Things I Learned Whilst Living in France

I lived in the south of France from September to December 2014 as an au pair. It was such a fantastic way to experience the culture first hand! I've decided to culminate everything I learned during my time there...

About the French 

They eat late and take their time.

Weekdays we usually had dinner around 8pm and one of the things the French are well-known for, is their mealtimes - as in, they take their time, there are normally starters, the main meal, a cheese board, and dessert. Fridays and Saturdays though, dinner was usually at 9pm or if we were entertaining guests, we sometimes ate after 10pm! Everyone so was tired and full by the end. My host mum told me that the French ‘eat with the sun’, i.e. when the sun goes down they eat dinner; so in the summer they’ll eat later than in the winter.
I have a rule to leave at least two hours after eating before going to bed. I quickly had to throw that out the window! I didn't mind though, it was fun eating all together like that, plus, the food was soo delicious!

  They have long days.

This follows on from the eating late. Of course eating late extends your day. But it’s not just that, their school days are also a lot longer. For those in school equivalent to Primary school here in England, the days are about the same, but for those in le college - the equivalent to high school in England - their days sometimes start around 8am, and they can still be in school after 5pm – not always just for after school activities either, but still in lessons! I honestly don’t know how they do it!

They're more open with their feelings.

I’ve found that the French often say what’s on their minds. Whether it’s having a friendly chat or a not–so-friendly chat or whether they knew the person or not, I often heard sentences starting with ‘I feel that…’ which was followed by their true feelings on whatever subject that may be - either trivial or something deep. Being used to the reservedness of the British peoples, I did find this surprising at first.And in return, I think they were slightly taken aback by my lacking openness.

Saying ‘Bonjour’

Another thing most people know about the French is that they greet each other with kissing on the cheeks; I found that in the south of France it was two kisses, whereas in the alps it was three! Of course though, this is only with people you know or if you are introduced to someone, not with random people you pass sur la route. Though, to those people, it is still the norm to say ‘bonjour’. I don’t know if this is the case for the whole of France, maybe not in the busier cities and towns, but in the village of Fos Sur Mer, it is completely normal to greet everyone you pass. It’s a simple thing, but it gives a lovely sense of community.
This reigns true on buses as well. In England, we usually say ‘thank you’ to the driver when we get off at the stop, in France however, I found that people also said ‘au revoir’. This also feels more friendlier – I mean, thanking your driver is just the polite thing to do, whereas saying goodbye makes it a little more personal.

 Saying ‘Hello’

The French answer the phone with ‘hello’, of course, with a French accent. Which was funny for me because if I ever answered my phone in public, it would obviously be in my English accent and everyone would turn and bore into my soul. – And then proceed listen to my very dodgy, 'comme la reine!' French….

The buses

Again I don’t know if this is the case for all of France, but in the south, you take the bus timetable with a pinch of salt. It became normal for me to leave the flat at the time on the timetable, get to the bus stop a few minutes after that stated time and still be waiting another 10 minutes for the bus to casually roll up! On the other hand, there were some times where I missed the bus because it was actually on time!
Also, on a number of occasions, the destination written at the top of the bus was not in fact the destination I ended up at... The driver must have forgotten to change it because instead of the place at the top being the destination it was actually starting point of the bus’s route.
It seemed to be reliant on the weather though because as the days got shorter and colder, the buses were a lot more reliable.


'words or phrases that are not formal or literary and are used in ordinary or familiar conversation'

I noticed a lot of colloquialisms whilst living in le sud de la France.

‘Tak’ and ‘Hop’ (silent ‘h’). These were usually used when listing things – like pointing to things on a list – or describing a series of actions, so instead of saying ‘you go there and do this, this and this’, they would say something like, ‘vas-y, tak, tak et tak’. One time, my host mum was showing me the homework I was to help her daughter with after school and she pointed to each sheet saying ‘tak’. But at the same time, ‘tak’ doesn’t translate as ‘this’. It’s not really an actual word in that sense.
As for ‘hop’, that is used in a similar way; one time she was drawing me directions and as she drew the line of the route I’d take, she said ‘hop’ each time the pen changed direction. I suppose it’s a bit like saying ‘like this’ or ‘there we go’.

