Over the past week, I have been thinking about the difference between French and American friendships and families, due to a series of three incidents involving a terrace, a conversation at a fountain and the loss of a family member.

First, the terrace. My host family has a lovely one overlooking one of the open squares here in Aix, and I sometimes sit there before and after dinner to read, though for me “reading” sometimes translates to sitting with an open book in my hands, watching the world around me. What I’ve observed from (not) reading on the terrace is that Aix is a world of constantly opening and closing shutters and windows. I think it’s partly because people here are more likely to turn to natural solutions before buying a gadget like most Americans do right away, i.e. opening a window before turning on a fan or air conditioner in hot weather. Because of this, I’ve glimpsed the inner lives of some of Aix’s residents: how they look out the window while talking on the phone, how much they enjoy watching their city and even what kind of curtains they favor; it’s been an interesting look into a culture in which people are quite private even in public. I’ve come to find that most French people have the shutters closed in public, in accordance with what a professor said early in the program: French people won’t be as friendly to you as quickly as Americans will, but once they let you in, they’re a true friend.

On Friday night, I was out with my friends when I stumbled into a conversation with a French man near the fountain in front of the L’Hôtel de Ville. To sum up a very long and interesting conversation, he told me and my friends his point of view on the difference between French and American people: French people aren’t too overly concerned with work and productivity. They strive to enjoy life and savor the good things in it. That’s why they take two hour lunches and, according to this gentleman, that’s why he feels French friendships are more familial and eternal. Americans, in opposition, have a Protestant sense of work ethic and are overly concerned with efficiency, so we rush through our meals and our friendships aren’t always very genuine. He actually used the word “façade” to describe the way Americans act. And I can’t say I disagree with him.

On Saturday afternoon, sadly I found that a dear cousin of mine had passed away the night before. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to speak with my family since finding this out. In addition, many of my new friends here in Aix, both American and French, have been extremely sweet and comforting. I don’t claim to have any grand thesis statement summing up all of these observations this week. Frankly, I think it’ll take me a while to figure out how to feel about all of these things. But I do know that despite cultural differences and differences of expression, friendship is the same throughout the world.

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