April 27, 2015, by Rachel Bainbridge
I was born to be a Varoise
The subject of this blog, Cultural Challenges, is problematic because me and the culture of the South of France rub along very nicely together.
The main cultural aspect for France is, of course, the food. I have an Irish flatmate who desperately misses potatoes (honestly, I’m not making it up), but I on the other hand was born to indulge in French cuisine. It’s not just the beautifully buttery brioche, the fresh market produce and the cheesy deliciousness that is raclette, but also the way in which the French eat. Ever time we visit a new town, we always arrive after a long journey on public transport and ready for lunchtime. In England you might go for a quick sandwich or a panini at a push, but in France it’s perfectly acceptable and not at all expensive to order a steak. And you can guarantee it’ll be served with a delicious sauce and plenty of bread. In France you’ll be invited for dinner and you’ll be met with endless nibbles, a constantly refilled glass of wine/beer/all-too-often a strange provincial spirit even before the inevitably wonderful dinner is served. I’ve even come to appreciate the teeny-tiny coffees everyone drinks here (they’re cheaper and provide a more effective hit of caffeine). No cultural challenges here.
The only things that are notably different from home are little quirks which are sometimes striking but always very quaint. For example whenever someone is eating in the staffroom at school, anybody walking past them will say ‘bon appétit’, even if it’s just a biscuit or if they’re just passing through. Everyone says ‘bonjour’ and ‘bon journée’ without fail. Even the bus driver asks me how my days was and wishes me ‘un très bon après-midi, mademoiselle’.
Yes, it can be frustrating that everything closes between 12 and 2 and the cashiers in the supermarkets are frightfully slow (they would never still have their jobs if this was England). Even my Spanish friend thinks that things run slowly here. And you can never have a brief catch-up since the French don’t know how to say goodbye, so you spend hours and hours in brasseries and soirées always end at 4am.
But it’s all part of the chilled way of life in the South. No one’s in a hurry to do anything or to go anywhere and it’s the perfect atmosphere in which to spend a year abroad. It’s a way of life I’ve found very easy to adapt to – my parents joke that if I relax any more blood pressure will get so low my heart will just stop pumping. So in terms of cultural challenges, I think the most important realisations have been that it’s perfectly normal to say hello to people, if you don’t get something done today you can just get it done tomorrow and that there’s a whole world of cheese out there, and none of it has to be Cheddar!
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