On est avec vous, la France

Words can’t express the sorrow we are all feeling because of the tragic events that transpired in Paris on Friday, the 13th of November.

Image credit: Les Cartons

Image credit: Les Cartons

It was shocking to learn of the places that were targeted, especially Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge, restaurants my husband and I used to frequent when we were living in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

All I can say is that we are with you, Paris, we are with you, France. You hold a special place in our hearts, and we will be thinking of you.

As a tribute to those who lost their lives and the loved ones who have also been affected by these tragedies, une chanson, “Pourquoi les guerres?”:


© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

Female French Jazz Artists

As the air grows crisp and the sun descends earlier each day, I feel more and more like listening to jazz. Recently, I have discovered several musicians and vocalists, all female and all French, who I wholeheartedly believe are worth sharing. Here they are, in no particular order…

Airelle Besson

One of few female trumpetists to reach so high a standing, Besson began playing this “masculine” instrument at 7 years of age, followed by the violin at age 9. During her youth she studied music at Oxford, followed by municipal conservatories in Paris. Having worked with a variety of musicians from New York trumpetist Ingrid Jenson to guitarist Pierre Durand, her latest solo album Prélude (available on iTunes) was recorded with Brazilian guitarist Nelson Veras, which I discovered on the blog Lost in Arles. The album was recorded in Arles.

Visit her website for more information.

Cécile McLorin Salvant

I first heard her Billie Holiday-esque voice on a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross. Born in Miami to a French mother and a Haitian father, McLorin Salvant began studying classical piano at 5 and singing at 8 years old. At first interested in classical singing and influenced greatly by Sarah Vaughan, she moved to Aix-en-Provence in her late teens to study jazz under musician and teacher Jean-François Bonnel. She has won several awards for her music, and the album WomanChild was nominated for a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2014.

McLorin Salvant sings in her native French, English and Spanish.

Visit her website for more information.

Véronique Hermann Sambin

Hermann Sambin grew up in Guadeloupe, raised by parents who listened to a lot of international music. She began playing piano as a young girl and singing in French. Singing in Creole came later on, as her parents wanted her to learn French first. At 17 she moved to Paris, and eventually formed a band and found a musical director with whom she produced Ròz Jériko, a “complete success” according to the French newspaper Le Monde. She has performed at festivals all over France and the West Indies. Her latest album, Basalte, was released in 2012.

Visit her website for more information.

If you are interested in discovering more jazz, TSF Jazz is a Paris-based radio station available to stream online. While living in Paris I discovered countless jazz musicians through listening to this station, including Melody Gardot, Krystle Warren and Ibrahim Maalouf, to name just a few.

For a sample of the kind of music they play, check out the album Summer of Jazz 2015 TSF Jazz available on iTunes.

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

One Year Anniversary Book Promo: Looking Back

Featured Image: Me in the South of France during my study abroad program in 2004-2005

In France and the US alike, as students return to school and the seasons change from summer to autumn, our focus shifts. Life takes on a new rhythm which coaxes us to look ahead and plan for the future instead of living in the moment of vacations and beach days as we’ve been doing. (For more on “la rentrée” or back to school, click here). While many celebrate Labor Day as a welcome break from work and classes, a last summer “hoorah,” I am also celebrating the one-year anniversary of publishing my first book: Pas Possible: Falling in and out of Love with France. Instead of looking forward, I am taking a moment to look back at the events that led up to its publication. If you’d like to get right to the promo, just scroll down to the last paragraph.

Pas Possible: Falling in and out of Love with France

Many summers ago as I returned from my year studying abroad in France, I thought to myself: “this would make a really good book.” (To read more about the benefits of long-term study abroad programs, check out my article on Abroad101). However, I continued on with my life in Southern California working in the study abroad office and applying to masters programs on the East Coast. With a scholarship to NYU at the Institute of French Studies, I lived for a year with my nose buried in books until the program was over and it was time to find a job. What started out as an exciting internship writing a travel study guide for a French magazine ended up as a tedious full-time job managing subscriptions. What can I say? It was a paper magazine in the publishing industry: there wasn’t much funding. So I began writing for myself, at last.

