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Ways You Know You’re Becoming French

Becoming-French

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The French say that foreigners can never truly “become” French – no matter what legal status is inscribed upon what identity papers they carry around in their France-based wallets (1). Nor might newly minted citizens or official residents wish to swap their own cultural markers, manners and mentalities for those of the local waiter who serves them their morning café au lait et croissant (to say nothing of totally being able to). But if you’re here long enough, your adaptation mirrors those Escher drawings where columns of black geese or fish on the left fly or swim straight across the page, migrating and mutating by imperceptible degrees, melting into and finally becoming their white counterparts on the right. To a greater or lesser degree, whether you expected to or not, one day you realize that you’re crossing to the other side. How do you know that you’ve arrived? When you (a very incomplete list):

1. sound as brilliantly amusing-funny-sarcastic-snide-snarky-smartaleky in French as you do in your native language

2. bristle at questions about your private life and stop asking others about theirs

3. call 5:00 “late afternoon” instead of “early evening”

4. consider 7:30 a tad early for dinner

5. stop smiling at folks you pass on the street and wonder why those batty tourists are smiling at you

6. succumb to the verity that the way to get what you need from the policeman, clerk, passerby, receptionist, helpdesk is to excuse yourself for disturbing them – no matter how ferociously you’ve heretofore resisted this humiliation

7. know that the 9:00 meeting will not start before at least 9:15 to 9:20 and that no one will remotely consider you late if you stroll in at 9:10

8. find nothing wrong with saying, in English, “I’m going to close the light,” “I have to get down from the bus at the next stop,” “I am here since three years”

9. no longer order coffee with the main course (as opposed to with – or after – dessert)

10. no longer think – let alone complain – about how small the closets are

11. have inordinate trouble typing flowingly on a qwerty keyboard

12. start a series by counting with your thumb (as opposed to index finger)

13. lose the urge to invite new neighbors in for coffee

14. bag up all your purchases before reaching for your wallet

15. ask everyone you know about their recent and/or upcoming vacation (2)

16. paraphrase Henry Ford when it comes to cocktail dresses (“any color as long as it’s black”)

17. routinely say bonjour to the total-stranger bus driver

18. kiss on both cheeks, not only one

19.  put your hand to your ear, thumb and pinky up, middle three fingers folded, in a pantomime meaning “Call me!”

20. have a favorite player in a favorite French soccer team

21. more later….. (and please feel free to add your own below in the comments)

by Shari Leslie Segall, a writer who lives in Paris and who authored the book 90+ Ways You Know You’re Becomng French

1 If you become a French citizen and you happen to be subjected to an identity check, it’s only your French papers that you must show to the authorities, no longer those of your native country. 2 Not considered an indiscrete question.

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56 Responses to "Ways You Know You’re Becoming French"

  1. Jason dit :

    Shari:

    Thanks for this post! My wife and I moved to Paris a few weeks ago from Phoenix – it’s nice to know what’s to come! I need to stop smiling at people in the metro:)

    Thanks,
    Jason

  2. Lisa dit :

    Another sign: when meeting oncoming traffic on the sidewalk you no longer are the one to step aside to let the others pass and yep sometimes you bump each other, but certaily don’t say « pardon »

  3. Lisa dit :

    11 bis. Not only do you type fluidly on an Azerty keyboard – you take one back to the US with you

  4. Lisa dit :

    Are shocked when back in the US by the constant talk about medications and all the advertisements for them

  5. Lisa dit :

    No longer giggle when viewing an advertisement for lingerie or shower products that show bare body parts

  6. Great article and SPOT ON! (I love #8, by the way.)

    Thanks for writing this. I’m sharing it with my readers. Bonne continuation !

  7. Laura dit :

    Although I definitely still speak correct English and I’m always on time for meetings, after 20 yrs in France, 5 pm has become late afternoon, and we never eat dinner before 8 pm!

