Living in France? 99 things to know before moving to France

Are you contemplating moving to France? Discover what to know before moving to france. Here are 99 things nobody tells you and I wish I knew before I moved to France.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
101 things no one ever tells you about moving to France
101 things no one ever tells you about moving to France

It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are!

Living in France (or any new country) is going to be chock full of unexpected surprises.

Some will be good experiences, and some will be bad. 

So here it is.

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “SHOULD I MOVE TO FRANCE,” or “Is moving to France a good I idea,” here are 99 useful facts about living in France that nobody tells you about. 

The good, the bad and the quirky.

Should I move to France? What to know before moving to France

Every year, over 83 million people visit France, making it one of THE MOST popular countries to visit in the world.

It’s no wonder so many people dream of moving to France. Unfortunately, visiting France as a tourist is nothing like living in France. But you already knew that.

What you may not know is in which ways life in France will be different than you expected. 

Everyone talks about how much you’ll enjoy French food and wine. And it’s a no-brainer that you should learn to speak French, at least at a basic level. 

But what about all that other stuff that no one ever talks about? The practical and useful things, or the things that aren’t so rosy? 

I’ve carefully curated a list of 99 things nobody ever tells you about moving to France.

Most of the things on my list are from personal experience, but some are from friends, many of whom are French.

Pintrest pin about 99 things nobody told me about living in france


Let’s start with Paris because “Living in Paris is always a good idea!” Or is it? 

Take it from someone who’s lived in France as a foreigner since 2011; what you see (in the media and magazines about Paris) is not always what you get. People tend to see Paris through rose-coloured glasses and omit or overlook certain things. Just ask all those poor people who suffer from “Paris Syndrome”- an over-idealized and romanticized expectation of what Paris is actually like. Here are a few idiosyncrasies about the city of lights.

“is moving to france a good idea? 101 things no one ever tells you about moving to France

1)  Paris and Parisians do not represent all of France:

Tourists who visit Paris, or foreigners who move to Paris, often conclude that what they see or experience in Paris is also true for all of France. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these same people make blanket statements about France solely based on their experience in Paris.

What they fail to understand is that Paris and Parisians are radically different than other people and places in France. There are also considerable differences in lifestyle in France depending on where you live.

For example, the idea that French people all dress well and are incredibly fashionable isn’t true for all of France. People in bigger cities always tend to be dressier, but Parisians take it to the next level. In the south of France, people dress much more casually and practically. 

2) French people that hate Paris:

In France, some love Paris, and some detest Paris or Parisians or both. This anti-Paris sentiment came as a shock to me at first, but then I remembered how some Americans feel about different areas of the US, like New York and New Yorkers. (I have nothing against New Yorkers; this is just the closest example I could make to explain why some French people don’t like Paris).  If you can read French, here is an article titled “Paris is the Worst Place in the World.”

3) There are homeless people in France:

It may be hard for some people to believe that the city of lights, love and luxury is also home to an ever-growing homeless problem. Nevertheless, there are homeless people just about everywhere in France.

4) Paris is grimy and dirty:

PARIS is the land of luxury, beautiful architecture and historical museums, but it can also be filthy, grimy and noisy. One common complaint I hear is that the streets and metro smell like urine.

5) Paris is extremely expensive:

If you come from another expensive city like San Francisco or London, you’ll be just fine; otherwise, you’ll get sticker shock at the cost of living in Paris, especially the cost of renting an apartment.

Check out this article about “How much it costs us to live in Marseille, France.”

Work, Jobs & Visas In France

Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to work in  France.

French wages tend to be smaller than us salaries for comparable jobs

6) French Salaries tend to be smaller for comparable jobs in the US:

 Although salaries in France are on the rise, in general, the French tend to earn less than Americans for specific jobs. This has also been my personal experience. It’s extremely rare for someone to earn the equivalent of 100K USD in France.

7) You need a visa:

If you’re not a citizen of an EU country, you need a visa, which is surprisingly easy to get as long as you can prove you can support yourself. Either by having a job in France or through your savings and assets.

