May 4, 2012 by toheaveninahooptie
Well people, I did it. I’m a European traveler, even if I don’t believe it myself. My two weeks in France (my part of the exchange), were in every imaginable way completely perfect. Does this mean there weren’t things I would change? No. A flushing toilet and either warmer weather or the knowledge to come adequately packed for winter weather would have been nice, but in no way did any small irks abate the wonderful experience I had. I’m not going to go into day by day detail for two reasons: 1. I couldn’t remember my day to day schedule even if I tried and 2. It isn’t the plot of my life that matters, it’s the way my experiences affect me. Like I said before, I loved it. All of it. It was a strange sort of vacation. Possibly this is how exchanges are supposed to seem, but I felt like I hadn’t left for vacation, but simply kept living my usual life in a new country. I didn’t feel like a tourist, and while I didn’t feel like a citizen of France either, I still could not deny the fact that life in France seemed normal. (And I don’t mean normal in the sense that it wasn’t amazing, I mean normal in the sense that I felt at home). I woke up, complained about how cold it was, and went to school. I got used to taking a train to school, got used to walking, got used to cheese, bread, and any other carb ever consumed. I easily and quickly assimilated to life in France, the good and the bad.
While I felt like I was just living out a happy life in France, there were still the unavoidable cultural differences that pleasantly surprised me. (And I mean cultural differences, not things like the French eating dinner at 8:00). For one, their culture isn’t rushed nearly as much as ours. If they’re late, then they’re late. To the French, being late does not mean hurry out the door looking like a slob and not taking 10 minutes to eat a little breakfast. The people aren’t hurriedly rushing on and off the train with the soul focus of getting to point B, they really take time to be laid back and calm. Another difference is how lax they are about drinking, and how this has probably given them the advantage of a mature teenage generation. Parents in France accept drinking and mildly encourage it. I was included in champagne at every nice dinner and family party, and I never once witnessed a French drunk person. Antoine’s mom went out of town over night fully aware that he was having a party, and gave him full access to the house’s alcohol as well as supplementing it with extra beer. When the Americans saw the plethora of accessible booze, they, not surprisingly, drank for the sake of getting drunk. The French, on the other hand, drank for the sake of “knocking off the edge” as one might say, and stopped drinking after one or two beers. Drinking wasn’t the cool thing to do, nor was it the entire center of the party. It was so strange for me to go to a party where alcohol was present but not the entire excitement of the night. So that leads me to my third cultural discovery: if the excitement of the night wasn’t drinking, it was sex. American teens usually start drinking around 16ish, and hold drinking as their “I’m cool” vice until about 21, French seem to do the same with sex. They said it was typical to start having sex around 15 or 16, and to them it was not any sort of big deal. Obviously they don’t care about kissing (it’s how they greet anyone they’ve known for over 2 seconds), and sex isn’t much more important to them than kissing. Granted, they have been raised in a culture that has no concept of a personal bubble and have been surrounded by “touchy, feely” type people their entire lives, but it was still shocking to see how relaxed they were about sex! In America, the only people that are having sex at such a young age are the teens that began their night by drinking their livers into failure. Of course there are couples that begin having sex after dating for a while, but for the most part sex is still regarded as a no-no until one is officially in College. It was different to see such relaxation about sex, but hey it must have been different for them to see us praising alcohol like it was manna.
As far as the language deal goes, sadly it was majority English. I don’t think this was because Antoine didn’t think I could speak French or because I couldn’t understand it. It seemed to me that Antoine just wanted to practice his English. Also, Antoine and I’s relationship had been formed in English, so it would have been slightly strange to switch languages the second time I saw him. I was somewhat disappointed in this, but in two weeks in France you better bet I still learned beaucoup de francais. I’m now super motivated to learn French seriously. I’m pretty sure I’m going to double major in Sciences and French. During College I plan to do as many study abroad programs as possible and visit France during Summers too, hopefully. I’ve been studying the language for three years now, and I feel like I should have more to show for it. I’m very excited to get serious about my French education in college. I think being fluent in two languages will not only be beneficial for the workplace (I have a whole new range of possibilities if I add French to my resume), but also necessary for life. I don’t want to go through life knowing that I could only learn one culture because I only knew one language. I don’t expect to learn every language, (I really don’t have plans to learn anything other than French and maybe Spanish), but I at least want one fluent second language in order to give myself one fluent second culture. I want to live in France for an extended period of time at some point in my life, and knowing the language might help. I’m thinking that after college, I’ll move to France for one or two years to teach English or possibly be an English tour guide. Hell, I’d do anything I could as long as I would be employed in France. Being a wife is not excluded from my job search either, just to add ;). No matter if I live in France or not, or if I continue learning the language or not, I will still be forever blessed with my memories from my four perfect weeks with Antoine. I will never forget living in France for two weeks and being given the average experiences of a French teenager. I can never unlearn the lessons this exchange taught me about how humans will interact with out spoken words. Even if I never set foot in Europe again, I have been blessed with memories and experiences that many go a lifetime without. I am so thankful, from the bottom of my heart, for everything this exchange has given me. It was truly a wonderful experience filled with wonderful people and a wonderful country. I can not thank my parents enough for providing me with this once in a life time trip and I can never thank God enough for giving me such generous parents.
Now, to be a good blogger I feel like this requires a shit ton of pictures, but tough luck. Hannah, if you’re reading this in the future (maybe with your French mari? ;), every picture you took is on facebook. Mom, if you’re reading this in the future, there is an old website called facebook that has pictures from this trip. Don’t worry, Hannah should be able to teach you how to find them :P. If you’re reading this in the present and want pictures, then tough luck for you as well. That means you’re the first person who has read my blog without being told, and because I still don’t know if people like you exist, I don’t feel compelled to put up pictures “just in case”. So, yeah that’s it.