I met Jessica on a Linkedin Group we both belong to. Interview with Jessica Pasa
She got my attention because she wrote a book about her experience living in France.
As a matter fact, here love/hate relationship with France is very similar to mine living in the US.
When we had a conversation over Skype we agreed that once you are going to live in a country the dream-like view that you have about such country will eventually fade away and be replaced by reality.
But it’s OK. It’s not a bad thing, it a natural phenomenon that is bound to happen, because countries are made of people, and people are people.
So, take a look at the answers that an American smart lady had to say about France while she was living there.
I am sure you will have fun…
When we had our conversation on Skype, you said something interesting that anyone who has actually lived in a foreign country knows, but that people who have never lived in a foreign country might not totally grasp.
You said that there is a difference between the image that someone has of a country and actually living there. I think that’s very true for any country in the world.
So that prompted my first question here…
Q: At what point were you made aware of some of those things that didn’t necessarily match the picture perfect image that people have of France?
I was able to believe in “picture perfect France” throughout my first experiences as a tourist staying for a few weeks with families. When you are on vacation, you go out to restaurants, you sight-see, and you basically have fun.
The bubble burst for me when I arrived for my year living in Toulouse as a study abroad student. When you live somewhere, you have to deal with real life: how do I find an apartment and set up my cellphone and internet? Where is the nearest grocery store and how am I going to get there? How do I set up a bank account? These processes are stressful, and discovering the administrative nightmares that can happen in France made me realize that practical obligations follow you no matter what country you are living in.
You wrote a book titled ‘Pas Possible Falling in and out of Love With France’.
One of the first things you realized as soon as you got off the plane is that there is the “French language in books” and then, there’s the French language that people actually speak in day to day life.”
I know for a fact that French is notorious for that. So here is my question…
Q: When that taxi driver that you described in your book asked you “Vous ve nez d’ou,” How long did it take you to understand that he was asking you “d’ou venez-vous?” (Where are you coming from?)
At this point I had taken French for 6 years and had gotten over the “ohmygod French people speak so fast” phase. I was actually delighted to engage with the taxi driver! However, my first trip to France staying with a host family when I was 17 was my first experience with having to speak “real French” with “real French people” who didn’t speak English. I made a lot of mistakes, but my host family just laughed and corrected me, so I learned. You also get good at making gestures, a universal language.
Q: Did that type of situation happen often, and how did you deal with it when it did?
I got used to being corrected by my host family. In the US, we are pretty casual about our language, and as long as a non-native speaker can make themselves understood we usually let errors go. This was not my experience in France. The French language is sacred to the French, and they aren’t afraid to correct anyone, native speaker or not. However, this isn’t a personal insult. I learned not to take it personally and listened to the feedback I was given so I could improve my language skills.
On the subject of not being able to understand someone, I would just say “Comment?” or “Je n’ai pas compris” but not “quoi?” which can come off as rude if you are talking to someone you aren’t familiar with.
Q: The reason you called your book “pas possible…” which means “not possible” is because you’ve heard this phrase quite a lot in France. Can you give us some examples of when you heard this?
My husband actually helped me come up with the title for the book, so I have to give him some credit here. For me, this expression sums up a large part of French culture.
In my experience, French people love to say “no,” and in many different ways. The situation in which I heard “c’est pas possible” most was in administrative offices. If you were missing one document or signature at the bank, for example, the teller would simply shrug and say “c’est pas possible.” No, I can’t do this for you because you don’t have the proper paperwork. However, while we Americans take “no” to mean “no,” the French will flirt and finesse the situation until the “pas possible” becomes “peut-être…”(maybe).
Another situation would be an expression of frustration. If someone misses their bus or if their child is throwing a tantrum, they might exclaim: “c’est pas possible!” (I can’t believe this!)
Q: What were the culture “things” that were the most difficult to deal with for you in France?
Definitely the administrative processes. There were so many documents signed by so many different people required to do anything (rent an apartment, open a bank account, get a cellphone, etc). In the US by comparison it’s much easier. However, I think some degree of accountability is a good thing. For example, in the US it’s too easy to get credit cards, and that’s why a lot of Americans are in so much debt.
Customer service was also frustrating. Instead of the American “the customer is always right” in France it was that the employee was God (as in has all the power) and the customer had to bend over backwards to please him or her. The hours of stores were also difficult to keep track of and it was frustrating when everything was closed on Sunday. In the US, we are used to convenience and everything being open all the time.
Lastly, it was very hard to make friends with French people. The only way I managed to do it was to make friends with French people who were already friends with my host family or friends with other foreigners already. I found that if you don’t have friends or family in France, it’s difficult to get people to help you if you have questions. In the US, I was used to being able to ask strangers for help with almost anything. I do find Americans to be more outwardly friendly, but also more superficial. I think that French friends are harder to make, but they’re also more loyal. American friends may come and go, but French friends are often for life. In short, it’s worth putting in the effort!
Q: As I was browsing some videos on YouTube about France, I heard an American guy say that the hotel rooms were smaller and less comfortable in France. I know personally that this is not so everywhere and statements like these give the wrong idea to foreigners.
