Stuff the French don’t go in for

  1. Face cloths
  2. Base board electric heating
  3. Automatic cars
  4. Ice in soft drinks
  5. Clothes dryers
  6. Hand sanitizer stations
  7. Paper towels in public washrooms
  8. Room temperature towels
  9. Chocolate chip cookies
  10. Semi-solid beverages like milkshakes and Slurpees

I’m about six months short of this blog’s tenth anniversary, so I know that every second reader out there has a cousin Philippe from Normandy, who loves Slurpees, washing his face with a cloth and Lincoln Continentals. The list is mostly tongue-in-cheek.

But I’m interested in how you experience a new place not only in the enormous differences (People constantly use words I don’t understand! There are vineyards everywhere! It’s sunny!) but also in the small and subtle ones. I’ve written about these changes before, like how in Malta there’s an ice cream season and fish availability depends on the wind.

You discern the foreignness of a place when you experience the prosaic details of your life differently. You’ll have lukewarm Coke, and moist hands leaving the bathroom and the like.

These sounds like complaints, but they’re not. Except for Slurpees. I miss Slurpees.

Because this assortment of minuses is replaced by an equally fascinating miscellany of new quirks. When I lived in Ireland, I discovered the pedestrian wonder that is the trouser press. In Morocco, I was both disgusted and delighted by watching the butcher, well, butcher a chicken right in front of my eyes. France is already serving up its own curiosities. The orange juice is better here. There’s a weird culture of motorcycles getting the right of way. Everyone greets each other in our little town, even the newcomers. The towels are warm.

Some days, the little differences seem to be the real source of a place’s foreignness.

EDIT: Some additional suggestions:

  • Dinners out on Monday nights
  • Enormous coffees to go
  • Shower caps


  1. Shower caps. Very helpful for short people in a very narrow shower stall with a very high shower head, there wasn’t even enough room to tilt my head out of the way. That was my biggest pet peeve while visiting Paris.

  2. Shall I bring some of my killer homemade chocolate chip cookies when I come visit in June??

  3. When I moved to British Columbia from Ontario ten years ago I was shocked to discover that milk wasn’t sold in plastic bags and people set off fireworks on Halloween. You don’t even have to leave the country to experience these subtle differences–and you’re right: They are super interesting 🙂

    Bonne chance!

  4. Someone once told a long time ago that if you watching a butcher kill a chicken in front of you, you won’t eat chicken again. I did feel very bad when I saw it for the first time and stopped eating meat……….for one week! Too damn delicious to give up chicken.

  5. 1. Try “gant de toilette,” if they aren’t totally outmoded by now.

    2. Every cheap modern condo at ski resorts has those.

    3. They have a few of them, for old people.

    4. Ice just masks the true flavor, why would you want to do th… , oh nevermind. But they do serve them chilled.

    5. Go green, use a drying rack or clothes line (and avoid cluttering up your small home).


    7. They usually have reusable cloth towel machines (you know “ecologique”), or air dryers.

    8. Well, they do love their bathroom accessories, as long as they don’t take up precious space. Got to admit, towel-warming convection heaters are “ecologique” and comfy too.

    9. Have you tried every single pastry at the boulangerie yet? And some boulangeries do try to make them.

    10. Because you have to drink them with straws, and French people don’t do straws. I wondered about it for a while, then I realized that sucking in nutrients is an infantile behavior. Seriously, think about it.

    11. Try oriental restaurants.

    12. Quality vs. quantity.

    13. Try, “bonnet de bain” at the sports supply store in swim supplies aisle. Might be a bit tight.

    I don’t know, these lists just seem a bit trivial. You go to a foreign country with a huge cultural difference, a whole different concept of law (Napoleanic), a totally different approach to work and money and education, a whole different set of social ills, etc. etc., and you focus on the paper hand towels?

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