La vue depuis chez nous/ The view from our studio

La vue depuis chez nous/ The view from our studio

What started as a delightful distraction during the workday at a job I disliked eventually evolved into an entire book. I never dreamed I would get the chance to be a writer in Paris, but when that opportunity magically presented itself (more on this later), I took it as a sign that it was also the occasion to finish writing my memoir. After all, what better place to write about France than in France? As I wrote at my little desk in our studio in the 10th arrondissement I could look out onto our balcony and see the signature Haussmannian facades of Paris (pictured above). When I needed a break, I would walk down Canal Saint Martin and stop in a cafe for un crème. I know I am so lucky to have been able to spend a year living in Paris writing about my French experiences.

Canal Saint Martin. Photo credit: Jessica's Franglais

Canal Saint Martin

All this reflecting has got me thinking about writing the follow-up memoir about my year spent writing in Paris. I have been gathering photographs and re-reading journals, and I think that soon I will be ready.

In the meantime, in honor of the first anniversary of the publication of my first book, Pas Possible: Falling in and out of Love with France, I am doing a Kindle Countdown which offers the book at a reduced price on Amazon for a limited time. Additionally, readers who leave a comment below about their favorite memory in France will be entered for a chance to win a free copy.

Bon courage! Good Luck!

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

Work-Life Balance France vs USA

As I watched my husband regularly working from his laptop at night and as I found myself putting in a few hours from home on Sundays, I began to wonder: why do we as Americans work so much? Here in Silicon Valley, salaries are surely higher, but this comes with living in an area with million dollar homes on every block that average people can’t afford to buy. So what are we working towards? Can money buy happiness, or is it time off that provides us with this luxury? Let’s compare numbers with our French counterparts:

Déjeuner français/French lunch break. Photo credit: todaywecook.fr

Déjeuner français/French lunch break. Photo credit: todaywecook.fr

In France, the average employee enjoys 35 hour work weeks, leisurely 1-2 hour lunches, 6 weeks of paid vacation and laws protecting employees from working after-hours or on Sundays. French women benefit from at least 16 weeks (26 weeks for a third child) paid maternity leave at 100% pay. Currently, fathers get 2 weeks paternity leave, but French president François Hollande recently pushed to move that to 6 months.

American lunch. Photo credit: abcnews.go.com

American lunch. Photo credit: abcnews.go.com

In the US, the average workweek is 47 hours, lunch is often eaten in front of the computer screen, employees are lucky to get 2 weeks off and are often expected to be available to work on nights and weekends. Except for 4 states, Americans are offered no guaranteed paid parental leave, although we do have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which provides 12 weeks unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons.

Parental Leave Around the World. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Parental Leave Around the World. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

With the French provided with more time to spend with family and friends and to relax on their own, it would seem to me that one is better off living in the Hexagon. But why this imbalance? Why is the quality of life and the balance between work and private life protected so much more in France and other European countries than it is in the US?

Les Vacances à la française/French Vacation. Photo credit: radiovl.fr

Les Vacances à la française/French Vacation. Photo credit: radiovl.fr

For one thing, there is much less worker protection in the US, with the possible exception of discrimination laws. Here, one can be hired and fired from one day to the next. In France, you have a 2 to 4 month trial period for hiring someone, and the laws on firing someone are fairly complex. As the second richest country in the world (congratulations, China), it’s clear that the US has devoted itself to the dollar at all costs.

What the US government and American companies haven’t figured out yet is that working longer hours isn’t making us more productive. US workers are often more stressed out and less healthy than our European counterparts. Without as much paid time off, parental leave, affordable childcare or worker protection laws, we Americans are left to fend for ourselves instead of benefitting from social programs and time to unwind that would help to keep us satisfied and productive both in the workplace and in life.

For more information on holiday working hours around the world, check out this article at findmyshift.com.

Qu’en pensez-vous? What do you think? Will the US ever take a hint from France that balanced workers are more productive workers?

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

The French Bill Gates

At the end of June, after visiting the Elysée Palace and meeting with French President François Hollande about France’s considerable and ongoing investment in The Global Fund to fight against AIDS (of which his foundation is a partner), Bill Gates made an appearance on one of France’s most popular nightly news shows: Le Grand Journal. He was also in Paris to open the city’s annual music festival Solidays, a three day event to support the fight against AIDS.