8) You might not be able to find a job:

There are exceptions, but if you’re not an EU or French citizen, it can be challenging and complicated to find a job in France.

French companies are encouraged to hire EU citizens over foreigners. They don’t want foreigners stealing French jobs, especially since unemployment hovers around 10%. You might fare better at landing a job in France if you have a particular skill in high demand. Teaching English is also a popular job foreigners like to apply for.

9) Americans can’t get a working holiday visa in France:

Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and a few other countries can get a working holiday visa as long as they’re less than 35 years old, but Americans cannot.

10) You need to create a CV the French way when applying for jobs:

What you include on your French resume, which is called a CV in France, might look very different from what you are used to. For instance, it’s not unusual to include very personal information such as a photo of yourself and even your age.

11) The 35-hour workweek myth:

British and American media love to tout how easy the French have it because they have a 35-hour per week.

The reality is people usually work more than 35 hours. The 35-hour limit is simply the threshold above which overtime and rest days start to kick in. Although not everyone earns over time. Many salaried white-collar workers and managers work well beyond the 35-hour work week with no additional overtime pay.

12) You can become a French citizen after five years:

 You become eligible to apply for French citizenship through naturalization once you live in France for five years as a permanent resident. In some cases, the length of time you must be a resident is shortened, for instance, if you study for two years at a university or you marry a French person.

How to get French citizenship + a passport after 5 years of residency

French Bureaucracy

The French are famous for their bureaucracy and red tape, but what does that mean? Here are a few examples

13) Catch-22 administrative and bureaucratic conundrums- like the chicken and the egg.:

In France, you have to have a bank account to sign up for utilities, but you need a utility bill to open a bank account to prove you live where you live.

How do you proceed?

Things like this do happen, more than I care to admit.

Our landlord vouched for us at the bank by signing a document stating our address was correct and that we were who we said we were. 

There are ways to get around certain rules, but when you’re new to a country, it’s impossible to know all the different rules.

You might be interested in reading these tips on renewing your French long-stay visa, aka “Titre de Sejour.”

14) Documents in triplicates:

If you’re not a citizen of one of the EU countries (that’s you, Americans, Canadians and British,) you’ll be faced with a mountain of paperwork like you’ve never experienced before for just about everything. 

The hardest part is knowing what to do, when to do it and where to do it. 

15) Getting documents notarized for your home country while living in France is cumbersome and expensive.

You must go to your country’s consulate or embassy if you need anything notarized for your home country while living in France.

A French notary will not work.

For example, if you are an American and need to give someone power of attorney to handle the sale of your property, you have to go to the US embassy in Paris or the US consulate in Marseille. You cannot use a French notary. 

First, you have to make an appointment. 

Then you need to get there by plane or train if you don’t live in Paris or Marseille, that means possibly staying overnight.

Then, there is the added cost of a notary

At the time of this writing, it costs 50 USD per notary. “OUCH”!

16) You need to have all your visa documents translated into French by an expensive and special type of French translator… 

Part of the visa renewal process is having your documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, translated into French. The number of pages can add up.

The annoying part is you can’t use a regular French translator. You have to go to a special translator who can give you a court-approved translation called a “traduction assermenté,” which can cost north of 50 euros per page.

Being a family of five, we had five visa renewal applications, each with multiple documents they needed to get translated.

We paid about 1,000 Euros to have all our documents translated for our five visa renewal applications.

Banking & Finance & Taxes

17) Your credit card may not work in France, and signing a credit card slip in France is weird.

Chip cards:

If you have a foreign credit card without a chip, it may work just fine at shops and restaurants but not at automated ticket booths like train stations or autoroute toll booths.

Unfortunately, you won’t know unless you try your card.

I learned this the hard way at a toll booth on a road trip to Paris.

Credit cards with PIN codes

If you come from a country where you have to swipe your credit card and then sign the credit card slip, be prepared for strange looks. 

In France, you insert your credit card into the credit card machine and enter a PIN. If the total amount of your purchase is less than 50 Euros, you have the option of tapping your credit card on the credit card machine, which doesn’t require a PIN at all. 

