French Language Blog

5 Things I Found Out In France Posted by on Dec 29, 2015 in Culture, Vocabulary


I am Sten, a blogger from the Dutch and German blogs here at Transparent Language. During my university studies, I had the opportunity to go to another country in or outside the EU and study there for one semester within the ERASMUS program. I chose to study in France, both to learn more about the French culture – which, in my opinion, I did not know nearly enough about in my opinion, being German and Dutch – and also to improve my French skills. I have now studied for around 4 months in Nice, France, right at the Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera). And therefore, I thought it would be nice to write a little guest blog here on the French blog.

Below, I will set out the 5 things that struck me most, about France, but also more in general about getting into a new culture and language!


1. Talking & Listening Is Key

There are many ways to learn a new language. You can read, you can write, you can use the language in many ways. Though with French, I noticed much is in the speaking. I had a hard time understanding the French in the beginning, because they speak so quickly. And when they are already three sentences further, I am still figuring out what exactly their first sentence meant. But, like so many things, this is something you can get used to – practice makes perfect. And the best way to do this is by practicing, so having conversations with people. Talk to people, and listen to their answers. Try to understand. And if you don’t, well, just ask them to repeat. Below two sentences to help you out. Please correct me if the sentences contain mistakes – I am learning too, still.

Pardon, pouvez-vous le répéter ? Je ne l’ai pas compris, c’était trop vite! (Sorry, could you repeat that? I didn’t understand it, that was too fast!)

Pouvez-vous parler plus doucement, s’il vous plaît ? (Could you talk slower, please? – I used to say plus lentement (slower) in the beginning, but the French I spoke to all told me you’d say plus doucement (softer, gentler) instead.)


2. Crêpes For Mardi Gras

Crêpe (Image by Dan Zen at under license CC BY 2.0)


Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is Carnival, and more specifically, the day on which something more rich and fatty is eaten. I was told that in France, this is the time to eat a lot of crêpes!

One night, I made some Dutch pannenkoeken, and the concierge of the building walked into the communal cuisine. He found it a little strange I had pancakes for dinner now, in December! In the Netherlands, it is very normal to have pancakes for dinner, and there are even restaurants only for pancakes, so-called pannenkoekenrestaurants.


3. French Resembles English (Or The Other Way Around)

I first learnt French in Dutch, and during all the six years I followed language courses in high school, I had a very hard time getting the hang of it. Now, however, that I have mastered the English language and learn French in English, it is a lot easier! I think this is related a lot to the many similarities between the languages. Many words are basically the same. Some examples:

abuser – to abuse

exagérer – to exaggerate

le café – coffee

dégoûtant – disgusting

fatigué – tired (fatigued!)

la confession – confession

Also, the sentence structure is very similar, and much more similar than Dutch, for instance. Here an example:

je voudrais devenir professeur.

I’d like to become a professor.

Dutch: ik wil graag leraar worden.

The verbs are placed differently in Dutch, but they are placed exactly the same in French and English. This helps a ton, because translating a sentence from English to French is mostly just translating the words, the sentence structure is not that different!


4. The Southern French Are Not That Pünktlich

Being a German, I grew up with the sense of Pünktlichkeit (German for punctuality). 5 minutes late is bad, 10 minutes is the max. Anything above is unacceptable! Not so in France, or, for as far I can tell, southern France.

The first time I encountered this was with getting my room for the semester. The whole process of obtaining it took very long, because the administration went so slowly. Only a few weeks before my arrival, everything was finished. As I was not prepared for such a relaxed attitude, I was quite freaked out about this.

When I then arrived at the residence where I lived, pünktlich (à l’heure – on time) for the time that I signed up for online, I was told that they were still busy with the people before me. I waited for a good 2 hours until finally, it was my turn. Also there, the atmosphere was very relaxed. Again, something to get used to!

The tourist guide of Nice also warned me that it is not wise to rely on opening times of shops. They can close a bit earlier or later, it depends more on what they feel like. I have made this experience only once, however, at a supermarket.

The pinnacle of this lack of Pünktlichkeit came with a trip to Paris. We went by bus, and we were driving through the night. We gathered at 10:30 PM, which was announced because the organization thought people would only arrive at 11 PM. Me, being German, was there around 10:30 PM, knowing already that being a little en retard (late) is no problem. Then I found out the bus was supposed to come at midnight. And when the bus still was not there at 12:30 AM, everybody was getting a little worried. The bus finally arrived at 2 AM, long after the time it should have come!