The largest private foundation in the world, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation enhances healthcare and reduces extreme poverty all over the world. In the US, the goal is to expand education opportunities and access to technology.

photo credit: journaldugeek.com

Xavier Niel. Photo credit: journaldugeek.com

During the show, Bill Gates meets his French equivalent, Xavier Niel, founder of Free, a low-cost French internet, tv, and phone service provider. Freebox, the internet, tv and phone bundle offered for as little as 30 euros a month in France will have Americans gasping as we here in the US are used to paying 5 to 6 times that much. Niel, current co-owner of Le Monde French national newspaper, one of the most widely respected papers in the world, also began a lucrative chat service on Minitel, a forerunner of the internet, when he was only 19 years old. At around the same age, Bill Gates was busy creating a little company called Microsoft.

photo credit: businessinsider.com

Photo credit: businessinsider.com

More recently, Niel founded a tech school in the 17th arrondissement of Paris called 42. With no teachers, no tuition (Xavier foots the bill), and peer-to-peer pedagogy, it accepts 1,000 students each year. Why start a school? He noticed a hole in the French education system and decided to fill it himself. Between highly selective universities and highly expensive private schools, Xavier saw a space for computer programming training in a less conventional environment. After 3 years of intense training, graduates are prepared to work in the fields of mobile technology, web development, networks, video game programming and IT security.

Ecole 42. Photo credit: mic.com

Ecole 42. Photo credit: mic.com

Niel confesses that Gates is an inspiration to him and to an entire generation, stating that he is a model entrepreneur: starting from nothing, creating something useful, and earning a sum of money so considerable that it becomes a moral duty to use those funds in order to fill gaps that governments are unable to cover themselves, from the AIDS epidemic to education. Spreading his philanthropic propensity to other billionaires, Gates, in partnership with Warren Buffet, founded The Giving Pledge, in which the world’s wealthiest individuals promise to give away half of their fortunes to charity either during their lifetime or in their will.

Billionaires signing up for The Giving Pledge. Photo credit: nydailynews.com

Billionaires who signed up for The Giving Pledge. Photo credit: nydailynews.com

In a world with so much poverty and where the very few have so very much wealth, it is heartening to see this will to give back. Thank you Bill Gates and Xavier Niel for your generosity. Who will be the next person to join them?

Here is the clip from Le Grand Journal on June 25, 2015 with Bill Gates and Xavier Niel.

Who is a French figure that you admire for their social impact?

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

Learn French in Montpellier!

This student city in the South of France is one of the country’s best kept secrets. One of the few in the sunny South without a Roman or Greek foundation, Montpellier is the 8th largest city in France and the fastest growing over the past 25 years. Home to the University of Montpellier, one of the oldest in the world, the metropolis also boasts a handful of Grands-Écoles in science and business.

Water Tower, Promenade du Peyrou, jessicasfranglais.com

Water Tower, Promenade du Peyrou, jessicasfranglais.com

Last summer my husband and I vacationed here while attending a wedding and visiting family. We loved walking through the lively medieval streets and finding all kinds of little independent restaurants and bars. There may be a lot of students here, but you won’t be hearing English everywhere like you do in Paris. In Montpellier, most people are French, European or North African.


Les Trois Graces, jessicasfranglais.com

The central area of the city, Place de la Comédie, dates back to 1755. Here you will find la sculpture des Trois Grâces created by Etienne d’Antoine in 1790. This is a great people-watching or meeting place. If you enjoy art, the musée Fabre hosts a vast array of European paintings from the 15th century through the 20th, and also includes sculptures and ceramics.

Place de la Comedie, jessicasfranglais.com

Place de la Comedie, jessicasfranglais.com

If nature is your pleasure, visit the Botanical Gardens, one of the oldest in Europe, created by Henri IV in 1593. If you prefer the beach, you can take a bus to enjoy the warm Mediterranean waters at Carnon Plage, Palavas les Flots or La Grande Motte.

