April 27, 2015, by Rachel Bainbridge

Integrating into French culture

My year abroad so far has not only opened my eyes to cultural differences with France and Spain, but also many other countries all over the world thanks to the people I have met.

I can honestly say that, during the time I have spent in North West France, I have encountered few cultural challenges. I wouldn’t say that the cultural differences between Brittany and the UK were ‘challenging’, but rather interesting and exciting. Thanks to today’s multicultural societies, whether I find myself in a bar/restaurant, in an academic setting or simply walking around the town, I have rarely felt outside of my comfort zone. It is clear that there are numerous cultural differences (let’s take food and greetings for example), but as the UK is so close to France and I have visited the country several times, perhaps, like many Brits, I am accustomed to integrating into French culture.

In France, I am lucky to have been placed in a city where many schools ask for assistants. I have made friends who come from America, Australia, Latin America, Germany, Spain, Canada, and the list goes on… I love talking to them about their culture and traditions. We often compare stories from home and celebrate different festivals together such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

We have also taken part in Breton cultural celebrations such as a Fest Noz, which is a festival which takes place in the evening and involves Breton dancing in groups to live music. I was amazed by the sheer number of people of all ages, all of whom seemed to know almost every dance. Despite being neither Breton nor French, and repeatedly stepping on peoples’ toes every time a new dance started, I was warmly welcomed to join in with the dancing and merriment. These events bring whole communities together for an evening of cultural celebration. I think this is an exciting and unifying part of Breton heritage. I have found that in Brittany the people are very proud of their culture and heritage. Many road signs are written in both Breton and French, although few can speak the former language today. Food also plays an important role in cultural preservation. There are so many regional dishes and specialities that I have been introduced to since I arrived (all of which are delicious). Some of these are specific to Brittany whilst others are unique, Breton variations of French cuisine.

When I spent a month in Spain, I did struggle to adapt to a few minor cultural differences at first. Notably scheduled meal times and dealing with the hot climate. Waiting until 2.30 or 3 pm to eat lunch in Spain proved a bit difficult at first and the same is true for dinner which can be eaten around 10pm. The differences in our typical daily routines often came up in conversation and bemused my native Spanish friends. They often asked me how I could eat so early and not be hungry again by 10pm. I also tried my hardest to adopt the stereotypical Spanish siesta at midday. In 40 degree heat, however,  there was little else you could do!

Posted in Cultural challenges