• close, parents, siblings
  • close, support
  • company, love, sharing
  • Father, Mother, Aunt, Cousins
  • happiness, holidays
  • home, love
  • Important, Love, Sister
  • indifferent, parents, close
  • Love, Home
  • Love, Important
  • Love, Support
  • Love, support
  • love, unity, comfort
  • loving, supportive
  • mom, dad, brother
  • mom, dad, home
  • mom, dad, siblings
  • mother, father, home
  • Parents, Sister, Love
  • parents, values, brother, loyalty
  • safe, haven, love
  • sister, mom, dad
  • amis, racines
  • amour, force, support, encouragement
  • Bons moments, Entraide, Amour
  • Êtres chers, remède, anti-stress
  • foyer, confiance
  • Important, Valeur, Maison
  • liens, partage, amour
  • Maison,parents
  • Maison, Repas, Repos
  • Maison, Soutien
  • Maman, Maison, Unis
  • Noel, parents, frère
  • Parents, maison, amour
  • Partage, repas, souvenirs
  • Proches, parents
  • Proches, sécurité, amour
  • Rougon-Macquart, Enfants, Racines
  • père, mère, frère
  • tendresse, amour


I’ve observed that the French think about family from the perspective of what you do with them and more physical ties, whereas Americans see family as those they love and the feelings they allow them to express.
The French do not differ very much from Americans in terms of the positivity family affords them.
It seems that meals (repas) are particularly important to the French than Americans. Why is that?

Both lists are very similar, and almost every word that shows up in the French list shows up somewhere in the American list, and vice versa. It’s actually quite incredible that we both have such similar views on family. Also I thought it was interesting that sister is not in the French list, but is a couple times in the American list.
The people from the two countries value the same ideals when considering family, and for the French, meals are much more important than to Americans.
What is Rougon-Macquart? And why is the house/home so much more important to the French when compared to the Americans?

It seems that the Americans thought primarily of their direct family and of love while the French thought more of the emotions associated with family.
The Americans have smaller families that they see often so they primarily think of their nuclear family while the French have larger “families” that might include friends and more distant relatives.
Do you think of family as only your immediate family or do you think that everyone who supports you is part of your family?

Both sides mention parents and love, however I noticed that the French mention the members of their family less. They focus more on intangible objects such as memories, care, trust and connections. The French also cherish meals and their house.

Family is viewed as a positive thing in France and America, however the French consider qualities shown by a person more vital than relationship by blood.

What is Rougon-Macquart? Why do the French focus more on the qualities of a family, rather than the family members?

I found that the French use words for place and home when describing the family while Americans associate family with those you love and those who support you.

I think that the French associate the house with family because I think it is common for families in France to live together or near eachother while in America it is not as common due to the individualist nature of our society.

Is it more conducive to think of the family in terms of those you live with or to think of the family as those who support you? Even though they dont always have to be mutually exclusive.

Il me semble que pour les français tout comme pour les américains la notion de famille est restreinte aux frères et sœurs et aux deux parents. Contrairement à certaines cultures dans lesquelles quand on évoque le mot famille on y inclut les cousins, les oncles, les tantes, les grands parents voire même les amis. Cela pourrait bien refléter l’individualisme de notre société.

J’ai constaté que les mots “love” et “close” se répètent plusieurs fois dans les réponses des américains. Cependant, et selon les films et les séries américaines, les enfants quittent leurs maisons de famille à l’âge de 18 ans. Est-ce vrai ? Si oui, pourquoi ? Je trouve qu’on est encore trop jeune à l’âge de 18 ans pour vivre seul.

hanine, it is true that generally children leave their parents’ home around the age of 18 to go to college. Generally American young people start feeling a desire to be more independent in high school, and college is viewed as a chance to learn how to “be an adult”. Usually college students still call their parents, visit home, etc. but living at home in college would be stifling. Also keep in mind that the US is a very large country, so when young people go to college they may be thousands of miles away from home (I myself am from California, and am now a student here at MIT in Boston – the other side of the country).

When do French young adults usually begin to live alone?

The American students linked family more closely with love, mom, dad, and siblings while the French students linked family more with house, support, and roots more often.
It seems that Americans may have a bit more of a loving/accepting atmosphere with family while the French may look at it with more of a perspective as a support structure or pillar.
American parents have the stereotype of being extremely happy with their kids no matter what they do. Are French parents the same way?

The students in France associate the word “family” with the word “home” more so than the students in the US. The word home appears six times on the French side versus four times on the American side.

The Americans also make more mention of family members than do the French students.

dwar, I agree with you. In many societies in Caribbean, like Jamaica, the word “familly” often means “extended familly” by default, in which cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. will be thought of more.

I’ve noticed that “repas” is a word that appears several times in the list made by the French students, but meal does not appear anywhere in the list from the American students. Perhaps that is because for some people in France, eating together is an important part of spending time together as a family. Do you and your family put emphasis on making time to share means together? Is this a common thing in France?