A great way to discover all of this is to come here as a student in a French language program. No matter your age, Montpellier is home to 16 language schools which accommodate all levels and learning styles. Maybe it’s the weather or the laid-back atmosphere, but 15,000 people come to study French here every year! The language schools work in conjunction with the Montpellier Office de Tourisme in order to help visitors and students alike enjoy their stay. Here is a special clip about this:

TV5 Destination Francophonie: Montpellier

Below you will find links to some of the top rated schools as well as a break-down comparison of costs and offerings:

Ecole Klesse


Institut Européen de Français:


LSF Learn French Montpellier


Comparison of Montpellier French Language Schools:


As a former study abroad student myself (I studied in la ville rose, Toulouse, another gem in the South of France) I can’t recommend the experience enough. What better way to dive into the language and culture than to stay in the country itself?

Et vous, where did you study abroad or learn French?

Montpellier Danse! jessicasfranglais.com

Montpellier Danse! jessicasfranglais.com

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

French in Brooklyn Part II

Un repas sans vin est un jour sans soleil

A meal without wine is like a day without sun” – French Proverb

If you didn’t check out their popular Bastille Day celebration photos on my last post, here is another chance to virtually visit this cool 60’s style French bistro aptly named Bar Tabac. This post was originally written for my Brooklyn Blog, Le Quartier Francais, back in 2010. It’s still a wonderful place to eat and drink…

If you arrive after 8pm, you might catch the rattle of a drum beat or hear the jazzy guitar riffs drifting out of the open doors on a live music night. After a long day of walking, you may be enticed by the abundance of outdoor seating available on the “terrace,” a frenchy way of saying you have the option to dine right on the sidewalk. Equally appealing are the cherry-red awning that wraps around the whole place and the old fashioned gold lettering on the windows announcing “restaurant,” “bar.” Oh yes, this is a French bistro. This is Bar Tabac.

Image credit: bartabacny.com

Image credit: bartabacny.com

Inside, dark wood panels line the walls in the front, while exposed brick does the job in the back. An abundance of lightweight mahogany chairs and tables ensure that there’s a seat for everyone. Antique ad posters on the walls tout classic French liqueurs like Suze and Ricard, while the occasional Parisian street sign makes one feel as if they were on a European vacation. A foosball table is also known to make appearances just outside the entrance in fine weather- you just might have to wait your turn. The waiters and waitresses are all European expats or stylish Brooklynites who make you feel like you’ve made the right choice by coming here.

In need of a drink? Feel free to approach the bar to the right of the entrance. This is one of the few places in the neighborhood that serve special Belgian beers like Leffe and Duval on tap. From the bargain-for-your-buck Côtes du Rhône to the more sophisticated Châteauneuf du Pape, Bar Tabac offers a solid wine list for only being one page in length, and also includes several vins du monde to add to the French selection. Lucky for us, one may also order bubbly by the glass!

Image credit: parisianspring.com

Image credit: parisianspring.com

For a brunch affair, the organic egg menu is full of tasty delights- the poached egg is served milky white and firm with a perfectly thick liquid golden yolk running down the side once punctured with a fork. On a cold day, the goat cheese salad served warm with beets, apples and walnuts dressed in raspberry vinaigrette is the best tangy accompaniment to the rich, comforting classic onion soup. If you’re in the mood to share, it is highly recommended to get the moules frites– a heap of steamed mussels cooked in a creamy sauce flavored with white wine and shallots, coupled with a small barquette of crispy French fries with both ketchup and the European choice: mayonnaise, for dipping. You won’t be sorry! You will also notice after your order arrives that each surrounding table will subsequently be brought the same thing. Hmmmm.



The dinner crowd will be pleasantly satisfied with the French bistro classics- steak frites, coq au vin, salade niçoise, duck confit and even the truite amandine. That’s right, they do have it all.

If you are not afraid of being labeled a gourmand (somewhere between a glutton and a gourmet) please order the raspberry cheesecake. One can only justly compare it to a fluffy slice of cloud brought straight down from heaven. Bon appétit!”

Bar Tabac

128 Smith Street (at Dean St.)
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Metro: F or G train to Bergen St.


© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

French in Brooklyn Part I

When I lived in Brooklyn, I adored mon petit quartier français: my little French neighborhood nestled into Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. We enjoyed French cafés, bars and restaurants, and even heard little school children speaking French in the streets as there is a bilingual school in the area: P.S. 58 The Carroll School.

