An American’s 28 Surprising Observations of Paris

My trip to Paris was the first time I’ve ever really emerged myself into a different culture and oddly enough, it was the subtle differences between our cultures that I found most interesting.

I expected all the big cliche ones that are known worldwide, like the French have amazing bread and wine, but there were a ton of little things that I didn’t expect!

(Read more: My first trip to Paris)

So here I will summarize my observations as an American traveling solo through Paris. These are simply the things I took note of during my first trip to Paris, and now having lived here for 2 years, there are some I don’t necessarily agree with any more. But still, I think it’s interesting to document first impressions.

Some of them may surprise you! 🙂

1. Compared to the US, people in Paris dress to impress

It’s just like they say, Europeans don’t wear sweatpants or athletic gear in public. They just don’t.

Every person I encountered looked more put together than the average American on a good day. Even the ones who looked like they might be a little hungover or under the weather were wearing real pants, fashionable dress shoes, and a trendy trench.

2. There are no overweight French People

None. I saw one overweight person my entire time there and he was a tourist.

3. …Which is interesting because the French diet consists of a lot of carbs

But here’s the secret: Parisian bread is made with real ingredients and isn’t full of sugar. You can taste the difference immediately. And not surprisingly, the first bite of American bread I took once I was home tasted awful to me because of how sugary it was!

4. Their metro is 100x superior than ours

The map showing the line and stops above the door actually lights up and shows you what stop you are at. Straining your ears to hear the nice French lady announce what stop you’re at can be tough, especially during rush hour, so this was huge. It certainly made navigating the City of Light much less hectic for this tourist!

5. Sanisette Public Toilets

Paris has multiple public toilets throughout the city, which can be a real life saver if you’re in a pinch. They’re the coolest little devices! The toilette self cleans AND self dries after each use, including toilet bowl, sink, and floor, which is pretty darn remarkable for a public toilet. Most of them are completely free but there are a few that cost 20 cents.

6. Street signs are for directions, the names of streets are posted on buildings

This took me much longer than I’m proud to admit to figure out. Turns out this is true in most of Europe!

7. Many people in Paris speak English

I did not expect that, especially because there is such a widely spread stereotype of the French being rude towards English speaking travelers and sometimes refusing to speak anything other than French, but this was not my experience at all. In fact, on many occasions I actually had to say “je préférerais si nous pourrions parler en Français, s’il vous plait!”

8. Sometimes there is not a toilet seat

It’s just the porcelain part of the toilet. I guess French couples have less seat-up-seat-down arguments?

9. Speaking of which, toilet paper doesn’t always come on a roll

It comes in a form similar to tissues, where you pull and one sheet comes at a time. Kind of makes you use less honestly.

10. The food is ridiculously affordable

A sandwich is between €2-5 , but usually 3. A croissant is between €1-2. A glass of wine is €4.5-5 . An entire meal (appetizer, entree, dessert, and bread) is €12-19.

11. Everyone smokes

Literally everyone. (Okay I’m exaggerating but still, there’s a lot!)

12. The women are beautiful in a way that I can’t describe

They opt for a natural face with minimal makeup, natural hair, and of course, lipstick. Truly stunning.

13. Speaking of, many women wear lipstick

and I had some serious bonding moments with women over favorite brands and shades so far!

14. French women don’t dye their hair generally speaking

So everyone thought I was from Sweden.

15. Unless you are specifically in a food store or a restaurant, you will not find food for sale

A Drugstore sells drugs. The Pharmacie sells bandages and cleansers and the like. There is not a section with soda and m&m’s and chips in every single store like in the US, and this is probably one of the reasons why they aren’t overweight.

16. Bread is served with every meal, but it’s meant to be eaten with your food

I found this strange because I am such a sucker for a bread basket before a meal, but I adjusted. (I find whenever there’s bread involved I’m v flexible).

(Read more: Non cliché food to eat in Paris)

17. I saw one gym in the entire city

I saw a handful of people running, but that’s it. Now to me, as someone who’s into fitness, this shows me something. They do not workout the way we do, because they don’t have to the way we do. The food they eat is pure and made with real ingredients and no additives. The mindset around taking medication is completely different. It’s just different. If I have not seen a single overweight French person but also hardly any gyms, that has GOT to tell you something. They are obviously doing it right.

18. Their under garments are très chic

When lingerie shopping in Paris (which you will find yourself doing, because, duh) you’ll find that 90% of the bras are un-lined. No padding, no form, just lace and wire. It’s fancy and delicate

19. The cheese…

Oh mon Dieu. The cheese. I can’t even describe it well, I wish I could just make you try it. It’s creamy, it’s full of flavor. If cheese were a wine, you would call cheese from France “full-bodied”. It’s like “wait this is what cheese is supposed to taste like and the hard stale stuff we eat at home is… not food?”

20. There are surprisingly less crêpes than expected

I thought crêpes would be on every single menu but it’s actually primarily a dessert item here. They are available throughout the city at food stalls though, and are a great late night snack after drinking heavily in the Latin Quarter. 😉

21. No one cards you for alcohol

Granted I’m obviously older than 18, but it’s like a non-issue here. AGAIN, this should tell you something about the French approach to life.

22. The dating culture is very different

This is just a generalization and possibly not true of everyone, BUT, the men my age are looking for wives and they are looking fast.

23. Vin Chaud

Hot wine. That is a thing here.

24. They listen to a LOT of American music

25. Masculine vs. Feminine

Knowing if something is feminine or masculine has been the most difficult thing so far and is the bane of my existence.

26. Language struggles go both ways

Masculine vs. Feminine is equally as difficult for them in our language. One of my new friends told a story about his sister and referred to her as “he” and “him” the whole time.

27. Doors push in, they do not pull out

Probably not a huge thing but you’d be surprised how often I read “Poussez” and then try to pull.

28. The symbol for “exit” is a guy running

as if he’s saying “Ah I gotta get out of here!”  I love it and it makes me laugh.

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  1. I don’t mean to be rude, but I live in Paris and a lot of these things on here are either not correct or huge generalizations. :/

    1. Oh! I’m interested to see which ones you think aren’t true, could you share? I also live here and I stand by the things I observed.

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