Two weeks ago, I shared with you a post about the “politically correct” between France and Mexico. Few days later, one of my cousin told me: “That would be interesting to also have Andrés’ point of view.” Andrés is my husband, and more precisely, the reason why I am living in Mexico. And I thought that my cousin was right. Yes, it could definitely be enriching to have Andrés’ perspective and know more about how does he perceive cultural differences between France and Mexico. For sure, he has not spent as much time in France as I have spent in Mexico but he does live with a French! So…in this article, I give him the floor!
1. So Andrés, what surprises you the most about French people/customs/habits?
That’s a really hard question because there are a lot of “themes” in what you said. Probably it could be the ability that, in a really fast life (and I should say Parisian life), even if you have the fastest life ever, you still find your 5 minutes to lay down, to be yourself, to have your tea, to have your chocolate, to have something beautiful.
What do you mean? Compare to Mexico, can you give an example?
Well, in Mexico we can go and lay down but in France, people are going to have their cookie, their little chocolate, their glass of anything. You are not going to rest: you are going to make a small event which relaxes you. Us, we do nothing: our relaxing mode is doing nothing. French do something that please them. It’s different.
Also, the thing that surprises me is that, even in the daily normality, there’s always something a bit special. That’s maybe pretty normal for French but for instance, having dinner with wine, having a small dessert…I don’t know, you always have something pretty outstanding in a pretty average situation. I don’t know how to explain it.
But in Mexico you also have drinks…
For us, it’s for special situations and for French it goes to the normality because if you drink wine only in the week-end, it’s the normality of your week-end.
Something else that really impresses me is that French permanently look for the esthetic value of something. For example, they know how to do something practical but won’t do it if it’s not beautifully done, if it doesn’t have something esthetic around it. German are really going for precision but French also search for things to look nice, to taste well, to smell correctly, to harmonize.
Is it not the case in Mexico?
I don’t think in Mexico we have the capacity, or time, or cultural background, to completely get to that part yet. Of course, there are a lot of beautiful Mexican products or Mexican ways of doing stuff but it’s not that tight in our culture. We do things for them to work, we are really creative solving problems. There is something called the “mexicanada”: we can escape from situations or solve situations that many people won’t be able to manage. But we are not searching for the perfection, we are searching for solving something: that also means that we are not searching for the esthetic value. But of course, I cannot generalize.
Is there something else that surprises you? In good or bad?
Yes, I am actually now going to the “negative” things. What surprise me is how inflexible French people are. You have to have an appointment from before, you cannot bend bureaucracy in any way, and I am not only talking about bureaucracy for government, but for private companies, for the daily life. If something is supposed to be done in a certain way, it’s done that way. Sometimes that prevents the new thing to come.
Wouldn’t call you that organization?
No, because sometimes, if you organize too much, it becomes disorganized. Japanese have discovered that and they are the ones who initiatiated all the quality controls in companies. Sometimes you need a bit of chaos to create the new thing which will be better.
Yes, French have a bit of negativity and not only Parisians. They are pessimists. Some protest and do well. There is the historical baggage of the French revolution. But in France, a certain level of pessimism prevails. French think that the world is going to end even if they are doing well. It’s probably the thing that shocks me the most.
2. What makes you feel uncomfortable in the French culture?
The rigidity. Not always: I know that there’s a lot of organization behind but it becomes contradictory to do things better, faster.
But is the Mexican bureaucracy not rigid?
Well, in that way, for government sake, maybe yes. The problem is that in the French culture, there’s not only bureaucracy in the French government. It’s in the French way of seeing things. I have an example: when we wanted to get the tax refund document in the Forum des Halles in Paris, even if I had a copy of my passport they were insisting for the original.
Yes, it’s because they faced abuses: people who were showing copies of passport which were not their passport in reality. Don’t we need to have rules to ensure that things will be done correctly?
I understand, but I think that sometimes it’s too much rigidity.
Also, what makes me uncomfortable is the dinner at night. For us Mexican, our important meal is in the afternoon, not at night. That’s a triviality and I think that more than making me feel uncomfortable, it’s an adaptation process there. It’s something that don’t surprise French because it’s their normality: it’s physiological and psychological. I just have to adapt.
Is it always possible to have the “big meal” in the afternoon in Mexico? Because in France, people won’t be at their home before night because of their work. The dinner will be the time for the members of a family (or for friends) to get together.
Well, it depends. But anyways, at night we don’t eat that much and we don’t eat together. This is why, not anymore but in its time, it got me by my back because I had no idea.
I am also surprised by the capacity of French to live in small places. Gosh…
That makes you uncomfortable?
More than uncomfortable, it’s living itself in small places. Again, there’s an adaptation process. There’s a different value for it. Even the Elysée is small. Of course, not all Mexican live in huge places. In France, there’s a smaller gap between social classes but I am pretty sure that a couple from the middle-class in Mexico can at least be living in 120-150 m2. And people live more in houses. Even if I know that French in the countryside have probably more space than in Paris, in Mexico people who live in the country side can easily live in 300 m2 (and I am talking about couples without children). It is not generally the case in France.
To know more about space perception, see my article Chronic of a Parisian life or how to live in 30m2.
