese curds of Wisconsin. No single serving beverage that remotely comes close to 32 ounces. You could, however, purchase a liter bottle of water at the gas station…No wearing of sneakers or sport shoes "because they're comfortable"; on the other hand, Crocs can be seen out and about.Very little (if any) eating lunch in the car. Except for me and the end of the baguette!No Salvadoran food! My kingdom–such that it is–for a pupusa.What you'll never see in the US: the month of August off. Unless one is unemployed. Also, no Johnny Hallyday.

  • When I was studying in Paris, I had an 8am class. In the winter the sun doesn't rise until late in the morning so it was always very dark with the street cleaners washing the sidewalks and few Parisians on their way through their day. I loved stopping at Starbucks and bringing a warm beverage with me to class – a little home away from home. But it's true. I was always the only one I have saw doing this and eventually I grew out of the need or desire to do it. And I have to say even as an American, I don't get the American flag fetish. I'll never be one to put one out on my porch or on my car or anything like that. And I find it narrow minded that some Americans would take me as anti-patriotic for stating this.

  • Never see someone walk out of a baker with a baguette in a bag.Guess you don't see that in the US either, but it had me laughing in stitches when the american guy in "French or Foe" asks for a plastic bag for a baguette and the baker won't give it to him

  • That’s so spot on about the drinks! Same with food: I feel terrible if I ever leave a bakery with my yummy treat and anyone sees me take a bite. It’s just not the done thing (but I still do it). Also, you won’t see a car in France that doesn’t have some mark on the bumper from the driver or other drivers using the bumpers as a measure of when to stop when parking on the street.

  • Women dropping their kids off at school in their PAJAMAS! this was the norm in Texas when my daughter was in elementary school. I’m glad we don’t see that here-not a trend I like at all!

  • Another American thing you don’t see in France is people always dressed as if they’re going to the gym (or the alternative is to always dress as if you’re going camping), regardless of whether or not you’re actually going to the gym.

  • Just returned from the States (my home country) and you are so right on about this, especially the flags. Still cannot figure that one!!!!

  • When I was teaching in France, a student told me that flying the French flag would identify a person with the Front National. Not sure if that’s true or not, but I thought it was interesting.

  • Agree on the first, not completely convinced on the second, but I can see two apartments from my window that are displaying the tricolore

  • I’ve had the flag discussion with my English friend many times. He thinks its great. I always thought that Americans are more patriotic or nationalistic because of the way our country was founded as compared to France, England or other European cities.

  • You never see pink plastic lawn flamingos in France in my experience. You’re right about the bumper stickers though – absent in France. There probably are pickup trucks with gun racks in the rear window in France but I’ve never seen one – same for ‘Management reserves the right to frisk for firearms’ signs in restaurants and bistros.