Every Bastille Day since 2006, they close off Smith street for a pétanque tournament and the French establishments serve their Frenchest food and drink. Check out Bar Tabac’s website for more information.

Recently, a French TV station mentioned ce petit coin as a francophone destination:

TV5 Monde Destination Francophonie #115: Brooklyn

Notice the yellow café in the video? That’s Provence en Boîte. While there are many French restaurants in Brooklyn, this one was my favorite. I loved this place so much my husband and I had our last breakfast there before moving to Paris. Oui, c’est un resto francais, bien sûr. We simply had to have our last café et croissant before heading to the motherland.

Here is a post, or a love letter really, that I wrote to Provence en Boîte on my old blog Le Quartier Français à Brooklyn before we left for la tour Eiffel:

“Even from the outside, it’s easy to see that Provence en Boîte has a bright character all its own. Quite literally a sunflower-yellow box plopped down on the corner of Smith and Degraw in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, this petit bistro warmly welcomes every passer-by to come in and discover the delights of Provence.

Installez-vous sur la terrasse

Installez-vous sur la terrasse!

Guests are seated at simple copper-topped tables and served water from French bottles. The golden colored walls are covered with eclectic paintings and photographs of Provence and Brooklyn, while antique French tins and bottles of Ricard and Lillet line the wooden shelves. Diners are tempted by the glass case at the center of the restaurant filled with fruit tarts, éclairs and decadent chocolate pastries. Above the pastry display sit rows of puffy croissants, glistening pains au chocolats and fresh baguettes just begging to be taken away.

As a resident of the neighborhood, I myself am drawn to this sanctuary like a moth to a lamp. Every brunch experience there is filled with fluffy egg and creamy goat cheese omelets, real French bread, rich espresso, perfectly vinegretted salad and mimosas that taste like sunlight on your tongue. I often see Jean-Jacques and Leslie, the charming French owners and executive chef (Jean-Jacques), making their rounds to the tables, saying “bonjour” and making sure that everything is delicious. Sometimes even les petits, their young children Andrea and Jacques, come around to collect the bill. Quite possibly they are in training to take over the restaurant from their parents one day.

Not one to forego new dining prospects, I noticed one evening that the yellow bistro is open for dinner as well. My boyfriend and I decided to stop in and see what was being served. Transformed for the evening with lights dimmed, a candle flickering on every table, and a track of smooth jazz playing, we found ourselves in a slightly more sophisticated version of the daytime hotspot.



That evening we were the only diners, but instead of feeling awkward it seemed as if the place had been reserved especially for us. We both ended up choosing the prix fixe menu, which was $22 for soup or salad, fish or entrée of the day, and crème brûlée for dessert.

The smooth and attentive waiter swiftly brought us our house salads with dark mixed greens and cherry tomatoes, which were to the same acidic perfection as when ordered during the day. Next for my boyfriend was the chicken special: a large thigh with crispy golden skin in a red wine reduction sauce, accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes and slices of savory portabella mushrooms. Quel paradis! On my plate sat a generous portion of thick buttery white monkfish smothered with an olive tapenade atop a chunky bed of ratatouille. The olive oil infused vegetables burst with flavor and complimented the fish superbly.

Topping off the evening with a bit of sugar, we gladly savored the vanilla custard of our home made crème brûlées down to the very last spoonful. Well, I savored. My boyfriend gobbled ravenously.

Crème brûlée. Photo credit: Foodspotting.com

Crème brûlée. Photo credit: Foodspotting.com

At the end of our lovely meal after paying our bill and saying our merci’s, I couldn’t help but notice chef Jean-Jacques sitting in the back of the restaurant watching a French drama on TV5. That evening, as he was privately enjoying a little bit of home, I hope he knew that Provence en Boîte had also brought a little bit of France to us.”

263 Smith St (at Degraw)

Brooklyn, NY 11231

Metro: F or G to Carroll St


What’s your favorite French place in Brooklyn?

Stay tuned for Part II!

