If last week was hot and sunny, this week was the complete opposite with a cold and rainy backdrop to my Parisian adventures. Thankfully my European Integration seminar that all international students take took up most of my time so I wasn’t sitting inside on the internet all week. Classes officially started this week, but last week all the international students got to meet each other and have been learning about Paris, Europe, and dealing with the French.
Learning About the French
The one cultural difference I really knew about before I came to France was smiling and that the French never smile. Or rather, you’re not supposed to. In the U.S., we smile about everything. In Texas, we say hello to complete strangers in the street. Why? We see it as polite. The French see it as artificial. They think “why should I smile at you? I don’t know you. I don’t have anything to smile about.” So the number one rule we were taught was not to smile because it’s rude. However, it’s completely ok to stare at people. In the States we’re taught it’s rude to stare, in fact I find it rather awkward. Not here. In the metro it’s not uncommon to look up and see someone staring at you. Apparently it’s supposed to be flattering. I still think it’s awkward. They also told us to flirt with the French as it is not seen in a sexual context, but more as a way to flatter someone. The term our professor used was “seduction”, which doesn’t mean the same thing it does in english. To seduce someone is to enchant them. So what i’ve learned about the French is that I should seduce them, flirt, and stare, but never smile. OK, PARIS.
Our professor also told (read: scolded) us about social things we (read: Americans), should be aware of. She explained how rude it was to have one hand underneath the table, and when someone asked why, our professor responded “because.” Thanks for the explanation. It’s also considered rude if you put your bread on your plate. It’s actually supposed to lie on the table and you never ask for butter. We also learned how the French are very private people. You don’t ask for someone’s name if you meet them on the street, and you shouldn’t introduce someone you know to your friend like you would in the States. “Oh this is my friend, Pierre.” Never happens. The thought is that if people want you to know their name, they’ll tell you, otherwise they won’t. You also shouldn’t expect a French person to show you their home when you visit. It’s interesting how private they are about their homes and yet the people across the street from us leave their windows wide open all the time. You’re also not supposed to offer someone something to drink until about 15 minutes of conversation. It’s become a joke among the International students when we visit each others apartments, “We haven’t talked for long enough, I can’t offer you a drink.They also cut in line all the time. There is no social order, and it’s almost applauded when someone has the guts to just cut in line. There’s also no such thing as customer service according to our professor. You aren’t supposed to interrupt salespeople if they’re talking. You’re considered bothersome. And apparently if you’re not pleased they’ll just tell you to leave the store. I have a theory every barista ever is French.
An International Affair
Thankfully it’s not just Americans that feel like this Parisian lifestyle is a bit preposterous. I’ve been getting to know students from China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, India, England, Ireland, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Canada. It’s so international with so many different view points. There’s also some kids from USC, Boston College, University of Wisconsin, and University of Illinois although I haven’t hung out with them as much. It’s a strange atmosphere though because my host university is a “Grande École”, which is the equivalent of an Ivy League School in the states and most of France’s top business men and politicians attend these schools. So our program is a Masters Program and the majority of the people in the program are 23-25 years old, some of them are even in their thirties. So often I’ve been told “oh you’re still a baby!” Excuse me. I am only two years younger than many students here and I’m able to purchase alcohol in every country where alcohol is legal. They have a bit of a point though. I’ve been legally able to drink for less than a year and many of these students have been legally able to drink for 6-8 years. One of the Germans said “14-16 were the worst years of my life” because they had just been exposed to a drinking culture at a very early age. I don’t think I was even able to see certain movies when I was 14 and here they were partying. I know they’re not joking because at the school bar they considered their four pints of beer a “drink to wind down the day.” But to be fair they’re 25 year old German men. I actually feel like I should have studied abroad in Germany. I love every German I meet in this exchange. They’re so fun, and so similar to my personality that I think I would have fit in much better in Berlin or Munich than in Paris. Oh well, c’est la vie.
Yaneli, my roommate, and I have also formed a close friendship with the Danish. They’re so funny, and speak so fast in English our conversations flow so naturally. It’s so interesting to learn about their culture as well. We all went dancing one night and one of the Danes wouldn’t dance because in Denmark it’s considered unmanly for men to dance unless it’s with a woman. We also asked them what their favorite food to eat was Danish Rye Bread. I had to google it because I still didn’t understand what was so special about Danish bread. Even the wikipedia page was like “yeah this is some weird bread the Danish eat.” But it must be good because they said it was the only food they really missed form back home.
The Aussies are basically like all my friends back home and I love them. They are so laid back and completely understand how I feel about Paris as an American. The girls we’ve made friends with are super fashionable and very fun to hangout with. They’re also 24 and 25, so they’re almost like big sisters to me. They give me career and life advice, including how I should cut my hair and how I need to stay single for as long as possible. They’re a slightly bad influence when it comes to spending because they’re always discussing buying Burberry coats or Celine purses, but as long as I refrain it’s fun to watch them splurge. They are MBA students after all.
The Canadians are just weird, but in a good way. I don’t even know how to explain it. They look like us, they kind of sound like us, but they’re are just so weird. They try to tell us about American politics and get angry with us about gun policies as if we were the ones who made the laws. We like to remind them that they’re responsible for Justin Bieber and Nickelback. However, even with their criticisms about America, they’re still very fun to hang out with and are always trying to find something to do. They’re also really fun to make fun of.
And everyone here is beautiful. Many of the men are tall, blonde and tan and look like they’ve popped out of a Ralph Lauren ad. Every girl in the exchange program looks like a Zara model and i’m over here in my underarmour leggings. It’s weird though because they think Yaneli and I look exotic and we were told to play up our “latina vibe.” I don’t think I’m cool enough to do that.
Like I said, the weather has been pretty bad here but we’ve still tried our best attempt at taking advantage of Paris. After class one evening I got to have dinner with a UT and UBC alumni and it was so fun to catch up and hear how she felt about studying in Paris, and what life is like three years after graduation. It was so nice to talk to someone who knew the same things I did, mostly so we could complain about the same things. Other days the international students have hung out at the cafes around campus , but the week left little time to do much else. This weekend a few of us visited the Centre Pompidou, which is the museum of Modern Art in Paris. I’m not a big Modern Art fan, but I saw some Warhol pieces that I was really excited about and afterwards we tried some escargot. It was actually pretty decent and tasted more like garlic than anything else. Some of the French students that took a semester in Austin took us out to brunch at this “bobo” restaurant. “Bobo” means Bourgeois Boheme and is the French term for a high income hipster. We also went to an artificial park in Paris that reminded me of Central Park, with people running and children playing catch or couples just laying out in the sun. It was a really cool place that we probably wouldn’t have found in any of our city guides. It actually reminded me a lot of Washington with all the green plants, the cool air, and just a little bit of sunshine. It was nice to have a familiar feeling. Then the final night before classes a bunch of us gathered on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower to just hang out. It began to rain and was really cold the later we got into the night but we had fun laughing at and with each other.
I start my classes this week so I’m sure I’ll be busy (or not?) adjusting to those but hopefully I’ll have something to report about what happens on the weekend. See pictures below from my past two weeks in Paris!
The Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs Elysees
Macaroons at Laduree, the famous French patisserie
View of the Eiffel Tower from Montemarte
Sacre Coeur, famous from the French movie Amelie and the site of an amazing view of all of Paris
A piece by Andy Warhol at the Centre Pompidou.