Once I got past my initial infatuation with the beauty of France, I became aware of the culture. The first thing that hit me (almost!) was a motocyclette, a little motorcycle used for transportation. There are no restrictions – people ride them on the sidewalk and zip by, or into, you. As if trying to dodge little motocyclettes wasn’t enough, we also had to dodge dog poop which lined the sidewalks.
Apparently, there aren’t any laws about that either. I had not expected that behavior from the classy French.
Another part of the French culture that was hard to adjust to were the notorious French eating habits. Being an American, I like to be able to snack and have access to food whenever I want. The French see it differently. Our host-parents barely had anything in their refrigerator. Breakfast was a fresh baguette, and if I was lucky, fruit on the side. Many say a fresh baguette is delicious, but so are frozen waffles and they actually fill me up! Lunch was France’s saving grace. It is the only meal where it is acceptable to eat a lot. My host family would make my roommates and me a delicious lunch every day. Sometimes a sandwich, other times couscous mixed with vegetables and pork. But, when we were hungry from walking around all day, at night we would pig out on Nutella (France’s finest spread) and ice pops. We always did this before our host-parents got home for fear for they’d see us for who we really were, snack-loving American teenagers.
Some say that the food in France beats American food, but in service, France loses. French restaurants make the best part about France – the food – difficult to attain. When you think about most restaurants in America, you think unlimited water and napkins, comfortable seating, big portions requiring “doggy bags”, and sometimes even a complimentary basket of bread. In France, the tables are small. A group of six was hard to accommodate. The food took forever to come and we would be starving while waiting. Sometimes we did get a few pieces of bread, but it came at the same time as our food. What was the point? For my friend Kate, it was a snack for later stuffed in her purse. It was also difficult to get a carafe of water: vases with about 16 ounces of water. Getting a second one was nearly impossible. My friends and I once went around the table stating why we deserved the remaining water. If I was really thirsty, and didn’t win, I would have to spend about four euros (like five dollars) on a drink. That would come right away. To top it off, the portions were small. The best service I experienced was at ice cream stands like Pinocchio because they were huge tourist attractions. They would let me essayer (try) all the flavors I wanted.
What I can conclude from my trip is that the French will never change and neither will Americans. As they say in France, “C’est la vie!” and I have plenty more cultures to see.