Every year we come to France, I am struck by the differences between our countries. We have been doing this transcontinental shuffle for ten years (!) now but the contrasts are still striking.
There are the givens of geography: Provence is much sunnier than Michigan. Even though our village is at a latitude comparable to Traverse City, MI, the weather is much milder. I have read that Global Warming will negatively affect the Gulf Stream and Europe will lose the warming effects that the Gulf Stream brings but at the moment, the warm winds continue to make the Provence climate feel like South Carolina.
Another thing that strikes me each trip is that Americans are heavier than French people. When one thinks about the differences in cuisine, one might conclude that the French ought to be heavier given all of the wonderful sauces and cheeses added to foods (not to mention all of the wonderful French pastries and, of course, wine). I am guessing that the biggest difference is that snacking in France is at a minimum. One does not find a rack of candy bars at the check-out lanes of the grocery stores in France.
Relatedly, the French dress better. In general, they have not adopted American ultra-casual styles. For instance, one rarely sees people in sweats at a store or an event. Many French people wear sport shoes as we do in the US but they are most often not white. French women are especially aware of fashion trends and seem to buy the latest styles. In terms of fashions, France is the land of scarves. Women and men wear scarves in every season but in winter the scarves are as long as a person is tall and though a scarf often looks like the person threw it on, it has been wound and knotted with careful attention.
Another striking difference is that Americans are louder. At a restaurant or at a café, the noise level is lower than in the states. Ellen and I were at a bistro for lunch one day and a woman at another table laughed out loud – so loudly that people turned to see where the noise was coming from. When we go out to eat, you can usually identify the Americans in the restaurant by the decibels emanating from their table. I also think that the French have a different intonation in their voices. You don’t have to hear the words to know that the person is speaking French.
There is much less litter in France. I don’t know whether that is due to an awareness of the environment or the fact that cities and villages still hire street sweepers whose job it is to keep the streets litter free. The downside to street sweepers is that French sidewalks are often booby-trapped with dog-do. (The attitude among many French dog owners is that since the street sweeper is paid with my taxes to clean the streets, it is not my responsibility to do his job. The attitude is slowly changing.)
The French smoke a lot! Leaving the airport terminal as we arrived, we had to walk through a veil of cigarette smoke from people standing outside of the terminal. Smoking is much more pervasive than in the states. You cannot smoke in enclosed spaces in France but all of the cafés have an outdoor smoking section and even on cold days, people sit outside all bundled up in order to have a cigarette with their glass of wine or cup of coffee.
Our lives go on and the differences between France and America increase or diminish over time. The only constant is change.