The Pros and Cons of Living in France, Canada and the U.S.
A good question came up in the comment the other day on my post about European versus North American approaches to Debt and Savings.
Mary wrote near the end of her comment:
The French may be doing many things well, and so – good for them.
Why are you living in Canada if France is so much better?
Usually when people say this to me, it’s because they have had their feelings hurt in some way.
So I saw this as an defensive comment because I actually wasn’t talking about anything but just the European approach to debt and savings. I haven’t compared (until now), anything between the countries.
- I am not loyal to any one country. I think Canada is the best fit for us overall, but it obviously has flaws that I’m not happy about, as do all the countries.
- I never EVER said France was a perfect country and that I want to move and live there. On the contrary. They have lots of problems like dealing with unemployment and I am not wild about their taxes.
- My post only addressed attitudes towards debt and savings, not on the quality of life and other factors for living/working.
- You cannot argue North America does not do well money-wise. On average, we suck at saving, gorge on debt and generally don’t think about retirement until its too late. We suck at money, that’s it. I was only talking about debt and money in that above post European versus North American approaches to Debt and Savings.
Therefore I thought it’d be fun to (once and for all) put in a chart all the pros and cons I see of each country.
I also have a few notes on each category if you care to read about it below.
Obviously this is all my opinion so a disclaimer is necessary here to say that this is from my perspective:
|CATEGORY||FRANCE (Mostly Paris)||U.S. and CANADA|
|Food||On the whole more natural than in North America; Values quality in food; Less multi-cultural and tolerant of different foods (even their Chinese food is very French in style, no chicken wings for instance due to this strange French eating quirk)||Hit and miss; Not consistently amazing across the entire country; Reliant on fast food/processed food as “real food” although hopefully this is changing; More multi-cultural cuisines are available however, and there are incredible food sources, just not everywhere.|
|Children||Generally better mannered and more polite on the whole but this is not a rule obviously as they grow up to be quite rude by our standards because they don’t bother with the niceties of politeness; the parents are generally harder on their children like: I AM THE BOSS. ENOUGH. Will see parents giving kids smacks on occasion and I see them making sure their children are not loud or rude in public at least||Hit and miss; You get brats and you get angels; Parents DO NOT hit or smack their children in public, even the times when I have scolded at Baby Bun in public, I have had horrified, shocked looks like: YOUR POOR LITTLE ANGEL!….; I find a lot of them are falsely polite in that they say the minimum “please”, “thank you” but won’t do things like try to reprimand their children if they annoy others or make noise (the way that I do with Baby Bun when he loudly smacks things together repeatedly in public)|
|Education||Extremely rigid and restrictive but of a high quality; Kids filtered out at early ages which is both good and bad, see my post on French Education here; I don’t love how they humiliate the kids nor squash their dreams.||Very permissive and relaxed; Kids are not filtered out at all but many are encouraged to pass with fake grades as verified by teachers I know; encourages a lot more creativity, emotions, feelings, independence and a sense of self which can be much more important in dealing with life|
|College/University||Hierarchy of schools exists, you obtain jobs based on your diploma, that’s it. See my post on French Education here||Small hierarchy of schools exists (Ivy Leagues) but generally speaking you aren’t judged by your diploma; where you went to school does determine a sort of “oh you’re a ____ woman, I went there too, we have a kinship amongst us” and the social networks of friends you make in school become quite important for future jobs, etc.|
|Racism||Quite overt and public they even have a Nazi party that is growing in popularity from the last I heard; Seen at all levels of society; They even freely talk about it (I have met and fought with French colleagues here about their stereotypes of different cultures & races)||Less overt and public but exists covertly under the guise of having equality amongst people, although altogether it is more genuine and at least talked about in the open forum in a healthy manner rather than hidden under the rug|
|Discrimination||Happens all the time to people who are not French (French-speaking, French-cultured), and Caucasians get the highest privilege of all; they know this so in schools for instance, they only have a student number to look at, not a name||Less so in Canada from what I have seen thus far but it exists obviously just on a milder level it seems; when I lived in the U.S., it was more overt and specific against those who are not “White Americans”; hear about it a lot in the stats in the news of police brutality|
|Work Prospects||Very low – Hard to get a job especially due to ingrained discrimination at all levels from your diploma to your accent (is it FRENCH?), to your skin colour; kind of dismal and disheartening||Excellent! Very easy to find a job if you are willing to do anything and work hard; No one cares about your diploma although this gives rise to a lot of fakery|
