French Vs Brits - what makes us different?

Hi all,

I'm working on a culture management essay and would welcome your input: how do you think the French and all things French differ from the Brits and all things British?

No matter how cliché, serious or lighthearted, whatever the subject (politics, fashion, business, etiquette etc...). It's just food for thought to get me going!



That made me laugh. I went to Somerset last yera and could not understand people but then of course I can go to some places in South West of France and still not understand them. Having lived in the UK for some time now I can realise that the French teachers often have very bad accents.

Hi Alexandra

I don't think there is actually any difference in literacy levels in the UK and France, or not enough for it to make any difference. Both countries have only average results but France has more on the bottome of the scale. The main difference between France and the UK that I have come across is in the number of young people who are not in education or training or working. This is about a third higher in France. I agree with you about all the pressure that is put on children and I like that in the UK a childs results are private between the teachers, the child and the parents. Sure the children know who are the clever kids but there is no ranking in the class as in France. I also like in the UK that the schools stream the children. I don't think this really happens in class. I also find, and I am sure people will not believe me, that discipline and respect is much better in the UK.

I am watching with great interest what will happen with the French education system just in case we do come back.

There you go, typical.

I hope my comments didn’t seem too critical, because it wasn’t meant to be. There are good and bad in all systems and yes probably the British system does have a more flexible attitude,particularly to under performers. I also take the view that whatever the French system is, we chose to come here to live in France and we have to accept the system they offer. We love the relaxed attitude to life. We love the area we live in, surrounded by vineyards. Shame about the mosquitos. Living here has given us more time as a family. I had to work up to 60 hours a week and weekends in England, or I would have lost my job. In France I am regulated to 35 hours a week and have to have at least 1 day a week off… sheer luxury. Maybe I don’t earn as much money, but we are a happier. Just a lighter note on education. On parents evening my daughter’s English teacher had marked her down on spoken English, I apologised…why ? and explained that she had a local accent, we came from Somerset. This was normal in England. She said this would have to change if she wanted good notes. When I pointed out that the teacher spoke English with a cross between a French and American accent she just said… “But I’m not the student”. Game, set and match I think.

Maybe I can shed more light on the education side of life but from the point of view of a Frenchwoman living in the UK. We have been living in UK for 3 years now as my husband has been transferred here with his work and my four children are all at school here both in primary and secondary schools. We may be moving back to France in the near future and I am not looking forward to it.

In the UK, the approach to education is more holistic and child centred. It is about finding out the child's strenghts and capabilities rather than trying to make the child fit into a preconceived idea of what education should be and penalising them if they fail to. Children are encourage to explore, to think for themselves, to be adventurous. In France children are terrified to get things wrong and will spend hours learnign by rote but often not even understanding what they are learning. School in the UK is about far more than just facts and knowledge which have their place but do not in my view led to a well rounded child. I don't believe school in France is more academic as someone said it just has a much narrower focus which is not the same thing. My children were far less well informed about the world they live in than other children of their age and in some things their knowledge was completely incorrect. In the UK teachers believe that learning can and should be fun, it should be enjoyed not just endured. French teachers do not understand this at all. Schools are much better equipped here too.

The children I meet here seem far more optimisitc about the future compared to their friends in France but the same could also be said for French adults I guess. Parents also take a much more active part in their childs education than in France and I am always surprised at how hard parents and children work to raise money for their school for equipment. I saw very little of this in France. I also lilke how children are encouraged to raise money for charity at school. It is very important that they understand that they can do much to help their local community and the less fortunate. Again I see little of this in France. Parents are also far more likely to be willing to take their children to after school events like ballet and football. Many more parents in France work full time and their children are left in the garderie for hours and from very young ages. Here more parents work part time so they can spend more time with their children and not leave them in child care all the time. That is the problem with the 35 hour week. It has left so many familes in France so poor that both parents MUST work. It is a great misconception that this has helped the work life balance of the French. Often the weekend is the only time they have to spend with their children.

I would also not agree with the lady who said that in France it is all very family centred and that in the UK no-one sits down for a family meal. With the exception of a few people I know who are working on shifts, everyone else I met sits down for family meals. In France I have many friends who do not have family meals because of working committments. I have not come across any houses here that do not have space for a dining table.

