Earlier this week, I wrote a post entitled, “Things I Miss About the United States.” This piece received a lot of positive responses from both French and Americans, as well as others. So, today I am going to reciprocate and list things I LOVE about living in France that you cannot really find in the USA.
1. Work/Life Balance: When it comes to vacation times in France, the French have it made. Public sector work weeks are 35 hours, and working more than one job is really hard to do. Minimum, the French are granted five weeks per year under law, although some are lucky enough to have as many as eight weeks of paid vacation. This year, I received eight paid weeks during my seven month contract. Apart from vacations, the French appreciate rest and relaxation, and no not underestimate the necessity of sleep and downtime. There is a time and place for work, and there is a time and place for rest and socialization. Additionally, the law states that stores must be closed on Sundays because all employees and French citizens need to take a day of rest. In the states, our cultures emphasizes Live to Work. If we are not doing something all of the time, we feel as if we are slacking and as if we are failures. One of my goals coming to France this year was to learn how to relax and be okay with relaxing, and although it’s still a struggle for me, I feel as if I am much better at it than I was before arriving.
2. Healthcare: France’s socialized healthcare is considered one of the best in the world, and for good reasons. Its citizens are well-cared for, and France sees healthcare as a human right, instead of the states’ mentality of an “earned privilege.” If you get sick in France, you do not have to worry about making or breaking your bank account, your insurance, your finances, etc. It’s all covered. Yes, the citizens pay for it through taxes, and sometimes out-of-pocket as they wait for reimbursement, but in the end, everyone is cared for. What I pay in the USA after a co-pay for my prescriptions is considered astronomical here in France. I had to buy a prescription without insurance here at a local pharmacy, and it costed a fraction of the cost as it does stateside.
3. Dinner: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love French dining culture. I love long dinners with multiple courses and the fact that it always includes guilt-free dessert followed by coffee or tea. I love eating later at night and not being hungry later, and I love taking my time for lunch and dinner. I love that meal time is seen as sacred, that 30-minute lunches are seen as unreasonable, and that eating in front if your computer desk is simply unacceptable. I hope I’ll be able to continue dining semi-French style for the rest of my life.
4. Coffee: I love café culture here in France. Typically, coffee is stronger and better tasting here in France, and portion sizes are much smaller. A standard American-sized cup of coffee is seen as gigantic and unnecessary here in France. Every morning and afternoon, I make myself a cup of coffee with my very own espresso machine. Although I miss Caribou and Starbucks, and the concept of being able to bring your laptop to work in a wifi-accessible cafe (this is very American and does not exist in France), I love being able to come to a French cafe, sit at a little bistro with a friend, look out towards the street, sip an inexpensive yet quality café, people watch, and relax. Additionally, at most offices, universities, and schools (our teacher’s lounge), a signature coffee machine (pictured below) will always exist, and is used by everyone in a daily basis. For 50¢ you can get your daily afternoon pick-me-up.
5. Boulangeries and Pâtisseries: I love the concept of accessible fresh baguettes and desserts on a daily basis, and this is something I am truly going to miss about France. These businesses exist everywhere and are just an essential part of French culture.
6. Public Transportation: one thing I absolutely hate about the United States is the lack and stigmatization of public transportation. Either it doesn’t exist, or it is too “dangerous.” (What the hell does that even mean Anyways? I can travel to Africa but taking a bus in Milwaukee is too dangerous? Okay.) in France, I never have any problems because I do not have a car. There are buses, trains, trams, budget airlines, and carpooling services. I also have a bicycle! People in France just genuinely tend to walk much more than in the United States, and as I said, driving is expensive here.
7. Living in Europe: What I love most about France and Europe is its accessibility to other parts of the world. In Europe, if you travel just a few hours on a train or as little as 45 minutes on a plane, you can arrive in a completely new country, a new language, different architecture, and a completely different culture. It’s amazing and living in Europe gives you the chance to see so many different things; it’s truly incredible. We simply do not have that in the United States, due to the massive size of the country.
8. Affordable, Subsidized Education: Every time I tell a French person that I have $26,000 of undergraduate student loans to repay, they literally do not understand. How can you be 23 years old, just entering the work force, and have that much debt from studies? It doesn’t make sense, it’s wrong, and that is certainly not a good example of a country taking good care of its citizens. I must say I whole heartedly agree. You know how much university costs in France? Zero. No, I’m not kidding, university is free, even for doctors. There may be a few hundred euro start-up fees at the beginning of the year, but otherwise, university and schooling are free. If you pass your high school exit exams, you have the right to go to university. Additionally, France has subsided preschools– most children are in school by the age of 2 or 3. What better way to help out working parents! I’ll just let you all mellow on that for a while.
9. Languages and History: one of the reasons I love living in France is so that I can practice my French. I love speaking a second language and I think it is such an important skill to have, especially in our ever-connecting globalized society. Languages are not emphasized or seen as important in the United States, and as a world language teacher it is quite upsetting and disheartening. Additionally, France’s history is extensive. The United States has but 350 years! It’s amazing to live right by monuments and structures that are literally thousands of years old, or to live in the ruins of World War II.
10. Separation of Church and State: I absolutely hate how the United States intertwines its politics with religion. In France, this is absolutely not allowed. Religious beliefs are completely separate when it comes to voting on laws that are best for the people, whether that be gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, sex or purity culture, etc. My French host brother told me that he thinks it’s really messed up when our president prays on national television, and I must say I completely agree. Here, there is no fictitious “War on Christians” because religion is a private thing that is kept out of schools and the government. However, I am still on the fence about the banning of religious symbols in public schools.
11. Paid Maternity Leave: The United States is the only Westernized country without paid maternity leave. Additionally, France also offers paid leave for fathers (again, wow, what a concept!)
12. Desensitization about Nudity and Sex: In the United States we are much, much too prude about all aspects of sex and nudity, especially when it comes to women and girls. France treats sex as what is is- a natural human NEED for survival. France treats breasts for what they are- a body part! Women are not shamed for bathing topless or for breast-feeding in public like in the states (although everyone still claims “Breast is Best” but shame women who do not cover up.) France treats birth control and the HPV shot for what it is— healthcare (besides, better for females to get cancer than have sex, according to some politicians.) Overall, the United States, still wrapped in purity culture, still obsesses with sex, women’s bodies, and the “evilness” of it all in a way that France does not.
13. Lack of Guns: nothing I love more than not having to worry about if some does or does not have a gun on the street.
14. No extra Taxes or Tipping: I was a waitress so I understand the power of tips, but I love having the total bill given to me at the end of the meal without having to add in tip. The same goes for purchases at the store– the price is the price and there’s no guessing and adding in extra dollars for the tax.
So, what do you think? Did I forget something, or am I too harsh? Leave a comment.