Time to Take 5 with Ian Taraszewski, who went to High School in France! Take 5 is a series where Greenheart Travel alumni answer quirky questions about their time abroad. Let’s dive in and learn Ian’s take on cafés, French music, and what it means to be present while abroad.
It can seem difficult, especially in a completely new, completely foreign country, to get involved and make wherever you are feel more like home. But honestly, for me, the answer was quite simple and it was just being present. If there aren’t any clubs or teams that seem to present themselves initially, the best way to integrate the quickest is to just put yourself out there as much as you can. For me, that meant spending as little time in my room or by myself as possible, especially in the first few weeks. The less English I spoke, the more French I learned every single day. I did my best to talk about my day with my host family at dinner and introduce myself to the people in my class at school.
My biggest language miscommunication was extremely awkward but walking away from it I just had to laugh because I knew that it was bound to happen at some point (and continue happening very frequently). It was right around my second week in France and I was in the downtown area after meeting with some friends but had to use the bathroom before taking the bus home. I walked into a cafe and wanted to ask the lady if there were bathrooms here. However in French when asking such a question people say ‘toilettes’ which means toilet. The phrase for bathroom ‘salle de bain’ typically refers to the shower or bath because in France the toilet is often separate from the rest of the bathroom. So, of course, I asked the lady working at the cafe ‘Est-ce que tu as une salle de bain’ (notice I also used the informal tu when I should’ve most definitely used the formal vous). After getting the weirdest look and an awkward “no”, I walked away having learned immediately the dangers of direct translation.
My favorite French song is always changing and I try to stay on top of new French music that comes out even though I’m back home. But ‘Tout Va Bien’ by Orelsan was a song that came out in France right around when I got there and stayed popular and playing on the radios throughout my study abroad, so whenever I hear it, it just brings back a lot of good memories. It’s a catchy song which is what first drew me to download it on my phone, but it was one that kind of grew with me in that the first time I heard it I couldn’t understand any of it, but by the end of my semester I could basically sing it by heart. It has kind of a deep meaning to it and was produced by Stromae who tends to have symbolic meanings in his songs about society that you don’t notice at first which I think is kind of cool.
A French aspect that I wish US Americans would adopt is cafe culture in general. In France, it’s seen as a weird ‘faut pas’ to get coffee to go and eat or drink while on the way to other places. I think this ties into the French culture in general in that they take their time to enjoy moments. So when people go to a cafe together, it’s customary to sit at the cafe and enjoy an espresso with friends and talk rather than going to the cafe to study and be alone or take one to go. I also wish that the US would have espresso more often as opposed to a huge cup of coffee with milk and sugar. A standard coffee in France is a little cup with one shot of espresso in it, but people can still take a long time to sit and drink it which I think helps to appreciate it more.
The first time I feel like I made a friend was during my first week of school in France. My school followed a trimester system so arriving in January meant that I kind of just started in the middle of everything and classes were full in session. On the first day, after the principle had brought me in, introduced me and everyone realized I couldn’t speak that well. A boy lead me to his locker and let me put my books there. He also made sure there was a spot for me at his lunch table with some other people in my class. As I was first learning conversational French and until I could do things on my own, he would help me with homework and notes in class. It was really cool to feel like I had someone on my side from the getgo who made sure I felt welcome and not overwhelmed. Eventually, when I was able to speak more fluently our friendship became even better.