I have already been in France for 6 weeks! I feel like I am adjusting pretty well so far; it helps that I have a support network here in France. Here is a little reflection about what I really enjoy and don’t enjoy about France, and what I miss about Minnesota.
Things France does well:
- Bread! With a boulangerie (bakery) on every street corner, the only problem is trying to not eat too much of the fluffy stuff. It is usually only 1 euro for a whole baguette. In the same vein, great wine and cheese are relatively inexpensive here too.
- Public transportation. It is possible to get almost anywhere without a car here, and the buses come often enough during the day that one doesn’t have to plan that hard to catch them. This past summer I lived in a suburb of Chicago and without a car, I would have been stranded. My poor roommate from Brazil had to depend on me if she wanted to go anywhere because the public transportation was so bad. An equivalent Parisian suburb is much better connected. The only real complaint I have is about the public transportation trip planning application, RATP, which has led me astray on multiple occasions.
- Cafes. All the street corners that are not home to boulongeries are housing little adorable cafes. Most have outside seating with seats facing the street, all the better for people watching. Even in the winter, they put out heating lamps so that people can still sit outside. Cyril and I often meet friends at cafes for a casual drink before comedy shows and movies or just because:)
- Meals. French meals are long and luxurious at restaurants and when sharing with friends and family. They really take time to enjoy their food and company. First, before the meal, there is the aperitif, which is when everyone sits down in the living room and has a drink with a light snack like nuts or chips or charcuterie (cured meat). Then at the dinner table, there is usually a first course, followed by the main dish. After that, comes the bread with the smelly cheese, and then dessert (fruit is considered a dessert here, so it isn’t always a sweet). After dessert, people drink coffee. Somehow French people stay skinny though!
- Les bisous. When greeting and saying goodbye to a friend or a meeting a friend-of-a-friend it is common to faire des bisous, which is when you kiss each other on the cheeks. More accurately, you usually just touch cheeks and make a kissing noise. The number of kisses depends on the region of France. In Paris, it is 2 (one on each cheek) and in the south it is 3. I think it is a very charming way to say hello and goodbye to someone!
- Pizza. French pizza is awesome. One normal sized pizza serves one person, because the crust is very thin. Four cheese french pizza usually has goat, emmental, mozzarela, and blue cheese- how amazing is that? It is great because it combines the greatness of American and Italian pizza. It is complex like American pizza with the high quality, fresh ingredients of Italian pizza. Italian pizza is too simple, with usually just 3 ingredients.
Things that I am having trouble accepting about France:
- The smoking culture. It is unbelievable how many people smoke here! It seems like I am constantly breathing in second hand smoke in public places.
My next complaint is something that 95% of people wouldn’t even notice, but as a plant lover, it is my pet peeve. Pollarding, the way that they prune trees here, is horrendous. In pollarding, the tops of the trees are cut off, and then every year or two from then on, the sticks that grow out of the trees’ stumpy branches are also cut off. Many municipalities hire people to do it. It is so ugly and sad that it literally hurts me. And it is bad for the trees too. The Parisian municipality has stopped doing it to the new trees that they plant, but once something is pollarded, it needs to continue to be pruned that way. Of course, pollarding’s fiercest proponents are the people that do it for a living.I am all for pruning trees when they need to be pruned and when it is done the correct way. But this is like surgeons going around giving unnecessary amputations, and even worse, doing a shitty job of it. As fall progresses, I notice it more and more because without their leaves, the trees’ twisted, unnatural architecture is exposed.Whew! I needed to get that off of my chest.
- Bureaucracy. No wonder the word is French in origin. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! In my experience, everything has to be mailed by snail mail, and they ask for a confusing combination of original documents and photocopies, and then it takes a long time for them to process everything. Italy is also famous for its bureaucracy, but I was a little bit sheltered when I studied abroad in Florence, because my study abroad program helped us out a lot.
Things that I miss about Minnesota:
- Fall. The leaves change color here too, but the culture of fall is stronger in the Midwest. Minnesotans milk it for all that it’s worth because we are forced to hunker down and hibernate for the winter afterwards. I miss football games outside, pumpkin carving, Halloween mania, gathering squash from the family garden, corn mazes, and apple pie. I even miss hearing people obsess about pumpkin spice! Halloween isn’t a french tradition at all, but it has become more popular in recent years. Cyril and I had a small Halloween get together and half the people dressed up- the half that had lived in the US for at least a semester of college:) Wrestling season is starting in Minnesota, and I wish I could be there to watch my brothers duke it out for the Gophers. But the worst is that I am going to miss Thanksgiving with my family:(
- Dressing casually. I don’t wear sweatpants/ yoga pants/ t shirts in public. The French are dressier than Americans, and I am trying hard not to stand out, so goodbye yoga pants! But sometimes a girl just wants to be comfy!
- Communicating easily. Doing simple things like going to the post office are harder here. I have to mentally prepare myself and plan what I am going to say. Then of course, they ask me a question that I wasn’t expecting and that throws me off! Talking on the phone is even worse. But it is all a learning experience, and my french is improving tremendously.
- Most of all I miss my family and friends! So don’t hesitate to get in touch via facetime, skype, or google hangout!