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Freedom, equality, food. Anne Roche talks to emigrants about the most important features of French culture


Long "aperos" and late dinners, philosophical debates over a bottle of wine, salted butter and caramel, kisses on both cheeks upon meeting, raw steaks and barely working heating - life in France has many unusual features for emigrants from the post-Soviet space.

Together with Anne Roche, who has lived in Paris for eight years, we examine the most interesting features of French society.

beauty à la française

If you imagine Parisian women as heroines of "Emily in Paris" (we, incidentally, published an excellent review by Jean-Yves Rettel on the series), you're in for a disappointment. The typical Frenchwoman is dressed in grey jeans and a monochrome jumper, her hair loose or gathered into a casual bun, her face covered in natural make-up and wearing trainers or ballet flats.

To many women from the post-Soviet area, French women do not seem "well-groomed": this one does not have eyebrows done, that one does not have nails done, that one evidently does not botox, though it is high time.

The fact is that French women have a different idea of what it means to look after yourself. For them, it's about enjoying life, loving yourself and looking good, all the while looking as natural as possible.

The ideal result of their efforts in taking care of their looks is when it seems that they've made no effort at all. A Frenchwoman in a plain coat, with deliberately smeared lipstick (to make it look like she's been kissed recently) and wrinkles on her face looks attractive because she herself is convinced that she's attractive.

Put the mask on yourself first, then the child

For a Frenchwoman, children are not the centre of the universe. Being a mother doesn't mean giving up your career and your own interests. Mothers, who from morning till night talk only about poo and development, are practically an unknown species in France.

Children from infancy are not rushed to at the first cry, but are nurtured with patience. The maternity leave lasts three months, after which the child is sent to the crèche without remorse and the mother goes to work. This approach often horrifies newcomers from countries where a minimum of three years of childcare is customary.

It's not that French women are genetically less fond of their children. It's just that they love their adult world just as much and don't want to give it up.

Their philosophy: A child needs a happy, fulfilled mother, then everyone will be happy in the end.

joie de vivre

Children have no chance of becoming the centre of the universe anyway, because the French already have one. It's food.

A common sight in France is a company that spends three hours eating and the whole time talking... about food.

The French buy cheese in cheese shops, croissants only in their favourite bakery, wine - directly from wineries or at least in a specialist shop, preferably small and in existence for several generations. A village can easily have several Michelin Guide restaurants.

That said, such an attitude is not the privilege of fashionable Parisians. Travelling around France with the family, we often stopped for lunch at inexpensive restaurants. The car parks of such places are jammed with minivans of local electricians, plumbers and painters. Inside they are noisy, cheerful and smelly. Painters in paint-stained overalls eat a three-course meal, complete with snacks and dessert, and sometimes a glass of wine.

There aren’t any dry sandwiches on the run. An hour and a half lunch break and a good meal is sacred.

If you work well, you rest well

If you find yourself in a small French town on a Sunday, you'll probably shiver and wonder if the place is really extinct. And in the big cities there are a lot of empty streets on a Sunday because the shops are closed.

Those who are used to having everything delivered to them at any time of the day or night often complain about such 'awful' service, and they wonder why shops lose so much money.

The fact is that apart from money, in France, like in most European countries, people value time. Time for themselves, without the hassle and rush of running errands.

Everyone deserves this time, including shopkeepers.

What do the French do on Sunday? They go out for their favourite hobbies, spend time with their families, and of course, eat. I'll never forget my friend's grandparents' Sunday lunch, which started at 12 and ended at 5. Just in time, because it was already time to go... to the other grandparents' house for dinner.

Networking as a basis for career development

If you get a job in a French firm it might seem to you that you endlessly sit in meetings where everyone talks a lot, but in the end no one decides anything,

Often meetings are just a formality, because all decisions are made... at the coffee machine.

In French companies, personal relationships are often more important than procedures.

If you want to promote your project, it is not enough just to make a presentation and rationally tell them what great results it will bring. It is better to talk to everyone who can influence the decision in advance and let them feel how important their opinion is. And at the same time explain what they personally stand to gain by supporting you. Numerous coffee breaks of the French working day will help you.

your political credo?

Tell a Frenchman that you are 'out of politics' and you are likely to see a look of incomprehension or even disapproval. Most French people have very clear political views. For a long time, society was conventionally divided into "rightists" and "leftists". Nowadays, an argument could be sparked by attitudes towards Macron or towards Marine Le Pen, the far-right party.

They won't talk politics when they first meet, but French people tend to choose people with similar views for close contact. It is doubtful that an admirer of Marine Le Pen and a socialist will be best friends.

Politics, for the French, is not a distant 'dirty business'. A person's political views reflect their values and views on how society should be organised.

Everything is in our hands

"Tomorrow is another metro workers' strike," the French say with a sigh several times a year. When you live in France, it seems that there is always someone on strike. Often taxi drivers, public transport workers and train drivers decide to go on strike at the same time. Optimally, it's on a day when the roads are covered in snow.

The French themselves are tired of endless strikes, but at the same time would not trade their right to demand a better life for peace of mind and uninterrupted transport.

