Living a French-American Life: Interview with Florence Melin

Florence Melin

Florence Melin

Florence Melin is a French woman who has lived in the US for the last 23 years, while I am an American who has lived part-time in France for the last 16. We connected through a mutual friend and fell into discussing the differences between the US and France. I enjoyed her insights and she graciously allowed me to share them with you here.

Florence Melin: What brought you to the US?

Back in the year 2000, my husband was accepted to business school in the US. We moved from Paris to Chicago for what we thought would be two years. But life had other plans! We have lived in the US since, raising our four children first in Minnesota and then in North Carolina, and everyone in the family is both a French and an American citizen.

How was the adjustment to life in the US?

I had high school-level English when I arrived, so the language wasn’t too hard. But adapting to a new culture was harder—there are so many different customs and social codes to learn. Plus, there are cultural references that an immigrant can never learn, like those from back in childhood days. When my American friends talk about favorite old songs or TV shows, I am often lost, so I just smile and listen.

What do you appreciate about living in the US?

My husband and I stayed in the US after business school because the economic opportunities are better, with higher salaries than in France. I’ve heard people say, “you should work in the US and vacation in France” and I guess that’s what we’ve done. With four kids, I appreciate the American educational system. French education is no fun, with little offered in the way of encouragement. Much of a child’s future is based on how they do on the baccalauréat exam at the end of high school. It’s a lot of pressure! The US system is much more positive and flexible.

Florence Melin

I appreciate that in the US, we have more space than we did back in Paris. Paris is a beautiful city, but it is also crowded and busy. Driving is hard there, and getting harder as cars are being more and more restricted in much of the city. Driving is easier in the US. I also appreciate that there are not nearly as many strikes in the US as there are in France. Of course, workers have the right to strike, but it happens a lot in France and can disrupt your life, especially the transit strikes.

And while I generally prefer French food, I have to say that US beef is excellent!

What do you miss about France?

The food! Food is such a big part of French life, and generally the ingredients are higher quality in France than the US. There is certainly high-quality food in the US, but I have to hunt for it—I go to one store for good meat, another store for good cheese, another for good nuts, and so on. In France I can usually find all of these in one store.

I definitely miss French yogurt, especially the variety. Some French stores have a whole aisle just for yogurt, like a US store might have an entire aisle of corn and potato chips. I wish they would replace all those chips with yogurts!

I miss French restaurants, like the cafés where you can enjoy a good meal at a reasonable price. And I miss the unique little shops in France with their well-chosen goods.

Florence Melin

I appreciate that access to health care and education is more equitable in France than in the US. My family is lucky to have lived in places in the US with good public education, but I know that’s not true everywhere.

Do you work in the US?

I’ve always loved to cook and I trained at France’s top cooking school, Ferrandi in Paris. I love to share my passion for French food so I became a private chef and caterer. I also teach cooking classes and lead food tours in France.

How are meals different in France than in the US?
Americans are often surprised when I tell them that French food doesn’t have to be complicated. It has a reputation as complex and maybe a bit stuffy, but most meals the French enjoy are not complicated. As long as you use good ingredients, you’ll be fine. We often like to start with an apéro—a few things to nibble on, along with a glass of wine.

The main thing is to spend time together with friends and family. Things don’t have to be fancy; we are happy with meals à la bonne franquette—simple. And we are very relaxed about time, so we might tell guests to come for dinner at 7:00, but with no end time because we enjoy being together, even late into the night. When someone invites me to dinner here in America, I warn them “Be aware, I’m French so I might stay till midnight!”

What are your food tours like?

I spent my childhood summers in Brittany, so I started the tours in Paris and then take people to Brittany. We go to farmer’s markets and to the farms of small producers who have a passion for what they produce. We take cooking classes, we go to a fish auction, and we have cooking demonstrations followed by private dinners. I try to keep things very authentic, very French.

For example, this past June we traditionally celebrated a local festival day, with dinner around a bonfire and food in big pots so everyone could serve themselves delicious regional dishes. I love to expose people to France and to French culture, especially French food culture. If someone wants to know what it means to be French, it starts with the food!

Can you relate to Florence Melin’s story? Share your comments below.


Photo credits
Florence Melin: her website
TV: Pixabay royalty-free images
School: Pixabay royalty-free images
Protest: Wikipedia, Creative Commons License, attribution thomon
Cheese: Morguefile royalty-free images, attribution lauramusikanski
Café: Pixabay royalty-free images
Apéro: Keith Van Sickle
Farm: Florence Melin website


About the Contributor

Keith Van Sickle

I am a lifelong traveler who lives part of the year in Provence. I am the author of Are We French Yet and One Sip at a Time, as well as the upcoming An Insider’s Guide to Provence, all available at Amazon. You can follow me on Facebook,  Twitter and

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