One month into my journey in France; it’s been the longest and fastest month of my life. By this I mean that time has flown by, but it feels like so much has happened during my study abroad program. France is really beginning to feel more like a new home. I have friends. I know my way around this new city, and I can get by in French. The homesickness has also begun to fade as well. I’ve also learned so many things, lessons that will help me for the rest of my life.
One of these lessons is understanding that things take time. This lesson is incredible frustrating to learn and remember, but its such a significant part of life.
There is this constant patter of things being not so great and then leading into times that are really fun and happy. The parts that are not so great, such as homesickness, not knowing people, not understanding a new language and culture, are also what leads to the parts that are good. When I do meet new people and make new friends, and learn more of the language, I can celebrate these small accomplishments and have hope for a better tomorrow.
In France I’ve come across many quirks between people here and people at home. In the first few weeks I hated these differences, but I’ve learned that it’s just the way things are in France. It’s not bad it’s just different.
Some of these quirks are still very weird to me, like the fact that people don’t smile. In the U.S. people smile a lot, you smile when you say hello, you smile if you walk past someone on the street, you smile if you’re just having a conversation with someone and want to be friendly. In the U.S. smiling is almost like a handshake, its a greeting and act of politeness.
In France, not so much. Smiling is somewhat of a rare occurrence.
I brought this up to my French friends here, and they explained to me that smiling is often taken as flirting, and people just don’t as often. How weird this was to me. The only times people really smile are to flirt or if something is genuinely funny. So, I had to learn that people not smiling isn’t so much that they don’t like you or they are upset, but rather just their culture. Along with this, I had to learn not to smile at strangers.
In the beginning this seemed quite rude to me, people always smiled and said hello to everyone back home. Here, you walk and mind your own business. I used to find this frustrating, how unfriendly people were, but now I understand it. In someways, it’s less bothersome and you don’t have to worry about hello’s but rather keep on doing whatever you were doing. Although, I still find it relatively strange to be in a crowd of people and be one of the only people smiling, but I’ve also come to understand that it’s part of living in France.
There have also been some really cool things in France that are different, like the market. Every Sunday in the city I live in, Perpignan, there is a big market. What this market is, is basically tables piled with used goods, bags, cloths, shoes, books, kitchen wear, everything you can imagine in this one place.
Also, when I say piled, I mean, there is a table and it looks as if someone through the contents of whatever they had in a bag on to the table. Unfolded, wrinkled, three feet high piles. Yet, it’s wonderful, everything is less than 10 euros, and there’s every kind of shirt, shoe, or bag, imaginable.
It’s fun too, it’s like a maze of tables in the middle of a parking lot for one day and everyone makes there way around the tables sorting through the piles. Never before had I seen something quite like this. It was nice to experience something different that was a shock in a fun way.
The last thing I want to say about France, is that some of the stereotypes are true. Baguettes are a food group unto itself in France, and it’s understandable why, because they are delicious. So if you are planning on going to France be prepared to eat many delicious baguettes.