February 5, 2014, by Guest blog
Thinking like a Frenchie
Salut! How quickly have these past few months gone? I can’t believe I’ve been here for almost 5 months now… 5 months!!! That means I’m almost half way through my year abroad… they do say time flies when you’re having fun.
For Christmas, I received a wonderful little book called ‘112 Gripes about the French’ which is a collection of criticisms, misconceptions and general stereotypes that are often associated with the French. It is written by a group of anonymous authors who use a Question-Answer form in their attempt to explain and help people understand the cultural differences between France and America (although I think the English could benefit from a read too!)
My reason for sharing this little handbook with you is because through reading it, I have begun to question my preconceptions of the French and how my views have changed since living here. I must say, that as the authors of the book: I am a Francophile… not a Francophobe! I love the country, the language and as for the people… I’ve come to realize that they’re not so different from our own.
There is a common misconception among British people that the French are rude, but is it that the French are rude or that the English are so over the top polite that highlights this difference? It’s perceived by many other nations that the English are the politest nation in Europe: we say please and thank you at every opportunity, we queue and wait our turn in crowds of people and we apologize if we bump into someone (even if it’s not always entirely necessary). This is not at all a negative trait to have as a nation but we must also remember that in other countries and cultures, this acute politeness is not considered important in daily life. To the French, the idea of queueing is ridiculous. If one needs to get somewhere, one does not worry about the faceless strangers they encounter on the way, they just get on with it! I must point out as a foreigner living in France I have encountered more generosity than unfriendliness – a little effort towards understanding the country and it’s people goes a long way.
As a language student and someone who is interested in traveling and discovering new cultures, I would describe myself as fairly open minded. I usually try everything once… especially when food is concerned. During my stay, I have lived with two different families and have therefore had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in French culture and I can safely say that the biggest challenge that I have had to face is the food that they eat and the way they view meal times.
Breakfast is not too different to adapt to; brioche and Nutella seem to have become my staple diet but just as in England I have eaten toast and Marmite, cereals, tea, coffee and fruit juice.
Lunch is where it becomes more complicated. It seems to me that almost everyone takes the time to sit and eat a full three course meal: starter, main, desert PLUS cheese and coffee. While the English tend to grab a sandwich or a snack, the French take the time to eat a hot meal and socialize with their family/friends/colleagues. I know what you’re thinking, I must be mad to complain about taking time out to enjoy my lunch with friends but what you haven’t considered is that the world continues to revolve in the afternoon. As someone who is not used to eating much during the day, a full meal and a 2 hour break leaves me feeling sleepy and completely incapable of work!
Dinner is also slightly different here. They usually do not eat dinner until 7:30/8:00 at night. Granted, if one eats a huge meal at lunch, one will not be hungry until much later, but for someone who eats less at lunch and obviously cannot get the balance right, starvation seems to set in at 6:30/7:00.
I know I’m hitting all the stereotypes on the head with this next sentence but I also find that the French eat far too much bread, cheese and meat and not near enough vegetables. Also I must admit, they’re not very good at world foods – I crave a good chinese, indian, thai, mexican… anything with a bit of spice!
Finally, a piece of writing on the cultural challenges that I have encountered would not be complete without mentioning the French kisses. After 5 months I still have not got the knack. Some people want 2, others 3, others 4 and some none at all… just a distanced hand shake (I’m not sure whether to take offense from this.) What is delightful however… and probably the reason as to why I’m currently sat in bed with a cold… is that ALL of the children at school like to give me cuddles and kisses every day. I’d like to thank them for sharing their culture AND their germs with me… if they weren’t so cute I’d be angry!
Anyway, to conclude… French people aren’t altogether that different to English people if you just attempt to get into their mindset and think like a Frenchie. That will be when I feel fluent I think: when I finally think like a French person and express myself perfectly in their language…
Until next time,
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