Parisian Living

Life in Italy vs. Life in France: part 1.

by Erica Berman
Life in Italy vs. Life in France: Is coffee better in France or Italy? We love Italian Cappuccino, like this frothy one in a white cup and saucer on a newspaper laid out on a table.Photos Erica Berman – cappuccino Genova

I’m back in Paris after 2 months of learning Italian in Genoa, Italy. The cool Paris weather is a shock after the heat of Italy, but I’m excited to be home.

Naturally, I can’t help comparing the (Genovese) Italians to the (Parisian) French with whom I have cohabited for almost 18 years. Little differences and similarities between the daily life in both countries are entertaining, endearing and often surprising.

Life in Italy vs. Life in France: who loves their dogs more? An Italian woman sat back-to-back on a bench with her dog.Doggy love Italian style

Things I have noticed: Life in Italy vs France

  • You will be scoffed at in both countries for ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon. Mind you, I do it anyway. How gauche is that?
  • Both Italians and French cut lines with zeal. Little old Italian ladies are surprisingly cunning. Be alert!
  • Taxis in both cities can, and will, try to rip you, the foreigner, off even if you speak the language. Be aware.
  • Both Italians and French love their doggies and bring them in trains, restaurants and just about everywhere they can physically go. In both countries you will see many a person out and about deep in conversation with Fido.
Life in Italy vs. Life in France: who loves their dogs more? A French woman walking her dog in the streets of Paris in the sunshine.Parisian doggy
  • In Italy every respectable home must have a bidet. In France the bidet is mostly a thing of the past.
  • Every worthy French kitchen is equipped with a Ginette Mathiot ‘Je Sais Cuisiner’ cookbook and a cocotte minute (pressure cooker). In Italy every respectable home has a fettatrice (cold cut slicer) and a Bimby (an incredible machine that does everything from mixing, steaming and cooking a perfect risotto in 14 minutes… Along with focaccia, ice cream, bread dough, pasta sauce…)
  • The train is a source of pride in France. Trains are fast, sleek and modern. In Italy, one cannot quite say the same. In both countries however, to the surprise of many, one can actually take the train just about everywhere.
Life in Italy vs. Life in France: who loves their dogs more? An Italian lady on a train with her dog which has its own seat.Train and doggy in Italy
  • In Italy clothes are hung out to dry for all to see. And that means all clothes, no matter how intimate! In Paris, there are strict rules against hanging laundry where it is publicly visible.
Life in Italy vs. Life in France: which cities are the most picturesque? Laundry hanging from windows in Italy (left) and a sign saying it's forbidden in France (right). Laundry in Italy/ 1972 law against hanging laundry in Paris seen in a friends’ building in Paris!
  • In Italy, it often feels like there are more scooters then people. The French scoot, but to a lesser degree than their pasta-eating counterparts.
  • In Italy everyone has a cell phone. It’s the same in France. The Italians yak efficiently on their phone while doing everything from driving, scooting and eating to walking and working. The French appear more disciplined about not using cell phones in moving transit. It could be that it is illegal in France. Then again, it is probably illegal in Italy too.
  • In Italy you can use cafe restrooms even if you are not a customer, without sneaking in like a criminal. Ask politely and admission will be granted. In Paris I have had some desperate moments of urgent need and adamant refusal. I have now resorted to the technique of « don’t look, don’t tell » when entering a café in need of a toilet. I have learned to keep my head down and to beeline straight to the bathroom as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And it works!
  • Italian couples on the beach, are, well, comfortable with PDA (public displays of affection). I almost never go to the beach in France so I can’t comment on what it is like.
Life in Italy vs. Life in France: Italian are more at easy with getting sexy on the beach, like this intertwined couple on sandy towels.Need I say more – Beach in Italy  this July!
  • In Italy I have rediscovered how to be chatty and smiley with shop owners and restaurant staff, something I had forgotten in France.
  • In Paris I have perfected the art of pretending not to see people I recognize as they are pretending not to see me. In Italy they look at you, smile and say hello! I’m gonna try that in Paris and see how it goes….!

To be continued with my observations on differences between Italians and French themselves! What about you? Tell us your personal experiences on life in France, Italy, Europe and beyond …

Life in Italy vs. Life  in France part 2

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Written by Erica Berman for the Hip Paris Blog. For our amazing rentals in Paris, Provence & Tuscany check out our website Haven in Paris.

Written By

Erica Berman

Erica Berman grew up in Lexington, Mass. After graduating from Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Journalism and an intensive summer at Middlebury College (Vermont), Erica went to Paris with hopes of submerging herself in French culture and perfecting her French -- and she stayed 20 years. Erica is the founder of the HiP Paris Blog and Haven In her former company. She now splits her time between Paris (Montmartre) and Maine (Midcoast). She recently started a non-profit growing organic produce for the food insecure in Maine called Veggies to Table. In her all-too-rare free time, Erica likes to travel off the beaten track, explore Paris and Maine, read, take photos, cook, kayak, hike and enjoy long Sunday brunches with her friends. View Erica Berman's Website

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35 comments on “Life in Italy vs. Life in France: part 1.

