Ellie’s au pair Life Episode 2 : What surprised me the most in France?

What was really different between the Kiwi way of life and the French way of life? That is a good question ! 

Over time it was interesting to see how many little differences there were between the two countries. Here are the main things I discovered.


Prepare you to dinner later than you use to !

First, Kiwis tend to eat dinner quite early (between 5 – 8pm depending on their kids’ timetables). I didn’t realise that French people don’t usually eat dinner until much later, between 7-10pm. This can take time to get used to, and this leads me on to my next point….French people often have a cooked meal for lunch at home, which makes sense considering there is such a long wait for dinner. In NZ people usually have sandwiches or lighter meals for lunch. Just to add to the consumption of two big meals …

Then, in France,  dessert is eaten after both lunch and dinner. I found this super funny and partly responsible for why I gained weight during my stay. And, what’s even funnier is that French people like to eat yoghurt as a dessert, whereas it would be something people in NZ eat for breakfast. To kill the hunger between a big lunch and a long wait for dinner …

Snack time is so specific in France and takes place around 4-4.30pm – it’s almost like a ritual. In NZ it’s not such an important time of day and sometimes might not even be necessary because the kids have dinner earlier.

When it comes to drinking at meal times …

French people like to have different wines with different stages of a meal (obviously just for weekends and social gatherings). Sometimes it can be hard to keep up if you don’t drink wine or are a slow drinker, like me! It’s important to specify if you would rather drink something else but can be tricky to do that at a dinner party where everyone is drinking the same thing. Water is usually drunk with every meal too. And, if you’re like me and enjoy coffee …

Coffee is not served in the same way! In NZ you are spoiled for choice with a multitude of coffees, whereas in France it’s mostly black/filter coffee or cappuccinos. Oh, and the French like to dip their toast in coffee too!

Coffee shared with friends


Discover the kisses on cheeks habits ! 

French people are quite direct with what they want to say, and sometimes it’s easy to take things personally if you don’t understand the way they were intended. My advice is to just listen and pick your moments to respond to comments.

French people like to plan gatherings with their family and friends quite a bit in advance. Kiwis can sometimes be quite ambiguous or not really commit to what they say they’ll do.

Something that everyone needs to prepare for is the kisses on cheeks (‘bises’) culture with French greetings. The tricky part is that no one ever seems sure of how many ‘bises’ you’re supposed to give to different people. NZ is more of shaking hands and/or hug culture.

Cheeks kiss is an French habit to say hi

Other differences between New Zealand and France

The school hours are different in France. On Wednesday’s kids are only there in the mornings and have the afternoon free, but then they might have to go to school on a Saturday morning as well.

Working hours seem a bit longer in France – sometimes parents can arrive home past 7 pm, and that’s normal.

Dinner parties tend to be hours – long in France and you can be sat at the table until very late. Socialising is a bit more relaxed and spontaneous in NZ.

Physical presentation seems more important in France, and people tend to make a comment if they think someone looks good or attractive. In NZ some people walk around barefoot in the summertime, and most people don’t put much effort into ‘dressing up’ for casual everyday activities.

People are a lot more open in NZ – talking to strangers in public is very normal and encouraged. This is not so common in France. In the shops in NZ, salespeople are super friendly and want to help you all the time. In France, it’s not quite the same and you can expect to be able to shop without much interaction with others.

Most places are closed on Sundays in France, especially in small towns.

Public transport is a lot more reliable and available in France. NZ still has a way to go with its bus and train systems.

What else?…

French people can sometimes talk in half-sentences and finish their sentences with a sound effect coupled with exaggerated facial expressions. This is used to summarise a bad experience, an amazing experience or something that shocked them, without having to use too many words to do so. Kiwis tend to explain things in a lot more detail, but can sometimes assume that you know what they mean by finishing the sentence with ‘eh?’.

Find here five others things that will surprise you when you move to France !

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