After spending a week here learning about the habitudes and culture, I've noticed many things we as Americans overlook on a daily basis. Before I left America, my chef friend Jean-Claude who is originally from France, gave me this bit of advice: "Everything you know about America, everything you do here, throw that out the window. Europe is a different world."

Needless to say, Jean-Claude is 100% right. And while I'll always be loyal to America, I do prefer a lot of their habits to ours. Here are some of the differences that I think make the French great.

1. Despite the stereotype that the French don't bathe, they are cleaner. How so? I need to list it out:

a. They don't eat processed food. They prefer things without dyes, chemicals.

b. They don’t wear as much makeup. Natural beauty is preferred here.

c. They don’t feel the need to show a lot of skin. It attracts the wrong attention.

d. They don’t waste. 
Trashbags here are 1/4 of the size of ours in America. The trashcan in my kitchen here is the size of a kleenex tissue box.
e. Oh, and they do bathe.

2. They are respectful and discreet.

eg. When walking into a store or to a market, it is vital to say “Bonjour” during the day and “Bonsoir” at night as a greeting. When you leave the restaurant or store, you must say Au Revoir. If you don’t, you don’t get service, and you offend people. That simple. Our professor for the Early Start Program here told us that he’s heard french people say “[Oh la la] the Americans are so rude. If he would only have said “Bonjour” I would have served him”. Common courtesy goes far here.

eg. When walking down the street the french carry a certain demeanor known as “reserve”. Whereas in America people speak loudly, here people speak very softly. The french children are raised to be very quiet and not attract attention. I’ve seen this first hand and it’s quite amazing.
3. They walk more slowly.

In America, because we are always busy, I think it becomes very difficult to appreciate the beauty around us. In France, they appreciate it everyday, and you can see it in their gait. Aix-en-Provence in particular, is a walking town which makes it even easier to take time and admire the beauty here, and cars are quite unnecessary.

4. They are organized.

In America, we say we eat “3 meals a day” but it’s just a fact that we graze throughout the day. Here, when they say they eat 3 meals a day, it’s true. Breakfast is always before 10am never after. Lunch is around 1pm. Dinner is at 7pm every night. While different families here have different variations, they keep their routine every day. Because many live in appartement style housing, it is common courtesy not to shower before 7am and not after 9pm.

5. They appreciate culture and art and history.

In Aix-en-Provence especially, home to Cezzane and Emile Zola and not to mention the original roman baths, it is vital to know your history. It’s everywhere. On the streets you’ll often see painters and musicians and even the occaisional flash mob. My host mother happens to be an unbelievably gifted painter and artist. It took me 5 days to realize that the paintings and sculptures in her home which I thought were purchased, were made by her. And not because that was her career, she actually worked in a hospital as a cardiac specialist. It is just her hobby. In fact, when I asked if she would ever sell her paintings and art she said she doesn’t think it’s commercial enough. Because of her insecurity with them, her oblivion to her gift, and her opinion that these paintings are not commercial enough, it makes me wonder how many of us too have gifts like this in America that we overlook. Maybe a lot of us could be great painters in America too, but how often do we trade the high-paced lifestyle and search for money for the arts instead?

They live in ancient houses. Aix-en-Provence was founded in 123 BC by Sextius Calvinus, a roman consul. The history here runs deep. Many houses have keys that look like they’re straight out of Hagrid’s house. Harry Potter reference, oopsss.

6. They conserve energy. They conserve water.

Electricity is both expensive and often unnecessary. You will never see the lights on in a French household during the day. It doesn’t happen, and the french think we are very bizarre for using lights during the day because the sun is out. This has been an adjustment for me (as you can imagine my mom would tell you I often forget to turn off the lights).

When one takes a shower, it is essential to turn off the water when washing with soap or putting shampoo on your head. Water is extremely expensive also, and the fewer minutes you spend wasting water the better off you are. This has been a huugge change for me because I take such long showers in America. This is a habit I hope to bring with me back to America to conserve energy.

When doing laundry, they only use a washer. Clothes are hung dry with clothes pins on drying racks on their terraces.

7. They all cook. And they cook well.

You’d be hardpressed to find someone in France that doesn’t know how to make a killer dinner complete with meat, veggies, cheese, and fruit. As you can imagine, this is one of my favorite things about France since I am quite the foodie. The market opens every day and people instead of taking a large trip to Costco for the week and buying everything in boxes and bags, they buy local produce and make several trips to the market during the week. It’s a beautiful way of life and I honestly feel much healthier here, despite the nights spent out….

Having breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a set time every day is good for your metabolism. Not to mention walking to town instead of driving. And they make sure to take their time eating too.

8. They prefer dogs. Just kidding… but they love dogs a lot and bring them everywhere.

In France dogs are part of the family and part of the streets. It’s common to carry your french bulldog as a baby and eat at a cafe with your dog on your lap. This poses the problem of droppings on the streets, but they are getting better about it.

9. People like this guy.
It’s so exciting to find people here who know American culture and love it. Also, this collection of records and cds is extremely impressive. I’ll take requests. I saw some classic Tom Petty albums and yes, David Bowie.

A la prochain!





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