‘Oopla’ – pronounced with a short ‘oo’ sound. I find myself saying this now too! It’s said in situations like when I drop something, or something falls. I’ve also heard it used when a child jumped off a wall and the parent said ‘oopla!’. In comparison, in England, a lot of people say 'oop'.

‘Oh la la’
– not ‘ooh’. Probably the most well-known thing for a French person to say but I only ever heard it said once. And that wasn’t even when I was living in France, it was when I was in an exchange program back in March last year, my pen pal said it because she was really tired. So I don’t know how it became so common to think you’d be hearing ‘Ooh la la’ from everywhere if you ever visited France because in my experience, that was certainly not the case. Kinda disappointed about that…

About living away from home

There’s a lot of time in the day.

As strange as it sounds, there seemed to be a lot more time in the day than I felt like there was back home. I was usually awake while they were having breakfast (most of the time I didn’t have to take her daughter to school in the morning), and even when her daughter was to eat at home for lunch, I had a lot of spare time. This was the first time I was living away from home so it was also the first time I’d had so much spare time that wasn’t due to a school break. I found myself being super organised with everything, writing blog posts, sorting photos, watching television, browsing pointless things online, going to yoga classes, walking by the lake, skyping with friends and still having an hour left before I needed to pick up le petit!

About living with others


Your mood is infectious.

If one person is in a really good mood, everyone else will likely be too. which is great! On the other hand, if someone is in a bad mood, it is likely to affect everyone else as well, which obviously sucks. I’m talking about living with people other than your family though, people you’re not necessarily ‘used to’ living with yet. I feel like with family you know how to deal with each other, but when living with new people, you have to learn all over again, and because this is the first time I've lived with anyone other than my family, it's the first time I've been more consciously aware of it.

Its cosy.

We were living in a flat, which is also something I haven't experienced before, and the first thing I really felt was a feeling of togetherness. It was as if it wasn't just the people in the flat that I was living with, but the whole building in a way. The flat came with my host mum's job so I guess that meant the neighbours were automatically more friendly because they all worked together too. We had downstairs' whisk, upstairs' fish. We had each others front door keys too.
One time, I had stayed at the flat over the weekend instead of going with my host family to stay at my host mum's mother's house for the weekend. I wasn't feeling well so I was in my pjs doing some origami in front of a film, as you do, and there was a knock at the door. I could hear who it was but didn't really want to open it. That didn't matter though because they let themselves in anyway! They came to check our bathroom because there was a leak in theirs coming from their ceiling. I didn't mind, just felt a little embarrassed that I hadn't opened the door. I later found out that my downstairs neighbour had then phoned my host mum, a little worried about me, because I got a call from my host mum later on asking why I hadn't gone to Marseille as I'd planned. I told her I wasn't feeling too well and she told me she would phone our neighbour to tell her, just in case I'd need anything.

The coziness does mean though that you can hear a lot. A lot. The guy upstairs, I soon found, loves to watch TV, loudly, before 6am. Though, they probably heard me singing all the time too so I guess we're even...




  1. This is so interesting! It's amazing how different cultures can be, and I certainly didn't know that the French are so open with their feelings, or that the school days were so long! France is at the top of my wish list visits, actually, I need to memorise this stuff haha :)

    ♥.•*¨ AmandaSays ¨*•.♥

    1. Haha :) Yeah, I love learning about different cultures! x

  2. I'm moving to Australia soon so this will be my first time actually living abroad so I'm excited and nervous all at once!

    I really, really enjoyed reading this. A very unique & interesting post. You mentioned some things I never thought about and good for you that you were so organized while you were there. It all sounded like a fantastic experience and I honestly feel like everyone should live abroad for a while at some point in life

    xo Naomi in Wonderland

    1. Ahh that's going to be amazing!

      Thank you so much Naomi! I'm glad you liked reading it, totally agree, it's so worth it to live abroad somewhere at least once, completely broadens you're horizons :)

  3. Really interesting and unusual post! Jo x