A few sure signs that I am in France…

Elisabeth Donato - 22.05.13 - www.myfrenchlife.org - Pharmacie

Many small things make up the very essence of France. Some are fun, some are weird, and others are downright irritating.

When in France, I am surrounded by things that remind me that I am back in my native country. Here are a few.


Smaller things

Cars in France are generally tiny, so urban parking lots are tricky to negotiate, and parking spaces can be very narrow. There are major multi-lane highways, but there are still very slender roads, sometimes with a ditch on each side – a challenge when meeting oncoming traffic.

French street signs

Elisabeth Donato - 22.05.13 - www.myfrenchlife.org - Signs1

Street signs are no problem when you are looking for the general direction to a city, but if you are looking for a landmark, you’d better know what it’s called in French. And, be careful! Speed limits are in kilometers, not in miles!

French roundabouts

Ronds-points are everywhere in France, and there are definite rules on how to enter them. But they are not usually mayhem like Place de l’Etoile in Paris!

Bright yellow mailboxes in France

Elisabeth Donato - 22.05.13 - www.myfrenchlife.org - mailbox

I am not sure why I am mentioning this. Maybe because, years ago, my father painted our mailbox ‘post-office yellow’, and even put the little Poste blue logo on it.

French pharmacies galore

Not quite on every block, but they are easy to find – just look for the green cross. French pharmacies are not like American drugstores; you can only buy medication and some ‘para-pharmaceutical’ items, such as excellent skin-care products. French pharmacists are knowledgeable, and will give you great advice and remedies to deal with whatever ails you.

Watch your step!

Elisabeth Donato - 22.05.13 - www.myfrenchlife.org - Crottes

Most cities have passed ordinances to fine people who fail to pick up after their dogs, (contrary to what the picture suggests, French dogs do not clean up after themselves), but you still have to pay attention where you walk. The homemade sign on the right, which I saw on one of my walks recently, reads ‘forbidden to turds’.


Smaller things

French houses and many appliances are smaller than in the US, but it’s not an issue, except for washing machines – they are downright tiny, and their washing cycle lasts forever. Some people own dryers, but many still dry their clothes on a line, and although hanging underwear in public sight is a no-no in the US, the French do it routinely. The electric company also has ‘reduced rate hours’, during which people tend to do their laundry.

No door knobs – the French have door handles

Elisabeth Donato - 22.05.13 - www.myfrenchlife.org - Door Handle

This is a small detail, but I always notice door handles when I am in France.

Different electrical outlets in France

Elisabeth Donato - 22.05.13 - www.myfrenchlife.org - Outlet

Get an adaptor! Also, French outlets supply electricity at 220/240 volts, while North American ones do this at 110/120 volts. For most appliances, this does not matter, and a plug adapter is sufficient, but some may require the use of a voltage converter (I have seen American hairdryers smoke when used without a converter in France).

The French W.C.

Elisabeth Donato - 22.05.13 - www.myfrenchlife.org - toilet

In most French houses, the toilet is in a small ‘water-closet’, not in the bathroom. The toilet-flushing device is also different. It is not a handle, but a divided button on top of the water tank. This is because French toilets use a dual flushing system. Push the smaller half of the button to flush liquid waste, and the larger one to flush solid waste. This system saves water when used correctly.

In your travels to France, have you noticed other little things that make you smile, baffle you, or irritate you?

Image credits:
1. Courtesy of Elisabeth Donato.
2. How to potty train a dog, via The Boxer Weekly.
3-6. Courtesy of Elisabeth Donato.

About the Contributor

Elisabeth Sauvage-Callaghan

I am a native of France, and a retired French university professor living in the USA. I return to France every year and love discovering new places I have not yet visited. I am interested in issues of bilingualism and expatriate identity. I enjoy good food, great books, and all kinds of music.

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  1. Hélène D. Jun 6, 2013 at 1:44 PM - Reply

    As a French person, I find this article quite entertaining! Thanks Elisabeth.

  2. Kiersten Childs Nov 28, 2013 at 12:17 PM - Reply

    Haha. I live in America but I noticed that we have a French style toilet in our downstairs half bathroom…

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