If you’re in a touristy area, most French shop merchants will be used to this, but in other areas, they may not. 

18) Checks are still used in France: 

In some stores, restaurants and grocery stores, checks (French checks) are still accepted, which is fine, I guess, but it is a nightmare when the person ahead of you is taking forever to write out their check.

19) You must file taxes in France after a year of residency.

After a year of living in France as a legal resident, you are supposed to file French taxes whether or not you earn income in France.

And if you’re an American, you must also file Taxes in the US.

20) You won’t have to pay double taxes:

I’m not sure about other countries, but France has tax treaties with a handful of countries, such as the UK, US and Canada, which prevent you from paying double taxes.

For instance, taxes paid to the US or Canada will be deducted as a foreign tax credit from your French taxes and vice versa.

This is a very simplified answer, so please check with an ex-pat tax accountant who can help you answer all these complicated tax questions.

You might be interested in reading about how and who we use to file our taxes in France and the US.

Auto & Transportation

I have a detailed article you should check out: Driving in France: A Tourist’s guide to Important Things You Must Know.

21) European driver’s licenses are valid in France, but US, Canadian and other foreign licenses are only valid for one year: 

By law, you are supposed to get a French driver’s license after you’ve lived in France for one year, but a lot of foreigners ignore this rule.

22) You can exchange your driver’s license for a French one, maybe:

Certain countries have agreements with France that allow you to exchange your driver’s license for a French one.

If you have a US and Canadian driver’s permit, only certain states and provinces can exchange their permit.

For example, you can exchange a Maryland driver’s license but not a California driver’s license for a French driver’s permit.

23) If you’re allowed to exchange your driver’s permit, do it within the first 12 months of your stay in France.

My husband made the mistake of waiting longer than one year to exchange his driver’s license and was denied.

If you wait, you’ll have to go through the regular channels to get a French permit, which can cost between 500 and 1000 Euros, and you’ll be considered a new driver, which translates to higher car insurance premiums.

24) France embraces the “roundabout” / “traffic circle” culture rather than the four-way stop:

Learn how to manoeuvre around and through them. It’s harder than it looks.

25) Bring cash to pay for tolls when driving in France on AutoRoutes in case your foreign credit card doesn’t work:

This happened to us, and it was nerve-wracking. Twenty cars behind us and no way to move forward or backward.

26) Train travel is not as affordable as you think:

Get an SNCF or interrail discount card, which can give you 25% or more off the total cost of your train tickets. If you have kids, you can get them a discount card, and up to four people travelling with that child will also get a discount.

learn how to park in tight spaces

27) If you plan to drive a car in France, learn how to parallel park in tight spaces:

People in France tend to get right up on your grill, leaving you less than a cm front and back to get out of a parking spot. It’s just the way it is.

28) Learn to drive a stick shift:

Most cars in France are manual, so learn how to drive one.

Housing In France

Renting a house or apartment in France is complicated and different than what you’re probably used to. Here are some essential things you should know and prepare for.

29) Homes in France are usually hidden behind or surrounded by a wall:

 In many cultures like the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, the United States and Canada, it’s perfectly normal to have a lawn and walkway viewable to all who pass by.

Homes in France are usually hidden behind a wall or fench

Homes in France are like little castles surrounded by cement walls. 

French county homes do not have walls, though. 

30) Renting an apartment or home in France is extremely difficult if you don’t have a job contract showing you make three times the rent:

The most common and most desirable contract is a CDI “Contract Duration Indeterminate” – Essentially a permanent job:

31) Renting an apartment or house without a job is complicated:

If you don’t have a job contract and you can’t get someone to sign for you as your guarantor, you may have to provide a bank guarantee to secure housing.

A bank guarantee usually involves providing one to three years of rent upfront as collateral in a special escrow-type bank account. The funds in this account are frozen and held as collateral in the event you don’t pay your rent (it may or may not earn interest).