I’ve noticed that most of the words that describe family from both the French and the American students are positive. However, when talking with people in general, relationships with parents is one of the things that causes people I am friends with the most stress. Still, the immediate reactions that people have to the word family are overwhelmingly positive. Is this the same in France - i. e. do many people in France have problems or stressful relationships with their family even though their gut reactions to the word itself are positive?

Hanine it is definitely true that many Americans have their children leave the house around the age of 18 for many reasons. I agree with Malper that one of the main reasons why children leave the household is to pursue higher education or to enter the workforce. I, also being from California, wanted to travel very far away from home to go to college because I wanted to experience something different. I think that it is common for American teenagers to want to separate from the household in order to pursue their own goals and to have a sense of responsibility. This is definitely reflective of the individualist nature of Americans.

@Hanine The concept of childhood is something that is really born out of the Industrial Revolution. During the middle ages, children were treated like small adults. One could get married and start a family by age 13,14,15. While our use of 18 as a demarkation between adulthood and childhood throughout our society is completely arbitrary, it’s old enough for me.

Je pense que le commentaire de Hanine est très personnel, la plupart des étudiants français prennent premier appartement au moment de commencer nos études post-bac, donc autour de 18 ans, tant pour se séparer de nos parents et de notre indépendance que pour une simple question de distance.

Bon, je ne suis pas française , je suis arabe. C’est pour ça que je trouvais ça bizarre. En fait, chez nous on ne quitte pas la maison de famille pour se séparer de nos parents. C’est une question de distance, si c’est pas pour les études ou pour le travail et si on est pas marié, on reste à la maison , ce n’est pas une question d’âge.

A priori, nous avons le même type de définitions de la famille. Mais j’aimerais savoir à quoi ressemble la famille stantard américaine.

Est-ce que vous mangez ensemble ? Pratiquez vous régulièrment des activités ensemble ?
Est-il vrai que la tendance chez vous est “l’enfant est roi”,car c’est plutôt assez mal vu en France ?

Peut-on généraliser la définition de famille pour tous les USA ? La famille de la ville est-elle la même que la famille de banlieue ?

Fejiro: Les Rougon-Macquart est une série de 20 romans écrits par Emile Zola (très célèbre en France) qui montre l’évolution de la société et des familles (d’où le rapprochement…).
Pour le reste, je ne pense pas que l’on se concentre sur les qualités de la famille. Le sens du mot “famille” est très large en France. On peut parler de sa famille comme lien de sang, de sa famille comme ses proches (amis… et pas forcément de lien de sang…), etc…
Le mot famille défini souvent simplement un groupe.
Un des meilleurs synonymes pourrait être “Êtres chers” comme ça a été proposé. C’est suffisamment large et évocateur: la famille, c’est avant tout les gens à qui nous tenons. Donc quand on pense à eux, on pense à toutes les qualités qui ont fait d’eux des gens si proches de nous.

Alex (and a little bit hanine), to address your “the child is the king” question I’m going to have to talk about mostly what I’ve seen growing up since parenting styles vary so much. I think there is a huge range in how much children can get away with and it depends on the family. However, I do think children and teenagers are given less responsibilities than in other places. I know lots of people here at MIT who had never done laundry, cooked, made their own lunch, or even woken up using an alarm clock (their parents would wake them up) before getting to MIT. This may play into why so many teenagers feel like they have to move out right at 18 and some try to get far away from home (not saying that this was the case for either of you malper or l’homme noir). Lots of people don’t really feel like they are treated like an adult until they actually leave home and even then some people still feel that their parents try too much to “baby” them and control their decisions. Sorry for the long worded answer that basically says it depends because I really don’t think there is a “standard” American family.

Hanine: I completely understand. I am Nigerian, and it is common for children, especially the girls, to live with their parents till marriage. This is become less frequent, as people have started travelling far from home for work.

Alex: America is so huge and diverse, that is hard to define a standard American family. In general, I think the typical/stereotypical American home involves just parent(s) and children. It does not include uncles, aunts, grandparents or cousins, which is more common in other parts of the world. Again, this can be linked to the individualistic American nature.

From my studies, I believe that meals with family are more revered in France than here in America. In general, less time is spent on the dining table here.

Hanine: Likewise, in Jamaica it is very typical for children to continue living with their parents even sometimes after they’ve gotten married or had kids. It’s usually a matter of whether they are financially stable enough to move out and they wish to move out.

Merci pour ces diverses réponses, c’est vraiment enrichissant. Je suis d’accord avec ce que tash

tasha vient de dire: il ne faut pas généraliser.

Thanks hanine! To continue the discussion, are you living with your family while you are at college and if so, how do you balance being a student (and having to study and things) with time that you spend with your family? Are any students from farther away and what do they do in that case?

