Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for France and French Stuff

Bonjour, mes amis! Bienvenue! Today's topic is France and all things French.

I spent my junior year of college in Nantes, a city of about half a million people in western France. It's about two hours by train from Paris if you get the high-speed TGV line. 

Anyway, France was the first time that I really spread my wings. I was lucky enough to have had six years of full-time French before I got to college, and tested very well when I arrived. I majored in French and started taking level 300 classes as a freshman. Before you say, "That's so cool!", imagine having your teacher favor you over senior female French majors in the classroom. It took a little time for them to adjust to having a guy around--French is a female-dominated profession--but eventually they got used to me. 

By the time I got there I was close to being bilingual, and a year in France was just what needed to happen to push me over the edge. We were taught at the Institute of European Studies, and everything was in French--classes, papers, quizzes, tests--and we were not allowed to speak English at all during the school day. Outside of class, I lived with a French family who spoke no English. It was a challenge, and I was rather homesick, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It propelled me forward, and I went on to get a Masters in French. Since then all of my jobs have involved French in one way or another; it's been a tremendous career asset. 

A lot of Americans hate the French, and a lot of French people aren't fond of Americans, either. But I learned so much over there, not just about France and the French language, but about how to appreciate cultural differences. So I wanted to share a few things with you that I found interesting.

1) Getting around--French people don't even start behind the wheel until they are 18 or so, and cars, repairs, gas, insurance, and driving schools are a lot more expensive. Generally, French people take public transit and walk whenever they can, and their cities all have extensive public transit systems that are usually well-run and cheap to use. 

2) Astrology--I visited an astrology shop in France that was very close to the Institute, and began my "formal" astrological studies there. I bought a few French astrology books--I wish I still had them!--and did an astrological study of the students since all of their birthdays were made available. For example, there were few male students at my center, but almost all of them were fire signs. I was one of the few water-sign males they had. 

3) Money--Considered a taboo topic, it's much more polite to ask about someone's sex life than their financial situation. Tax evasion is considered a sport, and as such many people keep their blinds closed so their neighbors can't tell what kinds of high-priced items they have. 

4) Education--Overall, I like the French system better for K-12, and the US system better for universities. The French system teaches young children to think for themselves and analyze; talking to them is very interesting! But their system forces students to choose a career really young, and colleges are not liberal arts if you want to be a doctor, you go right to medical school, for example. But if you hate medical school you start over in college from scratch. 

5) Ego--France and America are in a dead heat in this respect. Both think they're the best countries on the planet, so there is no winner. 

6) Nukes--France's electricity costs 3 times as much as ours does, because they use nuclear power for much of their energy. They are excellent at nuclear technology; they routinely build these plants in other countries and have NEVER had a nuclear accident. 

I loved France so much that if it hadn't been for a certain redhead waiting for me back at school, I might have considered staying permanently! 

Generally speaking, French people do like Americans. They just don't do a good job of showing it. I had been in France two weeks before I felt brave enough to ask them. :)

Tune in tomorrow for my "G" post. Merci mille fois, chers lecteurs! 


  1. I know you miss it there, but I'm glad you came home! :)

  2. Me too, Jen. Me too! I can always go back to visit, but my home is here. :)