|Work Culture||Cold and “professional” — I am there to do my job, not be your friend; Business-like and we are NOT here to socialize; but if you manage to break through any shells, they are there for you for life although they tend to stick with their circle and feel as though they don’t need more friends (whatever for?)||Friendly buddy-like atmosphere and culture; Relaxed (sometimes a little too relaxed!); A little false in friendships, they’re quickly made and then quickly broken|
|Work Policies||Very hard to find a job but also very hard to get fired from a job which makes it easy for people to stay a long time and be lazy||Very easy to get hired and fired from a job in the U.S. with zero pay or severance; Canada has an extra policy with severance pay at 2 weeks no matter the reason|
|Vacations||5 weeks of vacations; Everyone cherishes this time & takes it off for work/life balance; they are fierce about guarding it||Strong culture of not really encouraging employees to take vacations and to work 24/7 like a dog to “make it” until you burn out or else you’re a slacker; not healthy at all|
|Retirement||Excellent! Retirement paid for but is an unsustainable model for future because there aren’t enough people working to make money for those retiring read about their problem dealing with unemployment||In Canada basic retirement is covered by the government but is only $600 – $800 a month which is barely enough to live; U.S. has basic retirement too but is very little to having nothing given to you at all which is scary|
|Daycares||Excellent! Totally paid for although they complain anyway. Obviously.||In Quebec it is subsidized based on income level but in the rest of Canada it is not although you get some paltry tax credits; U.S. it is not subsidized either and makes it hard to have a family without someone giving up an income to stay at home (usually the mother)|
|Roads/Infrastructure||Historic sites are well maintained, as are their roads, but it costs a lot of $$$ which is very wasteful as it could go to other things that they need now||Depends on the city — some are very well maintained, others are not (bridges falling down in Montreal for example), but that’s just Quebec. Ontario is decently maintained and I assume it is the same for the rest of English Canada? The roads and bridges in many parts of The U.S. were also amazingly well kept and impressive to all who visit.|
|Healthcare||Excellent although this is debatable for one Swiss reader I know 😉||In Canada it’s Universal healthcare which is average ($500 a year), but far better than the greedy, dog-eat-dog attitude of “you’re on your own” in U.S. which is scary.|
|Public Transportation||Quite good; super fast trains across Europe; Paris however has an “OK” metro which smells like pee all the time||In some parts it is good in major urban cities but the rest of the country requires a car to get around as things are spread out and/or there is no metro — same for in the U.S.|
|Welfare||Very easy to get on welfare; Some make more money on welfare than working minimum wage read: problems like dealing with unemployment||Not as easy to survive on welfare but also not as easy to get on welfare and stay on it for a long period of time unless you know how to game the system|
|Immigration||Restrictive and rigid; You don’t automatically get the papers even if you are born in France; have tightened the rule to keep it more “French”||Canada is more open/liberal, the U.S. is restrictive if you want to live there legally, otherwise very easy to live there illegally although recent developments (Trump 2017) have changed things|
|Minimum Wage||Decent minimum wage; t it is enough to live on considering social services available||Canada has higher minimum wage ($10 or so); U.S. is very stingy with minimum wage, barely enough to live on and no healthcare|
|Currency||The Euro really screwed everything for Europe; honestly everything is inflated and it is very expensive and hard to live there without making a lot of money||The USD is the strongest, most stable currency; CAD is all right but fluctuates a lot based on the USD. I always keep everything in USD if I can.|
|Pros of Culture||Adherence to quality over quantity; More practical in some senses||Dynamic, Innovative, Can-Do attitude that is very admirable as they work very hard (at the cost of their families, health & sanity) and the reason why U.S. is #1; Canada is similar but not really. We’re mellow here.|
|Cons of Culture||Slightly snobbish/cold; Judgmental and insecure at times; Very restrictive||In the U.S. if you aren’t “(White) (Male) American”, and you are treated very differently; Canada is too easy going/passive for a lot of things I wish they would be stricter on like making sure we save for retirement|
|Consumerism||Not very consumerist but that’s because they have no money or access to easy debt so by default they don’t spend much||Quantity first, quality second; Lots of cheap crap everywhere and lots of access to easy debt to buy it; slow movement happening to change this attitude|
|Savings Rate||Excellent! 15.8%||4% – 4.3% is nothing to write home about; kind of sad|
|Debt Management||Extremely conservative and restrictive banking and debt system; therefore very little consumer debt exists.||A little too free with the debt and line of credits and people get into trouble and don’t care|