It’s definitely impossible to compare Paris with Italy as there’s not just ONE Italy!
Sicily for instead is pretty different from Neaples (altough they’re both Southern cities).
Bari is totally different from Florence which is different from Venice and so on…
Rome and Mialno? They’ve nothing in common; the same goes for Bologna and Genova!
All these places have different habits, food, landscapes, architectures. People are physically different and if today we speak the same language (with MASSIVE differences in the accent and prounciation), that’s due to the televition as since less than fifty years ago each city-town-village had got its own dialect that was a real language. Landscapes and architecture are also very, very various.
I’d say Italy is the result of a mix of many nations in one.
The reason is easy: we don’t share the same History. An example: Turin is much closer to Paris in the architecture than to Florence…
Plaermo looks rather like an arab city than an european one. This variety has no comparition in the world: not even in the HUGE China!

you compare paris to Italy which is the wrong thing to do, Paris is dfferent form the south of France or the rest if the north of France; It simply does not work. What you have noticed in Paris is different in Lyon, Marseille, Nice which are much more italans than french, especially for Lyon and Nice

Hi, very true points..
Some more points about food:
1) You will never find a vegetarian (and consequently vegetarian meals) in France, compared with Italy where lot of original recipes are by themselves vegetarian (that’s in contrast with UK, where “vegetarianism” is new and trendy and vegetarians are addressed with food “designed” for them – and only for them-, put on separate shelters)
2) In France every lunch, even at the canteen, must ends with a dessert
3) You spoke about ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon. Did u try ordering some meal in the middle of the afternoon? An Italian ristoratore would look you very down!

Some other comparations:
4) Both countries like to have parties at someone’s homes. That’s in contrast with UK where parties are typically hold in pubs or even hotels
5) Both countries have a city that is a “symbol” of mafia: Marseilles and Naples
6) Both countries have huge public sectors, huge taxes, huge union’s powers and… huge red tape (but sorry, France exceed on this)


Thank you. It definitely helps to understand some things now :D.
Love the simplicity of the comparison between Italy/France.

Great review! I’m going to my first trip to Italy soon and after reading your article have a few things to keep in mind travelling to this country. Unfortunately I’ve never been to Paris but hope to go there some day so that I could compare 🙂

Very funny!!! Only one thing: the machine that someone of us have in their kitchen it’s called “affettattrice”, not “fettatrice”. 🙂
A bientot! 🙂

Hi there!

I’m coming in a little late on this scene but I definitely wanted to put in my two centimes…
I’ve been living in France for a little of 4 years now and it’s definitely ‘home’ now…
I live in the south suburbs of Paris in Antony and I know a good part of the shop owners workers in the centre d’Antony along with most of the bus drivers on my line and people who work in the train station (can you tell I don’t drive here?) Anyhow.. I’ve made a great number of friends and acquaintances just by being me- my outgoing, smiley self– talking to everyone around me- (yep, I’m one of ‘those’ people). But, I’m from California so my ‘sunny’ personality pierces through the gray skies here!
I have spent time traveling all around Europe and found that the French are similar to the Italians in the ways you mentioned and similar in other ways… Anyhow.. I really liked this post and I glad to have found your blog…

I refuse to break myself of the habit of ordering cappuccino in the afternoon, no matter how gauche it may be. Life is short and I like foamed milk on my coffee — that’s the look I give to combat the barista’s look of “I knew you were a tourist.” And yeah, those Italians are just cuckoo for their bidets – my sisters and I thought for years that they were foot-washers, because that’s all we ever did with them.

Great list. On PDA – it’s been my experience as a voyeur in Paris that PDA can be pretty darn affectionate there, too. Pick any public park on a warm sunny day – weekends work best – and watch lovers go at it. Through my American eyes, it’s pretty shocking! You see PDA in the States, but nothing like you see in Europe. Be it Paris, the French Riviera, Italy …

I just shared a link to this blog with the community at

Hi Kasia,
Glad ‘your Italian’ agreed with my post. Can’t wait to meet him and chat Italy a bit. Part 2 coming later today. Hope your vacation is fabulous and the weather wonderful! Love the idea of the ‘best of’ …!! Erica

Great list! If only we could combine the two cultures and create the ‘best of’ 😉 I feel very lucky to consider both countries my home.

I reviewed this with ‘my Italian’ and he mostly agreed, having lived in Genoa for many years. We can discuss further in person 🙂

rebecca dyer szabo

great fun
your photographs are always stunning

b from pergolina

oh wow, the dog and the woman… great shot!

how very, very true all your observations are! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Italy and I quite like France – the unfriendliness of many Parisians is the one ‘item’ I have the most problems with….
Incredibly wonderful photos, funny, interesting, to laugh out loud (dog and owner….) – what a heavenly and utterly great blog entry!
THANK YOU SO MUCH – I go now to bed with a big smile on my face!!!

Candice – thanks for the update. Glad to know the Argentinians are friendly!

