In Part 1 of this series, Erica Berman shared her most telling anecdotes about the difference between life in France and life in Italy. While most of us can only envy the lifestyle that makes intimate knowledge of those details a part of daily life, Erica’s insight into the particularities of French and Italian culture helps us live the dream. In part two, she moves beyond general life to get to the juicy stuff : how the natives operate.

Vongole CamogliPhotos Erica Berman – Seafood Pasta in Italy this summer

Differences between the French and the Italians…

  • Nothing is a problem for the Italians…everything is a problem for the French. I think there are numerous posts to be written on this thought… a suivre!
  • Italians miss pasta and coffee when away from their beloved Italy. The French are hands down pining for bread and cheese when far from home.
Croissant Erica ParisCroissants in Paris
  • The French do not ask personal questions. Italians ask many. The French find asking questions a sign of indiscretion, and they take the utmost pride in being discreet, sometimes to the point of ridiculous (when applying for a job they may not feel comfortable asking the salary).
  • The Italians are curious and their inquiring minds want to know. In elevators in Italy I have had personal conversations on where I’m from and why I’m in Italy with people I have never seen before and will probably never see again. In France a bonsoir or bonjour is possibly all the chatting you will get after years of being neighbors.
  • Italians remember you after seeing you once. The French might, of course, remember you, I am convinced they do, but will do their very best to pretend that they have never seen you before (my corner bakery in Montmartre is in the running for longest possible non recognition of a regular customer – almost 18 years. The bread is so amazing and their complete neutrality so fascinating, I keep on going).
Life in Italy vs FranceAt the beach in Italy – Finale Ligure / Genoa
  • After one or two visits to a café or shop in Genoa, not only do the staff remember me, they remember my order. Ten months after my last visit to Genoa, the locals immediately recognize me as the La Française or l’Americana and make friendly chatter. I could spend my life in a Paris cafe before I was noticed, and to get the garçon to remember my order I would need to become a cat and have 9 lives. In Genoa I no longer even need to speak, aside from buongiorno, when going for my morning cappuccino or to the newspaper stand. They just know.
  • The Italians are forgiving when you butcher their language. They are so pleased that you are trying to speak Italian they overlook a lot of botched grammar.
St Sulpice Paris August 2010Tourists relaxing in front of Eglise St Sulpice in Paris
  • The Italians speak Italian to me and do not switch to English or French despite my obvious foreign status. They are invariably patient and delighted by my effort. In France, not always, but often (exceptions of course exist) they will switch to English with a non native as they are so proud that they speak your language.
  • The French are truly offended if you want to buy something in their shop, restaurant, cafe or supermarket and you do not have appropriate (ie: small and exact) change. The Italians, are happy you are buying something. Basta! For example, the other day I went to but a 1€ daily paper here in Italy and realized I forgot my change purse and only had a 50€ note. I meekly offered it to the newspaper guy apologizing all the while and expecting him to yell at me and tell me to come back when I had proper change as would be the case in France (or I would have to buy 5 other newspapers to make it worth his time to change the 50). This guy? He smiled, said not a problem, gave me my 49€ in change and wished me an excellent day! I walked away with a big smile on my face just thinking about the equivalent transaction in France and the pain it would have caused.
Greve Eternelle ParisAlways on Strike … the French!
  • Improper (ie: not small) change in a cab is a major insult to a French cabbie. Italian drivers, if they do not have the correct change … will ask for it from a shop or passerby, with a smile!
  • The Italians seem to prepare less homemade desserts then the French, but make up for it with daily stops to the gelateria!
  • Both Italians and French are equally obsessed with Soccer!

Life in both countries is fascinating and there are many observations to be made. What about you, readers – do you have any cultural anecdotes (about France, Italy, Europe, and beyond!) to share?

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


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.


  1. Per another poster here, it does sound like the French are more formal and well mannered, like the British. Being from British ancestry myself, manners are real important to me. But it sounds like the French could take some lessons from the Italians. To lighten up, to be more friendly and helpful. What goes around does come around, I believe. We’re one family on this earth and I think we should endeavor to help make life alittle more pleasant around us. Thanks for the great comparisons! Is very helpful.

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