|Scam Factor||The “scam factor” is lower in France. They’re a bunch of rule-followers and generally take pride in their work so they are less likely to cut corners and lie or cheat but that’s not to say that they don’t do it at all||Depends on the city, really, but as an example healthcare is a huge scam in the U.S. $20 for tissues? $85 for tweezers? It’s outrageous. I would also say in Quebec I have noticed a slight uptick in people trying to sell me incorrect items for the same price or pretending things are not on sale, a measure called the price accuracy policy applies everywhere here and just recently I got a cake for free because of the wrong price.|
|Politics||It’s a national subject to discuss politics. Don’t get French people started on politics, the discussion could go on for hours and span years of comparing various political leaders to each other. It is boring but they are very involved.||Very mild in Canada (boring for the most part), but it is hotly debated and intensely expensive to run any kind of campaign in the U.S. In fact, Canadians are more interested and closely follow U.S. politics over their own.|
|Language||Picky about speaking perfect French; Has hang-ups speaking other languages and refuse to even try in fear of not being perfect||Very accommodating to those who don’t speak English perfectly as long as you can be understood; Great melting pot of nations and friendly to all|
|Travel||Very easy to travel around Europe for cheap||Very easy to travel around North America, but it is cheaper/easier to do so in the U.S. than in Canada *sigh*|
|Cultural/Social Open-Mindedness||Many French people do not travel to countries like China out of curiousity and are far more rigid in their acceptance of gays and lesbians for instance.||Very open minded about culture in general; on the whole we’re very accepting of all types of folks which is a very good thing; Canada more accepting of diversity than U.S., I’d say|
|Houses/Homes||Expensive if you want to live in cities like Paris or Lyons; Well built/maintained all in stone||U.S. is cheap on the whole except for major cities (L.A., NYC); Canada is ridiculously expensive; In both countries many homes are shoddily built (all wood) and not worth the $$ although it is less of a scam in the U.S. in places where cheap wood can’t be used due to weather|
|Friendships||Friends are not easily made but once made, are friends for life||Friendships are very easily made in a few minutes / seconds but also very easily broken between both parties; I have found it hard to maintain a friendship|
|Weather||Quite mild; no extreme temperatures great for living and growing food||In Canada it gets REALLY cold in some areas in winter (9 months of the year) so you need a great jacket; U.S. has excellent weather especially on West Coast that is warm and sunny.. ideal!|
|Shopping||Everything is expensive, nothing is easily found or available to purchase (in stock); Good quality but my goodness is it pricey. No wonder they don’t buy anything, can’t afford it.||Shopping is very easy in the U.S. and a DREAM but it is not as good in Canada because we are the neglected black sheep; Can find a range of cheap crap to high-end stuff depending on how much you have to spend|
|Future||Dismal. Prospects are bad, social services may not be so generous, people are depressed since the euro came about and are all very pessimistic as is their Gallic way||Seems to be excellent (remains to be seen with recent changes), but on the whole the U.S. is a strong country that is the juggernaut for the world for now.; Canada may be heading into a housing bubble crisis of its own but unemployment has gone down and we MAY be coming out of the recession|
|Happiness||They are not happy in France. The general feeling is one of malaise and stress. A lot of moaning and bitching happening. No one is happy.||Although things can go bad for some folks in North America, on the whole people smile a lot more here and are happier, but maybe not in Quebec. I find a lot of that French influence has shown up here…. the bitching and moaning part.|
France has a lot more natural, higher quality raw foods that are well-grown and taken care of with loving care. This also exists in North America but is a hit and miss depending on the city.
Texas for instance had the best and cheapest beef I had ever eaten in my life (Calgary too!), but this beef sadly was not available in other states or provinces for purchase.
Although France is starting to become fat off processed foods and fast food chains, there is a general attitude of respect towards food that is not easily found here. They have real meals there and try to eat well on the whole.
In North America, I find as a society that we rush when we eat and kind of shove any kind of crap into our mouths when we’re hungry, paying very little attention to quality. It can be very frustrating to try and locate GOOD food to cook with, as many supermarkets are filled with processed/packaged crap rather than raw meats and vegetables of a high quality at a reasonable price.
I also see a difference between Montreal and Toronto for food. Montreal is a little more European in nature in terms of finding good quality food, but it is not on par with Europe.
I do however, love that North American cuisine is SO DIVERSE. Full of cultures, ethnicities and we are open to eating new things all the time. In France it is more restrictive, it is any wonder that some of the best French chefs have moved to the U.S.?
I find children are quieter and more well-mannered in France. You do not really see children climbing on metro seats and acting like monkeys, or their parents even allowing them to do so because they’re horrified at the public image being portrayed.