Candice at NotesFromABroad

Just in from Argentina…
Ordering a cappuccino (in the afternoon) resulted in not one single frown, scowl or even a look.. and 2 tiny little cookies flavored with anise ..

Love this! They’re not SO different after all 🙂 Adore the photo of the doggy love Italian style. Amazing shot!

I can’t speak for Italy, as I have not been there yet – but was in Paris last week coming over for a day while staying in London – and everyone couldn’t have been nicer to us! I even ordered a cappacino in midday and there was no scoffing to be had! 🙂

Robin @ My Melange

Erica this is fab! As someone who is a lover of both France and Italy – I enjoyed your comparison. I share your cappuccino obsession and also order it whenever I want it 🙂

My mantra is generally that while I LOVE France…I am IN LOVE with Italy.

For me, I think a big part of it is the food and gregarious nature of the Italians. I am a friendly, outgoing person and I seem to just fit in better in Italy. I also think the food is less fussy somehow. Not that you can’t find casual unfussy food in France, but I think it exists more in Italy. Perhaps it is different in the South.

And though I love the French language – Italian is much easier for me to learn and speak 🙂

Hi Robin. Italian is, in my humble opinion, a much easier and more forgiving language . . . kinda like the people 🙂
Thanks for the compliments. I have part two coming soon. Stay tuned! And yes, the food is simpler for sure!

I’ve never been to Italy but I love Paris so much.. I came back a couple of weeks ago after spending 14 fantastic days in Paris (and the south of France). I live in NYC but I’m originally from South America and I feel about Paris the same way I felt about NYC since the first time I visited it… it was this strange sense of “I belong here” that you can’t explain.. I travel extensively and as much as I can and this only happened to me twice. Right now after living in NYC for the past 7 years I keep missing Paris more and more..
Who knows.. maybe someday I can call it home.

It is funny the whole ‘bathroom’ thing. Last time I was in Rome having a coffee at a caffè bar and a woman came in off the street, asked the barman where the restroom was, and he directed her to it. It was no problem.

It’s astounding that in Paris, some department stores (Printemps) and shopping centers (Carrousel du Louvre) are now charging €1 to €1.5 to use the restroom. I hope the people that came up with that brilliant idea find themselves in the same (desperate) position you were in…and with no change.

Yeah, I just don’t get how they get off saying ‘NO’ to letting someone obviously in need go to the bathroom. I mean …. really, it’s just so heartless. In Italy I NEVER had a problem. In France you sneak, and that’s the way around it. Kinda ridiculous. Yeah, I agree, I have to admit that I really hope the mean pay to pee law makers end up in dire need and out of coins.

Hi Candice. Great to hear about Buenos Aires.. fascinating. It’s such a European city from what I hear. Let us know about the cappuccino and if you can order in the afternoon! Yes, we Americans, we don’t understand the bidet AT ALL! hee hee . . . Merci encore for your comments – Erica

Hi Veronica. In fact, the Bimby is the exact same thing as the Thermomix. They exist in France as well but seem less popular. We may break down and buy one. They are SO amazing, but SO expensive. You can make just about everything in them….
I think we may need to run a life in Spain Vs France series with your comments! 🙂 Erica

Candice at NotesFromABroad

Oh I would be content in both places as far as the dog goes.
I am surprised that Buenos Aires , being very Italian based and dog loving, is so picky about where dogs are allowed. Not even as many places as , say, Oregon!
The Italian influence is very strong here .. I need to find out if cappuccinos are gauche in the afternoon here.
Bidets are alive and well here, we got rid of ours to make way for the posh new sink .. Americanos, feh !
Trains here are a joke over all… when there are trains.
The Subte is improving, I hear.
If someone sees you that you met once 4 years ago for 3 minutes, they will smile and say hello.
I give the Italians all the credit for this.. big, open, hugs and kisses kind of people.
But I so love Paris 🙂
What a great comparison , I enjoyed this very much !

I could start a series on “how Spain differs from France” I think 🙂 Although I love France, I was actually missing being in Spain today. The more time I spend there, the more I love it.

Some of the differences/similarities are the same as yours: people in Spain laugh if you order a cafe con leche in the afternoon too. Publicly hung laundry is much in evidence. The Bimby looks like a Thermomix, which is very popular in Spain — the teachers on our cookery course used it for nearly everything. And I saw a very similar scene to your beach scene in the park the other day 🙂

Very funny !!! After just coming back from Venice though, I find that the friendliness is closer to that of the Parisians than the Genovese (although I do not know Genoa). The weather, however, beats Paris hands down !!

Hi Gail. Looking out my rainy Parisian window, I would be hard not to beat the weather in Paris. 🙁 Welcome back my dear! xo – Erica

Well Erica, not many people can be in your position of having a good knowledge of each country, whilst being a foreigner in each!

Very interesting article, especially as I’m longing for Italy at present!

Hi Sharon, I AM lucky! I can’t complain. Both countries are amazing! A bientot Sharon – Erica

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