In 2017, I was lucky enough to become a Spanish language assistant in France
I don't think there was a more practical way to improve my French
, So you can imagine how excited I was. Visiting such an interesting country while growing professionally is a golden opportunity.
However, even though I was happy, I couldn't help but feel uneasy. So far, all my knowledge about French culture was theoretical
, meaning, I only knew what I had read about in books. What if the cultural difference
made me do a mistake? Could I ruin the experience just by not adapting to certain customs of this country?
In the end, everything went well.
I learned many things and made connections with students, professors, and strangers from all over the world, who eventually became my friends
. Of course, I noticed some differences in the process. Differences that, far from making me feel like an outsider, reminded me how great diversity is.
I'd like to share some of my observations with you. These are 5 interesting aspects about France from a Latina's perspective.
1. They are definitely quieter
If you are from Latin America, I'm sure you can do the following exercise with me: Imagine you are on your way to somewhere. You have to take a bus, guagua, camioneta, buseta, colectivo, or whatever term is used in your country for this means of transportation. When you get on, what do you hear?
In Venezuela, you would hear the driver's favorite music blaring, the co-driver's voice inviting passengers to get on the bus, the horns of other cars desperate to move forward in traffic, the sound of passengers' voices, and any number of other sounds that are part of the urban environment of big cities like Caracas.
Quite the opposite of what you would hear on a bus in France. There is no music, no one invites you to get on, and normally, the passengers are quite quiet. You can barely hear the customary “Bonjour”, which is offered to the driver every time someone gets on the bus.
Interesting, isn't it? Even in places you would expect it to be noisy, such as a school canteen at lunchtime, the laughter, and voices are subdued.
It seems that the French really enjoy things at a lower volume, at least in public spaces.
2. They are politically active
Don't be surprised if in some casual conversation with your Host Family
, a topic of current French politics comes up. The French always seem to be well-informed about these matters
, and it is quite common to hear them express their approval or disagreement with new laws, reforms, or government regulations.
My break periods between classes were usually spent in the teachers' lounge. Back then I read many pamphlets, communiqués, and invitations to events, issued by labor unions and groups of various political persuasions.
The topics were varied, they could talk about some new government initiative affecting teachers, or about teachers' demands to improve their work situation. The point is that here or there they were always discussing political or economic issues. Strikes and protests were also quite frequent. I even saw some students exercising some kind of political activism.
One could expect nothing less from the country with one of the most famous and influential revolutions in history.
3. They dress fashionably
I must confess, I don't know much about fashion. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it, and I'm definitely not very good at following trends. However, even for someone like me, it was hard to ignore the beauty of the French outfits. The hallways of the high school where I worked felt like a runway.
I couldn't help but admire how elegant and understated the outfits were. Some shoes didn't look very practical for a busy day of classes, but who thinks about comfort when you look so chic.
Although I learned very little about dressing in the French style, I really enjoyed being in one of the world's fashion centers.
4. They are less open to making friends spontaneously
In my country, it is normal to start a conversation out of the blue with some complete stranger at the supermarket, bus stop or bank line. For the French, this is not so common.
I imagined that it was only enough to be in France to have someone to practice the language with, that anyone on the street could start a conversation with me and that every day there would be different topics of conversation that would help me enrich my vocabulary.
The fact is that the French are quite reserved. They appreciate their personal space very much and are not usually willing to initiate spontaneous conversations with people they do not know. However, in every place I went, I was always well greeted after being formally introduced. In those contexts, people were always very friendly and willing to talk to me.
As an Au Pair,
you will certainly have many opportunities to speak with your Host Family in their language. If that is not the case, you can use different free websites that help you locate people near you interested in doing a language exchange.
5. Get ready to eat oysters at Christmastime
This was one of the biggest surprises I had. I like oysters, but I had never thought of them as a Christmas meal.
In France, it is common to serve seafood as a starter for Christmas dinner. They also typically have foie gras, and baked turkey as the main course.
Next comes the typical cheese platter, and finally the traditional bûche de Noël is served for dessert. Their love for wine is not just a cliché. Adults regularly accompany their meals with this drink, and Christmas dinner is no exception.
During your stay, if you want to feel a little at home, you can also prepare some typical dishes from your country to offer to your Host Family. They will surely love it.
I hope I have helped you to learn a little more about French culture. Remember, this was just my point of view. You will most likely discover many other interesting things during your stay.
Don't forget to visit our Wiki
for more information about the Au Pair program.