6 Things You Should Know About the South of France if You Want to Blend in

By: Christie Montague

If you're an American like me, you'll know that our whole lives we are told things like "be yourself," "stand out from the crowd," and "be unique." Yet it seems that when trying to make a new country home, all we want to do is blend in. We don't want to be labeled as a "foreigner" or "tourist," so we try to slip below the radar. Maybe once you are in a country long enough to learn the norms and the language, you are no longer afraid to stand out. But for now, I'm still in the "blend in" phase. I get excited when people don't know I'm American right away. It's the little things! Here are some things you should know about the South of France that may help you blend in a little, too.

1. Set your watch to "Provence time"

If you are meeting with a French person at 10:00 a.m., don't expect the meeting to start at 10:00 a.m. There is an unspoken time zone called "Provence time" which is about 10-20 minutes later than the clocks read. Or you could say that the French are always late. It is very fitting of the Provence attitude. This is a place to relax, take your time and not worry about rushing around.

2. The "Snobby French" stereotype is completely false, most of the time

I've spent most of my time in Europe in a little town in Germany, so when moving to France for four months, I was a little nervous about how I would be treated. From other American travelers, I heard that the French were mean towards foreigners and became angry when their beautiful language was spoken incorrectly. When I first stepped foot in the quaint city of Aix-en-Provence in the south of France (about 30 minutes outside of Marseille), this myth was instantly busted. Although not too many of the locals in Aix speak English, they have been patient enough to let me hand gesture through what I need to say or ask. I've learned some French and yet even when I butcher words, people either just laugh or help me with pronunciation instead of getting frustrated. Yes, there have been isolated incidents where I was given attitude because I didn't speak French, but aren't there always times in daily life when people give you attitude? I was so pleasantly surprised to find that French people aren't how I imagined them to be at all.

3. Wine isn't alcohol

This is a direct quote from my French teacher. Wine is customary with family gatherings and meals in the South of France and is very important to the French. So order yourself a glass of wine with breakfast, lunch or dinner here in France. You won't be judged for it! 

4. Forget your diet and remember the baguette

I don't know how the French are so skinny because every meal is loaded with carbs. There is always bread before a meal, usually a baguette, and most meals include pasta. Seeing French people walking through the streets carrying baguettes under their arm or poking out of their bag is a daily occurrence. I feel like I'm living in an old French movie!

5. Sunday is a day of rest

Did you forget to go grocery shopping on Saturday and now it's Sunday and there's nothing in your refrigerator? Well, looks like you're going out to eat because grocery stores aren't open on Sundays in Aix-en-Provence!  You can't run errands, so it's the perfect day to stay at home for some lounging. This is one aspect that I have really come to enjoy. Nothing forces you to relax like closing down all the shops in the city one day a week.

6. Just because someone kisses you doesn't mean they're into you

Upon meeting a French person for the first time, they will kiss you on both cheeks. It is the French way of saying hello. For me, as a frequent human contact avoider, this is a little awkward. While in France at a friend's house, I met four French guys who proceeded to kiss me on the cheeks one-by-one. I'm pretty sure my face was BRIGHT red after that. But it's just what they do in the south of France! Men even kiss one another to greet each other. I almost wish we had cute pleasantries like that in America. But no, we just stick to hand shakes and fist bumps.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingChristie Montague is an American expat living in France. Blog description: A blog about an American 20-something's adventures in Heidelberg, Germany as an au pair and Aix en Provence, France for grad school.
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Contest Comments » There are 11 comments

Jen wrote 10 years ago:

I am glad that the French people you've met have been so nice to you. I wonder if there is a big difference between Paris and the smaller towns ... It probably helps that you're as cute as a button! ;-)

Tiffany wrote 10 years ago:

Yes and all true! I also have lived in the south of France and my favorite thing was the pain au chocolat for breakfast :) Oh and kissing is awkward. I always avoid eye contact hoping they won't go in for it, but they still do... ah, the French.

Thrifty Travel Mama wrote 10 years ago:

I visited Provence in 2007, and I would have to agree with all of these!

Janice wrote 10 years ago:

This intrigues me to visit...I would love to visit a place the sees Sunday as a day of rest, bread and wine is seen as a staple of the local diet!

Mengruo wrote 10 years ago:

I totally Forget my diet and all I remember are the baguette, ice cream and chocolate!! Never come to aix when you are in diet!;)

Ashley wrote 10 years ago:

Oh the baguettes! I am going to miss them in the states, but my waistline will not. Hopefully I can return to the American time too, "5 minutes early is on time, on time is late". I am going to miss the south of France!!!

Laura wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks for the advice! I hope that I am adventurous enough to one day get to explore France myself! If that day comes, I'll be sure to resort back to this post!

Thibault wrote 10 years ago:

Fantastic feed-back!! I'm French and going to travel to the US soon and really excited to live this American experience. However, regarding your strong opinion and facts I am starting to be anxious: where is ma baguette et mon vin ?!? I will have to have my own time - this means I will have to set up my watch at least 15min in advance to avoid being refused in class... Ahah

Nana wrote 10 years ago:

As usual, I find what you write to be very interesting. I always look forward to learning about France (and Germany) and seeing them through your eyes. Good experiences and lots to remember.

Andrea wrote 10 years ago:

So true Christie! The Provence time is by far the biggest difference for me! The baguettes, cheese and wine will be missed greatly!

Amanda wrote 10 years ago:

#3 is so true in southern France! Wine, cheese, baguette, yum! ;-)

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