La Culture Francaise MAG

By Unknown, Unknown, Unknown

   I spent three weeks with a host family during a summer cultural exchange inFrance. It was a great way to see the country, hear the language, and observe theculture. More important than learning about France, though, I learned aboutmyself. I used to define myself as an average, English-speaking American. Wheneverything American was gone and my vocabulary was limited, I learned to separatethe essence of who I am from the world around me.

Two years after thatfirst summer experience, I boarded a plane in the fall bound for France, my homefor the next four months. I was going to be staying with the same family I hadvisited, so I knew what faces would be waiting for me. I did not know what schoolwas going to be like, though, and I was worried that although one family inFrance welcomed me, the rest of the people might not.

The French have areputation for being dirty and rude. They are also known for having a strict andchallenging educational system. I did not want to meet rude classmates and meanteachers. I would have never decided to go to France if I had seriously thoughtthese stereotypes were completely true, of course, but I still worried that theremight be some truth to the rumors.

The first stereotype I found to befalse was the perception that French people are dirty. I do remember being on abus next to a man who smelled like he had never encountered a bar of soap, butother than that, I never met anyone who didn't bathe on a regular basis.

I did notice that French women don't wear as much make-up as Americanwomen. Like their American counterparts, French women put make-up on in themorning, but in general, they use more natural colors. It is unheard of for aFrench girl to put on make-up on the way to school, and girls never go in thebathroom at school to retouch their make-up. In fact, there were no mirrors inmany of the school bathrooms.

I also learned fairly quickly that Frenchpeople are not rude. My classmates and teachers not only welcomed me into theirlives, they embraced me and my American culture. The French are very critical ofthe way the United States is run, but they did not criticize me for what they sawas flaws in America. They often asked about my views on the death penalty and theElectoral College, two things with which many French people disagree. I canunderstand why Europeans would be critical of Americans, since Europeans went tothe New World to separate themselves from their countries of birth. This criticaleye on America has been passed down for hundreds of years, so I did not take itpersonally. I was teased most about being American during the presidentialelection when Florida was having trouble counting the ballots, and had to explainthat I did not cause the problem, and there was nothing I could do to solve it. Irarely met people who were rude. Many people told me I changed their view of whatan "American" is.

In France, people are very close. At myschool, about 30 students were in each class. Although they change courses andteachers, this group of students stays together for the whole year in all theircourses. When people meet, it is typical for them to kiss each other on the cheektwo, three or four times (depending on which city they are in). People rarelyisolate themselves by surrounding themselves in a world of technology. Whenpeople do use a computer or telephone, they use it to find information or as ameans of communication. They do not spend much time chatting except when they areface to face with another person. Class work is still almost always handwritten.

As a whole, French society recognizes that teenagers are old enough tomake many decisions and gives them the freedom to do so. It is also recognizedthat they still need support and guidance from parents, and teenagers tend to becontent with their place in society. They feel that what they have to offer isvalued in the world, and rarely go to extremes in an attempt to be recognized. Ifelt more welcome and valued in France than I ever have in my owncountry.

Finally, I found that schools in France are not as challengingand the teachers not as strict as people believe. It is true that French studentsspend more time in school, but they spend the same amount of time as Americanstudents in class per week. Therefore, they work at a less strenuous pace. Afterschool, however, French students spend more time doing homework.

Studentswant to learn as much as possible in order to pass the Baccalaureate. It isimportant for French students to learn what is being taught because from the timethey are five years old, they are preparing for this one important exam. TheBaccalaureate is one of the only extremely important tests they must pass; theydo not take diagnostic tests each year. All French schools follow the samecurriculum, which is constantly being revised so that all schools are the bestthey can be. Also, being literate is culturally very important in France.Students have high expectations for themselves, and teachers do not need to beextremely strict. Disciplinary actions are only taken when a student causes adisruption. As for the level of difficulty, courses were more challenging thanregular courses in the United States and less challenging than honorscourses.

When I left in January to come home, I was sad to leave myfriends and the country where as a guest I felt more welcome than in my owncountry. At the same time, I was happy that I had found these people and thisplace. None of the stereotypes I feared were completely true, and it has beenharder for me to readjust to living in America. Some day, I will move permanentlyto France. I do not think I will ever be as comfortable living in America as Iwas before I lived in France.

Something Missing Found by Leanne D., Clarkston, MI


By Lena K., Marblehead, MA

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