5 Things That Surprised Me About France

It’s been about a month since I arrived in France and culture shock has hit me in the most unexpected ways. I found it’s not the new language that confuses me, but the little things that people never tell you before leaving. The police sirens are different. The toilet paper is a different color. Everything is translated on packaging (even if it’s not needed!). So, I decided to put together a list of the top five things that surprised me once I got here.

Sundays:

Back home, I usually spend my Sunday drinking coffee and running errands around town with my mom. Obviously, my mom isn’t in France with me, but the real problem of keeping up this tradition is that everything is closed. Cafés and Boulangeries almost never open their doors on Sunday, and grocery stores are closed by noon. If you need to get something after that, you have to wait until Monday. Your best bet for finding something open is in Vieux Lyon.

So what can you do on Sundays? Parks, museums, and markets are all fun activities. The parks are always open to go have a picnic (as long as you bought food before) or to bicycle around. There’s even a park here with a free zoo! Museums have limited hours on Sundays as well, but they’re still an option. The history here is amazing. I visited the history of Lyon museum last weekend and spent hours wandering around. Markets are also fun to go to; they’re usually located right along the river banks. Even if you’re not looking for fresh vegetables, it’s a great cultural experience.

Stores in general:

Besides the limited hours of stores, I’ve run into the problem of not knowing where to buy stuff. The first place I usually think of when I need something odd is Wal-Mart, but that doesn’t exist here. Now, I have to run around to individual stores to find things. Granted, some of the larger grocery stores do have wider varieties, but it’s not to the extent that I’m used to. Medications are sold in separate pharmacies. Paper and notebooks are at the bookstore. Cell phone chargers are surprisingly difficult to find. If anyone knows where I could possibly find the equivalent of Command Strips, let me know! There are also a lot of food items that are difficult to find. Even if you do track down whatever you’re looking for, it’s probably overpriced. The best example of this is peanut butter. People have been hunting for good, cheap peanut butter like it’s the Holy Grail.

Bread:

Now, I know that bread is in a whole other league here with pain au chocolat at the top, but I wasn’t expecting to see people casually strolling around carrying baguettes. Seriously, I thought that was just a stereotype. There are a lot of different ideas thrown around about different cultures and I just assumed that this was one of them. Instead, there’s bread at every meal and boulangeries are on every corner. It even pops up unexpectedly at times!

Pet store in Arles – they feed their animals baguettes!

Public Transportation:

I’m still not sure if this is a France thing or a city thing, but public transportation is used all the time here. Back in Reno, I never used public transportation and walking to the nearest store would have been a nightmare. Here, I am constantly walking, taking the tram or métro, or using one of the bikes around the city. Some of these aren’t even options back home! I’m slowly getting used to it, and what seemed like a long hike on the first day is now my normal routine a month later.

The bikes in particular though are unique to France. There are hundreds of bike stations around the city where you can grab a bicycle to ride. You can either pay a small fee each time or you can buy a cheap vélo’v pass for the whole year. It’s super convenient and a great idea!

My vélo card!

Ice:

I never thought I could miss something as small as ice so much. Iced water or coffee is a completely foreign concept here. I even tried to make my own ice cubes, but my little fridge doesn’t have a freezer section! I’ll probably have to go to Starbucks if I ever have cravings for it. This is definitely something that you don’t even notice until it’s gone! Even if you get water at a restaurant, it comes in a jug for the whole table. This was another thing that surprised me. I’ve never been given my own individual water here. I don’t mind it, but it seems a little bizarre when you’re used to ordering glasses of water instead.

I brainstormed a lot with some of the other students about what everyone found weird here. In addition to what I have above, some popular answers were: meal etiquette, the smoking, and people staring at you all the time.

(Also, if anyone was wondering, the toilet paper is pink here!)

Taylor Chase is a University of Nevada, Reno student who is studying abroad in Lyon, France. This article originally appeared on her blog, Chameleon Adventure.