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

French in Portland

On a recent trip to this hip, green city in the Northwest, I discovered many things French. From restaurants to art to the upcoming Bastille Day celebration, here’s how to make your stay un peu plus français:


Portland Bastille Day Festival with the Alliance Française de Portland

Saturday, July 11, 2015 12-6pm

Image credit: AF Portland

Image credit: AF Portland

One of the largest celebrations on the West Coast, the 13th annual Bastille Festival will be held on the Portland Art Museum grounds in conjunction with its exhibit from Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts (more information below). This free event will include music varying from accordion to opera, aerial performers providing entertainment, and children’s activities in the sculpture garden. Sip and snack on food and drink supplied by local French bakeries, cafés and bars while you peruse the marché with authentic French products and experiences on offer.


Gods and Heroes Exhibit

Portland Art Museum

1219 SW Park Avenue

June 13 – September 13, 2015


If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting the Louvre or had the privilege of actually going there, you’ll appreciate this exhibit from Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts “the original school of fine arts in Paris and a repository for work by Europe’s most renowned artists since the seventeenth century” which includes approximately 140 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper dating from antiquity through the nineteenth century.

The museum’s website explains the exhibit as such: “At the École, learning how to construct persuasive and powerful paintings from carefully delineated anatomy, expressive faces, and convincing architectural and landscape settings was understood to be the route to success and recognition. The ideology was rooted in the study of the idealized human form as envisioned in classical art. The exhibition features extraordinary works that served as models for the students, including ancient sculpture, a drawing by Raphael, and prints by Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt van Rijn.” During my visit, I found the competitions such as the torso drawings to be strikingly realistic.

Eat and Drink

Chez Machin

3553 SE Hawthorne Blvd

Photo credit: bunrab.com

Photo credit: bunrab.com

Opened by a Frenchman from Chartres and currently run by an American woman married to a Frenchman with 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, Chez Machin’s food is based on local and rural French cuisine. Expect to find traditional French food such as crêpes (savory and sweet), moules (mussels), boeuf bourguignon, escargots, and soupe à l’oignon. Open for brunch, lunch, dinner and drinks.

Cocotte Bistro & Bar

2930 NE Killingsworth Street

Photo credit: relevantstudios.com

Photo credit: relevantstudios.com

This is a modern Parisian-inspired bistro that uses local ingredients to fuse French with New American cuisine. Offerings include chicken liver mousse, seasonal oysters, frog legs, and gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb). For cocktails, try the French Intervention (Lillet Blanc, Mezcal, Suze, Yellow Chartreuse) or the Cocotte Old Fashioned (Basil Hayden, Angostora, Raw Sugar, Orange Peel). Open for dinner and drinks.

Le Bouchon

517 NW 14th Avenue

Photo credit: Le Bouchon

Photo credit: Le Bouchon

If you’re looking for an authentic French dining experience, look no further. Owned by a French couple with 45 years experience in “classic French cuisine with a country flare,” you’ll find traditional French fare like confit de canard, entrecôte de boeuf, and medaillons de porc demi glace (porkloin). Open for lunch and dinner.

Le Pigeon

738 E Burnside St

Photo credit: swimming.ly

Photo credit: swimming.ly

Winning Best in Class in 2014 on the Oregon Live website, you’re sure to enjoy an elegant night out at this French gem. Choose between its namesake Grilled Pigeon Breast, the beef cheek Bourguignon, or the foie-gras profiteroles. For a special occasion or just because, try the 5 or 7 courses with a wine pairing. Open for dinner.


Portlandia Bastille Day

This post wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the fantastically bizarre show Portlandia. Here’s a clip of Fred, Carrie and their roommate frolicking French-style in The Rose Garden in celebration of le 14 juillet:

Et toi? How will you celebrate Bastille Day?

© 2015 Jessica’s Franglais

10 Questions with French Writer Sylviane Nuccio

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.

  1. 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).

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Sylvaine in the Irish Countryside

Sylviane in the Irish Countryside

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Sylvaine in the Scottish Mountains around Loch Lomond

Sylviane in the Scottish Mountains around Loch Lomond

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

Sylvaine at Arthur's Seat Mountain in Edinburgh, Scotland

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?

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All images property of Sylviane Nuccio