Life Lessons Learned After Traveling To France

Here are 10 things learned from the French:

1. To be polite always, everywhere, and to everyone is as natural as breathing.

I can’t remember myself ever being rude to strangers. I was taught to say “hello” and “thank you” in my early childhood, and that has never changed.

But only after the did I began to apologize when I stepped someone’s foot;

to not just say “goodbye” to salespeople, waiters and mail carriers, but also wish them a “good evening/day/weekend”;

to use compound phrases like “pardon-excusez-moi” (“I’m so sorry”), because one word is probably not enough to be totally polite;

to let those who just took a bottle of water or a bag of apples pass me at the checkout when I did a lot of shopping;

to shake hands with the people around me, even if I don’t know them (of course, I don’t). All of us are secret neighbors.

There are thousands of everyday polite gestures which you don’t even notice because people around you do the same. No matter that French politeness is often formal, cool and insincere. It exists. It’s in the air. And it makes you feel that it’s just as it should be.

2. Always demand more and only the best. And be friendly with waiters.

Two years in France will show you that the service is poor. They can’t treat a consumer as if he or she is a king of an evening, whether he or she is buying a sofa, a glass of Chardonnay or a Bentley. And French waiters are often subjects of ominous tales, starting with: “His icy indifference could be done in pieces and thrown into a cocktail… if he even bought one”.

I don’t feel ashamed attracting attention with a highly raised arm, reminding them that midnight is approaching and the meal is far away, and not leaving a tip if the service was there, but at the same time slow.

3. To buy food on the market, meat, cheese, vegetables and fruits — in specialized stands.

The market in France is almost like a small, open-air museum. Food is so beautiful, clean and lined on the shelves so photogenically that they’re almost smiling at you. In a word, going to the market here is more of a pleasant event than it is a duty.

Supermarkets pale before them and shrink into corners, though green groceries there are also cool. But the market’s a different story, with the atmosphere and aromas. When you come back home after it all, cooking is a real pleasure. Supermarkets aren’t so inspiring.

4. To go grocery shopping with a cart, basket, or reusable cloth bags.

Of course, plastic bags are also sold here, and people take them at the checkout. But it happens only if you forgot to take one of the items above to the store with you. To drag home a new bag if you can buy one and use it for a year or two isn’t an usual practice.

If a purchase is gonna be large, people take carts. For us, they are a reminder of a certain time — something a grandmother would do. But here, everyone has them.

5. To stop being afraid of aging, respecting old age for what it can be and should be — beautiful.

Looking at French retirees, you just stop being afraid of turning 70 and worrying that all joys of life will come to an end. Here, people of all ages enjoy themselves and relish every day. No matter whether they’re 50, 65 or 80 years old.

6. To plan vacations in advance.

This summer the circumstances were such that my French boyfriend and I didn’t know until the last minute when our vacation would be. Therefore, we booked our accommodations and tickets just before leaving. That’s uncommon here, because planning your summer vacation in February is a something many people do. The only way to choose the best offer, save on air travel and simply keep your nerves in check is not to delay such an important thing for the last moment.

7. To enjoy the moment, take your time, and appreciate rest and relaxation.

This is perfectly illustrated by the fact that the French will often drink a glass of wine while sitting on the terrace of a café for an hour, or take four hours for dinner. People chatter, tell stories, share impressions, and gossip. Food and alcohol are a good additions to their everyday celebration of life. How to have an unforgettable time? Take it, and do not forget it. That’s the point. Don’t run. Take your time, and enjoy it.

8. Always keep a bottle of white wine and several kinds of cheese in the fridge.

Some keep red wine, and some don’t keep it in the fridge. Still, the point is the same. I’ve always been fond of cheese, but only after I moved to Paris I understood how different, surprising and delicious it can be. A cheese plate is an answer to all questions when I’m too lazy to cook, when the guests suddenly arrive, or when I want to eat something delicious while watching movie. Or when I just want some. And of course, cheese goes well with wine.

9. To dress and wear makeup only for myself.

At 27 years old, you have a different appearance and attitude towards personal style and a different perception of femininity and attractiveness than you do at 20. You have a different way of dressing, wearing makeup, and doing your hair. Adapting to the laid-back European style is the best gift to a woman who grew up in a patriarchal culture — a society where a woman is supposed to dress to be attractive to men and her appearance is to be changed on the fly.

European women, on the contrary, want only to be attractive to themselves. They don’t want their feet to hurt. So say hello to flats, sneakers, ballet pumps and more. It’s the same story with makeup. Emphasize the best? Yes. Draw new features? No.

10. Be grateful for the incredible beauty and huge opportunities which life in France can give.

Even if you are staying here, spending all your weekends, holidays and vacations here, France is like an endless source of art history, aesthetics, taste, and discoveries. And if you travel, enjoy everything Europe has to offer — from the low-cost tickets, to the freedom to travel without visas. Every experience gives the fantastic feeling that you could hug the whole world without drowning in the depths of bureaucracy.

All immigrants, one way or another (if they’re generally grateful), know the golden rule: Don’t forget your roots, and be thankful for new chances.
Thank you, France.


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