Although I am trying to not make my study abroad experience my only personality trait and the only thing I will ever talk about, it is really hard right now not to. I am currently an English language assistant working in a French high school in Bordeaux, France and although it has only been just over two months since I landed, I have learnt SO much about myself and the country. Here are 5 things that I thought I would share that I have discovered thus far!
French bureaucracy is not easy:
Whether it be needing a pile of paper work to obtain health insurance or needing an ‘attestation de domicile’ (proof of one’s address) as well as your passport to just sign up to a library (cry) there is no doubt that life in France involves a lot of paperwork and as a foreigner it can be quite complex. I remember one of the teachers at my school had to come with me to find a bank that would allow me to join with them, because I am only here for a few months, and if I did not have that teacher’s help, I would have been very lost. So before setting yourself up in a different country make sure you have all relevant documents to hand as proof because the French love their proof! Do not be discouraged however by the amount of paperwork one must do because honestly at times I feel like France uses its bureaucracy to put foreigners off living here.
Forms of Address:
One thing I have noticed in France is that everyone is really respectful, and this is shown through action as well as through language. In the UK, the standard greeting is a firm handshake but in France it’s a tad saucier. It is French culture to greet someone with a kiss on each cheek-which is still taking me a bit of time getting used to- the only intimacy we have in London is either on a packed tube or with people barging past each other in the streets. This respectfulness is also perceived through language with the French ‘Tu/Vous’ forms. The latter is given to those older than you or in a higher position than you and I have found it all very sophisticated in France. From the sophistication of the French language to the way in which the French go about their day- all very chic indeed. I also feel really welcomed, I do not know whether it is because I am new here, so it is expected to make someone new feel welcomed or if the people in my town are naturally so warm and welcoming. My host family are constantly helping me improve my French as well as teaching me new French recipes!
The classy apéro (aperitif)
Talking about sophistication in France I have recently discovered the aperitif, roughly translated to ‘to open’ which is known as the alcoholic beverage and small appetizer that is served before a meal, basically a starter but classier, with the purpose of stimulating or arousing the appetite. There is normally always a selection of wine (is this article sounding as French as I hoped yet?) as well as a vast array of cheeses and bread (this has honestly been my diet ever since I arrived- oh and did you know the French do not eat their bread with any butter whatsoever?!). The apéro is also great for setting the scene before dinner and acts as the perfect transition from the day’s stress to the evening’s meal. I think the closest we get to this back home is the slightly less classy ‘Happy Hour’. I think now it would be a good time to include that the French are not a tea nation and I am just thankful to my mum for bringing me over a massive box of PG tips because I do not know how I would have coped. The French prefer their café au laits and I discovered their dismissal for tea when I went to an event and there was black tea available but no milk or sugar. My heart did sink.
Always on Strike
So, I may not be coming home for Christmas. Well I hope I will be able to but as I am writing this article France is striking- that means all airplanes, trains, buses and maybe trams. I believe they are striking due to pension cuts and an increase in the retirement age and I have discovered that when the French are not happy, they will show it and you will feel the disruption. The strike disruption has reinforced one stereotype about the French though: they down tools at the slightest provocation. And when the French do strike, they also protest, loudly. It’s part of the long French tradition of taking to the streets and these protests can be violent, which only increases the media attention and fuels the reputation. Last month the strikes meant that my train to Toulouse for the holiday was cancelled so me and my friend had to wake up at 4 in the morning and take a ‘BlaBlaCar’ (sort of like an uber) to the station. A very tiresome day that was.
Although Bordeaux might just be the prettiest ville I have ever experienced, I have discovered that living in a city that is not a capital makes you realize how convenient everything is back home! From supermarkets being closed on Sundays to McDonalds not being open 24 hours to even the trains stopping at a certain hour, you realize that living in London is just way easier to navigate! Needless to say, it is a great change from the bustling hectic streets of London, and it is so nice to walk through a peaceful, tranquil town. To anyone who is scared about leaving comfort zones-honestly just do it! I have been courageous enough to switch up scenes and what I am already accustomed to and it has always worked out in my favour!