Ch-ch-ch-changesParis BIA, Fall 2010
Since my arrival in Paris, I have been constantly learning about, and adjusting to, the different customs and cultural traditions of Paris. Everyday I learn something new about what it means to be french or how Parisians live and it occasionally is quite overwhelming.
Probably the most challenging cultural difference between the United States and Paris is appropriate metro, or subway, behavior. In the United States, it is typical for people to make eye contact with or smile at others. In Paris, however, it would be considered extremely unusual if I were to smile at or greet someone I don’t know. Furthermore, they rarely look up. Parisians seem to constantly be looking at their feet, the newspaper, a book, iPod, or cellphone.
At orientation today, someone told me a story about one her friends, in an attempt to be friendly, smiled at a guy who she made eye contact with. This girl then wound up getting yelled at by the guy’s girlfriend, who thought she was trying to flirt with him. As someone who truly loves to people watch, it has been difficult for me to keep my eyes down and not look around at or greet others, but I am learning.
One of the most common cultural distinctions that can be made between the U.S and France is the prevalence of strikes. For example, there was a transportation strike on my very first day of orientation. Strikes, my house mom informed me, are seen as an expression of personal rights and the french frequently use strikes and demonstrations to express their opinion on national issues. While I understood this, I was extremely frustrated by the fact that I would have to deal with one on my first day.
Probably the greatest change I have experienced however, is obviously the change in language. I was lucky enough to be placed into a beautiful home in Boulogne with a kind woman and her family, but , I quickly learned, none of them speak English. Therefore, as soon as I hop off facebook and head down for dinner, I must instantly switch into a whole other language. It really is quite challenging, but I know these differences will help me improve my french, and help me transform from a mere citizen of the United States to a citizen of the world.
You May also like: