10 differences between the UK and France

Living in another country can be something of a culture shock. Things you take for granted back home could turn out to be completely different in your adopted land. So as a Brit living in Paris I’ve compiled some of the biggest differences between the UK and France.

UK and France differences

1/ Croissants

Differences between the UK and France Croissant

This may come as a serious shock: French people don’t put butter or jam in their croissant. The very thought of doing such a thing would leave them completely bewildered.

2/ Queueing

Differences between the UK and France queue

We Brits are very careful to mind our manners (most of the time). On the other hand, all you need to do is visit Paris to realise not everyone has the same mentality. Please feel free to jump the queue… because obviously your time is more important than everyone else’s.

3/ Sex

Differences between the UK and France sex

People say the French are more sexually open than other cultures, it’s not true though, there’s just less embarrassment about talking about it in casual conversation.

4/ Crossing the street

Differences between the UK and France pedestrian crossing

In France, pedestrian crossings are only a guide. Cross whenever and wherever you like, after all, pedestrians do have the right-of-way and cars will stop.

5/ Meeting the parents

Differences between the UK and France parents

Meeting the parents of your boy/girlfriend is stressful enough in normal circumstances but in France it gets even worse. Make sure you know the difference between “tu” and “vous”. Both mean “you” but depending on the in-laws, using one instead of the other could be taken badly. My wife took two years to tell me that it’s generally a little disrespectful to say “tu” when first meeting your mother-in-law, during which time I’d used it many hundreds, if not thousands of times.

6/ Eating dinner

Differences between the UK and France dinner

In Britain we tend to just pile everything onto a plate and get stuck in. This isn’t the case in France. Remember that most meals have multiple courses. Like an idiot my first few times eating with the in-laws I was filling up on bread and paté before realising that there was still the main, cheese, and dessert to come afterwards.

7/ Glass half-full or glass half-empty?

Differences between the UK and France crybaby

In France, you must complain about everything. No matter how good something is you must take every opportunity you can to moan about the slightest downside to it.

8/ Washing the dishes

Differences between the UK and Francewashing up

Unlike us Brits, who often wash our dishes then leave them to dry, in France, everyone rinses the soap off after cleaning them.

9/ Drinking coffee

Differences between the UK and France coffee

If you’re on your coffee break in France and you have anything other than an espresso, you have too much time on your hands. Coffee should be used simply as fuel and you definitely should not enjoy it.

10/ Meeting people

Differences between the UK and France kiss

When greeting someone us Brits either go for a solid handshake or a hug if we know them well. In France on the other hand you have “la bise“. This is the famous kiss on each cheek. Bare in mind however, that you don’t actually literally kiss each other. There is almost always little to no lip-to-cheek contact and instead it’s cheek-to-cheek… another thing my wife chose not to explain for the first couple of years.

What do you think? Let me know your favourite differences between the UK and France in the comments section below!

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Oui In France

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Haha, this cracked me up, particularly number 7 and 9! I still have a lot to learn about British culture… I don’t get the one about washing the dishes at all!

    I do hate it when I’ve been making a mistake routinely for ages before someone decides to tell me about it. I’m always super careful to vouvoie my beau parents, but they have another foreign daughter in law who couldn’t care less about tu and vous, and they’ve said they think it’s nice that she tutoies them. If a French person does it, it’s rude, but if you have a foreign accent, it’s charming! 🙂

    1. Dave says:

      Hehe, I’m glad you liked it. British culture really is odd as evidenced by how weird the rest of the world thinks we are!

      It’s also true that having a foreign accent lets you get away with quite a lot… probably as they realise you’re not being rude on purpose.

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. Vanessa says:

    Considering how close the two countries are geographically, they are so different culturally. We’ve been here (in SW France) for 19 years and are still learning all the time. Your list is great and really resonates with me, especially the queuing and complaining. I could add about customer service, but don’t get me started on that. A really silly one is that French people hate using the answering machine. We have French friends who will leave a message only in extremis and then they are clearly uncomfortable with it. Another one we have frequently come across is that you don’t serve the apéritif until EVERYONE has arrived. While this might be fair enough at a small gathering with a fixed start time, it was taken to extremes at a party to which we were invited. The last guests turned up more than an hour late, during which time no one got a drink. Vive la France!

    1. Dave says:

      Thank you for the kind comment. You’re right, it really is incredible how two countries so close together can be so different.

      As you say, some social manners are incredibly frustrating here, waiting for everyone to arrive before serving drinks, saying hello and goodbye to every single person individually is okay in small groups but when there are a lot of people it can be extremely annoying.

  3. I love n°7, it’s soooo true! Your reply to Vanessa points out the saying hello and goodbye to everyone at a gathering, this one drives me mad! Just like Vanessa I’ve been in France for 19 years but luckily the vast majority of my French friends have lived outside France which makes them much more relaxed and they don’t insist on waiting till everyone arrives to have a drink. However, I totally agree that it happens, and when it does it too drives me bonkers! I’m glad you found #AllAboutFrance and hope you’ll link up again.

    1. Dave says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, it’s greatly appreciated. I’m glad you enjoyed my post and I’m very happy to have found #AllAboutFrance. It’s a great initative and seems like a lovely community that I hope I can be a productive member of 🙂

  4. I wrote a similar post a while ago and mine included the fact you should never drink tea in France or coffee in England! Oh and charity shops – I miss them in France. #AllABoutFrance

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