Once the lease ends, the funds are released back to you unless you renew your lease. This service is not free and can cost a couple of hundred Euros. (A bank guarantor is needed because it’s difficult and costly for the landlord to evict a bad tenant. )

32) You are required to pay an additional dwelling tax, “taxe d’habitation”.

If you rent a home or even a room, you’ll be assessed a “taxe d’habitation” each January, which you are expected to pay by November.

It doesn’t matter if you move out in February; you are still responsible for paying the dweller’s tax but not to the landlord’s. It goes straight to the city to pay for various things in your area, like garbage and maintenance.  The amount you pay depends on the area and income but is usually between 300 and 1500 Euros per year. But it can be more.

33) Gutted Kitchens:

When you rent an apartment or house in France, don’t be surprised if the kitchen comes with just a kitchen sink. – No oven, no cupboards, no electric or gas stove, dishwasher, etc. When searching, pay attention to the ad. If nothing is mentioned about the kitchen, it could be because it comes equipped with bare bones, so you should ask. If the ad mentions “cuisine aménagée” or “cuisine équipée,” then it does include some things in the kitchen. Here are a few examples.

Cuisine aménagée = Is a kitchen equipped with built-in cupboards but no electric units.

Cuisine équipée= is a kitchen equipped with some electric units, built-in cupboards, etc. 

34) Furnished or unfurnished:

Landlords are required by law to provide a lease of 3 years for an unfurnished home but only one year for a furnished house or apartment.

35) The toilette is usually in a separate room from the shower and sink called a “WC.”

Think WC “water closet” style. This is both good and bad.

Good because having a toilet in its own room means if someone wants to take a shower or bath, they don’t have to wait. Bad because there is usually no sink in the WC to wash your hands. 

When the toilet is in the same room as the tub or shower, there is usually a wall divider to separate the toilet from the sink. 

36) Homes in France don’t typically have closets:

Instead, people buy free-standing wardrobes like an armoire.

This is changing with newer homes, though.

37) Not a dryer culture:

Owning a drying is less common in France than in some other cultures. Instead, people typically hang dry their clothes from their balconies or on indoor drying racks, especially during cold or rainy weather.

38) Grass lawns in front of your house are rare in France.

This was very stand to me. Having a lawn is very rare in France. Instead, it’s more common to have a driveway, dirt, A deck, rocks etc.

Culture & Manners In France

a dog at Ikea in France: It's ok to bring small dogs in public places including the food store

39) It’s ok to bring dogs on the metro, trams, and buses: 

From what I understand, it’s illegal, for sanitary reasons, to bring animals to places with food; however, it still happens. Usually, they fly under the radar because people bring small dogs and carry them. In other places like the mall, metro and bus, you’ll see dogs of all sizes. Above is a photo I snapped at Ikea in La Garde, France. The dog loved the shopping basket.

40) Toothy grins, smiling or grinning without a cause, feels strange to the French: 

There’s a joke about how to spot an American. Aside from baseball caps, it’s how they smile for no apparent reason. The French aren’t the only nation who do not value smiling. The Russians feel the same way, although they take the no-smiling thing to a whole new level.

41) Why North Americans think the French are rude:

Surely you’ve heard the stereotype that the French are very rude! The thing you need to understand is this sentiment may be due to cultural differences.

The French have different definitions of politeness. Once you understand this, you’ll see that the French are not rude.  Here are a few examples.

  • In North America, being polite or not being rude has more to do with making the other person feel at ease, warm and fuzzy and tend to value happy, high-energy feelings like excitement, enthusiasm and overly friendly tendencies. Many French find this overly friendly attitude phoney and superficial.
  • The French value showing the other person respect, not big happy, friendly faces and attitudes.

42) If you don’t say hello and goodbye in shops, YOU might be the person considered rude:

In France, you should always say Bonjour when you greet someone. Even in a shoppe, on a bus, in a classroom, in a waiting room. It is considered polite. You should also say goodbye, “Au Revoir”, when you leave.

