Parisian Living

Life in Italy vs. Life in France: Part 2

by Erica Berman

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.

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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51 comments on “Life in Italy vs. Life in France: Part 2

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.

Perfect!!! Thank you 😀

I love your blog and it was a pleasure reading this since I’ve lived in Italy for some years and I consider moving to France in the future!
It seems you had a delightful experience in Italy but in some points just actually living there you’d be able to notice!
In my view everything for the italians is a real drama (a problem like you pointed out) and this so called “friendly chatter behaviour” is in almost all cases a way to get to know about someone’s life in order to start some gossip!
Unfortunately living in that country basically made me lose the hope in friendship and trustful relationships in any level…

Haven in Paris

A very late reply to a couple of your comments… I did want to mention that there are MANY wonderful breads and cheeses in Italy. One just has to explore, and sample.

There are hardly any kinds of cheese in Italy, and no low-fat ones as in France.

Really? What were you eating in Italy Philadelphia cream cheese? Italy has an infinite number of cheeses and many low fat ones at that.

Having spent 2 years in Italy and now 3 in France, I have to agree with most of what you have included in this post, particularly the points regarding language-butchering and the lack of repeat-customer-recognition in France– my barista in Florence still remembers me [and my order] when I’m back in town, which is regrettably not often at all.

However,I think you got lucky with the newspaper change guy– I can’t recall how many times I found myself in line at Esselunga, the checkout lady asking ‘ma lei non ha la moneta?!’

“Nothing is a problem for the Italians…everything is a problem for the French”

looking forward to the posts on this topic!

Having lived in both France and Italy, I can say that I agree with just about all of what you have written.

Some other differences:

As well as being kindly allowed to use restrooms in cafés and restaurants in Italy, they are invariably immaculate and fresh-smelling; the women’s ones anyway. There is NO public urination as far as I can tell, and so you are never smelling urine.

There are hardly any kinds of cheese in Italy, and no low-fat ones as in France.

Unlike France, the bread is terrible in Italy, maybe because it is unsalted. However, the packaged pane integrale is delicious.

French people make very loyal friends, but crossing the boundary into friendship takes a long time. Italians are invariably warm, friendly and kind, even to strangers. They go out of their way to help, and are very protective, even the bureaucrats. They do not easily get angry, whereas French people seem to be born with a giant chip on their shoulders.

But the big drawback in Italy is that nothing runs correctly. Anything that can go wrong, does. It makes life rather difficult.

Luckily for me, I get to live 6 months a year in each place.

I disagree with you about small change in Italy–when I lived there I was always desperately trying to get change for the 50,000 lire bills or 50 euro bills the ATM would spit out (I was there during the changeover to the new currency), because no one wanted them. I did notice on my most recent trip that it was a little better though. But a very funny and enlightening post!

Well, of course I prefer to have nice waiters as well 😉
I think we may all be a bit more relaxed while travelling and that’s why we feel that people around us are nicer.
I have just came back from my weekend in Paris and of course, like always, everything was better than in London (where I live now). Plus I have to admit I find most of the waiters I meet really nice and helpful. And I was recognised in few places as well!

Anyway, Italy is a great place for holidays but living there can be as difficult asliving in any other country…

Hi Funny that you should mention Figeac saturday market as that is where I went today, it was amazing 🙂 🙂 I also went to another market on thursday in Villefranche…. another fab place to visit :-).

Hi Anne. Glad you made it to Figeac. I am jealous! I will have to check this one out next time we are in the area. Thanks for the tip! Erica

Loved reading this! We live in France and every time we go to Italy we’re surprised by how friendly people are. I feel like I can relax and won’t be judged so harshly.
Not to say that I don’t love living in France! And I can’t imagine trading it for Italy.
But I do love visiting!

The Italians are friendly! Nevertheless, we do love France though despite it all, don’t we 🙂

What interesting observations! I have never been to Italy but have been to France many times. I agree with some but not all, but again, I haven’t been there for extended periods of time. I think it depends on the area and the age of people as well, different generations are a bit different. It sounds like I might love Italy though!

Hi Margarita. I am super curious to hear about the things that you do not agree about . . . .!! 🙂 – Erica

I was thinking some more about “In France, everything is a problem”. I can see what you’re getting at, but — because les français are so used to encountering problems — *every problem has a solution*! And many French people take a positive delight in demonstrating their problem-solving skills by helping you beat the system 🙂

Maybe there are problems in Italy too, but I expect they are different ones!

