Salut mes amis!
Firstly, I wanted to apologize for the tardiness of this final post! The end of my trip was a whirlwind, which then promptly transitioned into another whirlwind of traveling home, the holidays, catching up with family and friends, and preparing for my final semester at school. But I finally have a chance to breathe, and I thought it was high time I finish up my blog.
After spending almost 7 months in France I got to know it’s personality very well. I gave a lot of thought to how the French and American cultures differ, what I like more about French culture, and what about French culture I am not so fond of. As my final post I thought it would be fitting to talk about exactly that. So, without further ado, here are my top 3 least favorite and most favorite things about France!
My Least Favorite Things About France:
1) Tardiness, especially of administration. French and American schools operate in two very different ways, and when I arrived in France it was really hard for me to get used to the way French schools work. One of the largest differences is that many things in France are decided at the very last minute, and to me (and my American logic) don’t always seem to make sense. For example, I knew the general outline of my program when I left the US, but the details were often not decided until a few days/the day before I was supposed to arrive at a new school or internship. As someone who likes to prepare well in advance I really had to learn to go with the flow and not worry when things weren’t completely planned out.
2) Smoking. Smoking cigarettes in Europe is fairly common, especially for young people. I definitely did not enjoy that aspect of social situations. On Bastille Day (July 14, France’s independence day) I went with a friend to see the celebration in downtown Toulouse, which culminated in a fireworks show. There was an enormous crowd of people and no matter where we turned we could not find a place to stand that was not near a smoker. The fireworks were great, but the smokers were definitely not appreciated by us.
3) Dog poops on the sidewalk. I don’t know why, but in France it seems to be acceptable to allow your dog to poop in the sidewalk and then not pick it up. Fortunately I avoided stepping on these lovely gifts for the most part, with the exception of one slip up. One day in November my favorite boulangerie was closed at lunch time (another typically French thing that isn’t my favorite – businesses being closed during normal business hours for no apparent reason), and as a gaped at the closed bakery in misery I stepped right into a doggie doo. Not my finest moment.
My Favorite Things About France:
1) Food and the culture that surrounds it. Of course, my number one favorite thing about France is the mind-blowing food. Not only is the food in the more expensive price-range amazing, but even a sandwich on the street from a vendor will be the most delicious sandwich you have ever eaten. Everywhere you go you are bound to find good food. But, even beyond just taste, French people are more concerned with the quality of the ingredients they use and the impacts of their food choices on the environment. They understand that local/organic food is more expensive, but they are willing to pay more for the added quality and social change. Essentially, they are much better at putting their money where their mouth is as far as food and ingredients are concerned.
2) Kissing on the cheek. This is a French custom that makes some foreigners uncomfortable, but I actually really liked it. It’s wasn’t that I actually enjoyed getting up close and personal with strangers, though. What I liked was that when you met a group of people you were personally introduced to everyone in the group. Sometimes in the US if you meet a big group of people some of them might ignore you, simply because it is not considered rude in social situations to ignore people if the group is large. I think by kissing people you meet on the check you can more quickly get passed the discomfort of not knowing the person and move toward being friends more quickly.
3) Slower pace of life. It’s definitely true that Europeans, the French included, take their time, especially at meal time. A 2 hour break for lunch in the middle of the day is not unheard of. I really liked the focus on quality of life rather than the “work work work” mentality many Americans are stuck in. As one of my fellow vineyard workers in France told me, “I want to work to live, not live to work.”
So there you have it! Overall being in France was not an easy experience for me. I had to learn the language essentially from scratch, move around a lot, and become comfortable living in a new culture. Even though I faced many challenges, I really do think my trip was worth it. I learned so much and have really become much more easy-going because of the experiences I had while I was abroad. I learned to not sweat the little stuff and instead just enjoy all of the wonderful things I have to be thankful for. I wonder how long it would have taken me to learn those things if I hadn’t taken the risk and studied abroad! I’m certainly glad I did take the risk.
À la prochaine, mes amis!