Alex: Like others have mentioned, there’s no “standard American family”. There’s the “ideal” American family, which was perpetuated mostly starting around the 1950s, which also is linked to the idea of the suburbs (mom, dad, two kids, house with a yard, white picket fence). However, that’s obviously not how most families here are; we are a diverse country (as you saw in our responses to “United States”), so we can’t generalize. But I can talk about my personal experience with family.

My parents immigrated here from Mexico after they got married, and my siblings and I were born and raised in the states. We kept a lot of my parents’ Mexican culture in my home, which makes my family different from most, but also gives a representation of the variety of backgrounds that Americans have. First of all, the kids were definitely not “kings” in my house. My parents were rather strict and made sure we were respectful, and we didn’t get everything we wanted. As for spending time together: we always ate dinner together, and we occasionally would go out on Sundays to museums or movies or dinner at a restaurant. However, as we got older and had activities, jobs, and driver’s licenses, we became much more independent, and often dinner was the only time we would all be together (sometimes some of us couldn’t even make it to dinner with everyone else because we had so many activities in the afternoon and evening). So all in all, we do spend time together, but mainly just dinner and Sundays, when we don’t usually have work or extracurriculars. Is this something that happens in France too, as children grow up and get busier, or does the family usually stay very close until the kids move out?

@dwar I think that one of the large reasons why in the US we consider family to be the immediate family is because so many Americans are immigrants and ended up moving away from their hometown/country. Unfortunately, distance is a major player in determining how close you are to someone else, and I think this has contributed greatly to thinking of family as such a small group. I’m from Brazil, and there, most families stay in the same town usually, so Brazilians usually think of their cousins of multiple degrees and great aunts and a generally much larger group of people as family. So my question is is it common for several generations of families in France to live close together, at least in the same city, or is more common for them to move and therefore be less likely to consider the larger group as family?

This is kind of tangential to the conversation about eating meals together, but I thought I’d ask anyway: A friend of mine who isn’t American once teased me about how (almost) all of our holidays are food-centric; basically just an excuse to overeat. Is the same true of holidays in France?

The word family cannot necessarily be generalized to the whole of the United States, and the responses on this page are only from MIT students so they are biased. Especially since we are more likely to come from stable, supportive families. The idea of family in America varies by whether you live in a metropolitan city or in the suburbs or in a rural area. It also depends on heritage, because people of Nigerian or Arabian heritage may have different ideas of what family is.

@Tasha, bon moi j’ai quitté la maison pour aller à l’université lorsque j’avais 18 ans. J’étais obligée car l’université est dans une autre ville loin de la mienne. Et je suis venue en France cette année. Peut être t’as compris de mon intervention que j’habite avec ma famille. Mais lorsque j’ai évoqué ce sujet, je ne parlais pas ceux qui quittent la maison pour aller à l’université, ça je le comprend, j’ai cru que les américains quittent leurs maisons de famille à l’âge de 18 ans même si l’université est à 5 minutes à pied de la maison.

Hanine, you’re right that Americans still leave home even if the university is just down the street. This is in part because of how university life is structured here. For starters, almost every college requires all freshmen (1st year students) to live in a dorm on campus. This is to help students make friends and be able to be a full time student without any other responsibilities. I’m not entirely certain how college works in France but in the US students are expected to do lots of studying and homework outside of class and most universities found that students were not able to put the necessary hours into studying when their family also had expectations for them while they were living at home (like doing chores, spending time with family). Therefore, the universities mandated that students live in a dorm so that students would only have to worry about their classes and nothing else. Note that this isn’t true for every school but it’s the general premise that most schools use. Since pretty much every 18 year old has to move out to go to university, it has created a culture where leaving home at 18 is not only normal but expected. Even some people who don’t go to college right away (or ever) still try to leave home at 18 in part because of the lack of responsibilities at home thing I was talking about earlier. But also know that even though people may physically be leaving home to go to school, lots of people are still a little bit dependent on their parents, especially financially.

@hanine To echo tasha’s point, the freedom is not simply a physical freedom, but extremely symbolic and all about taking on “adult tasks” and “acting like an adult”. If I lived with my parents, they would just continue to treat me, rightly so, as their child. My independence, I argue, would be stunted.

@hanine: Agreed. Usually if you can cut down on commuting time significantly, that’s a very good reason to move out, even if you then have to deal with the inconveniences of all these new expenses.

I agree with Alex’s comment about the fact that there is no typical American family. The country is so diverse that many families are comprised of immigrants from elsewhere. As such many families do things differently from one another. On the whole families are more similar in France than in the US or are they just as diverse as in the US?

Continuing on the theme of “love” being mentioned more on the American side and “repas” more on the French side, I wonder if this reflects different expectations of what families are expected to provide, in terms of the balance between emotional and material support. What do you expect your families to provide you?

comme retour à votre commentaire, je dirais que la famille est là pour offrir à la fois l’amour, la tendresse, le support sentimental et aussi offrir le soutien matériel ..