For example, the worst hotel I’ve ever seen was in New York City. So what’s your take on that?
I have lived in tiny apartments in both Paris and New York, and I can say that big cities in generally have small living spaces, not just France. In the rest of the US, people are generally used to larger living spaces. Everything in the US is bigger: the country, the people, the buildings, the houses, the cars and the portion sizes! However, France has more public spaces: city centers, parks and pedestrian friendly places to be outside. The US is heavily ruled by cars and needs more pedestrian-friendly areas like France.
Q: When we talked, we also discussed the fact that the French tend to have more culture rules than Americans. Would you want to expand on that?
First of all, mealtimes. In France, everyone is basically on the same clock: around 8am for breakfast, 12 for lunch, 4pm for the goûter (snacks for kids, coffee for parents) and 8pm for dinner. Everyone eats together, no one eats on the bus or at their desk. Eating is a social activity. In the US, eating is an individual activity. People eat what they want whenever they want and often alone. It is not regulated. Hence Burger King’s slogan: “Have it your way.”
Secondly, child rearing. The entire hexagon seems to be on the same page: how long to nurse a baby, when the mother goes back to work, when the child should be potty-trained, that children should be able to entertain themselves, how they should be dressed, etc. In France, you are training a new member of society and everyone is allowed to participate in each child’s rearing. In the US, it’s again individualistic: each set of parents does it their own way, kids are sleep trained “when they’re ready” potty trained in their own time and they snack pretty much whenever they want. Americans also aren’t allowed to correct other people’s children. I wish this weren’t the case!
Also, social etiquette. When greeting someone, there is a specific protocol to go through in France depending upon whether it’s in a store, at the workplace or in someone’s home. As an example, my husband brought home a burned baguette from our corner bakery because he didn’t say “bonjour” before placing his order! In the US, there’s no penalty for getting straight to the point and asking for what you want. In France, always start with “bonjour.” You won’t be sorry.
Q: What did you really not like about France?
Too much cigarette smoke and dog poo in the streets! It’s harder to enjoy the beautiful facades when you have to look down to watch where you’re stepping. It’s also more difficult to enjoy a delicious meal at a table outside when you have to wave smoke out of your face. Even though smoking is legally banned in restaurants both inside and out, people still smoke on the terraces.
Q: What did you really like about France?
I love the social values of France: great public transportation, universal healthcare, generous vacation, parental leave, fair retirement and an emphasis on family and social bonds. I am a socialist and identify more with French society than the US, which really worships the dollar above all else. I am seriously concerned that our country does not offer universal healthcare, parental leave, better public transportation and retirement plans for all. There is no safety net. Many Americans including myself wonder if they will ever be able to afford to retire. I don’t think this is really a concern for the French. Money is so important in the US that working seems to largely take priority over spending time with family and friends, and that’s a shame.
Next, the food. I love the emphasis placed on going to outdoor markets to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, spending time cooking and preparing meals to enjoy with loved ones around the table for hours. Going to a restaurant is not only about enjoying the meal but also spending quality time with your eating companion. And of course, I love the bakeries. Nothing beats walking down the street and getting a whiff of freshly baked baguettes that you can walk in and buy to go with your dinner that evening.
Lastly, I really appreciate France’s culture of leisure. One of my favorite things to do is go to the market to pick up fresh ingredients, a bottle of wine and a warm baguette to take to the park and have a picnic. Then you can just relax, chat with your friends and enjoy the food and drink as you people watch. Americans don’t seem to spend as much leisure time outside as the French, and the pace of life is also much quicker. I think we need to take a hint from the French and stop to smell the flowers! The quality of life is much improved when we spend it on food, leisure, friends and family.
I hope you enjoyed this great conversation I had with Jessica Pasa. If you love France, you can pick up a copy of her book an Amazon titled Pas Possible, Falling In And Out Of Love With France.
Please, leave your comments and questions below and me and Jessica will do our best to get back to you!
20 thoughts on “Interview With Book Author Jessica Pasa”
Loved this interview. I have heard a lot of this that you covered in the questions, about France. My parents and older sister and brother went to Paris and did mention the dog crap and I have heard about the smoking.
Yes, the slower pace compared to North America is one of the positive things, for sure. Universal health care and extended parental leave are important and we have those here in Canada, but I think France has a little more than us.
The description of the bakeries sounds absolutely divine.
I still hope to visit France and Coupvray. I hope to have a positive experience when I do visit, but living somewhere really is different from a visit.
Interviews and books like this are important because they show us all what it’s like in other places around the world.
I will have to check out her book. Sounds like an interesting read.
Have a great weekend, both of you and thanks for sharing this.
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Well, I knew someone like you would love this interview and I’m not surprised that you came and read this article.
Yes, France has got to get a grip with that dog poo, it’s terrible. It reminded me my days living in Paris where the side walk between my apartment and my favorite bakery where I bought croissants every morning was full of those. Really disgusting and give such a bad image of the French people really.
Now, I feel that France takes better care of its citizen with health care for sure.
Thank you so much for your feedback.
Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you found the interview helpful. I would love to visit Canada one day soon, especially Montreal. I have heard so many great things: the social benefits, the beautiful scenery, the friendly people, etc. and I can’t wait to discover it for myself. I hope you enjoy my book and that it prepares you for a wonderful visit to France!
Hi Jessica, and welcome to Sylviane’s blog 🙂
Good to meet you through Sylviane’s interview with you. I loved all that you shared, especially the part about the different French and American cultures, something that has been written earlier on this blog by Sylviane, though in a different way, and that always amazes me. Not to mention, that in our country, it’s a blend of both the cultures I’d say, which makes it interesting. No hard and fast rules, though a lot of options open for all.
I agree about taking it slow- the workoholics need to realize that, no matter which country they are in! I guess at the end of the day, we all aim to live a happy, content, and comfortable life, so should work our way to achieve that, isn’t it?
Thanks for sharing. Have a nice weekend, both of you. Happy Easter as well 🙂
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Sorry for the my late reply here, but I’ve got rid of half my furniture yesterday, as I’m getting ready to leave and it was a busy day for sure.
You are so right. At the end of the day we all want to have a happy life, and everyone, anywhere needs to slow down.
Thank you so much for coming 🙂
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found the interview interesting. I love talking about cultural differences. Are there any cultural differences that you notice in your daily life that you find intriguing? I’m also glad you agree about the importance of not rushing through life.
I just read your post on Aha!NOW about change, and I agree that it’s really important to pay attention to what is happening around us so that we can adjust and not keep doing the same thing because we’ve always done it that way.
Happy Easter weekend!
Thank you for taking this time from your vacation to comment here. It was nice to have you over.
Have a wonderful week!
Hi Jessica and Sylviane,
What an insightful and interesting article. I like comparing cultures and there are good and bad things in every society and sometimes the only way to really discover those things is to live somewhere else.
I would LOVE to visit Europe. In particular England, Germany and Greece; and that’s largely due to family history and ancestry.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us Jessica!
~ Don Purdum
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Sorry for the delay here, but been so busy lately between all those guest posts, my own posts and a new writing job I just got 🙂
Yes, there is good an bad everywhere, but as far as free countries are concerned our bad is not nearly as bad as the best in those other not so free countries if you know what I mean 🙂
So, you’ve never been to Europe? Wow, I can take you in my suitcase if you want? LOL! Whenever you decide to go, you will beauty, for sure. Europe is gorgeous, but so are many other places of this beautiful world.
Thank you so much for coming, my friend.
Thanks for your comment Don!
I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I had a great time with Sylvaine talking about cultural differences between France and the US.
I also have family history in England, Germany and Greece but have yet to visit Greece. I would love to some day! Please let us know your impressions once you make it over to Europe.
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An excellent interview. I got know a lot of fun trivia about France and French people. And Jessica, all the best to your for your book.I’ll definitely get this one.
Keep on writing many more interesting ones and amaze us.
Both of you have a great day.
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I’m so glad you enjoyed this interview and discovered Jessica’s book. That’s really great.
Thank you for coming and have a great rest of the day!
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview, and I hope you like the book as well!
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it is great to hear your conversation about France. It makes me melancholic, for once I wish I was there and have that mentality: Enjoy people, enjoy good company and good food and not be stressed by money or jobs, and second, it just seems that a perfect world is split in half, two continents.
If only we could combine the friendliness of the Americans with the loyalty of the French, the long hours of leisure with the easiness of getting things done.
Reading your comments makes me want to go to France but only for a vacation ;). I have heard before that in Europe people look different at life, they just have different mentalities, they close stores on Sundays, they take breaks for breakfast lunch and dinner and they put personal interaction above everything else.
It makes me so sad because I wish I was there. When the vacation is over I would come back just because like you said, here is easier getting some things done, even though I don’t like it, shopping on the weekend does come in handy. It’s a pickle!
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Thanks for your comment.
Yes, there are lots of good things in France and the whole Europe. People value more quality of life over money. In America it tends to be the other way around.
Thanks for your feedback.
PS: I had to separate your long block of text into smaller paragraphs because it was very hard to read.
Thanks so much for your comment. I wish we could cherry-pick our favorite things about each country and sew them together to create one magnificent place! I really miss the importance of human connection in France. I think that here in the US we definitely privilege making money over spending quality time with friends and family, as Sylvaine wrote.
I hope you get a chance to go visit France one day soon so you can see for yourself!
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Sylviane you know Jessica with me also in Linkedin Group. I’m very glad to know that you write on Jessica. Inspite the interview is short but that is awesome to me and you know she is my favorite list. Thanks for this sharing information.
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I’m glad you got here through Jessica, I’m glad you enjoyed this interview, and hope to see you soon.
Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. I also interviewed Sylvaine on my blog, Jessica’s Franglais (see link below).
Jessica Pasa invites you to read..10 Questions with French Writer Sylviane Nuccio
Glad you enjoyed the interview. I also interviewed Sylvaine on my blog, Jessica’s Franglais (See link).
Jessica Pasa invites you to read..10 Questions with French Writer Sylviane Nuccio
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