43) The French are much more formal than you may be used to:

For example, in France, co-workers will typically shake hands with each other in the morning, and ladies will “faire la bise” (cheek kiss) with certain co-workers they interact (in the morning). Whereas in Anglophone countries, people typically walk to their desks or say hello in passing or give a head nod.

44) Cheek Kiss, don’t hug: 

In France, you greet your friends with a cheek kiss called “la bise.” Depending on the region, you can give anywhere from 2 to 5 cheek kisses.

How to faire la bise step by step directions on greeting a French person with a French cheek kiss

You might be interested in reading about The fine art of greeting a French person with a kiss.

45) Excellent service in a restaurant in France means leaving you alone:

The goal of eating out is to relax and enjoy your food, not to be asked every ten minutes if you would like more water or bread. This is the way French people think.

So don’t expect your plate to be whisked away the second you are finished eating, your water glass to be filled before you even ask, or your check to be dropped at the precise moment when you are ready to pay.

In the US and Canada, being left alone might be considered a lazy or lousy service, but in France, this is considered good service. A French person would feel rushed or pestered in a North American restaurant.

46) The tipping policy in France works differently than what you may be used to:

You don’t have to tip 15% to 20% of the bill to the server because they are paid a living wage in France. However, tips are still appreciated. When people do leave tips, they usually round up, leaving a few centimes or a couple of Euro coins. If you received extraordinary service or are in a higher-end restaurant, you can leave more if you like, but 15% would be considered a lot.

You might be interested in reading. France Tipping Culture: Why It’s Confusing And Arbitrary

47) Use a fork and knife to eat hamburgers and Pizza:

If you’re in a restaurant and order a burger or Pizza, think twice before using your hands. Some French people consider this impolite and disgusting. So if you see a fork and a knife with your meal, opt to use them. The exception is if you’re in a fast-food restaurant.

The French tend to use a fork and knife for things you might be used to eating with your hands

The French Language

48) There are many different dialects and regional accents throughout France:

regional languages in France that predate French

Just like there are different dialects of English in the US and Great Britain, a Parisian talks differently than a Marseillan, who speaks a little differently than someone from Perpignan.

49) No one says ‘s oooh-La-La:

image of French expression oh-la-la-French stereotypes

The stereotypical phrase ooh-la-la that many people associate with the French language to indicate something is super sexy is pronounced and used very differently in France.

First of all, it’s pronounced”O-La-La,” with the “O” sounding like the “O” in the word “boat,” not OOOOH.

The word is commonly used to express annoyance, surprise or disappointment and not to express something positively sexy as it does in English. You’re also very likely to hear someone say French swear words like  “Merde” and “Putain?”

You might be interested in reading “Top French Stereotypes And Cliches The French Are Tired Of Hearing About-Explained.”

infographic French stereotypes and cliches explained.

50) If you don’t speak French, you’ll get frustrated.

If you don’t speak French, you won’t be able to communicate the most basic things or have philosophical conversations.

You might be interested in reading: How long does it take to learn French? Why you’ll never be fluent

Food In France

There’s no doubt that the French take food very seriously, but the average person doesn’t eat gourmet every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

51) Tacos in France have nothing to do with the hard shell tacos of Mexico:

French tacos in France look more like a panini burrito but

If you have a craving for Mexican food and see a restaurant with the words Taco over the door, don’t get too excited because a Taco in France is not a “real taco.” You know, the hard shell filled with Mexican seasonings, cheese and salsa.

Instead, tacos in France look more like a Burrito put through a panini machine. The fillings vary but usually involve meat of some sort with lettuce and sometimes French fries. And if you are in the mood for Mexican food, Mexican restaurants are few and far between unless you live in a big city like Paris. Even then, they are hard to find. In the US, especially in California, Mexican restaurants are everywhere.

52) You’ll miss certain foods: 

After the honeymoon period is over, you’ll start to miss food from home because you can’t get certain things in France, or they’re just not as easy to find. And if you can find them, they’re probably going to be super expensive.

53) McDonald’s is more popular than you think in France:

There are over 1400 McDonald’s outlets in France, which are always crowded.

