Culture France Life in France

The Top 3 Things France Does Better than the USA

When I first moved to France in 2017 as an English language assistant, I didn’t picture myself living here long term. After that first year however, I realized I didn’t want to leave! I was just settling in to the French way of life and there were so many more parts of France I had yet to discover. After living in three different cities in France for 3 and a half years, I’ve come to appreciate the lifestyle here. Wonder what’s keeping me in France? Check out these top 3 things France does better than the USA!

Living my best life in France!

“I am writing this article as part of the linky for bloggers organized by the blog Expat in France. Feel free to check it out, you will find lots of useful advice about living in France, navigating the French red tape and understanding better French culture.”

1. Trains

My favorite way to travel in France is by train. With trains you don’t have to worry about crazy drivers, finding a place to park, or paying for gas and car insurance. I’ve never had a car in France and have almost always been able to get where I needed to go.There’s also something so relaxing about taking a train, gazing out the window at the scenic landscapes. Taking the train is also less of a hassle than flying and often less expensive. Plus, trains are more eco-friendly than other types of transport!

Cassis Train Station

In the US, driving and flying are the main ways to travel. We have trains too, but they are much slower and not as well connected. To give you an idea about the difference between train travel in these two countries, I’m going to compare costs, time, and distance.

Comparing Costs

If I wanted to travel from Boston, MA to Washington D.C. (437.7 mi) , I could book a train for $49, but the journey would be at least 7 hours long! It takes the same amount of time to dive that distance so many people would just decide to take their cars. Or, you could take a 1 hour and 40 minute plane ride to save time!

Via Amtrack.com

If I wanted to take a train from Paris to Marseille (481.5 mi), I could take a 3.5 hour train ride for less than 30€. I also hold a Carte Jeune, which is a rail pass for young adults from 12-27 years old that guarantees a discount of at least 30% on all tickets purchased and costs about 50€ per year. If you wanted to drive from Paris to Marseille it would also take 7 hours. Flying is also just under an hour and a half, but it is much more expensive than the train.

Via Oui.sncf

2. Health Care

This one probably isn’t surprising. Affordable health care is one of the things I’m thankful for everyday while living in France. A decent amount of taxes come out of my salary each month to go towards the French healthcare system, la Sécu. It’s worth it to me however, because this means I don’t have to pay a large insurance bill and don’t have to worry about deductibles. In fact, 70-100% of the majority of healthcare costs are reimbursed by the government! If you want to have even more guaranteed coverage you can purchase a Mutuelle, which is like a supplementary private insurance. I have one that’s about 30€ per month which helps me cover the balance of co-pays.

Let me break down some of the costs for you.

The price a consultation for a general doctor is 25€. If you go to a specialist, the visit will cost around 40€. But remember, you will get 70% of the cost reimbursed so you’ll be left with $7-$10 left to pay. The price of medicine is also very inexpensive. Most of the time when I’ve had to get a prescription filled for medicine to treat small infections was less than 10€. If you’re wondering about tests, I’ve had blood an urine tests range from about 10€ to completely free.

The most shocking price for a medical test I’ve ever had in France was for an MRI (I’m ok, by the way! Everything came out clean, but my Dr. just wanted to check something). A quick google search shows that this procedure can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars in the US. Guess what it cost me in France. Just 30€!

I’ve never had to pay for my own health insurance in the US before since I was 22 when I moved to France and was still covered under my dad’s plan. My temporary work contract as a lectrice at French University is ending in August later this year and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stay in France. If I end up back in the US, I’m honestly quite worried about adjusting to the healthcare system there.

3. Living Life in Moderation

A stereotype the French have about Americans is that everything is bigger. In way, that’s true! From portion sizes, to houses, to cars, to the size of the country, everything seems bigger in the USA. The French however, seem to have mastered the art of balance. They are still able to indulge, but not in an excessive way.

Un petit cornet de glace à la plage

Food

With all the butter, bread, cheese, and wine in the French diet, it’s a wonder how the French seem healthier than the average American. The secret is moderation! Portion sizes are not huge in France and ingredients are usually simpler. I always have reverse culture shock when I visit my family in the US and I order a coffee and it’s way bigger than I remembered.

The only size coffee at this French café is small!

I’ve been to some pretty good Farmer’s markets in the US, but they have the reputation of being a little bit “boho” and not for the average person. In France, many types of people go to the open air market to purchase their produce, meat, and dairy from local farmers. I don’t want to generalize too much, but from my experience, the French seem to care more about what’s in their food and where it comes from than most Americans do. Don’t get me wrong though, chain grocery stores, junk food and processed food still exist in France, and there are many people in the US who are concerned about healthy eating!

One of many Farmers’ Markets in Aix-en-Provence

Style

There are many clichés about the fashionable Parisienne who is elegant yet effortless. But it’s true that the French style is very minimalist compared to American fashion. The French tend not to wear as many bright colors or show as much skin as people do in the US. Since living in France, I’ve come to appreciate adding timeless and classic pieces to my wardrobe that are high quality and will last for years.

Before coming to France, I definitely got caught up in fast fashion and would spend my money on cheap trendy dresses from Forever 21. Instead of purchasing boots that got holes in the soles after one season, I invested in a couple good pairs from Tamaris that have made it past the one year mark. I also treated myself to a Sezane sweater that is much warmer than my old H&M cardigan! Even though, I don’t make very much money with my current job, I’m still very privileged to be able to save up for more expensive clothing items.

