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What American Communities Can Learn from France

There’s no denying the differences between the United States and France. Some are easy to spot, including the preservation of language, long and rich histories, and even the formalities.

However, there’s a lot that today’s American society can learn from French culture and customs. While the United States likely isn’t going to change the way it does things, as a whole, if we adopted some of the practices used by the French in everyday life, we might learn a bit more about the importance of history, community, and patience.

Photo Credit: Pedro Lastra on Unsplash

Let’s take a closer look at just a couple of the most important things American communities can learn from France, and why you might want to take them into consideration in your own life.

Food and Dining Experiences

There’s a reason why famous chefs like Julia Child spent most of their careers teaching Americans about the art of French cuisine: it truly is an art that takes decades to learn, and the culture around it is equally as artistic. In comparison, most of the American food culture is less of an art and more of a race — many people may eat either eat in front of a screen or in a fast manner due to small lunch breaks at work. In addition, many fast-food corporations have taken advantage of this culture, and have spread plenty of franchises throughout the country as a result.

France, on the other hand, sees food and dining in general as a social activity. Food should be savored, and portions are typically smaller as well. In addition, although America inherited England’s preference for breakfast’s importance with large sizes, France begs to differ. If anything, they prefer their lunches more. As a result, America can learn a thing or two: enjoy food with loved ones, take your time on smaller portions, and take a longer lunch break.

Recreational Time

Despite this enshrinement of food and dining in French culture, French people as a whole, are healthier. Although this can be explained through their diet, French people are generally more active as well and spend more time physically moving during their recreational time. According to a 2014 study, 65% of French people spend 30 minutes a day every day walking in comparison to only 55% of American people who spend 30 minutes a day walking five days a week.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Photo Credit: Unsplash

That being said, both cultures share similar interests in their recreational time: hanging out with loved ones, watching TV, using the Internet, or listening to music. However, over 85% of surveyed French respondents prioritize listening to music in their free time which differs from average Americans who spend a majority of their free time watching TV. One might argue that these differences indicate that Americans may be more prone to binge-watching behavior in consuming media, whereas French people may be more focused on the more social or artistic aspects of their free time.

Building Close Communities

In addition, we can see the significance of socialization in French culture further when comparing community unity between America and France. Studies have shown that only 28% of Americans know their neighbors by name. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic during isolation and social distancing, that’s a problem that has worsened.

France, on the other hand, tends to foster strong community relationships. A 2019 study found that nearly 60% of French citizens have quality relationships with their neighbors.

Social isolation can be incredibly dangerous. It’s harmful to your mental and physical health, and the more distant we are from each other as a country, the more divided we’ll be. Building strong communities and generally being friends with your neighbors offers plenty of benefits, including:

  1. Better neighborhood safety

  2. Improved quality of life

  3. Better multigenerational connections

  4. Built-in support when it’s needed

Being friends with the people in your community also fosters a better environment for your children and/or grandchildren. No matter the neighborhood you live in, spending time “unplugged” from technology and out socializing with your neighbors will boost your mental health and make it easier to raise well-balanced children.

Environmental Performance

France is also concerned with global communities in their concern for climate change protections. As of 2022, France ranked #5 on the Environmental Performance Index, while the U.S. ranked #24. There’s plenty of talk about “going green” here in America, but as a country, we tend to take it less seriously than certain European counterparts. Living a more sustainable lifestyle is beneficial for personal and community health, can improve your oxygen intake, encourage you to eat better, and can even boost your mental well-being.

Photo Credit: Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

If you want to take a page out of France’s book, consider how you can do more to “go green” in your personal life. Not sure how to get started? Try a few of the following changes:

  1. Grow your own garden

  2. Compost food waste

  3. Recycle

  4. Commute to work using public transportation

With a few lifestyle adjustments, you can prioritize the environment the same way the French do, making your small mark to improve America’s sustainable efforts.

The United States is wonderful in so many ways, and it’s a unique country built on innovation and forward progress. However, there are some things other countries have held onto for years because they work. France’s dedication to its history, language, people, art, food, and the planet are all things we should pay attention to and learn from. If more people started to put these lessons into practice, our country might experience a bit more internal peace, closer communities, and better overall health.

Header Photo Credit: Unsplash


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