I love lists!
Since this is my fourth time in France (wow fourth sounds like such a huge number) I wasn’t expecting many surprises. Granted, I had never attended university in France but I had lived here for a month.
I knew that French milk only had to be refrigerated after opening. I knew that people walked everywhere. I knew to expect amazingly delicious food.
However, when I got over here and immersed myself in daily life, there were some things that I just hadn’t expected.
1. My water
Before I studied abroad I attended a mandatory study abroad meeting which basically told me don’t piss off the natives and don’t drink the water.
I didn’t think that applied to a developed country like France so you can imagine my surprise when I filled up my cup with tap water and it looked like this:
Now, I mean, this isn’t a commentary of the state of tap water in France—I’m sure it’s drinkable. At first I thought it was the cup so I cleaned it obsessively-- then I realized that the hot water looked the same regardless of what cup I used.
The French love a clean supermarket and there’s a huge one not too far from where we live. To clean the floors, attendants ride around in this Zamboni-esque machine during working hours. It’s a sort of game to not get run over.
You think Chick-Fil-A being closed on Sunday is bad?
Try every single store. Now, if you search long enough you will find the odd boulongiere which is open Sunday morning but for the most part everything shuts down. It’s like being in the desert with the Israelites—if you don’t gather enough manna on Saturday you are just out of luck. It can be a problem if you forget and don’t stock up on food.
4. Room Size
I thought Raney (dorm building at my home university) rooms were small. They’ve got nothing on rooms in La Cotonne (which I live). The room is unbelievably small. Unbelievable because it is just big enough to function. With one person. If Michelle is in my room it becomes a Tetris game just trying to move around.
My bathroom is about the size of an airplane bathroom—with a shower. I didn’t know you could make a bathroom that small. It works, don’t get me wrong, but it has its inconveniences. Like just washing your hands in the sink and accidentally backing into the shower faucet and turning on the shower.
Two things surprised me about classes in France. To begin with, their intensity surprised. Every single morning at 8:30 I have class for three hours.
Three straight hours of French.
It can be difficult to pay attention for the entire time. It also sucks getting up early every single morning. Two afternoons a week I have afternoon class—History of Art on Tuesdays and Survey of Contemporary France on Wednesdays.
Now, besides the fact I do have class every day this semester is kind of a vacation. I have nowhere near the amount of homework I normally have at Hendrix. It’s a very nice break.
6. Class Time
The other thing that really surprised me about classes was the timing. You can’t be late, but no one is really on time. One morning, at exactly 8:30, there were exactly two students, including myself. No teacher. Granted, she probably arrived at 8:31 but the rest of the students took a little bit longer. I’m kind of obsessive about being on time so this is a hard concept for me to grasp.
7. Price of Alcohol
I knew alcohol would be cheap over here, it just didn’t hit me how cheap until I wandered down the wine aisle in our local supermarket.
That bottle of wine was less than 3 euros. What’s funny is that every time I bring that up to a European they are always like ‘oh Spain has the cheapest wine, France isn’t that cheap!’ Then I tell them about the wine prices in the US.
St. Etienne is not a tourist town. Which is a good thing, since I really wanted to immerse myself in French culture and language.
However, this also means that the locals aren’t used to hearing English. Or at least that’s my explanation for all the stares and weird looks we get when we speak English out and about.
That’s a good thing, though. Recently I was in Lyon with friends (blog post to follow!) and when the waiters heard us speaking English they automatically spoke English to us, which isn’t the best thing when you are trying to learn French.
I’m loving this weather! It has been really bipolar. When I first got here it got really cold all of the sudden and we had a week or two where the high was in the low 60s. Now, suddenly, it’s warming up. Warming up meaning the high is in the 70s. Considering the heat I left at home in Arkansas, this was a nice surprise. And St. Etienne is supposed to get a lot of snow in the winter, which I am excited about!
10. Language Barrier
I know, it sounds stupid, right? After all, how could I have not been prepared for a language barrier when I set off to live four months in a foreign country?
But I never thought it would be this big of a barrier. You see, if I’m back at Hendrix, sitting at my desk in French class filling out a worksheet I know that the subjunctive follows expressions of necessity. I can properly (for the most part) use direct and indirect objects. I can use pronouns in their proper place.
However, when someone rattles off a phrase in French and then stares at me wanting a response, everything I ever even thought I knew flies far away and I’m left there replying in broken French. It can be intimidating speaking in French even if theoretically I know how to respond.
If people speak slow and enunciate I'm good, but that's not how most people talk in everyday conversation.
Well there you go! 10 things that I did not expect in the wonderful country of France. Stay tuned to hear about my adventures in Lyon, France!
Thanks for reading!