February 5, 2014, by Guest blog
Learning to relax and converse with the French
I’ve been working as a language assistant in Lannion for 4 months now, and I’ve finally worked out a comfortable routine for life in France. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’ve not encountered any distinct differences between England and France, which have taken time to both understand and adapt to.
Perhaps the most prominent is how much more tranquil life in semi-rural Brittany has been compared to the constant hurrying of English city life. A change of pace is always welcome, especially if it makes things less stressful – on the other hand, the tendency of the lannionais people to work at their own pace has at times left me wishing that things would go just a little bit faster. Although I imagine that Parisian society runs much like London does, even the nearby city of Saint-Brieuc is more laid-back in its lifestyle than a similar-sized English city, and while normally this would be a pleasant change, I’ve begun to lose count of the number of times I’ve asked for something at the lycée, only to receive it long after I have any need of it. In fact, I still have no school computer account, despite being promised one as soon as I began my position as a language assistant. When I first arrived, the typically long French lunch, which often lasts from midday until 2.00pm, was also difficult to adjust to, and in the first month, my frequent visits to the school administration office often resulted in me arriving an hour too early. Public transport, as I’ve mentioned before, remains a headache here, due to its sheer unreliability. However, I’ve started to accept that, in Brittany, sometimes you just have to be patient – perhaps this will teach me to be less impatient in the future.
The other and possibly more challenging difference in English and French attitudes has been the particularities of French conversations. Unsurprisingly, I did not have much practice talking to a native French speaker before arriving here, and so although I was prepared for conversations to run differently, I had little idea of what to expect. Breton people are undoubtedly very friendly and approachable, and I have no trouble talking to any of the teachers at the lycée if I have a problem, but from my time here, I’ve found that they can be surprisingly inquisitive, especially in comparison to the often-true cliché of British people being more reserved. Again, as with the slower pace of life, this is not necessarily a negative quality, but instead something that I’m not used to expecting, and it has frequently caught me off-guard. Openness in French conversations doesn’t just revolve around what is said, though – French people have an unusual tendency to join a conversation that you’re having with someone else, or even more frustratingly, to leave a conversation before you think it’s finished, and even now, I often find myself wondering when I am no longer part of a conversation that has been hijacked, or abandoned, by someone else.
Of course, there are many other cultural challenges that I’d had to face during my time here, some of which have been more difficult to overcome than others. On the other hand, it is exactly these marked differences between English and French culture that have made my year abroad all the more entertaining, and all the more educational.
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