Culture Shock

ExpatMatt's picture

This time I want to write about some cultural attitudes in France that are very different from the United States, and some of you might be surprised about what I write? Others may not.

A major part of French culture is drinking alcohol, especially wine. No surprise here since a large part of the French economy (10 BILLION Euros!) is wine! Most parents introduce their kids to wine at a early age, around six or so, and it's 50/50 wine and water. Most adults drink wine with dinner so it's not something out of the ordinary. Kids here eat the same things their parents do so why shouldn't we drink the same things?

As soon as I moved to France my father gave me my first taste of wine and I liked it, and it became a regular part of meals. Wine here is relatively cheap, and my father and I drink local wines that are 3-5 Euros a bottle. Now that I'm older I usually drink it undiluted, unless I'm really thirsty then I might have it 75/25 wine and water.

While the drinking age here is eighteen, honestly it's a big joke and rarely enforced. The economy isn't so great here so why should someone turn down a sale? If you go to a movie they sell beer and wine to anyone that wants it and it's like buying a soda at a movie in the United States. Here a huge social taboo is being drunk in public at any age, and it's just totally looked down upon. Most teens have been drinking for so long that wine is like water.

The French don't exactly have a love affair with the English, and our countries have had numerous wars over the years. In England if you say a swear word a common expression is "excuse my French". Here if you get drunk people say "you're acting English". It's a easy way to start a fight.

There's been a issue with what we call "flash parties" organized on Facebook or by text messages where groups of teens meet up in side streets and drink way too much. I just don't get involved in that.

Another thing here is smoking, which is a huge part of French culture. You have to be eighteen to buy cigarettes here, but do you really think that's enforced? It's a big joke really. Not that many teens my age smoke, but it's not because of the law. Here Marlboro brand cigarettes are really popular and they cost 7-8 Euros ($10 U.S.) a pack, the same price as a movie. Okay, movie or smokes? The movie will win most of the time.

At the local lycee (high school) it's totally different. It seems like most boys there smoke, and there a smoking section set up for the students. Age restrictions? No. Smoking is kind of a status symbol, a sign of toughness. Personally it doesn't interest me at all. I also don't have Euros to throw away for that.

France has very strict laws about cannabis (marijuana) but it's still common for teens here to smoke it, you just have to be discrete. Getting caught with it, no matter how much, is a major criminal offense. I think the police overlook teens using it, and a lot of it is homegrown by my peers. It's really expensive here and like I wrote earlier the economy isn't so great here so there isn't a lot of Euros for drugs. Beer and wine is cheap and easy to get and is really not a big deal here.

I'm going to write another journal soon about teen sex here in France in the near future. I think that will be an interesting one to write!

Okay, so now you have the French perspective. Time for my opinion about the same things in the United States.

The biggest thing my father and I run into when we visit my family and friends in Florida is that I can't freely drink alcohol, and what happens is my father will cautiously slip me some beer or wine when we go out to eat, to the complete disapproval of my relatives. One time we were asked to leave a restaurant when my father gave me some wine or have the police stop by! We always keep the fridge well stocked with alcohol at our hotel so that's our plan B.

I think it's funny that there's constantly advertisements on television for alcohol in the United States but what would be a huge market (teens) isn't allowed to purchase it. I think less teens in the U.S. smoke cigarettes than in Europe, but it seems really popular with American girls.

Honestly, I think it's crazy to expect people to wait until they're 21 to "legally" have their first drink, and the fact that it's so forbidden to drink at a earlier age causes lots of problems. Look at how many students run into trouble when they go off to college and discover drinking? If they had learned how to drink early on and it wasn't so forbidden that wouldn't be an issue.

Marijuana is heavily promoted within rap music and culture, which I personally can't stand. My mother would be alive today in she hadn't gotten tangled up in the drugs and crime of that culture. That's not a racist thing either, I want to be clear about that. It just amazes me how many people in the United States smoke it.

I hope this journal has been interesting and my thanks to everyone who reads what I write!



anarchist's picture

Fuck yourself.