Hi Veroncia, I am SURE there are lots of problems in Italy. I have not been there long enough to find them yet. The French do like to beat the system. Usually though I find I am annoying them with my problems more then anything. Maybe in the south they are more involved? Hmmm, a suivre I think! – Erica

Wow, I am really sure they would not like to hear this, but it sounds like the French are a lot like the Germans 🙂 🙂 🙂 I live in Italy now, but lived in Hamburg for years before this, and so many of these French attributes are…well… German! HAHA!!!

I live my life between Paris and Provence and have had nothing but kindness, friendliness and helpfulness from the Parisians. Considering how difficult daily life can be there, I find this very moving. I also find the Parisians socially more open than the southerners, and it’s easier to make friends. The only problems I have encountered are in commercial transactions with foreigners working in France. Can’t comment on Italy however.

Justine, thanks for sharing. It is lovely to hear. And, of course, there are tons of amazing Parisians and they are usually happily open to multicultural experiences and friendships. In shops they can be challenging however!!- Erica

Well, very true apart from the fact that they would rather say football and not soccer 😉

I lived in Italy for a very long time and I think I would probably be able to make the story the other way around and say what I actually prefer in France. And find it charming even that waiters are a bit rude to me in Paris 😉

Hi Monika. I would love to hear about your experiences on what you prefer in France. Hmmm charming rude waiters…interesting indeed. I prefer the friendly ones myself 🙂 You are right, theywould prefer football! Bonne journee. Erica

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

Well I have been to Paris a few times and had no problems. At the moment I am in a little village not far from Cahors, (on holiday) which is in the Lot area, about 5 hours on the train from Paris .. and believe me they are one the friendliest bunch of people I have met. I do not speak much french at all, but they have helped me alot.. even today at the market.

This is my third holiday in France outside Paris and I have no problems.. and also I have no problems in Italy either, especially in the Liguria area , or before that in Lake Como.

Let me tell you nothing is a problem to the French where I am, also the Italians can get their pasta..

Just another thing, I was shopping on the French market in Cahors today, for a new top, tried it on, loved it was offered discount if I bought two.. tried another on, did not fit, so said I would only buy one, and I still got discount… does that sound like a problem?

Hi Anne. I agree with you 100%. I love the Lot and they are the friendliest bunch. It is my favorite region of France I think. It is gorgeous. Maybe it’s just Parisians that are the complicated ones. You must try the Saturday morning market in Figeac. It is wonderful. The produce amazing and the people adorable. I also love Liguria all around Genoa (and Genoa of course). I have not been to Como in years but want to go back.

I just had to pop back and say that I meant specifically shopkeepers and people you essentially have a commerce based relationship with. The word furbo (wily, cunning etc) is used as a compliment in Italy. But in terms of friendship, Italians are incredibly kind and generous friends for life!

I love that word furbo. It’s one of my favorites. And yep, they are so kind and generous as friends. As for the shopkeepers, I have heard they can be sneaky but I have not had that experience personally yet, luckily! – Erica

Erica, you make me want to pack up and go to Italy pronto!

Great article, and I needed the laughs after my day. 🙂

Glad to be able to help make your day better Nichole. Hope to see you soon!! Erica

Jess (Where My Heart Is)

Move me to either and I will be happy!!!

I would live both places in a heartbeat ! I think the french outside Paris are more open and friendly. Even some french I know say the Parisians “think they are superior”

I love both places – France is more similar to England (I can top you with 27 years of going to the same Chemist in England for the same prescription and being asked blankly “name and address” by the same cashier every time.) But I do find Paris has that same thing as Italy where people remember you, they’re just more reserved. When I lived in Italy sometimes I would get drawn in by people being very effusive and immediately acting like your best friend, only to find once you scratched the surface, there was nothing there, or worse, that they were not to be trusted!

Wow you do top me with 27 years of non-recognition! It is true that in France if you can be patient and get to know the French they are kind, faithful and wonderful. I do wonder how the Italians would be long term. That said, I have made some wonderful friends just in the 3 years I have been going to Genoa. They invite me to their homes and call and help me navigate the system when needed. I have found them trust worthy and caring.