In general, I find the children obey their parents and authority figures to a greater extent than in North America. This is both good and bad because I LIKE that children in North America are more curious, critical in thinking and don’t accept the status quo all the time. I love that Baby Bun is being taught about his feelings, being independent and able to make mistakes.
There is no tolerance of mistakes in France.
Once I was on a metro in France and a child was weaving in and out of everyone’s legs during rush hour, kind of annoying people (we were afraid of stepping on her). She came towards me and flailing her arms, almost punched me hard in the stomach (I was pregnant at the time).
I stood up ramrod straight, barked a stern: “WATCH IT“.
She stopped, turned to her mother, and while her mother and aunt chuckled (not knowing English thinking it was cute), I stared them straight in the eyes without smiling, and said in English: You better watch her. I’m pregnant. (and I patted my belly)
They didn’t understand what I was saying, but they understood my tone of voice and the motion, and they immediately told her in French to stay still and keep close to their legs. She started to whine and cry but her mother said sternly to her: This is how it is on the metro. It’s busy. Be quiet.
..and she was quiet.
This, would never happen in Toronto.
Frankly, I’d probably be screamed at by the mother and aunt for being a bitch on the subway and reprimanding their child.
In France I am also told that they are more well-mannered because while people might bluster here with throwing curse words at each other while on the roads as people cut them off or are generally rude, they will get out of their cars in France and actually fight you, wanting to beat you up and throw fists.
We were in front of Ladurée eating macarons one day when we saw a driver cut another off. The other driver, irate, honked, got out of his car immediately and started going to the car in front of him, banging on the window screaming: COME OUT AND FIGHT YOU BASTARD!
Other instances we were taking the metro and a strange guy randomly walks up to us as we are saying goodbye to our friends and starts calling our friend all these nasty words, insulting him and trying to provoke him into a fight.
I was shocked at the behaviour but they treated it as totally normal, and we carefully, cautiously moved away from this weirdo in the metro and ignored him.
Later, I asked my partner what was going on and he said: Some guys here just want to pick a fight.
…Yes. Well. You wouldn’t really see that here in North America unless they’re drunk and he was not drunk.
In France it seems when someone threatens you or tries to provoke you into a fight, the best thing to do is not to try and provoke them back but to back down and ignore them… politely.
EDUCATION / COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY
I already kind of covered this here: European versus North American approaches to Debt and Savings but I recently wrote a longer piece about how a diploma determines your life.
I find the French schooling system extremely rigid, strict, and painful for children who don’t do well in school to experience. They are in the extremes there, even going to the point of humiliating children in front their peers.
For instance when tests are over and marks are given, they are read out loud in order of rank in class, starting from the highest mark to the lowest, and sometimes a little comment interjected in between for good measure to humiliate those who are not doing well in a misguided attempt to force them to be motivated to avoid being on the bottom again.
My partner had to experience this first-hand and I found it very hard to accept as a North American-raised child.
In contrast, we are the other extreme in North America — very permissive and relaxed in letting children pass from one grade to another without having properly learned how to spell or read in some cases, and after you graduate, you need to try and get a college degree of some sort to hold any kind of job, which I find incredible, all of which I have talked about here and a professor wrote in this opinion piece.
RACISM / DISCRIMINATION
This exists everywhere, even where you think it shouldn’t exist.
That said, I find it is more direct and more hostile in nature in France than it is in North America. Here, if you are racist or discriminatory, you keep it to yourself and hide or mask it. In France, they’ll openly embrace being racist in some parts, which causes a lot of friction / tension especially if you consider that they even have political parties that embrace such racism or nationalism in France (Nazi party growing in popularity and hostility against Muslims, anyone?).
Also, in France you will more likely be turned down for a job if you are a person of colour than in North America, even if everything else is perfect. You will also be put aside for someone who is more French than you, even if you are white, and this is easily discerned by your name even if you look white.
I know this is hard to believe because women are still not paid equal wages and we still experience workplace discrimination but in France this is an accepted workplace hidden fact, that if you are black for instance, you will find it very hard to get a good job there. We have friends who had to leave even having gone to the best schools in France (L’École Polytechnqiue).
We have a black friend who moved from France because of this bullsh*t, as he couldn’t ever seem to climb the ranks due to his colour (but they told him it was for other reasons, of course).
WORKING IN EACH COUNTRY
As it is in all countries, there is discrimination in the workplace by gender, people of colour and even age.