54) Kebabs, pizzas and French fries are incredibly popular:

I don’t know why, but I never expected Pizza to be so popular in France, yet it is, and so are French fries.

55) Frog legs and Escargot- fact vs. fiction:

Yes, some French people eat “les escargots,” snails and frog legs; however, it’s not an everyday thing like steak or chicken. The vast majority of the roughly 16 Million tons of Escargot are eaten during Christmas and New Year.

56) Not a beer culture

France is known for its wine.

If you love beer, there are only a few regions in France where beer culture is popular, and those regions usually border a beer-drinking country.

Lille in the north of France, which borders Belgium, and Strasbourg along the border of Germany are two areas where you’ll find an abundance of beer. 

57) Good wine is very affordable.

The average bottle of wine at a grocery store is around 10 euros. You can easily find wind for less than 5 euros. Sometimes even cheaper than a large bottle of water, or juice. 

58) Cheddar cheese isn’t considered real cheese by many most French people:

Of the 1000 varieties of cheese produced in France, cheddar is not one of them. I might go so far as to say that some French people look down their snooty noses at cheddar cheese.  FYI, Stinky cheese is highly prized.  

59) Dinner is eaten much later than you may be used to. 

A typical restaurant in France doesn’t open before 7:00- 7:30 p.m. 

French people don't eat eggs, pancakes or bacon for breakfast. Think continental instead

60) Breakfast in France never involves bacon or eggs, and omelettes are eaten for lunch, not breakfast:

A typical French breakfast might involve a hunk of baguette, croissant (never sandwich bread), confiture, butter or Nutella. You might also see things like yogurt and juice included on the menu when you go out for breakfast. Think continental breakfast.

61) Being a vegetarian in France can be tough:

Although this is changing slowly in France, don’t count on there being loads of vegetarian options on menus. France loves its meat. And if you’re a vegan, your options are even more limited.

62) French Baguettes bought at the boulangerie typically have only four ingredients by law:

flour, water, salt and baker’s yeast.

French coffee sizes usually come in espresso cups

63) You should learn how to order a coffee in France:

When you order a coffee in France, you’re basically getting an expresso-sized coffee. If you want a biggish “American size cup,” you should ask for a café alongé. It still won’t be as big as an American Cup, but close. If you want milk in your coffee, then ask for a “café crème.”

French Health

Doctor visits are very affordable. About 23 euros a visit

64) The emergency number in France is NOT 911:

If you get into a situation where you need emergency services like medical, fire or police, then dial 112 from anywhere in Europe from any phone. It’s free. There are also local French emergency numbers which you should acquaint yourself with. 

65) Over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and cold medicine are not sold at food stores: 

You have to pick up aspirin and other non-prescription drugs at a dedicated pharmacy, but you can’t just go in and grab some off the shelves at the pharmacy. You have to ask the pharmacist to get it for you.

66) Dr. visits are cheap:

A visit to a doctor’s office will cost you about 23 Euros up to 60 Euros for a specialist like a gynecologist. Many doctors take walk-ins; otherwise, just walk into an office, make an appointment and make sure to bring cash. Many doctors only accept cash.

67) Pharmacies are usually closed on Sunday, and in some small villages, they are closed on Mondays, like in the city of Castres: 

If you are in need of cold medicine or medication, Sunday is not the day to go.

French Education & Schools

Preschool in France is Free68) Preschool is free in France:

School is mandatory from age 3, but you can send your child to preschool as early as 2 years old (as long as they are potty trained): It’s called Maternelle, and there are three sections- Petit, Moyen and Grand.

You might be interested in reading: What is a French Livret de famille? What to do if you need one in France?

69) No religious symbols in public schools allowed:

By law, all public schools in France are non-secular, and school-aged children are not allowed to wear religious symbols such as crosses.

You might be interested in reading about other interesting and strange laws in France here.

French law: religous symbols are banned in public schools in France70) Most private schools in France are very affordable:

A run-of-the-mill private school should cost you about  1 to 3 thousand Euros per year. International schools are much more expensive. Some cost 10k and more. 

