Europeans in the US: Seeing things from their point of view

Posted in: United States


Restaurant bill
How much should we tip? Figuring out the bill in the States is not always easy. Photo: Slick Vic

By Bryan Pirolli—

We always experience culture differences as foreigners in Paris, and I’ve written about it before. (See my previous post “Are Parisians Rude?”) But what about the other side of the coin? How do Parisians react when visiting the States?

During a holiday luncheon with some Parisian friends while in New York, we Americans were allowed a rare glimpse into what the French find striking about our own culture, from tipping to the color of our money.

Money, money, money

My French friends first discussed the differences in money issues. Why are American bills all the same color? How much do you tip a cab driver? Why are telecommunications so expensive?

They marveled at the things that we take for granted (after all, the euros do feel like Monopoly money to us sometimes).

At the end of the meal, willing but frustrated with trying to calculate the absolutely un-Parisian gratuity, they just said, “Tell us what we owe,” and the bill was settled by the American locals at the table.


Far from being pretentious fashionistas, the smartly-dressed couple did comment on the fashion sense, or often lack thereof, among Americans walking the streets. Why were people wearing such goofy hats and earmuffs? Why were there so few lingerie stores? Where in the city does one find nice affordable clothes? Wasn’t this a fashion capital of the world?

We gave them our opinions and suggestions, trying to convince them that in America you can leave the house without getting dressed to the nines, and they were in awe. After having purchased a few sets of fleece pajamas at Old Navy, they started to see the perks of living Stateside.


After discussing how delicious pancakes were and observations on the general availability and size of food in America, the Parisians did wonder a few things. Do Americans eat vegetables? Is everything really deep-fried, as it would seem?

Why do you call them “appetizers” when they are actually “entrées” in French and you call them “entrees” when they are “plats” in French? It seemed to them as if American cuisine were deliberately messing with their heads.

But they weren’t complaining.  On the contrary, they were elated to have a real hamburger, to enjoy crispy bacon, and to discover that in fact they could order delivery to their apartment whenever they wanted. In Paris, the idea of delivery isn’t as widespread as in New York, and far less variety exists.

It was at this point, imagining having all sorts of cuisine at their front door that they started asking about moving to America…

About the author

Bryan Pirolli

About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog:

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3 thoughts on “Europeans in the US: Seeing things from their point of view”

  1. I’m sure it’s also a shock for new visitors to the U. S. to find that taxes are rarely included in the advertised price. What might seem like a marginal bargain may not be so when the price you actually pay is increased by sales tax, use tax, or occupancy tax. And how does one not used to the North American life style figure out when taxes are included (gasoline, public transport) and when they’re not already included (retail sales, hotel rooms)? Then add on the tipping dilemma …

    And then there’s the search for decent bread, fruit, and vegetables. Yes, they’re all available and look good year ’round — but frequently without the flavor or texture. On the other hand, our fast food is usually better and cheaper than on the eastern side of the Atlantic.

    1. Was I in the same city as you? I’ve been to Paris twice and when doing research as to what to wear and not to wear, I read that jeans and sneakers (tennis shoes,athletic shoes) were a big no-no. Well I’ve never seen so many people break that rule! And,no, they were certainly not all American tourists. I expected to see some real fashion but actually I was the one over dressed! It was a little disappointing,actually.


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