Candice at NotesFromABroad

Erica, if you come to South America, Buenos Aires really should be on your list! Over 100 museums, lovely people, great nightlife and music and dance and then there is the city itself.. you will see a lot of French influence too. My apartment building started out as a private mansion for a family, built in the French style. (I pretend I am in Paris.. often )
You can make bad jokes with taxi drivers and they will laugh and joke back, they will help you with your spanish, the shopkeepers will ask you about where you live and smile… a little different from Paris .. But I still love Paris too !

Hi Candice, I must come.My Spanish, however, is non-existant! Now, I must sleep. Bonne nuit. – Erica

Robin @ My Melange

Thank you , thank you, thank you – for pointing out why it is I love Italy so much 🙂 I love visiting both – but could only live in Italy for many of the reasons you list, but especially for the friendly nature of the Italians. Language tolerence is a big one too. Italy is just more easy-going IMO. Every one of your examples rang true for me. Very fun stuff!

So glad this rang true Robin. What else have you noticed? They are for sure more easy going in Italy. I don’t know how they would be long term. Time will tell I guess! I hope to spend more time in Italy as I am addicted! That said, I do love France despite the daily struggles…

Candice at NotesFromABroad

This has been both funny and informative on a new level for me !
Living in a country that has a large population that originates from Italy but is South American, I was seeing all the Good Stuff here coming from your Italian list.
And I kept saying to myself .. No wonder ! it’s the Italians !
We are touched and charmed every day , still, after 3 1/2 years of living in Buenos Aires, by the kindness and good humor of the people in this city.. which makes it difficult to want to live somewhere else, where the people might not be as welcoming.
I guess more research is required 🙂

Research seems in order. Please keep us up to date with all findings. 🙂 I heard there were many Italians and Europeans in Argentina. The mix must be amazing. I wish I could come your way and investigate. I plan on coming to South America this winter, now I need to decide where! Buenos Aires sounds fascinating indeed! Erica

sharon -My French Country Home

Love this Part 2 Erica. Wish I had my own anecdote to add here. Are you brave enough to attempt to define blogs according to their nationality? – I certainly think that the Italian girls bring a charm and freshness to their blogs which stands out in a crowd.

Hi Sharon, well… I think in order to define blogs I will need to study them more! For that I need time which I wish I had. I will keep my eyes open and let you know what I find!!

As a French woman living in Italy (Rome) I can recognize most of these. I did not remember the thing about missing exact change in France (I have been away since 1992) but apparently it is the case (if I am to believe David Leibovitz’s experience on the subject) and that would of course explain why I always make the effort to have the proper change: It’s in my genes!
A difference I have noticed is that when a price is, say, 12.43 euros, a French sales person will expect to get this same exact price. The Italian – in particular if the shop owner – will easily round down the price to 12.40 or even just 12. Sometimes, because you have looked but don’t have the exact change but, sometimes, just because they don’t care about a few cents more.

Hi Nathalie. Thanks for your comment. You are right, I did notice the Italians rounding down. The French rarely do this. Good observation! And you are right, it must be in your genes the exact change so as not to annoy your compatriotes … 🙂

Hi Erica

I think you should get out of Paris more and enjoy life à la campagne, where we do have time to say bonjour and are pleased when foreigners make an effort to speak French 🙂

Hmmm that might be a good idea Veronica! I need time for that… ideas? 🙂

Sion @ paris (im)perfect

You’re definitely right, Erica! There is good gelato in Paris and I’ve already made it my personal project to talk to strangers in Paris. Always interesting results 🙂

Hi Sion, let us know how it goes the whole talking thing. Good luck with it! And for gelato you must try Pozzetto… delicious! Erica

Hi Sion. I do love both places. . . but those Italians are kinda easier to live with on a day to day basis. There is hope though. . . gelato in Paris is getting easier with no many new places popping up, and talking to strangers would be an interesting project in Paris. . . as to the fact that everything is a problem, well that IS France I think! Erica

Sion @ paris (im)perfect

Wow, Erica, I don’t know. I think you’re really making a case for Italy here 🙂

I find the pull we feel to Paris fascinating, because really, my personality sounds much better suited to Italy. I mean, I love talking to strangers! Things shouldn’t be a problem! And gosh, I want to eat gelato everyday!

Thanks for bringing us a perspective on these two different, but both obviously wonderful places. Now let me figure out how I can live in both, too.

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