In France however, if you don’t speak French perfectly with zero faults and their perfect accent, you will never find a good job to work at. They are extremely proud of their language and will not hesitate to correct or make fun of you for not speaking it perfectly. It is a game to them to find the person who screws up the language and humiliate them.
This is not the case in North America. We are just happy you speak English and we can understand you!! My partner very much enjoys this attitude towards language because when he first arrived, he had a serious hang-up about his English (he still does).
I tell him even to this day that his English is PERFECT and he frowns at me and says: No eet ees not perfect. Eet weel nevair be perfect.
So you can imagine that even if I were living in France, I wouldn’t be able to work or find a job there due to my French, not to mention the fact that even if you ARE French and speak the language perfectly, if you don’t have a French diploma / degree (you took one abroad), they are not excited about hiring you because they don’t know the rank / status of the school you attended in comparison to their French schools.
In the U.S., I did notice that if you are not American you are not one of “them” and they kind of treat you like a slave knowing your visa situation. I wrote a bit about that here when I moved back to Canada. This is not indicative of all Americans for the most part but it was my impression when I worked there. I felt uncomfortable at times for being Canadian and therefore Not-American.
Maybe it was just in my head, but…. other foreigners have told me the same.
VACATIONS AND WORK ETHIC
They take their vacations and lunches very seriously in France. Do not mess with them.
This also happens in Canada, but not to the level I saw in the U.S.
In contrast, Canada is slightly more relaxed, and even MORE relaxed in Quebec (the European touch flares up again!), but France takes the cake on this one, with 5 weeks of vacation.
There is a drive that fuels Americans which is good and bad.
The good is that the country is powered by such dynamism and it is impressive to see what Americans can achieve when they put their minds to it (I mean just look at the Olympics, they ALWAYS dominate in some way or another… but just not in ice hockey against Canada!).
The bad is that in the U.S. but less so in Canada, I find employers encourage people to NOT take vacations, to the point where people are scared to take time off in fear of losing their jobs.
This is just an feeling I picked up, but Americans work very hard at their jobs to stay afloat it seems and they commute a lot and sacrifice a lot for their jobs even if it becomes inefficient after a certain point in time.
You also aren’t guaranteed vacation time in the U.S., if I am not mistaken. 2 weeks would be a dream, let alone maternity leave past 6 weeks (seriously terrible, and we complain about only getting 6 months to a year here).
CULTURE AND ATTITUDE
They are colder and yes, even snobbier in France. That’s not to say that they are necessarily mean or unkind, because if you go there, particularly into the countryside they will willingly feed you, talk to you and welcome you into their homes even as a stranger.
I guess the better word is that they are very reserved.
They aren’t going to instantly be buddy-buddy with you after only knowing you for a few minutes or even months. They don’t make casual acquaintances because they consider that their time and yours is too precious / valuable to waste on people you don’t really know or like … yet.
Even if you are a partner like I am of someone from France, French folks will not warm up to you immediately out of you being the paramour of their good friend. It takes them a while to get to know you and then, even more time to like you!
I also find that the French are more pessimistic and are less likely to take risks or chances. With French people, the attitude is: It cannot be done… or ….It is not done like that rather than the opposite.
It can be VERY frustrating especially if you are to go to buy something and they want to adhere very strictly to the policies and guidelines of what was set down by management on them.
They are inflexible at times in their rule-following which has its pros and cons. They are obedient.. but then they are too stuck in a square box to break out.
In contrast, North America instead of “Why” it’s “Why not?“, which is more in line with my attitude and beliefs. A sales clerk for instance, could step out of bounds and do something extraordinary just to make a client happy for the sake of seeing them smile even if it is not within the “rules” of what management has decreed.
Customer service is far better in North America than in Europe as a result, and much better in the U.S. than in Canada for pleasing the customer which is incredible.
The French also complain discuss a lot but rarely take action other than taking to the streets and rioting or going on strike, instead saying: What are you going to do? … or… It’s like that.
They like to go on strike a lot because it’s doing something.. without doing anything, if you know what I mean.
The French Revolution is kind of the only time they have taken serious action as a society and changed life as they know it.
Otherwise, *cough*World War II*cough* where they tend to follow status quo and avoid conflict and trying to keep the peace, comes to mind.
In contrast, Americans are far more likely to complain and then DO SOMETHING about it because they don’t have that hang up of following rules to the T!
Their approach to problem-solving kind of looks like this and they know it:
In France, The Problem turns into a Mess which ends in a Riot/Revolution which results in More Problems.
Anyway I could go on and on but I’d rather just leave it at that, having covered the major points in this opinion piece of mine.