Where I live everyone says hello, people also kiss and shake hands but they do not feel the need to do it to everyone they meet. When French people say Bonjour it is automatic, like the Brtitish say Sorry if they step on your foot or even if you step on theres. They do not really care if you have a nice day or not I'm afraid.

This is a very interesting discussion and as a French person I am very surprised at how some non French people view us. When I meet British mothers who are complaining about school, lifestyle, crime etc I tell them it is just the same in France and they are very surprised. I suspect in many things we French and the British are not actually that different.

Sorry this is such a long reply

Not much said about education here. I have 2 teenagers. The school system is very academic, a bit like England 40 years ago. I was there. They really noticed the difference. The biggest downside is that students seem to spend hours hanging around in the playground when they have no lessons. Example on Tuesdays my daughter has lessons 8am to 10am, then 2pm to 3pm afterthat the next lesson is 4pm to 5pm. A lot of hanging around that day. We miss school uniforms, at least there was not a competition to see who could dress the best, or worst. Overall the school system is probably as good as anywhere else. The only argument we have had with the school was when we first arrived in France. They could not understand why we wanted to withdraw them from Latin and Spanish. We just felt that it was more advantageous to concentrate on learning French without the confusion of another foreign language.

Totally - but i do think that France is more class conscious than the UK? Despite the revolution? Or perhaps because of it?

Yes that sounds interesting Rebecca.

I always find the way the French judge by appearances very interesting esp. as per Anil's comments above.

My theory is that Brits know that just because someone is wearing frayed clothes, it doesn't prevent them from being the owner of several 1000 acres of prime grouse moor, whereas the French aristos who survived the revolution are very keen to demonstrate their aristocratic heritage and that this permeates down through all levels of society.

But this is just my personal pet theory and it could be utter pants!

I’m currently reading a book called The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham and it really highlights differences between the French and British that you don’t really think of (for example our noble mentality and their slave mentality). Quite a good read so far.

The French are less inhibted about being nosey.

We do it with some decorum ie behind shutters or curtains where as the French will blatantly stand in the road and gawp.

Fashion I reckon is the same as is the politics with the same them and us culture.

French food is different they don't like spicy food.

They love food overly salty or sweet nothing inbetween. They don't do savoury pies. Their bread is krapp. They can't make tasty hard cheese.

lots to say about being a woman but will reply tomorrow!

The French are far, far more inclined to judge people by their appearance. I think that is at least partly because in the UK we know that someone wearing a threadbare tweed jacket is quite likely to own 40 000 acres of prime Scottish moor. Our aristocracy don’t feel the need to prove themselves whereas the French aristos (or remainders of) still wear their breeding heavily. Maybe its because they are relieved that they didn’t get their heads chopped off…!

But lower down the social scale - it gets terribly wearing. We were invited to dinner once and the hostess looked at James’ footwear - (crocs) as though he was wearing dog shit on his feet. We were (thankfully) not invited back.

Hi Cathy

I would agree with most of what you say, but would just like to comment on two points.
Firstly, you are right everyone says good morning, but not always out of politeness but because it’s expected.
At work, everyone says hello with the traditional handshake or the kisses on the cheeks etc. However, you can tell that for one or two it’s obviously a chore. When I shake someones hand I always look at them. If someone doesn’t look at you and carries on looking at their computer screen or whatever, I really don’t see the point. Another one is when a colleague offers you their left hand because they have their hand on the mouse etc. and can’t be bothered to stop for two seconds, I find this really impolite. This is of course is probably only related to the working environment.

Another one is the bins. Our local taxes have just been upped and the bin collection reduced. At most now they only come once a week and regardless of this people still keep putting all the bags in to overflowing. I guess it may be some kind of protest?


Hi Alexandra
I’ve worked in France on and off for 12 years and what shocks me is the Hierarchic nature of the French. Especially where I am now. Cardre versus non-cardre. Nobody seems to want to work together, I think I can honestly say that team spirit is lacking in France, or is it related to the Lot?