Public vs private and international schools in France! Our Experience

71) University is practically free in France:

200 for tuition and 200 for insurance.

This is what I paid for my son to attend the University of Montpellier. There are the Grands écoles, which can cost as much if not more than American Universities, but the vast majority of students attend normal lower-cost universities.

72) School days are very long in France for children at the elementary level:

The school day typically begins at 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., depending on the school and ends between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. That’s an 8-hour school day.

73) No brown bag lunches allowed:

Most schools DO NOT allow children to bring their lunch to school in France. There are exceptions, for instance, if your child is a vegetarian, has allergies, etc. Some private schools may allow you to bring lunch to school, but they are rare.

74) No school on Wednesdays?

Elementary schools either have no school on Wednesday or finish before lunch on Wednesday. When children enter middle school and high school, school schedules vary.

75) No School-sponsored sports or activities:

Afterschool sports sponsored by schools are rare. If you would like your child to participate in extracurricular activities such as dance, art or sports, then you will have to sign them up separately. This is the norm.

The cost varies for activities, but in general, it can cost between 100 to 300 euros per year. Many children attend their extracurricular activities on Wednesday since it is a short day or a day of no school.

76) 3-year university degree:

It takes three years to finish university, not 4. A university degree is called a license, not a bachelor’s degree.

77) No prom, balls or high school dances in high schools.

These types of things are seen as an American phenomenon and don’t exist in French schools. 

78) No sororities or fraternities at the university

This is not a French custom. 

79) Students are graded differently: No A,B, C, D, or F

One of the that took me a long time to get used to is the grading system in France. Children are scored over 20, or a 10-point system and not on a percentage of 100%: For example, 18/20, 7/10, not 75% or 75/100. 

It’s also extremely rare to get a letter grade of “A, B, C, D, or F.” Instead, children often receive something along the lines of this:

  • Very Good: très bien, often abbreviated as “TB” for a grade between 6 to 20.
  • Good: bien, often abbreviated as “B” for a grade between 14 to 15 or 16. 
  • Good Enough: abbreviated as “AB” for a grade of 12 to 13 or 14. 

Interesting French Facts

Not all French people dress like they stepped off the cover of vogue magazine

80) The French flag is “Blue, white and red,” not “red, white and blue.”

81) Bastille Day is called something else in France:

France has its own version of the 4th of July; only theirs is on the 14th of July. Most English speakers refer to this day as Bastille Day, but in France, it’s officially referred to as “Fête Nationale française” (National Day), or more commonly as “14 Juillet.”

You might be interested in reading “Bastille Day: France’s Independence Day vs. American Fourth Of July Explained.”


82) Not all French women dress as if they stepped off of the cover of Vogue:

There’s a myth that all French people are concerned with how fashionable they look. France is an important country for fashion, but many people wear practical clothes. Especially in the country or in the south. In bigger cities like Paris, you will see people dressed up like the stereotypical fashionable French woman you see in magazines.

83) Not all French women are thin, beautiful and better mothers:

The impression many people have of the French woman is that they are somehow superior. Magazines and books on how to stay slim or look more beautiful by following some mysterious French secret. French mothers are idealized in books about how French kids are well-behaved and eat anything.

Although I do agree there are fewer obese women in France than in North America; there are thick people in France. And the idea that French women are more beautiful has a lot to do with what the magazine covers and movies show us. This is my own opinion, of course.

You might be interested in reading “Do French people get fat, or is it a big fat lie?

standing in line at the prefecture in Montpellier

84) French people are NOT all white:

There is an overwhelming presence of white, middle-class men and women in French cinema, which is misleading to the outside world. France has always been a country of immigration. Although a law from 1872 makes it illegal for the French Republic to collect data on ethnicity and race, there are various population estimates.

In 2004, roughly 15% of the population of Metropolitan France was estimated to be of NON-White, NON-European descent.

  • 10% being of Arabic descent from North Africa,
  • 3.5% Black and
  • 1.5% Asian.

