Excerpt from C'est la Vie by Suzy Gershman:
Many outsiders do not understand the simple differences in culture and lifestyle in France...or the French way of thinking. They invariably go home with stories of those quaint little Frenchies. Those who are able to adjust are changed forever and usually choose to stay, or to return when possible.
The pace of life in France is different. For me, used to a rather hectic American day, it was a relief when I slowed down and actually enjoyed my life in the French style. I had been the person who ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the keyboard. I never had time to cook; my family survived on takeout, fast food, Boston Chicken and lamb chops on Sunday nights. Suddenly meals and social life were the most important parts of my day. Yes, more important than my work. In France they were the anchors to a day and to a lifetime. In the United States, we rarely made time for our friends and the people we cared most about - and they understood, or said they did, because they were in the same jam. In France nothing was more important.
In France people sat at a table for three hours (or longer), ate slowly and had real conversations. This contrasted with an eat-and-run American pattern or even the "independent dinners" we had in our family because everyone had different activities and different needs. Other than Thanksgiving, Jewish holiday feast dinners and a few dinners out with friends, I don't remember sitting at a table for much more than an hour in the United States...or having discussions about politics and philosophy.
People in France made less money than those in the United States but still lived better - partly because of this slower pace of life, partly because of the cultural importance of a good meal (with good wine, bien sur) and partly because, with less discretionary income, priorities were better defined. If a French person had to choose between new clothes or a concert ticket, the concert ticket usually won out.
Add to this a thirty-five-hour workweek, a schedule of a mere two hundred workdays per year, some six or eight weeks of paid vacation, socialized medical care, excellent retirement benefits and a cost of living far lower than Manhattan or London and you can see why people loved to live here. Those who knew what they couldn't afford back in the United States figured they'd rather have less in France and chose to stay put.