  8. Lisa dit :

    go back to your home country and feel out of place

  9. Following on #8: When you’re back home and you say something like « I should be home by midnight, but I risk to be late. » True story.

  10. Gilles dit :

    Add a space before punctuation !

  11. Gilles dit :

    Know that the produce section is in the center of the supermarket and not at the perimeter. Also, that milk and eggs are found on shelves, not the refrigerated section.

  12. Gilles dit :

    No longer shocked at the really low water level in toilets, or that the toilet paper is pink.

  13. Gilles dit :

    Find yourself saying 15:30 instead of 3:30 in english.

  14. Gilles dit :

    You ignore red lights if you’re walking.

  15. Gilles dit :

    Find yourself using the « priorité à droite » rule in north america at intersections with no stop signs. Then have people wonder why you’re stoping.

  16. Gilles dit :

    You are really good at dodging the dog poop in the streets/sidewalks.

  17. Gilles dit :

    You are no longer shocked at the sight of so many people smoking in public.

  18. Gilles dit :

    You have eagle eyes capable of spotting tiny street signs nailed to the corner of a building (ofter hidden behind a tree).

  19. Gilles dit :

    No longer look for medication, eye care, etc. in supermarkets. And expect the pharmacist to give you a pack of 7 painkillers/decongestants/etc.

  20. Gilles dit :

    You know how to drive a manual car, and your car takes diesel not gasoline.

  21. Gilles dit :

    You never say restroom/bathroom/washroom, when you mean to use the toilet.

  22. Gilles dit :

    I’ll stop flooding the comment section now ;-)

  23. Tony Paschall dit :

    Simply brilliant, Shari! Thanks for further brightening this sunny day!

  24. Caroline Schofield dit :

    I’ve learned to always look both ways when crossing a one-way street and that a road sign, seemingly pointing left, means straight on.

  25. Shari Leslie Segall dit :

    Thanks, Tony (& HI!), Gilles, and all the great-comment leavers! Talk about hitting a NERVE!! Warm, grateful best to you ALL! S/

  26. Delana dit :

    I no longer walk into a room of strangers, stick out my hand and introduce myself and then ask them what they do for a living. And I’m no longer offended by people looking me up and down (men or women) as we pass in the street. And I know that no matter where I am, if I talk about food, I’m good.

  27. Fleur dit :

    Proud to be an American; never, ever, considered becoming French. Never an expat, just a very long term guest. I love my country. I love France and my French friends, and know they love me too, in large part because I don’t try to be something I’m not i.e. French. I’ve been told they love American Francophiles who love and respect their history, traditions, and culture, and who made the effort to speak fluent French.

    • Carolyn dit :

      Right on Fleur! I refuse to stop smiling. It gets me alot of perks mostly bc I’m pretty sure they think I’m flirting. Fine by me if that gets me to the front of the line at FNAC or guys want to hold my bags for me at Darty (they work there, I know better). By the same token, I don’t think I will ever get used to anybody blatantly looking me up and down or staring at me when sitting right next to me on the metro. :( I have 2 years here. Maybe some time soon? Let’s hope.

  28. cat dit :

    actually plenty of those are signs of becoming parisian rather than french ! (and a space before my exclamation mark proves my frenchness now T-T)

  29. patricia dit :

    Thanks for this, article and comments! It made my day.

    patricia (not an Anglophone, but a Franco-North-American long term guest in France)

  30. cee jay dit :

    Afraid if addressing a french girl as « dear » when u barely know her.

  31. Shannon dit :

    When you stop expecting to be able to get stuff done on Sundays, Mondays, or between the hours of 12 and 2.

  32. John DePaula dit :

    When you make sure you have exact change before going into a bakery.
    .
    When you stop going to a bank in order to get change for a large bill.

  33. Erin dit :

    When a salesclerk sees you first name on your credit card or loyalty card, calls you by it, and your first impulse is to either slap her or demand a manager.

  34. DDR dit :

    You get thinner – much thinner.