3. What do you consider weird and still don’t get in the French culture?
Ok, why is there a kind of habit to pee in the street?
Ah, you are talking about what you saw a lot in Paris…Well, it doesn’t happen in all French cities. It breaks my heart to say it, because I love my city, but Paris is really dirty.
Well, I also saw French here in Mexico peeing outside…And when I go to Paris, I see it everytime. The last one, within two weeks, I saw it three times.
Hum…I unfortunately don’t have an answer to that. I definitely disagree with it and I do think that it’s disgusting. It makes me feel sad also…Is there something else that you consider strange?
Yes, the fact that French always eat sugar in the morning or going to a bakery to buy your bread: for me it’s a beautiful tradition.
Also, the waiters in restaurant. There are only two types: or super good or super bad, there’s nothing in between. It’s or excellent service, “Downton Abbey level”, or “I don’t give a shit about you, I hope you’ll die”. I didn’t see any halfway. I hope that there’s one. And yes, how dirty are most of places in the city.
Again, you are referring to Paris?
Yes, because my experience with France comes from Paris.
4. What is costly and requires more adaptation from you with the French culture? On what do you have to do efforts?
In planning things: I can go out with an invitation of the same day received one hour before. French prefer to anticipate. I can get an invitation 5 minutes before and I am more than good.
Besides the schedule thing, I have to adapt to how direct are French to speak sometimes. They are more pro-confrontation than Mexican.
Do you mean, more direct?
Yes, but also more pro-confrontation. For example, French have no problem telling somebody that he is completely wrong or that they don’t like something and that they want to change it immediately. In Mexico, we have a different style even though I consider myself more pro-confrontation for a Mexican.
Regarding food, I think that I had a hard time to adapt because of me: I was used to eat really bad. I am someone from Monterrey, and even by its standards, I am, well I was, limited regarding food. Actually, I discovered the Mediterranean diet and the adaptation issue is more a personal matter to eat better.
5. According to you, what are the biggest differences between France and Mexico?
I think that we are talking about level of organization, again, organization and timing: that’s the biggest one.
Also, I do feel that French are way colder than Mexican, although when they manage to fraternize it’s a really strong bound, but they are not that open at start. I am not saying that French don’t have the quality of having really true friends but they take more time. I am pretty sure they take more care of them also. They are more reliable.
French also have another type of sense of preservation which goes more to the society than to their families or to individuals. It’s the contrary in Mexico. For example, if here in Mexico we are seeing that somebody of the society is doing something wrong, or affecting somebody else, we won’t care unless it’s really affecting our family or ourselves. In France, you are going to have a certain level of empathy because your consideration is social.
6. What do you enjoy in the French culture (if you enjoy something!)?
First thing: the food. All the bakeries and the fact that you are both potato/tomato Europe (Andrés is here refering to the following scheme where we can see the Mediterranean diet in the South and a more consistent cooking in the North due to the climate: France is literally in the middle).
I am also thinking about the amount of culture, of things to see.
And finally, I would like to take your example: at home, you “frencharize” a lot of things. The cooking, where is everything in the house, the organization, the schedule, the cat! (Yes Tess, I am speaking about you) I am thinking about all the small details. For instance, yesterday we were in the night having our cup of tea while seeing Downton Abbey: in Mexico, we wouldn’t be doing that. In France, there’s always something a bit special about daily life, it’s a bit different. I don’t know, in Mexico, while watching TV we will probably be eating some chips or totopos. Also, the little drink at night…It can be a beer or a cup of wine. And it’s not for drinking: it’s to enjoy. It’s not opening a 6 bottles pack.
Is there something else that you enjoy?
Yes, my wife! (laugh)
7. Ultimately, what would be your advices to facilitate adaptation to French culture?
Be on time and take it seriously. Be open, be yourself, but do take seriously people: you won’t get as many opportunities as you get in Mexico, socially speaking. Be authentic. If French have a harder time to create bounds, that’s why you need to be really authentic because they will know when it’s not the case and they won’t go further, you need to be yourself. When somebody is trying to reach you, you need to take it seriously, you need to understand that the person is moving something in her life to be there for you, to talk to you, to get to know you.
I am also thinking about the emotional dimension: I should have mentioned it in the first question, about what surprises me. The difference between French and Mexican is tremendous. Relationship speaking, us Mexican, we are way more open, we express our feelings way easier than French. We are also more conservative: we are more jealous. We don’t really have friendship between men and women even though it’s starting to change. It’s something that in Mexico we haven’t learn to master. It’s more “you are mine and I am yours”, it’s about the couple.
In France, if a girl is asking you to have a drink with her it doesn’t necessarily mean that she wants to date you. Or it can also mean that she simply wants to have some fun. But regarding relationship, Mexican are more spoiling the other one, pampering the other one. In France, it’s not that there are less feelings but French are colder, more separated. There’s simply more reserve and modesty.
So, what would be your advice to facilitate adaptation?
Is it possible for a Mexican?
If we really try, maybe (laugh)
I think it was Napoleon who said that: “To where you go, do as they do”.
I have to check that before writing it (laugh)
Or maybe it was more: “I came, I saw, I conquered”.