10 Things I Discovered When Living in France
Aside from learning a new language, one of the reasons why Mariela Gomez Meza started studying French back in 2009, was to get to know more about France's culture and history.
Mariela went to do a French immersion course at the Accent Francais language school last year and not only was she able to learn some things about France's lifestyle, she also got to enjoy an incredible 6 weeks in Montpellier.
Read more about the 10 things that either differ significantly from life in the US or challenged Mariela's knowledge about France:
1. They eat cheese in France, lots of it!
I was aware that France produces hundreds of types of cheese and French love it, but I didn't realize they eat it basically everyday, at the end of the main meal. It is normal to have an assortment of at least 3-4 different (really good) cheeses after you've had your main course, either in lieu of dessert or along with it. Since I consider myself a mouse at heart, I was in heaven.
2. Sundays in France are for family
During my immersion I stayed with a French family (my host family or ma famille d'accueil) and soon enough I discovered that the entire family (parents, children and grandchildren) gets together for lunch every Sunday. These gatherings include plenty of food and a lot of time is spent at the table, where everyone shares stories from their week.This reminded me of life in Latin America, where I’m originally from, as that is very common there as well.
3. French actually like the English language
Although there are sticklers that want people to speak French only, I found that many French actually enjoy learning and speaking English. In fact, meetup groups to practice the language are very common. Thanks to globalism, some English words have also become part of their vocabulary.
Hence, it’s not unusual to hear the expression "c'est cool!" in the cutest French accent, among young and middle-aged people alike. They have even adopted some English words and incorporated them into their language, with slight changes, to take a new meaning. For instance, they use the word "relooking" to refer to a style makeover. I must admit I thought this one was kind of odd, though.
4. French cuisine is not only about taste
That's right, French food is not only delicious but it's also good looking. Their dishes are presented in such a beautiful way that you'd think a food stylist is always hiding in the kitchen to leave them photo shoot- ready. This applies to food made at home too: my host mother prepared dishes on a daily basis that looked like those featured in culinary magazines. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean they were quite elaborated. On the contrary, they were simple, yet gorgeous...and when you tried them, oh la la, they were just superb.
5. French greet with several kisses
It is customary to greet friends and acquaintances with kisses on the cheek. Now, the number of kisses will depend on the familiarity with others as well as the region you’re in. For example, in Paris they will greet you with 2 or 4 kisses, the latter reserved for family and close friends. In the south of France, however, the standard is 3 kisses. The practice is also common among men that are close to each other.
6. Less is more in France
This applies to many French staples, including their cuisine (see number 4) and their fashion. Certainly, the French master the art of simplicity and minimalism like no one else. On that note, it was refreshing to see so many women of all ages embrace their beauty by wearing little or no make up at all. I also fell in love with their subtle elegance.
7. Tipping is at your discretion
Unlike Americans that see it as something mandatory, French will just tip restaurant staff when they consider they have done a really good job and, when they do so, they will only leave a modest amount (usually, no more than a couple of euros). It must also be mentioned that their standards for what they expect as great customer service is also very different from the US.
8. French people do not depend mostly on cars
Although many do own cars, the French prefer other means of transportation for their daily activities. From walking or biking to taking public transportation (bus, tram or train), they choose to be active. For the most part, their urban areas have a good infrastructure that enables those habits, even for people that live in the suburbs.
9. Smoking is still very common in France
This really surprised me because I thought smoking was not fashionable anymore everywhere. Apparently, not in France! The most shocking was to see teenagers having a cigarette as early as 8 am, while waiting for the tram to arrive. According to one of my teachers, they do it then because at school they are not allowed to smoke.
10. What is the most French thing ever?
The first things that come to your mind may be French vanilla or French toast, but neither one qualifies as such. The answer to this question, however, depends on who you ask. Responses range from cheese and wine to croissants and crème brûlée to riots and strikes. I liked one of my teachers' top 3, though: la Tour Eiffel, la baguette and...Johnny Hallyday! He was very much loved by the French indeed, as they considered him a national monument.
I can certainly say that the experience of learning a language will not be complete without immersing yourself in the culture. It has definitely given me a whole new perspective about learning French and it has triggered my eagerness to discover more about France.
By Mariela Gomez Meza
Are you interested in visting, working or studying in France? The following pages will help you arrange an experience