  35. Laynie dit :

    Hahaha these are so true… especially the one about smiling at strangers. I did a study abroad program, and you could tell who came from Southern America because we always smiled and said hello to strangers and we got dehydrated quickly because we were used to so much more humidity!!

    I would say…

    When you get accustomed to ordering a beer with your hamburger at McDo.
    When you start referring to McDonald’s as « McDo. »
    When you understand that coffee automatically equals espresso, and if you want anything different, you need to be specific.
    When you know that the customer is NOT « always right » – if the customer is being a jerk, they will be thrown out of the store post-haste!
    When you get less squeamish about public toilets on street corners.
    When you know that if you order a « tomato salad, » there will be no lettuce involved unless you ask for it.
    When you are no longer surprised to see dogs in restaurants and stores.
    When you realize that wine is always acceptable – nay, expected – even at business lunches.

  36. Liisa dit :

    Feel a moment of joy when you see a vacant parking spot, before you remember that you had actually left your car at home today (or that it is already legally parked) and realize that you will therefore not be able to park there.

  37. Ducky dit :

    1. is a bust for me – I’ve been told by a genuine Frenchperson that my humour does not translate.
    2. to 6. Yep. Got ‘em
    7. More than my job’s worth. I’m English
    8. Have achieved this but with German rather than French, oddly.
    9. and 10. see 2. to 6.
    11. Am bilingual on keyboards. It was painful but it’s done.
    12. to 16. yep
    17. Do this when in France without even thinking. No point in saying bonjour to London bus drivers
    18 and 19 oh yes
    20. you are joking. French women don’t do footy

    And my own

    21. Feel the fruit in supermarkets all over before deciding not to buy it
    22. Consider insane anyone wearing a winter coat that is not black, navy, grey or brown
    23. Develop the ability to make vegetable soup without stock cubes
    24. Consider ‘un cafe-croissant’ the only thing anyone should ever need for breakfast
    25. Buy a small yappy dog to carry under your arm.

  38. Suzanne dit :

    It sounds exactly like living in Montreal.

  39. Brian Urbanek dit :

    When you no longer call it the French soccer team and start calling it the French football team ;) or better yet, FFF

  40. Lisa dit :

    You get used to calendars starting the week with Lundi and not Sunday

  41. Fille du roi dit :

    I am a born and raised Montrealer and have been to France numerous times and I am moving there early next year with my french boyfriend. Glad to see that my French Canadian attitudes are aligned with the French ones…. looks like my life won’t be disrupted at all (with exception of the damn keyboard!) Vive la France…. off to the motherland !

  42. Charlotte Standring dit :

    When you have to really think when you are speaking English and when your family and friends say you sound so French when you speak. And when the Anglos you hang out with in France speak just as good franglais as you. e.g when you call a teabag a « sachet » and driving documents « papers ».
    When you dress up to go down to the boulangerie at the weekend.
    When you have an apero before dinner.
    When you complain and become demanding when dealing with the local authorities etc.

    ….

  43. Joseph Rowe dit :

    How about the puzzled look from the grocery cashier in America when you say « Goodbye! »
    Having become a dual citizen, I enjoyed your list, thanks for the insights. (I did feel that some of your stereotypes were unfair, but maybe that’s proof I’m becoming froggy). But I realized you really know your stuff when you said « succumb to the verity that the way to get what you need from the policeman, clerk, passerby, receptionist, helpdesk is to excuse yourself for disturbing them – no matter how ferociously you’ve heretofore resisted this humiliation »

  44. Olivier Keegel dit :

    Let’s be honest about it, dinner before 8 o’clock really IS unpleasant…

  45. Déjà Vu dit :

    Haha! On point!

    I have one : when you go to bars (late) and you are having drinks next to people with their babies/young kids and you say « they are so cute » instead of « they should not bring their kids to a bar ».

  46. Great article! # 6 and 8 are so true, unfortunately… Liisa and Shannon, I feel you :)

  47. manue dit :

    Marvellous paintings and drawings!

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