Choke yourself.

You need to vibrate harder.

Anyway, I agree with you on the drinking age thing. People here act like alcohol is methamphetamine or something. It's ridiculous.

I disagree, though, with you on the marijuana issue. It should be legalized, first, because the crime associated with it would just disappear. Also, I know a ton of people who smoke marijuana, and none of them listen to any of that pothead hiphop stuff, so yeah. They all have really good tastes in music, actually; they listen to a lot of the same stuff I do.

elph's picture

The "experts" continue to offer...

conflicting comments wrt wine... especially for adolescents with yet-unfully-developed brains.

You can read comments suggesting that small amounts of wine daily (~180ml) is no problem... in fact, it may even prove healthful. Then... there are those that argue that even the smallest amount of alcohol causes irreversible deleterious effects in the yet-developing brains of youths.

I tend to suspect that the latter group are just "nay-sayers"... but, I could be wrong! Just dunno (much less certainty here than on the religious issue).

However... I "argue" this way: since alcohol has been a nearly unavoidable constituent in our foods (through natural fermentation) up to the days of more-available refrigeration... we, as humans, through evolution may have come to actually thrive on small amounts. The verdict is yet to come in... :)

Maijuana is much in the same "boat" as alcohol. But here, my objection (for all) lies in the carcinogens (if smoked) than in the actual drug itself.

All carcinogens are harmful. To the best of my knowledge, our lungs are our only organ that cannot undergo a "self-cleansing" routine: Once carcinogens arrive in one's lungs, they remain there... and ultimately reek their damage!

Bosemaster42's picture

I agree on the drinking age,

Eighteen would be more sensible, I believe. However, young kids who may have a predisposition to alcoholism(parents/grandparents), early introduction would seem detrimental. I've seen too many examples of this. Marijuana, on the other hand, if smoked, yes there are carcinogens in that process, however, the effect of such cannot be compared to cigarettes. Individuals(smokers) typically smoke 20-30 cigarettes a day.
Personally, I may smoke marijuana one or twice a day, usually at night.
Weekends are anything goes.
Marijuana can be used in a variety of ways, if smoking it doesn't appeal to the individual. You can add it to baked goods, ie, brownies, cookies, cake, etc. It can also be vaporized and inhaled which is less harmful to the lungs.

anarchist's picture

Actually, here's an interesting fact:

The oldest human who ever lived smoked every day from the age of 21 to 117.

Just a little bit of slightly-relevant information.

jeff's picture


Think how long he would have lived if he didn't smoke!

"You don't know you're beautiful." - Harry Styles

anarchist's picture

Well the weirdest part is that she claimed that she was never

even active or interested in health. She started fencing at 85 and rode her bicycle until she was 100, but that's all. I think her longevity was just really good luck.

elph's picture

And then again...

...the whole story could be just apocryphal?

anarchist's picture

Why would it be false?

There are pictures of her and everything. Just look up "Jeanne Calment".

elph's picture

I said "could"

I do not know how well the "facts" are documented or verifiable...

And... anyway... the story is anecdotal. One can find an anecdote to support virtually anything you may wish!

jeff's picture


Yes, but the Internet is a conversation, not a research paper.

"You don't know you're beautiful." - Harry Styles

Bosemaster42's picture

It's not false,

I read about her after she had died, can't remember if it was online or in the newspaper, but she was a real person for sure. I've heard of other people who lived past the teradachtyl age even though they were smoker's.
I still wouldn't suggest anyone start a habit based on one person's amazing constitution though.

elph's picture

I wasn't suggesting that she wasn't "real"

I'm merely saying that since the event is a singular (albeit remarkable) anecdote, it would be irrational to assume that she should become a model for a long and healthy life! :)

jeff's picture


It would be equally irrational to think anyone in the above conversation thought that to be true, no? ;-)

"You don't know you're beautiful." - Harry Styles

elph's picture

Then... with what object in mind...

was she originally brought to our attention?

btw: That question is rhetorical... please! :)