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There’s a lot about France that baffles North Americans, mainly in a good way (um, hello, delicious wine for 7€), but there are definitely a few things that may have you scratching your head in worry or annoyance. But, no worries! Give it a day, you’ll get used to it and all will be fine.
Their milk isn’t refrigerated. But, it’s okay! They haven’t lost their minds and you can still drink it. This is pretty normal behaviour in nearly everywhere but North America. And, it lasts longer. They use a process called UHT, which heats it to a much higher temperature than what we do in North America. This article has a great rundown of it.
Speaking of refrigeration….
Their eggs aren’t refrigerated, either. Mon dieu, don’t these french know you must refrigerate, everything else you’ll die?! Except, technically, eggs don’t need to be refrigerated. At least, not if they haven’t been washed yet. From a person who buys farm eggs and leaves them on the counter (freaking out guests), this isn’t weird to me, at all. But, for those shopping strictly in the supermarkets at home, it may be a little unnerving. Don’t worry, though, the protective membrane from the eggs will keep them fresh to not death for a month (maybe longer, but I don’t fuck with eggs).
You cannot, for the life of you, get a coffee early in the morning. Unless it’s a McDonald’s, Starbucks or a well-equipped boulangerie et patisserie. No beautiful cafe settings for you before work or that impossibly early tour you set yourself up on and are now regretting. Plan in advance to make your coffee at home (I always travel with a to-go mug and a water bottle) and save the parfait cafe feeling for later in the morning or afternoon. Honestly, it’s way better this way as you can enjoy yourself, people watch and relax. Exactly why cafes were invented.
You have to weigh your veggies and fruits before taking them to the till at most supermarkets, and definitely the Monoprix. Again, something that happens elsewhere in the world, but if you don’t speak good enough french and the cashier is yelling at you while looking at your plums, it’s probably because you don’t have a sticker for them. The weigh stations are located with the veggies and fruits and are easy to use even if you don’t speak french. Pictures are there to make it even easier.
Paying for the whole bill. I’ve yet to stumble upon an establishment that asks if the bill needs to be separated, even if they speak good English or you French. I suppose you could ask, but when you finally receive your bill (ask for l’addition for all of you wondering how to get it faster without miming) you’re usually just excited to head to your next destination. Just slap down the credit card and divvy it up later at your hotel or airbnb.
Tap water isn’t automatically assumed when you ask for water. Although, this is getting better and more common every time I go back. Often, you will get a bottle of water plunked down at your table, flat or with gas (sparkling water) instead of refilled glasses of water. Remember to ask for tap water if your waiter speaks English and if not, une carafe d’eau should do the trick (getting you a pitcher).
Restaurants may not open until 7/7:30/8pm. Again, a normal thing across the world and especially in Europe, but if you’re a hungry North American still jetlagged, finding somewhere that does aperitifs and tapas or a Monoprix for a snack will be your best bet to tide you over. Eventually, your body will switch over and eating at 730/8 will be just fine!
People actually do smoke. Here, it’s strange to see someone smoking in the streets, in France, especially Paris, it’s strange to see someone not smoking. Although, I feel that the amount of people smoking has gone down in just a few years. Yes, they smoke, yes it may annoy you, but it’s not your country. The smell of cigarette smoke mixed with diesel takes me back to Paris for a reason (gross, I know): it’s a strong smell and is everywhere. Pretend it’s 1995, don’t worry, and just enjoy your time in a country that takes fashion and cheese very seriously.