Work Life Balance

Finally, one of the best things the French do in moderation is work! I don’t mean to say that the French are lazy or don’t work hard, but French culture definitely values life outside of work. It’s much more of a “work to live” not a “live to work” mindset here. For example, lunch breaks are 1-2 hours, whereas in the US you’re lucky if you get 1 hour rather than 30 minutes to eat at your desk! In France, you’re not expected to answer emails or calls once you’re off the clock either. My French boyfriend is often confused when I decide to grade papers or lesson plan on the weekend. If I were teaching back in the US, I’m certain I would have to bring a lot more work home with me a lot more often.

Lesson Planning in the Office

France is also well known for the number of paid vacation days which is up to about 30 days total! In the US, there is no law stating employers must give employees paid vacation time, but most companies offer about 7 days PTO. The average work week in France is 35 hours, it’s more like 40 hours. The length of the work week and the amount of time off could be contributing factors to France’s high productivity rate. When you have more time to rest and recharge, you’re less likely to get burnt out! In the US, there tend to be more “workaholics.” This could also be due to the fact that it’s a lot easier to get hired and fired in the US than in France. If you have a contract à durée indéterminée (CDI) in France, it’s a lot harder for you to get laid off, so there’s not as much pressure on your job performance.

Enjoying August Holidays in the South of France

Was there anything here that surprised you? If you’re also an expat in France would you agree with my list of things France does better than the USA ? Or would you add something else?

Thank you so much for reading and don’t forget to check out the other expat blogs and YouTube videos about this topic on Expat in France’s Linky!

À la prochaine,

Camden

6 comments

  1. I absolutely agree! (Most particularly about healthcare and work culture, probably because those have been my main concerns during my time in France.) it’s funny how you realize these kinds of things about your home country once you go abroad and look back… Things you never would’ve questioned had you not left. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel you on several of the points, especially #2 and #3: for the former, I work in a government sector which handles Medi-Cal (i.e. California’s health care), and it’s insane about the co-pay costs and everything; you basically pay an arm and a leg if you were to get sick, and given that many people are low-income, they can’t afford getting ill!

    Some things I’d like to append, though. #1: It’s true that our public transit system sucks, but I see it being a combination of our ubiquitous car culture and the fact that our country is much larger than France for any quick transport from one end of the US to the other. Not to say that we shouldn’t excuse our failure to come up with better ways to get around, especially within cities (e.g. bus, metro, etc), but given how our country was set up with capitalism and the sheer size of it, I think planes and cars will have to do…

    #3: I agree with you that the French moderate a lot better than Americans in food portions and eating habits (i.e. Americans typically like to snack, which adds calories=weight gain). But having had meals in France, even one dish is dense and heavy, especially those cooked with tons of meat, cream, cheese…maybe it’s my appetite, but I would always be stuffed after a boeuf bourguignon, a cassoulet, moules frites…so I wouldn’t say that the French are “healthier” in terms of their cuisine and habits, but again, they moderate and walk a TON more (and smoke), so those are also factors to keep in mind when it comes to being slim and supposedly “healthy.”

    #4: I honestly have to thank France for helping me dress better. I was all about that “hoodie/track pants” life before I lived abroad, but within months, I got a different wardrobe that included slim-fit trousers, scarves, and a warm winter coat (as I’d started off living in chilly Normandy). I still wear such garments today, and I feel more confident because of that. While I do wish that the French could loosen up and wear colors outside of black, grey, and brown, it is true that French style can last for years, no matter your age.

    #5: I currently work in the government (i.e. public sector), and I say that my job is very similar to what the French have in terms of work-life balance. I have a 40-hour work week (and I can’t exceed it, yay!), along with two weeks paid-time off per year, on top of two weeks sick leave (and the hours accrue over the years. I also get a mandated one-hour lunch break and public holidays off, topped off with pension. While not as crazy good as the French’s, I believe that the US does have jobs which encourage the work-life balance; besides the government, I believe IT/software engineering fields have great work-life balances, as well as opportunities to work remotely. I also heard that in France, it also depends on the sector you work in; as we’ve worked in French public education, we’re extraordinarily lucky to have a TON of holidays off based on the school system; a French friend of mine told me that not all jobs are like this, so one’s mileage may vary…

    Just some food for thought; your post made me think a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective Rebecca! With the size of the US and our infrastructure it does make more sense to drive and fly.

      You make a good point about the richness of the food! I’m vegetarian so I guess, I didn’t really think about those kinds of heavy dishes as I was writing. I still haven’t gotten used to the French way of eating – I prefer a decent breakfast and a small lunch rather than a small breakfast and a bigger lunch meal that leaves me sluggish for the rest of the afternoon!

      I’m glad to know you have a job that gives you some balance. In both countries, I guess it does depend on the profession. I don’t know how well I’ll adjust if I ever switch to a non-teaching job!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Camden !

    I could not agree more ! You hit on several great points about life in France versus life in the States, particularly the whole moderation bit. This one hits home for me, especially the part about work, and I am fully embracing it in this new chapter in life. Work life balance is becoming a non negotiable for me and I wish I would have pick up on it sooner. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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