In a country whose modern identity is built on the ideals of the French Revolution, people do not understand the attitude of "Everything has been decided for us, we cannot change anything".

When students are dissatisfied, they occupy the universities. Workers stop factories. Taxi drivers block the roads. In each case, you can argue about whether their demands are just and their methods effective, but how can you not respect this habit of fighting for your rights?

First time in first grade

What's creepily triggering for most Russian-speaking mothers who are new to France? There is no changing boots in schools. At all. Not in any weather. At the teacher's office there is a line of mothers with slippers in their hands, begging to let their children change shoes.

The root of the misunderstanding is in the different approaches to raising children. In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the approach to parenting is more liberal. To put it simply, they are less worried.

Why do you need a change boots when you can do without it?

Also, France is not the right place for those who want to raise a genius from diapers. There will be no infant sports swimming, daily gymnastics practice and ten hours of violin a week. In general, all clubs up to the age of ten are an opportunity for a child to try out different spheres and choose what they like.

The French not only believe that adults have the right to grow up, but also that children should remain children.

A burning issue

One of the most frequent complaints of the natives of the former Soviet Union living in France is medicine. One of the most annoying issues is that it is impossible to call a doctor at home. Does a child have a fever? Got a bad cough? Is he vomiting? Get ready and take him to the doctor yourself, where you are likely to wait a few hours among other coughing patients - so that you think ten times whether to go.

This approach may not be to your liking, but it has a logic to it. It's about offloading the health care system and directing resources to where they are really needed.

In a possible life-threatening situation, they'll come to you in a heartbeat. Or even fly you in by helicopter.

By the way, very often it is not the ambulance that is on call, but a specially equipped fire truck with firefighters trained to provide first aid.


I once fainted in a Parisian street. Someone immediately dialed 112. I regained consciousness in a couple of minutes, but couldn't deny myself the pleasure of being taken to hospital by a team of French firefighters (if you don't understand why, google the annual Firemen's Calendar - Calendrier des pompiers).   

Come back tomorrow

What is the scariest word for a Frenchman? Bu-ro-kra-ti-a. French 'administration' is confusing, inefficient and unfriendly. When the next window is rejected because you forgot to enclose your cat's tax certificate, you want to howl at the moon.

You can't win the war with the French bureaucracy, but you can make the fight easier. I'll give you a personal experience-tested tip.

Never, never, never shout at an administrative employee and do not let him/her know that he/she is not doing a good job (even if he/she is). On the contrary, if you want to get something out of him or her, start the conversation by saying that you understand how difficult it is for him or her.

Let's say there is a girl in front of you. No, she hasn't had time to do your paperwork, not because she just spent half an hour getting her nails done (you saw that while you were waiting your turn), but because she's swamped with work. You've just arrived, you can't get a flat, your cards aren't working and you don't have any money? It's all nonsense, it's still much harder for her. Just imagine: sitting at a desk all day and doing (almost) nothing!

So first we empathize with the selfless employee and only then talk about our own difficult situation and express our request, lowering our eyes and showing how grateful we are to her. Of course, the method is not foolproof, but it has worked for me many times.

l'amour toujours

"French love is not gallantry but infidelity," claims Maya Mazorette, a writer and journalist who writes on the topics of sexuality and gender roles in society. Indeed, there is a stereotype that the French are very sexually liberated and easy to cheat on.

In French there is even an expression "le cinq à sept" ("from five to seven"), which refers to what one does when one has already left work but has not yet come home.

However, if studies are to be believed, the French cheat about as much as the average European.

And yet there is no smoke without fire. According to the same research, the French are the least remorseful in cheating partners. They are also the least strict when it comes to what constitutes adultery. Thus, for example, only 60% consider oral sex as cheating, and correspondence of sexual content - only 41%.

Apparently, it was not for nothing that two Frenchmen created Gleeden, a dating site for people looking for adventures "on the side". There are already more than five million users, half of whom live in France.

This relaxed attitude towards sexual topics also leads to a lot of ribald behaviour in French companies.

Sexist jokes and sexist remarks are unfortunately still common. You should not be afraid to protect your boundaries and it is important to remember that in France there are laws against sexual harassment.

Do good and it will come back to you

Remember the slogan "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity?" Equality ("égalité") is one of the pillars of French society. And with it, solidarity and concern for the less fortunate.

After Russia's 13%, tax rates in France are often shocking. Especially those who earn good money and pay the highest taxes - after all, the tax scale is progressive.

"Why do I have to pay so much?" - people are indignant.

However, high taxes and social security payments are not perceived as an injustice in France, but rather as a way to redress inequalities in society. To give those who have less money a chance to get a decent medical treatment, education and social assistance.

Everyone should remember that they too can find themselves in a difficult situation. And if they get fired, they will get unemployment benefits. If they or their children get seriously ill, they won't have to run around the funds looking for money. The system may not always work perfectly, but the principle of solidarity itself makes society more humane.

Author: Anna Roche

Cover Photo: Emily in Paris serie

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