The Arab population is the second-largest Ethnic group in France after French people of French origin, with the majority settling mainly in the industrial regions of France, especially the Paris region, but also in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Languedoc-Roussillon, Alsace, Rhône-Alpes and Corsica.

85) Racism in France is real:

There is widespread racism in France towards Arabs, who represent about 10 % of the population and Roma/Gypsy people.

86) Daft Punk and Parkour come from France:

France has actually contributed many inventions that you may use.

87) Denim was born in the Languedoc-Roussillon city of Nimes, France:

Levi Strauss imported denim from Nime to California to make tough clothes for gold miners. The word “Denim” is a phonetic spelling of the word “De Nimes,” which means “From Nimes.”

88) There are homeless people in France:

This may or may not shock you, but many tourists are shocked to see homeless people when they come to France.

89) Graffiti in France is alive and well:

Especially in big cities like Marseille and Paris.

graffiti-in-FranceShopping & Businesses

Here are a few essential things you need to know about living in France with regard to shopping and how businesses work in France.

90) You need a coin to use shopping carts at the food stores in France:

coin released shopping carts

If you’ve ever lived in the US or Canada, I’m sure you’ve seen how people leave their shopping carts anywhere they please in the parking lot after they unload their groceries.

“Guilty as charged.” In France, this doesn’t happen because to use a shopping cart at a French grocery store, you usually have to insert a coin or token to release it from the cart daisy-chained to another cart. 

When you return the cart to its designated area, you reconnect the cart, and the coin is returned to you.

91) BYOB: Bring your own bags to the grocery store:

You must buy grocery bags that can cost five to fifteen centimes, so the vast majority of people bring their own grocery bags.

BAGGU: Large reusable french sailor grocery bag

Oh La La! This reusable shopping bag is perfect for that Francophile to head over to the corner market. Holds your lunch, shoes, gym clothes and up to 50 pounds of groceries. Folds into a flat 4" × 4" pouch. Holds up to 50 lbs.

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92) Bag your own food at the grocery store:

As the cashier is ringing up your food, it’s up to you to bag your own groceries, so you need to work fast.

93) Food stores in France are usually closed on Sunday or close by noon: 

Large grocery stores in France, such as Casino Geant or Monoprix, are often closed on Sundays in smaller towns, or they have reduced hours.

You might be interested in reading about things you might hate about living in France.

94) Stores and businesses, including banks, may close during lunch hour: 

This isn’t always the case, especially in larger cities. Just don’t be surprised if it happens.

95) Stores play music with profanity and don’t even know it:

Grocery stores usually play music over the loudspeaker. A large portion of that music is in English, but rather than playing soothing classical music, you’ll often hear English songs, including songs with profanity in them.

The first time I heard a song with the lyrics “F U” this and “SH&#T” that,” it stopped me in my tracks. I looked around, but nobody noticed because nobody could understand the English words. It’s happened in doctors’ offices too.

Other Things To Consider 

How long do you plan on living in France? One year, two years, more or permanently? The answer to this question will affect some of your decisions. 

96) What do you do with your stuff?

Do you put your things in storage? Do you sell it all? Do you ship it?

97) Where will you go when and if you return home to your country?

Your parent’s house? A friend’s house? Do you find a new house to rent?

98) Don’t expect a ton of people to come and visit you:

It’s expensive to travel so don’t be surprised if people don’t come to visit you. 

99) You can’t complain about your life in France:

Last but not least, if you’re unhappy with certain aspects of living in France, it’s difficult to talk to your non-expat friends about it who won’t be able to relate.

From their perspective, they think you’re lucky and might make comments like:

  • “I’ll trade shoes with you anytime,
  • “You’re so lucky to live in France.”
  • “If you’re not happy, just leave.” 

You can be happy and sad no matter where on this earth you live. Living in France does not mean your life is suddenly going to be perfect and full of happiness because there are good and bad aspects of life everywhere, even in France.

You should be allowed to vent when you want, but sadly, people often take offence. After all, French people complain about life in France very openly. They strike, they protest, they complain openly. 

So when in France, do as the French do. 

Bonne journée

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.


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