Are You Becoming French?

Are You Becoming French?
Becoming French
Did you like this article? Then you’ll LOVE the book. Visit the FUSAC Boutique to order your copy and maybe one for a friend! She might also like a Becoming French scarf.

Are You Becoming French?

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 Becoming 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 indiscreet question.
Becoming French
Did you like this article? Then you’ll LOVE this book. Visit the FUSAC Boutique to order your copy.

The book is available on and also at these fine shops:

  • Brentano’s (37 av de l’Opéra – 75002)
  • Bring France Home (3 Rue de Birague – 75004)
  • L’Appartement Français (27 rue du Bourg-Tibourg – 75004)
  • Librairie Eyrolles Travel dept. (61 bd Saint-Germain – 75005)
  • Shakespeare & Co.
  • BLA Librairie-Papeterie (161 rue de Grenelle – 75007)
  • Le Parchemin (176 rue de Grenelle – 75007)
  • Papeterie de l’Ecole Militaire ( 41, avenue de la Motte-Picquet – 75007)
  • Les Parisettes (10 rue Gramme – 75015)
  • Boulogne-Billancourt – FUSAC office (42 rue du Chemin Vert) Open by appointment

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56 Responses to "Are You Becoming French?"

  1. 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:)


  2. 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. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. Or traffic lights, when back in the US I find myself stopping right at the traffic light – a bit of a problem since the light in the US is on the OTHER side of the intersection and stopping right below it means I am IN the intersection.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 !

  12. 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.


  13. 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”

  14. 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”.


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