Sylviane Nuccio is a writer, life coach, European traveller and blogger at sylvianenuccio.com. I first connected with her through LinkedIn, and you can read her interview of me here. French by birth and living in the US for most of her adult life, Sylviane is currently traveling through Europe and will be spending a year there living in the Southwest of France near Toulouse. Her plan is to spend half of every year in Europe based in France and the other half in the US living in Arizona, truly creating her own bridge between French and American cultures. Sylviane took some time out of her journey to answer my questions about what it’s like being a French expat in the US, as well as her experience returning home after all these years.
You grew up near Lyon, France and moved to New York as an adult to pursue your acting career in the ’90s. You write on your blog “When you move abroad the best thing that happens is that it opens your eyes to other cultures, languages, customs, and ways of life.” Can you describe a few things about American culture (or New York culture) that really surprised you when you arrived? What were a few things that you really liked or didn’t like initially?
The very first thing that jumped to my eyes that I had never seen in France, at least it wasn’t the case until the early 2000’s (don’t know if it is now), but I was very amused seeing people walking around in the streets with their cups of coffee. I had never seen that before in France, but I liked it. I thought it was so cool.
Another thing I realized later on was that greeting people is only an option in the US, as opposed to France where it’s not.
Of course you don’t say hello to everyone you pass on the street, but you are expected to greet people each time you enter a close space such as a small store, an office, the person helping you at the bank, and places like that. It’s very rude in France if you don’t.
Another thing I wasn’t used to was that people would come in someone’s house and sit down without being invited to do so. That’s not what I was used to back home. In France you need to wait to be invited to sit down when you enter a stranger’s home (or someone you don’t know that well).
You also say on your blog that you were “fed up with France back then.” What were the specific elements that bothered you about your home country or town that influenced you to leave?
Everything really, back then (smile), but it has changed since. However, back in the day I felt that the French were unfriendly, and that the government helped the immigrants more than its own citizens, so that’s how I started thinking about becoming an immigrant myself somewhere else while trying my luck at acting in a friendlier environment.
I was ready for something new too. I’ve always been this way. I always looked for new adventures, that’s why I’m in Europe right now.
Where have you lived in the US and what did you grow to appreciate about American cultures or traditions? What bothered you or still bothers you?
I lived in four different apartments in two different boroughs in New York City. I lived on the East Side and West Side of Manhattan and in Queens. I never ever want to live in New York again, though.
In North Carolina I lived in Durham and Raleigh which is the capital of the State. I love North Carolina, it’s more my type of place: warmer and quieter than New York.
Other than that I’ve traveled pretty much all over the East, Mid-West and West coast of the country with my brother in the mid 1990’s, and loved it all. This country is beautiful. Friendly people for the most part. My brother has found memories of this trip too.
What bothers me the most about American culture? Probably the extreme patriotism in general. Some people tend to think that they are the center of the world, and more advanced than the rest of the world, but it’s not fully true.
Sylviane in the Irish Countryside
What did you end up missing about France or Lyon? Anything unexpected?
Food. As a matter of fact, being back in Europe, even though I haven’t made it to France yet, I’m enjoying the food like a little girl in a candy store!
The choice of foods that we find in European supermarkets vs. American supermarkets is not even comparable.
Food is and always has been what I’ve missed the most about France while living in the US. But other than that, not much else. I adapt to things pretty well.
What advice do you have for French people interested in moving to the US, both practically and psychologically?
For one thing, don’t expect to find “France” in the US. Some people travel only to find home somewhere else and that doesn’t make sense. If you travel, it should be to enjoy other languages, customs, cultures and ways of life. Be prepared to work harder with less time off. Be prepared to miss your good food, and the multiple choices that you’re used to.
Now that you are back in Europe after 15 years in the US, what strikes you as different from when you lived in France before? What seems to have stayed the same?
Yes, I am back in Europe after 15 years and I haven’t made it to France yet. I have been in Scotland, Ireland and now I’m in England. On July 5th I’m flying to Spain, then I’ll be back to England for 3 weeks in Skipton (near Leeds) and London, and finally I’ll be flying to France on August 20th which happens to be my birthday.
Actually so far, I haven’t seen any striking changes I can tell you about. The same different way of life that existed in Europe as opposed to the US still exist today.
Europe didn’t have dryers 20 years ago and they still don’t. Some washers also do the drying, but it’s different, not as good as an American dryer for sure. In Scotland you see clothes hanging outside just like the rest of Europe.
Gas is still 3-4 times more expensive here than it is in the US, that’s why there’s no big cars here.
Now, except for the dryers, apartments tend to be more modern in Europe. All apartments have lighting on the ceilings for decades and decades. My last apartment in the US still didn’t, except in the hallway, and my rent was $1,000 per month.
They don’t use linoleum but tiles here. That was already true like 30 years ago. Linoleum is considered cheap here.
People live more by social etiquette than Americans do. Still true. I had dinner with two British couples a couple weeks ago and it reminded me how stylish people are when they eat here. Frankly, I had not paid too much attention to how I eat for a while, but I made sure I did here. Very different.
Sylviane in the Scottish Mountains around Loch Lomond
What advice do you have for Americans interested in moving to France?
Same as I mentioned above, I would tell them not to expect to find America abroad. The charm of traveling is to discover new things, not what we’ve left home.
Being willing to accept that there are other ways of life, and enjoy that to the fullest, rather than complaining that it is different.
Remember that contrary to the American belief that French people in general do speak English, French people in general do NOT speak English, so if they seem unhelpful it’s simply that they can’t speak English or at least not as much as you think they do.
In my 26 and a half years of life in France I’ve NEVER met a French person who was fluent in English, so chances are they’re still out there.
Understand that cultural differences do exist and make the best out of them whether you like them or not.
After having lived in both France and the US for considerable amounts of time, what key similarities and differences do you find concerning ways of life in each country? Do you have a preference between the two?
The key similarity that I found anywhere has to be that we are different but all the same at the same time. People are people and we all want to be happy and live the best life we can. As a coach I know that no matter where we’re from we are strongly influenced by the way we are raised.
Talking about the way we were raised, a thing that I’ve noticed all throughout my years in France and the US is that girls in France are taught to cook by their mothers. I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t cook in France. NEVER. None of my friends, mother’s friends, neighbors, coworkers… you name it…every woman I’ve met in France did cook, from the country gals to the distinguished city women that I knew. However, I met more women who don’t cook than women who do in America.
It may sound strange, but this is one of the biggest differences I’ve seen between between those two countries.
Do you have any advice about reconciling differences between the French and Americans?
Both French and Americans need to get to know each other in person, not necessarily believe what they read in magazines, or hear on TV.
I can remember few times where I read articles about France that were only partially true. I also remember seeing a documentary about America back in France a long time ago that didn’t depict the whole truth about America. So don’t believe everything you read or hear, come and judge for yourself.
Anything else you would like to add?
Not really, except to remind your readers that are thinking about traveling, not to think too much about it and just do it as soon as possible. Time flies and you want to live it now!
Sylviane at Arthur’s Seat Mountain in Edinburgh, Scotland
Merci Sylviane! If you have any questions or comments for Sylviane or myself, please feel free to leave a comment below. Where are your travels taking you this summer?
© Jessica’s Franglais
All images property of Sylviane Nuccio