3 Things I Stopped Doing After Living In France
In the age of the ‘gap yahh’, young people are travelling more than ever, and experiencing new cultures in the aim of becoming more culturally aware. Tobi Ruth looks at a couple of habits she picked up after living in France for a year and how it’s had an effect on her life back in the UK.
The moment a language student steps into university, they know first and second year is just the warm up. Mountains of reading and a bloody truck load of grammar to (very inadequately) prepare you for what follows – the third year abroad.
Anyone who’s lived abroad will tell you, it’s one of the most life changing things you could ever experience. You find yourself in an unfamiliar place, completely out of your comfort zone and thrown into groups of total strangers. It can be tiring, lonely, stressful and frustrating. However it can be (and mine was) incredible, hilarious, unreal and unforgettable.
After growing up in a bit of a melting pot of culture, for me it was really interesting to experience all the cultural differences found within Europe. I was a French language student and so could go to anywhere French-speaking, and do anything as long as it used my language skills.
I spent half my year at the University of Reunion Island and spent the rest split between southern France, Paris, and the Caribbean. That being said, I experienced many different types of French culture. When I got back and lived with friends who had also been living in France, we realised things had changed. So, here are three things we stopped doing after living in France:
1. Thinking of wine and rum as alcoholic beverages
Alcohol consumption habits really differ depending on the country. In England, wine is a relatively sophisticated drink, reserved for dinner parties or if you fancy being a little more mature on a bar crawl. In France, wine is the everyday drink, a staple part of a meal, like pasta or vegetables. It’s the perfect companion for any food and any occasion.
In Reunion (a tiny tropical island in the Indian Ocean), and Guadeloupe (an even tinier island in the Caribbean), the same is thought of rum. After a nice filling meal, I was surprised and/or horrified to find that dessert wasn’t ice cream or cake, but three shots of 50% rum. At first we British students couldn’t handle this, resulting in many nights where at least one person totally disgraced themselves in one of the local venues. However ,after a few weeks we could get through one litre and not embarrass ourselves (too much).
French attitudes to alcohol are completely opposite to the British. Rather than binge drinking on special occasions or a night out, it is incorporated into the everyday life – a habit we definitely took on in final year (which in hindsight, was probably for the best).
2. Shaking hands when you meet someone new
I never quite know how to handle the wonderful British problem that comes with introducing yourself to someone new. How smiley should you be? Do you make eye contact? Do you shake hands or is that too formal? How about a hug? All these questions go straight out the window in France. Instead, you get right in there, up close and personal, and kiss this stranger twice on each cheek.
It’s not bad at first – when you’re meeting people of your age, or friends of friends. However, when you’re in a bar and a small weird man who’s been watching you for ages introduces himself, you’re in an inescapable situation: Fuck my life, we have to touch faces, and you’re definitely going to enjoy this more than me. Other than that, I actually prefer it to a handshake or fleeting eye contact and a nod. I’m quite a friendly person, and once you’ve had to cross that physical boundary, it breaks the ice and all the awkwardness goes out the window.
3. Hating cheese
Other than ice cream I’m not really keen on dairy, but that all changed after living in France. After seeing not just multiple aisles within one store, but whole stores completely dedicated to cheese, how could I not become a fan?! Furthermore, living with dead passionate Frenchies who know exactly what food or wine it goes with makes it even better.
Here, if you order a four cheese pizza, it tends to mean four times more cheese than a normal pizza. In France, a quatre fromages has Emmental, goat’s cheese, mozzarella, and fourme d’Ambert – and if you’re lucky they may throw in some honey. Amazing. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to say that Cheddar is not the be all and end all of life. And trust me, there’s nothing like buying a warm baguette and packet of Boursin and eating it all on a sunny afternoon by The Seine!
So that’s it, there are my top three things I stopped doing after living in France. There are a few more like: looking both ways before crossing the road (French people don’t even hesitate – they literally don’t care about cars), being in awe of Paris (yes, I know I’m a kill joy) and finding t-shirts with random French words on them cute (H&M is a MASSIVE culprit of this, and it kills me inside. Check out this article and you’ll understand my pain).
Have you had any experiences that have brought about similar changes? Leave your stories in the comments below.