The first thing I was told when I showed up at the Parisian study abroad office soaking wet from the rain (after being lost for at least 30 minutes) was that “everything is different in France”.
“Great, that’s fantastic,” I thought with some bitter sarcasm that dripping hair and wet jeans cause an already jet-lagged person.
I figured that there would be some cultural differences and that everyone would be speaking a different language than me, but there were definitely some differences when I arrived that I wasn’t expecting. The most simple things became kind of a daily struggle for Rachael and I. For example, after enduring our first day of stress (being locked out and lost), we found that when we went to leave in the morning we couldn’t figure out how to open the front door to our apartment complex. There was no simple push bar or modern fixture, like my apartment building back home had had, and the two of us felt quite silly as we stood in the empty lobby trying to figure out how to exit the building. Eventually we ended up uprooting the entire door and shoving it open. We do this daily now (though we are still pretty sure there has to be an easier way to do it that we’re just not getting).
Another pretty significant difference that I am getting used to is the vastly different cooking style and food. French food is spectacular, so there isn’t much to complain about in terms of quality, but it is extremely different. All the ingredients are fresh! Madame grocery shops one every other day, putting my once-a-week trip to the store to shame, and she uses fruits and vegetables in vastly different ways in her cooking. Fruit is a treat here! Each night at dinner we have pineapple, watermelon, or some other brightly colored fruit for dessert. Though I truly detest most vegetables at home, Madame has not prepared any vegetables that I feel the need to turn down. She uses seasonings and oils to make her vegetables quite tasty, whereas at home I’ve mostly cooked vegetables with salt, butter, or simply steam them (not too much flavor there).
The most unique and unexpected food experience so far occurred last night, when our class was recommended a hole-in-the-wall French Mexican restaurant near the Republique metro stop. We were intrigued and headed over. The food wasn’t your typical tex-mex meal, but still used Mexican elements like black beans and queso fresco, all will a very French twist (and beautiful presentation). I would highly recommend that people visiting France don’t get too caught up in eating only traditionally “French” food, because honestly the French make pretty much every cuisine taste amazing!
The last cultural difference, and most problematic for our class, is that the French are quite quiet and reserved in public space. This starkly contrasts the American students, who, when together, are laughing loudly and shouting over one another. I like to think that we’re just a fun-loving culture, but we definitely get some strange looks on the metro when we break out in a fit of laughter, or start gossiping loudly. We’re working on it. After all, everything is different in France, and we’re just trying to mesh our culture with theirs!