5. En France, On Fume

Smoking is big in France. In breaks of lectures at the university, huge crowds would stand just outside the doors and smoke. Also elsewhere, I have seen a lot of people smoking. It seems to be a more frequent habit than in the Netherlands, and the numbers seem to suggest this too: in France, almost half of all people between 18 and 34 years smokes. By contrast, in the Netherlands, only 26% of adults (15 years and older) has smoked at least once.

What have been your experiences with learning French and the French culture? Let me know in the comments below!

I hope you enjoyed my little list here, and please come over and check out the Dutch and German blogs too! I would love to see you there!



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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


  1. Barbieri:

    One mistake, dear Sten, if I’m not mistaken: It’s “Je voudrais devenir professor.” Happy New Year to you and yours, young man.


    • Sten Ritterfeld:

      @Barbieri Ah, yes, thank you!
      So that is an interesting little difference between English and French where Dutch is actually a little closer again.


  2. Juliana Beletsis:

    I have had (not made) this experience only once.

  3. Simon:

    Beware too of “abuser”: Tu abuses does not mean you’re abusing, etc.

    • Sten Ritterfeld:

      @Simon Hi Simon, thank you for your comment!
      How do you mean that exactly? Tu abuses would mean “you abuse”, I would think, no?

  4. Mika:

    Salut Sten,
    It’s so cool to see your post here. I was in Erasmus this early half year.
    I agree with you that learning French in English is much easier because they share so many similarities. Also French loves to talk and share , I wish I can comprehend all of them.
    There is also one thing about learning French which is the “number” thing.
    I got to say it’s so hard to learn at first and no to mention when you went to France,
    when the vendors saying about the price..I’ve always asked for repeat ^^”

    I just want to say thanks for your posting and sharing, it reminds me a lot of good time in my Erasmus in Belgium and my time spend with my French friends in Paris and Normandy.
    Back to Taiwan now, is not that easy to learn French anymore but I still try to listen to RFI and watch some French TV show.
    I would like to know do you have any tips for speaking French ? besides practicing with French : )?

    • Sten Ritterfeld:

      @Mika Oh yes! The numbers! The infamous dates (ex. 1952 – mille neuf cent cinquante deux) or 80 (quatre vingt) and 90 (quatre vingt dix). It took me quite a while too to get used to it!

      One way to keep up the speaking is of course by finding human contact. You could try finding people online that can Skype with you and talk French together, or maybe there are people like you in Taiwan too? It just needs some investigating, but that is a way. One less burdensome way is through private tutoring, which Transparent Language offers, for example! Bonne chance!

  5. Susan:

    My son had many of the same impressions as an American college student living in Southern France for a year. He was particularly frustrated by the lax attitude toward time, but eventually came to appreciate (at least a little!) the less stressed-out attitude of the French. He also told many funny stories about trying to understand the all-female staff in the office where he worked part-time, since they spoke VERY fast and used many expansive hand gestures. Thanks for the interesting post!

  6. Samantha:

    As a francophile who loves to observe the culture, I was interested and mostly in agreement with what you wrote. The treatment of time can really become attractive after one opens to it, and in my case, I needed to drop my American “efficiency” standards about it.

    A few other things: The French are horrible at giving on-the-ground directions, or at least, they speak from a mindset which is very different from Americans who do so. The most common phrase is “c’est tout droit, tout droit”. When in a city, they do not think in terms of blocks, or even the square grid which would seem to simplify direction-giving. They will say, in effect, “Go right out of this building, go straight for awhile, the bakery will be there, tout droit, you can’t miss it”, for a bakery which is 1/2 block away, on the right, on the corner of a large boulevard. Oh, and add “If you get to the CRL (or MLP, or CFF) you have gone too far”. (!?$!) In the countryside, they follow the road-sign standard of telling you to set off “in the direction of” some city or town you’ve never heard of: they do not remember route numbers, but simply call the roads “la route, la grande route”, or “l’autoroute”. For someone with no local coordinates or orientation,it is pretty useless!

    Not to sound too negative, I will mention one of the very many positive qualities of he French and their country which I continually appreciate when I am there, and this may just be something that is widespread in Europe, but does not exist in good ‘ole, do–it-your-way U.S.A: The general oragnaization and layout of towns/cities and country, with the clearly zoned areas for industry, stores, factories, and the concomittant emphasis on beauty, gardens, order, and a feeling of gracefuness. This includes the lack of “dead” stores, gas stations, businesses, parking lots and warehouses that litter the environs of any American city. Also, in a different vein, the emphasis on talking, holding good conversation, and thus a culture of really listening to what one says–making of conversation a true art and improvisation–so satisfying, once one can speak French well enough to dive in!